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Posts Tagged ‘1689 Federalism’

I Will Be God to You

July 24, 2015 4 comments

I know very little of T. David Gordon beyond his essays in “By Faith Alone: Answering the Challenges to the Doctrine of Justification” and “The Law is Not of Faith”. From these essays I gather that he is someone who speaks his mind, and perhaps bombastic (he carelessly compares John Murray to the drunk uncle no one wants to talk about). The main thrust of his essays is that Murray departed from the reformed tradition by not acknowledging great discontinuity between the Mosaic and New covenants. He makes several good points, but he tends not to realize that he is not arguing against Murray so much as the WCF tradition. I enjoyed his response to the oft-used argument that paedobaptists use: For God to say he will be God to someone necessarily implies a soteriological relationship.

Murray (and his followers) implicitly believe that the only relation God sustains to people is that of Redeemer (which, by my light, is not a relation but an office). I would argue, by contrast, that God was just as surely Israel’s God when He cursed the nation as when He blessed it. His pledge to be Israel’s God, via the terms of the Sinai administration, committed him to curse Israel for disobedience just as much as to bless her for obedience. In being Israel’s God, he sustained the relation of covenant suzerain to her; he did not bless or curse any other nation for its covenant fidelity or infidelity. In this sense, he was not the God of other nations as he was the God of Israel. (p 120 “By Faith Alone”)

Of course, such an admission undermines the paedobaptist claim that “I will be God to you and your offspring after you” (Gen 17:7) means “the promise of salvation is to your offspring.” Compare Gordon’s comments with Jonathan Edwards’.

Did Spurgeon hold to 1689 Federalism?

July 17, 2015 4 comments

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Benjamin Keach pastored a fellowship at Horse-lie-down, Southwark for 36 years (1668-1704). He was succeeded by Benjamin Stinton from 1704-1718 (14 yrs), who was succeeded by Joh Gill from 1720-1771 (51 yrs). In 1833 the congregation moved to New Park Street where Spuregon began preaching in 1854 (20 years old).

Keach & Gill both held to 1689 Federalism. Which view of covenant theology did Spurgeon hold to?

It’s Important

 

First, note how important Spurgeon believes this issue is:

“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts; and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people.” — Hebrews 8:10.

THE doctrine of the divine covenant lies at the root of all true theology. It has been said that he who well understands the distinction between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace is a master of divinity. I am persuaded that most of the mistakes which men make concerning the doctrines of Scripture are based upon fundamental errors with regard to the covenants of law and of grace. May God grant us now the power to instruct, and you the grace to receive instruction on this vital subject.

The human race in the order of history, so far as this world is concerned, first stood in subjection to God under the covenant of works. Adam was the representative man. A certain law was given him. If he kept it, he and all his posterity would be blessed as the result of obedience. If he broke it, he would incur the curse himself, and entail it on all represented by him. That covenant our first father broke. He fell; he failed to fulfil his obligations; in his fall he involved us all, for we were all in his loins, and he represented us before God. Our ruin, then, was complete before we were born; we were ruined by him who stood as our first representative. To be saved by the works of the law is impossible, far under that covenant we are already lost. If saved at all it must be all quite a different plan, not on the plan of doing and being rewarded for it, for that has been tried, and the representative man upon whom it was tried has failed for us all. We have all failed in his failure; it is hopeless, therefore, to expect to win divine favour by anything that we can do, or merit divine blessing by way of reward.

But divine mercy has interposed, and provided a plan of salvation from the fall. That plan is another covenant, a covenant made with Christ Jesus the Son of God, who is fitly called by the apostle, “the Second Adam,” because he stood again as the representative of man. Now, the second covenant, so far as Christ was concerned, was a covenant of works quite as much as the other. It was an this wise. Christ shall come into the world and perfectly obey the divine law. He shall also, inasmuch as the first Adam has broken the law, suffer the penalty of sin. If he shall do both of these, then all whom he represents shall be blessed in his blessedness, and saved because of his merit. You see, then, that until our Lord came into this world it was a covenant of works towards him. He had certain works to perform, upon condition of which certain blessings should be given to us. Our Lord has kept that covenant. His part in it has been fulfilled to the last letter. There is no commandment which he has not honoured; there is no penalty of the broken law which he has not endured. He became a servant and obedient, yea, obedient to death, even the death of the cross. He has thus done what the first Adam could not accomplish, and he has retrieved what the first Adam forfeited by his transgression. He has established the covenant, and now it ceases to be a covenant of works, for the works are all done. “Jesus did them, did them all, Long, long ago.”

And now what remaineth of the covenant? God on his part has solemnly pledged himself to give undeserved favour to as many as were represented in Christ Jesus. For as many as the Saviour died for, there is stored up a boundless mass of blessing which shall be given to them, not through their works, but as the sovereign gift of the grace of God, according to his covenant promise by which they shall be saved.

The Wondrous Covenant (Hebrews 8:10)

[H]ave a joyful respect for it [the covenant of grace]. Awake your harps and join in praise with David—“Although my house is not so with God, yet has He made with me an Everlasting Covenant.” Here is enough to make a Heaven in our hearts while yet we are below—the Lord has entered into a Covenant of Grace and peace with us and He will bless us forever! Then have a jealous respect for it. Never suffer the Covenant of Works to be mixed with it. Hate that preaching—I say not less than that—hate that preaching which does not discriminate between the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace, for it is deadly preaching and damning preaching!

The Covenant Pleaded (Psalm 74:20)

 

Remember that there was a Covenant of old, which men broke—the Covenant of works, “This do, and you shall live.” Keep such and such commands, and you shall be rewarded. That Covenant failed because man did not keep God’s commands and so did not earn the promised reward. We broke the terms of that contract and it is no longer valid, except that we come under penalty for the breach of it, and that penalty is that we are to be cast away from God’s Presence and to perish without hope, so far as that broken Covenant is concerned.

Now, rolling up that old Covenant as a useless thing out of which no salvation can ever come, God comes to us in another way and He says, “I will make a new Covenant with you, not like the old one at all.” It is a Covenant of Grace— a Covenant made, not with the worthy, but with the unworthy! A Covenant not made upon conditions, but unconditionally, every supposed condition having been fulfilled by our great Representative and Surety, the Lord Jesus Christ! A Covenant without an, “if,” or a, “but,” in it, “ordered in all things, and sure.” A Covenant of shalls and wills in which God says, “I will, and you shall!” A Covenant just suited to our broken-down and helpless condition. A Covenant which will land everyone who is interested in it in Heaven! No other Covenant will ever do this.

Twelve Covenant Mercies (Isaiah 55:3)

 

This renewing work has been in our Lord’s hands from of old. We were under the old covenant, and our first father and federal head, Adam, had broken that covenant, and we were ruined by his fatal breach. The substance of the old covenant was on this wise,—”If thou wilt keep my command thou shalt live, and thy posterity shall live; but if thou shalt eat of the tree which I have forbidden thee, dying, thou shalt die, and all thy posterity in thee.” This is where we were found, broken in pieces, sore wounded, and even slain by the tremendous fall which destroyed both our Paradise and ourselves. We died in Adam as to spiritual life, and our death revealed itself in an inward tendency to evil which reigned in our members. We were like Ezekiel’s deserted infant unswaddled and unwashed, left in our pollution to die; but the Son of God passed by and saw us in the greatness of our ruin. In his wondrous love our Lord Jesus put us under a new covenant, a covenant of which he became the second Adam, a covenant which ran on this wise,—”If thou shalt render perfect obedience and vindicate my justice, then those who are in thee shall not perish, but they shall live because thou livest.” Now, our Lord Jesus, our Surety and Covenant Head, has fulfilled his portion of the covenant engagement, and the compact stands as a bond of pure promise without condition or risk. Those who are participants in that covenant cannot invalidate it, for it never did depend upon them, but only upon him who was and is their federal head and representative before God. Of Jesus the demand was made and he met it. By him man’s side of the covenant was undertaken and fulfilled, and now no condition remains; it is solely made up of promises which are unconditional and sure to all the seed. To-day believers are not under the covenant of “If thou doest this thou shalt live,” but under that new covenant which says, “Their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.” It is not now “Do and live,” but “Live and do;” we think not of merit and reward, but of free grace producing holy practice as the result of gratitude. What law could not do, grace has accomplished.

Sermon for New Year’s-Day (Revelation 21:5)

Mosaic Covenant

 

Spurgeon clearly understood the importance of distinguishing between the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace. But did he follow Calvin and Westminster? Did he believe that all of the post-fall covenants were renewals of the same covenant? Did he believe the Mosaic Covenant was the Covenant of Grace?

This Epistle to the Hebrews is full of distinctions between the old covenant and the new, the gist of it being to show that the former covenant was only typical of that abiding dispensation which followed it; for it had only the shadow, and not the very image of heavenly things.

The Blood of the Covenant (Hebrews 13:20-21)

 

“I will be their God.”—Jeremiah 31:33.

WHAT A glorious covenant the second covenant is! Well might it be called “a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.” Heb. viii. 6. It is so glorious that the very thought of it is enough to overwhelm the soul, when it discerns the amazing condescension and infinite love of God, in having framed a covenant for such unworthy creatures, for such glorious purposes, with such disinterested motives. It is better than the other covenant, the covenant of works, which was made with Adam; or that covenant which is said to have been made with Israel, on the day when they came out of Egypt. It is better, for it is founded upon a better principle. The old covenant was founded on the principle of merit; it was, “Serve God and thou shalt be rewarded for it; if thou walkest perfectly in the fear of the Lord, God will walk well towards thee, and all the blessings of Mount Gerizim shall come upon thee, and thou shalt be exceedingly blessed in this world, and the world which is to come.” But that covenant fell to the ground, because, although it was just that man should be rewarded for his good works, or punished for his evil ones, yet man being sure to sin, and since the fall infallibly tending towards iniquity, the covenant was not suitable for his happiness, nor could it promote his eternal welfare. But the new covenant, is not founded on works at all, it is a covenant of pure unmingled grace; you may read it from its first word to its last, and there is not a solitary syllable as to anything to be done by us.

God in the Covenant (Jeremiah 31:33)

 

The old covenant said, “There are the tables of stone, mind that you obey every word that is written thereon: if you do you shall live, and if you do not you shall die.” Man never did obey, and consequently no one ever entered heaven or found peace by the law. The new covenant speaketh on this wise, “Their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more. I will write my law in their hearts, and on their minds will I write them. I will put my fear in their hearts that they shall not depart from me.” The prophets enlarge most instructively upon this new covenant. It is not a covenant of “if you will I will,” but it runs thus, “I will and you shall.”

The Blood of the Covenant (Hebrews 13:20-21)

 

Christ is the messenger of the covenant, in the next place, as the messenger of the Father to us. Moses was messenger of the covenant of works, and his face shone, for the ministration of death was glorious; but Christ is the messenger of the covenant of grace.

The Messenger of the Covenant (Malachi 3:1)

 

“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts.”—Hebrews 8:10.

WHEN God gave to Israel his law,—the law of the first covenant,—it was such a holy law that it ought to have been kept by the people. It was a just and righteous law, concerning which God said, “Ye shall do my judgments, and keep mine ordinances, to walk therein: I am the Lord your God. Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the Lord.” The law of the ten commandments is strictly just; it is such a law as a man might make for himself if he studied his own best interests, and had wisdom enough to frame it aright. It is a perfect law, in which the interests of God and man are both studied; it is not a partial law, but impartial, complete, and covering all the circumstances of life. You could not take away one command out of the ten without spoiling both tables of the law, and you could not add another command without being guilty of making a superfluity. The law is holy, and just, and good; it is like the God who made it, it is a perfect law. Then, surely, it ought to have been kept. When men revolt against unjust laws, they are to be commended; but when a law is admitted to be perfect, then disobedience to it is an act of exceeding guilt.

Further, God not only gave a law which ought to have been kept, because of its own intrinsic excellence, but he also gave it in a very wonderful way, which ought to have ensured its observance by the people. The Lord came down upon Mount Sinai in fire, and the mountain was altogether on a smoke, and the smoke thereof ascended “as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount Quaked greatly;” and the sight that was then seen on Sinai, and the sounds that were there heard, and all the pomp and awful grandeur were so terrible that even Moses,—that boldest, calmest, quietest of men said, “I do exceedingly fear and quake.” The children of Israel, as they heard that law proclaimed, were so amazed and overwhelmed with God’s display of his majesty and might, that they were ready enough to promise to keep his commandments. The law of God could not have Been made known to mankind in grander or more sublime style than was displayed in the giving of that covenant on Mount Sinai.

And, dear friends, after the giving of the law, did not God affix to it those terrible penalties which should have prevented men from disobeying his commands? “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” It was the capital sentence that was to be pronounced upon the disobedient; there could be no heavier punishment than that. God had, as it were, drawn his sword against sin; and if man had been a reasonable being, he ought at once to have started back from committing an act which he might be sure would make God his foe.

Moreover, the blessings that were appended to the keeping of the law ought to have induced men to keep it; look again at those words I quoted just now: “Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the Lord.” This did not mean that the man who kept God’s law should merely exist; there are some in these degenerate days who seek to make out life to be existence, and death to be annihilation, but there is little likeness between the words, or between what those words mean. “He shall live in them,” said the Lord concerning the man who kept his law; and there is a fullness of blessedness couched in that word, “live.” If men had kept the covenant of the Lord,—if Adam, for instance, had kept it in the garden of Eden, the rose would have been without a thorn to tear his flesh, and the enjoyment of life would never have been marred by the bitterness of toil or grief.

But, alas! notwithstanding all these solemn sanctions of the ancient covenant, men did not keep it. The promise, “This do, and thou shalt live,” never produced any doing that was worthy to be rewarded with life; and the threatening, “Do this, and thou shalt die,” never kept any man back from daringly venturing into the wrong road which leadeth unto death. The fact is, that the covenant of works, if it be looked upon as a way of safety, is a total failure. No man ever persevered in it unto the end, and no man ever attained unto life by keeping it. Nor can we, now that we are fallen, ever hope to be better than our unfallen covenant-head, Adam; nor may we, who are already lost and condemned by our sinful works, dream for a moment that we shall be able to save ourselves by our works. You see, dear friends, the first covenant was in these terms,—”You do right, and God will reward you for it. If you deserve life, God will give it to you.” Now, as you all know right well, that covenant was broken all to pieces; it was unable to stand by reason of the weakness of our flesh and the corruptness of our nature. So God set aside that first covenant, he put it away as an outworn and useless thing; and he brought in a new covenant,—the covenant of grace; and in our text we see what is the tenor of it: “I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts.” This is one of the most glorious promises that ever fell from the lips of infinite love. God said not, “I will come again, as I came on Sinai, and thunder at them.” No, but, “I will come in gentleness and mercy, and find a way into their hearts.” He said not, “I will take two great tables of stone, and with my finger write out my law before their eyes.” No, but, “I will put my finger upon their hearts, and there will I write my law.” He said not, “I will give promises and threatenings that shall be the safeguard of this new covenant;” but, “I will with my Spirit graciously operate upon their minds and their hearts, and so I will sweetly influence them to serve me,—not for reward, nor from any servile motive, but because they know me, and they love me, and they feel it to be their delight to walk in the way of my commandments.” O dear sirs may you all be shares in the blessings of that new covenant! May God say this of you, and do this to you; and if so, we shall meet in the glory-land, to sing unto the grace of that eternal God who has wrought so wondrously with us, and in us, and for us!

God’s Law in Man’s Heart (Hebrews 8:10)

 

“He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second,” is illustrated… in the case of the covenants made with the literal and the spiritual Israel. There was a first covenant to which the Israelites gave their consent soon after they came out of Egypt. That was a covenant of works, and when Moses rehearsed in the ears of the people the terms of that covenant, “All the people answered together, and said, All that the Lord hath spoken we will do.” Yet they soon forgot their solemn promise. You remember how the commandments were “written with the finger of God” upon “two tables of testimony, tables of stone;” but when the people turned aside to worship the golden calf which Aaron had made, we read concerning Moses, “it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses anger ’waxed hot,’ and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount.” In God’s great longsuffering, the commandments were given a second time, though Moses, and not God, wrote on the second tables of stone, and they were put away for safety into the golden ark, above which was placed the mercy seat of pure gold. This was another symbolical illustration of our text: “He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.” The law in the hand of Moses is broken that we may have the law in the heart of Christ hidden away under the sacred covering of divine mercy in the holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High. The first covenant of “This do, and thou shalt live,” is taken away, that God may establish the second, which is, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” The first covenant, because it waxed old, has passed away; and now God has established a second covenant, the covenant of grace: “They shall be my people, and I will be their God: and I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear me for ever, for the good of them, and of their children after them: and I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall lot depart from me.’

The First and the Second (Hebrews 10:9)

 

First, we invite you to notice THE TWO WOMEN—Hagar and Sarah. It is said that they are the types of the two covenants; and before we start we must not forget to tell you what the covenants are. The first covenant for which Hagar stands, is the covenant of works, which is this: “There is my law, O man; if thou on thy side wilt engage to keep it, I on my side will engage that thou shalt live by keeping it. If thou wilt promise to obey my commands perfectly, wholly, fully, without a single flaw, I will carry thee to heaven. But mark me, if thou violatest one command, if thou dost rebel against a single ordinance, I will destroy thee for ever.” That is the Hagar covenant—the covenant propounded on Sinai, amidst tempests, fire and smokeor rather, propounded, first of all, in the garden of Eden, where God said to Adam, “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” As long as he did not eat of the tree, but remained spotless and sinless, he was most assuredly to live. That is the covenant of the law, the Hagar covenant. The Sarah covenant is the covenant of grace, not made with God and man, but made with God and Christ Jesus, which covenant is this: “Christ Jesus on his part engages to bear the penalty of all his people’s sins, to die, to pay their debts, to take their iniquities upon his shoulders; and the Father promises on his part that all for whom the Son doth die shall most assuredly be saved; that seeing they have evil hearts, he will put his law in their hearts, that they shall not depart from it, and that seeing they have sins, he will pass them by and not remember them any more for ever.” The covenant of works was, “Do this and live, O man!” but the covenant of grace is, “Do this, O Christ, and thou shalt live, O man!” The difference of covenants rests here. The one was made with man, the other with Christ; the one was a conditional covenant, conditional on Adam’s standing, the other is a conditional covenant with Christ, but as perfectly unconditional with us.

The Allegories of Sarah and Hagar (Galatians 4:24)

 

While Spurgeon did clearly separate the Mosaic Covenant from the Covenant of Grace, he did not clearly separate the Mosaic Covenant of Works from the Adamic Covenant of Works. He did not follow John Owen and Nehemiah Coxe (among others) in limiting the Mosaic Covenant to temporal life in the land of Canaan. Nor did he make the careful qualifications that Keach made (that the Adamic Covenant of Works was revealed in the Covenant of Works with Israel, while being separate from it). Of course, these quotes are taken from sermons, not treatises or polemical tracts like the earlier Particular Baptists wrote, so we can’t expect the same level of nuance (and some did articulate it similarly to Spurgeon – see links).

The New Covenant is the Covenant of Grace

 

Spurgeon frequently preached on the New Covenant and identified it as the Covenant of Grace, the “Everlasting Covenant.”

This is the central truth of all Scripture, it is the basis of all Scripture. When Paul desires to set forth the covenant of grace, he appeals to this passage [Jer 31:27-37]. Twice, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, he bases an argument upon it, and after quoting it, adds, “Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us.” Brethren and sisters in Christ, under the first covenant we are ruined; there is no salvation for us but under this new covenant, wherefore let us read to our joy and comfort what the promises and provisions of that new covenant are.

Exposition of Jeremiah 31:27-37

 

The first Covenant was the Covenant of Works—”Do this and you shall live.” That Covenant, as I have shown you, was broken, but the new Covenant is a Covenant of pure Grace. Christ has fulfilled all its conditions on His people’s behalf and, therefore, all its privileges are theirs… Yet once more, let me remind you that the ensign of this Covenant is faith. Under the old Covenant it was and always would have been, works. But, under the new Covenant, it is faith. Do you believe? Then you are in Christ and all the blessings of the Covenant of Grace are yours.

Taking Hold of God’s Covenant (Isaiah 56:4, 6)

He followed both Keach and Gill’s minority view in that he did not separate or distinguish the Covenant of Redemption from the Covenant of Grace.

Now, in this covenant of grace, we must first of all observe the high contracting parties between whom it was made. The covenant of grace was made before the foundation of the world between God the Father, and God the Son; or to put it in a yet more scriptural light, it was made mutually between the three divine persons of the adorable Trinity. This covenant was not made mutually between God and man. Man did not at that time exist; but Christ stood in the covenant as man’s representative. In that sense we will allow that it was a covenant between God and man, but not a covenant between God and any man personally and individually. It was a covenant between God with Christ, and through Christ indirectly with all the blood-bought seed who were loved of Christ from the foundation of the world…

Thus, I say, run the covenant, in ones like these: “I, the Most High Jehovah, do hereby give unto my only begotten and well-beloved Son, a people, countless beyond the number of stars, who shall be by him washed from sin, by him preserved, and kept, and led, and by him, at last, presented before my throne, without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing. I covenant by oath, and swear by myself, because I can swear by no greater, that these whom I now give to Christ shall be for ever the objects of my eternal love. Them I will forgive through the merit of the blood. To these will I give a perfect righteousness; these will I adopt and make my sons and daughters, and these shall reign with me through Christ eternally.” Thus run that glorious side of the covenant. The Holy Spirit also, as one of the high contracting parties on this side of the covenant, gave his declaration, “I hereby covenant,” saith he, “that all whom the Father giveth to the Son, I will in due time quicken. I will show them their need of redemption; I will cut off from them all groundless hope, and destroy their refuges of lies. I will bring them to the blood of sprinkling; I will give them faith whereby this blood shall be applied to them, I will work in them every grace; I will keep their faith alive; I will cleanse them and drive out all depravity from them, and they shall be presented at last spotless and faultless.” This was the one side of the covenant, which is at this very day being fulfilled and scrupulously kept. As for the other side of the covenant this was the part of it, engaged and covenanted by Christ. He thus declared, and covenanted with his Father: “My Father, on my part I covenant that in the fullness of time I will become man. I will take upon myself the form and nature of the fallen race. I will live in their wretched world, and for my people I will keep the law perfectly. I will work out a spotless righteousness, which shall be acceptable to the demands of thy just and holy law. In due time I will bear the sins of all my people. Thou shalt exact their debts on me; the chastisement of their peace I will endure, and by my stripes they shall be healed. My Father, I covenant and promise that I will be obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. I will magnify thy law, and make it honourable. I will suffer all they ought to have suffered. I will endure the curse of thy law, and all the vials of thy wrath shall be emptied and spent upon my head. I will then rise again; I will ascend into heaven; I will intercede for them at thy right hand; and I will make myself responsible for every one of them, that not one of those whom thou hast given me shall ever be lost, but I will bring all my sheep of whom, by thy blood, thou hast constituted me the shepherd—I will bring every one safe to thee at last.” Thus ran the covenant; and now, I think, you have a clear idea of what it was and how it stands—the covenant between God and Christ, between God the Father and God the Spirit, and God the Son as the covenant head and representative of all Gods elect. I have told you, as briefly as I could what were the stipulations of it. You will please to remark, my dear friends, that the covenant is, on one side, perfectly fulfilled. God the Son has paid the debts of all the elect. He has, for us men and for our redemption, suffered the whole of wrath divine. Nothing remaineth now on this side of the question except that he shall continue to intercede, that he may safely bring all his redeemed to glory.

The Blood of the Everlasting Covenant (Hebrews 13:20)

 

The covenant—to come at once straight to the matter, however offensive the doctrine may be—the covenant has relationship to the elect and none besides. Does this offend you? Be ye offended ever more. What said Christ? “I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me: for they are thine.” If Christ prayeth for none but for the chosen, why should ye be angry that ye are also taught from the Word of God that in the covenant there was provision made for the like persons, that they might receive eternal life. As many as shall believe, as many as shall trust in Christ, as many as shall persevere unto the end, as many as shall enter into the eternal rest, so many and no more are interested in the covenant of divine grace.

The Blood of the Everlasting Covenant (Hebrews 13:20)

 

Through His substitutionary Sacrifice, they were even then “accepted in the Beloved” and, in the fullness of time, they become Believers in Him and so enter consciously into the enjoyment of the Covenant privileges which had been conferred upon them from eternity! The Covenant is not made with them when they believe in Jesus—it was made on their behalf by the Father and the Son in the eternal council chamber long before the daystar knew its place or planets ran their round!

The Blood of Christ’s Covenant (Zechariah 9:11)

OT Saints Members of the New Covenant

 

In 1867, Spurgeon wrote against a new teaching called Dispensationalism in his Sword and Trowel publication.

An earnest study of those Scriptures which disclose “the everlasting covenant” as it was gradually but distinctly revealed, will do more than any arguments of ours to dissipate the mist of those strange doctrines we have referred to. That Covenant was declared to Noah; it was still further opened to Abraham and Isaac, it was confirmed to David; Isaiah rejoiced in its sure mercies, Jeremiah was privileged to relate many of its special provisions; and Paul avers in his epistle to the Hebrews that this is the Covenant under the provisions of which the precious blood of Christ was shed; it is the blood of the new Covenant… According to the terms of the everlasting Covenant, and not according to the law, nor yet according to the tenor of any transient dispensations, the Old Testament saints were justified and accepted of God.

There Be Some Who Trouble You (Sword and Trowel essay against Dispensationalism)

 

Further, the blood of Jesus is also the Seal of the Covenant Speaking after the manner of men, until the blood of Jesus had been shed, the Covenant was not signed, sealed and ratified. It was like a will that could only become valid by the death of the testator. It is true that there was such perfect unity of heart between the Father and the Son, and such mutual foreknowledge that the Covenant would be ratified in due time—that multitudes of the chosen ones were welcomed to Heaven in anticipation of the redemption which would actually be accomplished by Christ upon the Cross. But when Jesus took upon Himself the likeness of men and in our human nature suffered and died upon the accursed tree, He did, as it were, write His name in crimson characters upon the Eternal Covenant and thus sealed it with His blood. It is because the blood of Jesus is the Seal of this Covenant that it has such power to bless us and is the means of lifting us up out of the prison-pit wherein is no water.

The Blood of Christ’s Covenant (Zechariah 9:11)

What about the Noahic, Abrahamic, and Davidic Covenants?

 

ALL GOD’S dealings with men have had a covenant character. It hath so pleased Him to arrange it, that he will not deal with us except through a covenant, nor can we deal with Him except in the same manner. Adam in the garden was under a covenant with God and God was in covenant with Him. That covenant he speedily brake. There is a covenant still existing in all its terrible power—terrible I say, because it has been broken on man’s part, and therefore God will most surely fulfill its solemn threatenings and sanctions. That is the covenant of works. By this he dealt with Moses, and in this doth he deal with the whole race of men as represented in the first Adam. Afterwards when God would deal with Noah, it was by a covenant; and when in succeeding ages he dealt with Abraham, he was still pleased to bind himself to him by a covenant. That covenant he preserved and kept, and it was renewed continually to many of his seed. God dealt not even with David, the man after his own heart, except with a covenant. He made a covenant with his anointed and beloved; he dealeth with you and me this day still by covenant. When he shall come in all his terrors to condemn, he shall smite by covenant—namely, by the sword of the covenant of Sinai; and if he comes in the splendors of his grace to save, he still comes to us by covenant—namely, the covenant of Zion; the covenant which he has made with the Lord Jesus Christ, the head and representative of his people…

It is important, then, since the covenant is the only ladder which reaches from earth to heaven—since it is the only way in which God has intercourse with us, and by which we can deal with him, that we should know how to discriminate between covenant and covenant; and should not be in any darkness or error with regard to what is the covenant of grace, and what is not…

The Blood of the Everlasting Covenant (Hebrews 13:20)

This passage is somewhat vague. It could potentially be read as saying the the Noahic, Abrahamic, and Davidic covenants were renewals of the Covenant of Grace. If you re-read the paragraph, you will see that Spurgeon very clearly addresses each covenant on its own. He does not refer to them as the same covenant. The renewal he speaks of is the Abrahamic Covenant renewal to Issac, Jacob, etc. Separate from these covenants that God made with Noah, Abraham, and David, God also made a covenant with Jesus – the Covenant of Grace.

Spurgeon clarifies the Abrahamic Covenant as it relates to the Covenant of Grace:

“As for you, also, by the blood of your Covenant I have sent forth your prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water.” Zechariah 9:11.

THE LORD is here speaking to His ancient people, Israel. That nation had always been preserved, although other nations had been destroyed—and the reason was that God had entered into a Covenant with Abraham on their behalf. Circumcision was the sign and seal of the Covenant, so that God could truly speak of “the blood of your Covenant.” The Jews have never ceased to be a nation, though they have been scattered, peeled and delivered over into the hand of their adversaries because of their sins. They may enjoy various rights and privileges in the different countries where they sojourn for a while, but they cannot be absorbed into the nationalities by which they are surrounded. They must always be a separate and distinct people—but the day shall yet come when the branches of the olive tree, which have been so long cut off, shall be grafted in again. Then shall they, as a nation, again behold the Messiah, the true and only King of the Jews—and their fullness shall be the fullness of the Gentiles, also!

All Believers have some share in that Covenant made with Abraham, for he is the father of the faithful. We who believe in Jesus are of the seed of Abraham, not according to the flesh, but according to the promise, and we are pressed by a Covenant which like that made with Abraham, is signed and sealed with blood even “the blood of the Everlasting Covenant.” We, too, are saved and kept as a separate and distinct people, not because of any natural goodness in us, or because of our superiority over others, but solely and entirely because the Lord has made an Eternal Covenant concerning us, which is “ordered in all things and sure,” because Jesus Christ is, Himself, the Surety on our behalf that its guarantees and pledges shall all be carried into effect.

The Blood of Christ’s Covenant (Zechariah 9:11)

Here Spurgeon is articulating the dichotomous nature of the Abrahamic Covenant. Abraham had a two-fold seed with different promises made to each. Furthermore, he clearly distinguishes between the Abrahamic Covenant and the Everlasting Covenant of Grace (which was “like that made with Abraham”). The Abrahamic is signed and sealed by circumcision while the Covenant of Grace is signed and sealed by the blood of Christ.

As an instance of the expulsive power of a new delight, we all know how the memory of the old dispensation is gone from us. Brethren, did any one of you ever weep because you did not sit at the Passover? Did you ever regret the Paschal lamb? Oh, never, because you have fed on Christ! Was there ever man that knows his Lord that ever did lament that he had not the sign of the old Abrahamic covenant in his flesh? Nay, he gladly dispenses with the rites of the old covenant, since he has the fullness of their meaning in his Lord.

God Rejoicing in the New Creation (Isaiah 65:17-19)

 

Does the covenant say, “A new heart will I give thee, and a right spirit will I put within thee?” It must be done, for Jesus died, and Jesus’ death is the seal of the covenant… The blood is the symbol, the token, the earnest, the surety, the seal of the covenant of grace to thee… May God take away the enmity out of your heart to his own precious truth, and reconcile you to himself through THE BLOOD of his Son, which is the bond and seal of the everlasting covenant.

The Blood of the Everlasting Covenant (Hebrews 13:20)

Covenant theology is a very difficult subject of systematic theology and while Spurgeon did not write systematic treatises (thus we don’t have comments from him in detail on this) when he preached on covenant theology, it was consistent with (at least one strand of) 1689 Federalism, not modern baptist covenant theology.

Hebrews 10 & John 15

June 12, 2015 21 comments

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I agree, and because I believe the exegetical basis for the paedobaptist inner/outer covenant membership model is lacking, I remain a credobaptist (see 1689 Federalism, alt link while it’s down: http://confessingbaptist.com/1689Federalism/).

Jared Oliphint recently offered a brief argument for paedobaptism at TGC. He offers two texts – Hebrews 10:26-30 and John 15:1-6 – as arguments to prove that New Covenant membership is not limited to the regenerate alone. These texts supposedly teach that there are people in the New Covenant who are not saved, and thus they teach the doctrine of inner/outer membership in the covenant of grace.

However, to be more precise, the actual argument is not that the paedobaptist inner/outer covenant is established from these texts, but rather that only the paedobaptist doctrine of covenant can explain these passages, in light of Calvinism.

The surface value reading of these texts suggest that one can lose their salvation and that Christ died for those who are not saved (see Why the Author of Hebrews Wouldn’t Have Been a Calvinist @ The Evangelical Arminian, for example). Because the Calvinist believes that Scripture elsewhere clearly teaches the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints as well as limited atonement, and the Calvinist is also committed to the analogy of faith (WCF/LBCF 1.9), which presupposes the non-contradictory nature of Scripture, the Calvinist must offer an alternative reading of the text.

The analogy of faith is “the use of a general sense of the meaning of Scripture, constructed from the clear or unambiguous loci…, as the basis for interpreting unclear or ambiguous texts. As distinct from the more basic analogia Scripturae…, the analogia fidei presupposes a sense of the theological meaning of Scripture” (Muller, Dictionary, 33 – see also here).

Because the reformed paedobaptist believes that Christ “procured reconciliation” for “all those whom the father has given unto him” (WCF/LBCF 8.5) through an atonement applied to “the elect in all ages” (8.6) and that the “certainty and infallibility” of the perseverance of the saints is guaranteed by “the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ; the abiding of the Spirit and of the seed of God within them; and the nature of the covenant of grace,” (WCF/LBCF 17.2) he must offer a different explanation of “sanctified” and “the covenant” in Hebrews 10:29. He therefore says “sanctified” does not refer to definitive sanctification, nor progressive sanctification, but simply a non-salvific “set apart” (referencing “holy” in 1 Cor 7:14), and “the covenant” refers to a “dual-sided” covenant that one can be in “outwardly” (which procures different blessings from being in the covenant “internally”). In other words, he applies a doctrine of covenant membership established from other texts to this text in order to avoid theological contradiction. And that is a completely legitimate and necessary aspect of proper biblical interpretation – but let’s not pretend such a doctrine is derived from the text.

Alternative Explanations of Hebrews 10:29

Not all paedobaptists believe that is the best way for a Calvinist to explain the verse. Reformed paedobaptists have been challenged in their interpretation by the Federal Vision (a false gospel), which claims to be reformed, yet denies perseverance of the saints and says that one may lose their covenantal union with Christ (arguing from Hebrews 10:29 and other texts). R. Fowler White participated in the Knox Colloquium on Auburn Avenue Theology (another name for Federal Vision) in which proponents and opponents met together to exchange views and critiques. White’s contribution was a paper titled “Covenant and Apostasy” in which he adopts a more baptistic view of the visible church & false profession of faith in order to deal with the apostasy passages. Baptists argue, with reference to 1 John 2:19, that apostates only appeared to be Christians (members of the new covenant), but their apostasy demonstrates that they never were. White says that “Peter does ascribe to apostates blessings that literally belong uniquely to the elect, and he does so on the basis of their confessed faith.”

In my view, it is precisely the nature of human knowledge and faith that we have to take into account when we interpret those assertions in which the biblical writers, conditionally and otherwise, attribute salvation ordained, accomplished, and/or applied to individuals. If we do so interpret their assertions, we find the necessary suppositions of their warnings include, not the (Arminian’s) inherent reversibility of faith, but the finite nature of human knowledge and the undifferentiated nature of faith initially confessed.

He states his commitment to the paedobaptist two-sided (inner/outer), dual-sanction New Covenant, but he says that is not the best way to explain Hebrews 10:29. “My contention is that we should take our cue from the rhetoric of rebuke and reproach elsewhere in the Bible and interpret the biblical writer’s attribution of sanctification in Heb 10:29 as an example of reproachful irony (sarcasm).”

19th century Scottish Presbyterian John Brown says

Interpreters have differed as to the reference of the clause, “by which he was sanctified,” – some referring it to Christ and others to the apostate. Those who refer it to Christ explain it in this way, – ‘By His own blood Jesus Christ was consecrated to His office as an intercessory Priest.’ Those who refer it to the apostate consider the Apostle as stating, that in some sense or other he had been sanctified by the blood of Christ.

I cannot say that I am satisfied with either of these modes of interpretation. I do not think that Scripture warrants us to say that any man who finally apostatizes is sanctified by the blood of Christ in any sense, except that the legal obstacles in the way of human salvation generally were removed by the atonement He made … I apprehend the word is used impersonally, and that its true meaning is, “by which there is sanctification.” It is just equivalent to—“the sanctifying blood of the covenant.”

An Exposition of the Epistle of the Apostle Paul to the Hebrews, p. 21

However, most baptists agree with yet another interpretation of the text offered by the mature John Owen. James White explains:

The exegesis that we have offered, together with the compelling argumentation (that reaches its climax in Heb. 10:10-18) regarding the perfection that flows from the singular, completed sacrifice of the New Covenant, provides a very strong ground on which to argue that the writer would hardly turn around and vitiate the central core of his apologetic argument within a matter of only a few sentences by robbing the New Covenant of its intrinsically perfect soteriological content. We would actually be in very good company to assert that the depth of the sin of apostasy here noted is magnified by recognition that the one who is sanctified by the blood treated as common or unclean (koino.n) by the apostate through returning to the sacrifice of goats and bulls is actually Christ, the very Son of God who has set himself apart as high priest as well as offering. Owen expressed it forcefully:

The last aggravation of this sin with respect unto the blood of Christ, is the nature, use, and efficacy of it; it is that “wherewith he was sanctified.” It is not real or internal sanctification that is here intended, but it is a separation and dedication unto God; in which sense the word is often used. And all the disputes concerning the total and final apostasy from the faith of them who have been really and internally sanctified, from this place, are altogether vain; though that may be said of a man, in aggravation of his sin, which he professeth concerning himself. But the difficulty of this text is, concerning whom these words are spoken: for they may be referred unto the person that is guilty of the sin insisted on; he counts the blood of the covenant, wherewith he himself was sanctified, an unholy thing. For as at the giving of the law, or the establishing of the covenant at Sinai, the people being sprinkled with the blood of the beasts that were offered in sacrifice, were sanctified, or dedicated unto God in a peculiar manner; so those who by baptism, and confession of faith in the church of Christ, were separated from all others, were peculiarly dedicated to God thereby. And therefore in this case apostates are said to “deny the Lord that bought them,” or vindicated them from their slavery unto the law by his word and truth for a season, 2 Peter 2:1. But the design of the apostle in the context leads plainly to another application of these words. It is Christ himself that is spoken of, who was sanctified and dedicated unto God to be an eternal high priest, by the blood of the covenant which he offered unto God, as I have showed before. The priests of old were dedicated and sanctified unto their office by another, and the sacrifices which he offered for them; they could not sanctify themselves: so were Aaron and his sons sanctified by Moses, antecedently unto their offering any sacrifice themselves. But no outward act of men or angels could unto this purpose pass on the Son of God. He was to be the priest himself, the sacrificer himself, — to dedicate, consecrate, and sanctify himself, by his own sacrifice, in concurrence with the actings of God the Father in his suffering. See John 17:19; Hebrews 2:10, 5:7, 9, 9:11, 12. That precious blood of Christ, wherein or whereby he was sanctified, and dedicated unto God as the eternal high priest of the church, this they esteemed “an unholy thing;” that is, such as would have no such effect as to consecrate him unto God and his office. (Owen, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, 6:545-46.)

White, The Newness of the New Covenant, in Recovering a Covenantal Heritage

Lane Keister, PCA, spent a year or more blogging back and forth with Doug Wilson and was called upon as an expert Federal Vision witness in Peter Leithart’s trial in the PCA. In a blog post on this passage, he says

A much more seriously tempting interpretation is that the person who is sanctified is Jesus Christ. The verse would then read as follows: “How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which that Son of God was sanctified (presumably as an offering).” This is John Owen’s interpretation. It has a great deal to recommend it… I would say that this interpretation is quite defensible.

The rest of the passage works out as follows:

v1-10 The repetitive sacrifices of the old covenant have been done away with by the establishment of Christ’s once for all sacrifice

v11-17 This one sacrifice has perfected for all time those who received the blessings of the new covenant.

v18 There remains no more sacrifices in the new covenant.

v19-25 Therefore draw near to God with full assurance, holding fast our confession of faith.

v26 For if we neglect this confession of faith and go on sinning willingly, there are no more repetitive sacrifices to repeatedly forgive your sin, like in the old covenant.

v27 Only judgement remains for adversaries.

v28 Reminding these Jews who felt secure in the Old Covenant of the punishments under the Old Covenant. Despite old covenant sacrifices, there were still some deliberate, high-handed sins that were punished without mercy (thus don’t test God’s mercy).

v29 How much worse will your punishment be if you despise the gospel.

v30 God was a fierce judge, even in the Old Covenant that you cling to. “Vengeance is mine” comes from Deut 32:35 and “The Lord will judge his people” from the next v36. Neither of these should be interpreted to mean the new covenant contains curses like the old covenant. They are simply establishing the fact, from the Old Covenant the Jews were clinging to, that God is a fierce judge. Owen: “In Deuteronomy it is applied unto such a judgment of them as tends unto their deliverance. But the general truth of the words is, that God is the supreme judge, “he is judge himself, ” Psalm 50:6. This the apostle makes use of, concluding that the righteousness of God, as the supreme judge of all, obligeth him unto this severe destruction of apostates: for “shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” This is precisely how Paul applies the same verse (to those outside of covenant) in Romans 12:19.

v31 Fear the living God (who is judge over all).

Nothing in this passage requires us to believe that apostates were once members of the New Covenant but have been cut off or that this judgment and punishment is a New Covenant curse. Quite the contrary, it is clearly referring to the final judgment. The apostates discussed here are specifically referred to as “adversaries” (v27) not as God’s covenant people.

John 15:1-6

Oliphint states “John 15:1–6 throws another kink into the “new covenant = salvation” formula… How can someone be in Christ yet fall away? Scripture reveals an important distinction and nuance between being in Christ/covenant salvifically, and being in Christ/covenant ecclesiologically.”

Notice again that the two-sided covenant of grace is not a doctrine derived from this text (where does the text mention this two-sided covenant?), but a doctrine applied to the text in order to explain it. It is a doctrine based upon the belief that the Old and New covenants are the same covenant – something not taught in this text. That understanding is then applied to passages like this.

John 15 is a central Federal Vision text. They follow Norm Shepherd in arguing that some who are united to Christ are cast into the fire for their disobedience/lack of covenant faithfulness. In responding to this view, reformed paedobaptist Andy Webb warns:

There is always a great danger of forgetting, however, that these statements are allegories and usually couched in parables, so in interpreting them we must ever keep his central point in view and not try to squeeze teachings out of the lesser details that Christ did not intend and which would contradict His teachings elsewhere.The great rule we must always apply is that scripture interprets scripture, and where a doctrine is uncertain in one portion of scripture, we should go to other areas where it that doctrine is more clearly taught on. Above all, we should strive not to atomistically interpret a verse so that it contradicts other clearer verses.

He even quotes the following from D.A. Carson:

But the latter view, that these dead branches are apostate Christians, must confront the strong evidence within John that true disciples are preserved to the end (e.g. notes on 6:37-40; 10:28). It is more satisfactory to recognize that asking the in me language to settle such disputes is to push the vine imagery too far. The transparent purpose of the verse is to insist that there are no true Christians without some measure of fruit. Fruitfulness is an infallible mark of true Christianity; the alternative is dead wood, and the exigencies of the vine metaphor make it necessary that such wood be connected to the vine.

[D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, Eerdmans, 1991, p.515]

So, according to Webb, using this metaphor to explain covenant union with Christ is to push the imagery too far and to violate the principle that clear passages interpret unclear passages.

So, if Jesus is not talking about the Presbyterian doctrine of a two-sided covenant of grace, what is he talking about?

A vineyard setting [speaking of Jesus physical location when delivering this teaching] would indeed be a highly suggestive environment for Jesus’ teaching, especially since “God’s vineyard” is a frequent OT designation for Israel*

*Although vine imagery is widespread in ancient literature, an OT background for the present passage is favored by the vast majority of commentators, primarily owing to the frequent OT references or allusions and the replacement motif in this Gospel (e.g., Carson 1991: 513; R. Brown 1970: 669-71; Morris 1995: 593; Ridderbos 1997: 515; contra Bultmann 1971: 530; Witherington 1995: 255-57).

In the famous “Song of the Vineyard” in Isa. 5, the prophet makes the point that God carefully cultivated his vineyard (Israel) and in due time expected to collect fruit from it, but Israel had yielded only bad fruit; hence, God would replace Israel with a more fruitful nation. *(This point is taken up by Jesus’ parable of the wicked tenants Mark 12:1-12). Yet it is not the church that serves as Israel’s replacement (Beasley-Murray 1999: 272); rather, the true vine is Jesus, who is the new Israel (R. Brown 1970: 670) as well as the new temple and the fulfillment of Jewish festival symbolism (Carson 1991: 513). It is he who embodies God’s true intentions for Israel; Jesus is the paradigmatic vine, the channel through whom God’s blessings flow.

Theologically, John’s point is that Jesus displaces Israel as the focus of God’s plan of salvation, with the implication that faith in Jesus becomes the decisive characteristic for membership among God’s people (Whitacre 1999: 372). Whereas OT Israel was ethnically constrained, the new messianic community, made up of believing Jews and Gentiles, is united by faith in Jesus the Messiah. Jews still have a place in God’s family, but they must come to God on his terms rather than their own (Kostenberger 1998b: 166-67). A paradigm shift has taken place: faith in Jesus has replaced keeping the law as the primary point of reference (Kostenberger 1999: 159-60)…

The OT frequently uses the vineyard or vine as a symbol for Israel, God’s covenant people, especially in two “vineyard songs” found in Isaiah. However, while the vine’s purpose of existence is the bearing of fruit for its owner, references to Israel as God’s vine regularly stress Israel’s failure to produce good fruit, issuing in divine judgment (Carson 1991: 513). In contrast to Israel’s failure, Jesus claims to be the “true vine,” bringing forth the fruit that Israel failed to produce. Thus Jesus, the Messiah and Son of God, fulfills Israel’s destiny as the true vine of God (Ps. 80:14-17)…

“I am the true vine” (15:1; cf. Jer 2:21 LXX) is the alst of John’s seven “I am” sayings. “True” vine contrasts Jesus with OT Israel in its lack of fruitfulness and spiritual degeneracy (Morris 1995: 593; Ridderbos 1997: 515; Beasley-Murray 1999: 272; Moloney 1998: 419).

Andreas J. Köstenberger, John 448-50

So the key to this passage is typology. Jesus is the true Israel. God made a covenant of works with Israel for life and blessing in the land of Canaan. They disobeyed and God exiled them as punishment (Is. 5:1-7). But God also promised a future restoration of this vineyard, one that was exceedingly more glorious (Is. 27:1-13). It turns out this was a prophecy of Jesus, the true Israel, the true vine, the obedient one.

In the Old Testament the vine is a common symbol for Israel, the covenant people of God (Ps. 80:9-16; Is. 5:1-7; 27:2ff; Jer. 2:21; 12:10ff; Ezk. 15:1-8; 17:1-21; 19:10-14; Ho. 10:1-2). Most remarkable is the fact that whenever historic Israel is referred to under this figure it is the vine’s failure to produce good fruit that is emphasized, along with the corresponding threat of God’s judgment on the nation. Now, in contrast to such failure, Jesus claims, “I am the true vine’, i.e. the one to whom Israel pointed, the one that brings forth good fruit. Jesus has already, in principle, superseded the temple, the Jewish feasts, Moses, various holy sites; here he supersedes Israel as the very locus of the people of God. (A similar contrast between Israel and Jesus is developed in various ways in the Synoptics: e.g. in the temptation narrative, Mt. 4:1-11 par.)

Perhaps the most important Old Testament passage is Psalm 80, in that it brings together the themes of vine and son of man… The true (alethinos; cf. notes on 1:9) vine, then, is not the apostate people, but Jesus himself, and those who are incorporated in him. The theme would prove especially telling to diaspora Jews: if they wish to enjoy the status of being part of God’s chosen vine, they must be rightly related to Jesus.

[D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, Eerdmans, 1991, p.514-16]

How then are we to interpret the branches who are in Jesus but cut off and the branches that abide in Jesus and bear fruit?

First, E. Calvin Beisner very helpfully explains:

The Federal Visionists’ use of this passage implies that fruit-bearing branches could become nonfruit-bearing and thus be cut off and burned. However, according to the parable, every branch that bears fruit the Father “prunes, that it may bear more fruit,” while every branch that bears no fruit the Father “takes away” (v. 2)…

What does it mean for branches to abide in the vine (Christ)? Clearly it does not mean the same thing as to be a branch in the vine, for Christ explicitly distinguishes between branches in the vine that abide and branches in the vine that do not abide…

The best interpretive pointer we have in the immediate context is what Christ says in 15:7: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” The association between the apostles’ abiding in Christ and His words’ abiding in them implies that abiding in Christ means believing in Him–that is, believing the words of the gospel… Abiding in Christ is precisely having faith in Him.

How then are branches that do not have faith in Christ “in him”? Applying what we have noted above (that this is a metaphor that should not push the imagery too far, and it is dealing with typology) we can notice that Jesus is speaking to Jews – that is, he is speaking to Israel. He is telling the vine that He is the vine. He is telling Israel that He is Israel. If Israel wants to remain Israel, they must abide in Israel. If the vine wants to remain the vine, it must abide in the true vine. If they do not, there is a final covenant judgment coming upon the vine, not just an exile, and all who do not abide in the obedient one will be thrown in the fire for their disobedience. Combining Kostenberger and Carson above “A paradigm shift has taken place: faith in Jesus has replaced keeping the law as the primary point of reference… if they wish to enjoy the status of being part of God’s chosen vine, they must be rightly related to Jesus.”

Kostenberger notes “The reference in 15:6 to branches that do not remain in the vine being picked up and thrown into the fire and burned closely resembles the thought of Ezek. 15:1-8, where the prophet likewise warned that a vine failing to produce a fruit would be good for nothing but a fire.” Ezekiel is warning Israel of the temporal curses that will fall upon them and their holy land for their violation of the Old Covenant (which was confined to temporal things). “For thus says the Lord GOD: How much more when I send upon Jerusalem my four disastrous acts of judgment, sword, famine, wild beasts, and pestilence, to cut off from it man and beast!” (Ezk. 14:21) “And I will make the land desolate, because they have acted faithlessly, declares the Lord GOD.” (Ezk 15:8)

Reformed paedobaptist (OPC) Bryan Estelle explains how Ezekiel’s prosecution of Israel proceeds upon their violation of the covenant of works God gave them.

In a word, the life promised upon condition of performing the statues and judgments in its immediate context in Leviticus here [referring to Lev. 18:5] is “the covenantal blessing of abundant (and long) life in the land of Israel.” (Sprinkle)… There is a real connection that exists between the obedience/disobedience of Israel and tenure in the land… the biblical evidence is incontrovertible…

The Bible asserts and scholars have recognized that pollution and defilement of the land could build up and reach intolerable states, triggering the sanctions and leading to banishment. Not only exile is in view, but also ultimate extirpation symbolized in the destruction of the Herodian temple in AD 70 and the potential rejection of the chosen people…

Leviticus 18:5’s influence on Ezekiel is of paramount importance. The purpose of these echoic allusions in Ezekiel is to show that what Israel has failed to do, God will do… Leviticus 18 allusions are seen throughout the entire book of Ezekiel and not merely restricted (as often) to chapter 20 of Ezekiel where three citations of Lev 18:5 have frequently been noted.

Leviticus 18:5 and Deuteronomy 30:1-14 in Biblical Theological Development

Now recall what was mentioned above. Isaiah 5:1-7 describes Israel as a failed vineyard being sent into exile, but God also promised a future restoration of this vineyard, one that was exceedingly more glorious (Is. 27:1-13). Estelle brings out the full meaning of this prophecy.

[In Ezekiel there is a] reversal of fortunes based on divine initiative… In short, there is a “composition connection between the unfulfilled ‘statutes and ordinances’ in chapters 18 and 20 with their fulfillment in 36.27 and 37.24; likewise, there is a connection with the ‘life’ unattained by Israel in chapters 18, 20, and 33 and Israel’s ‘life’ in 37.1-14” (Sprinkle) Whereas Israel’s failure to fulfill the stipulations is highlighted repeatedly in Ezekiel 1-24, there is a dramatic reversal of this failure through divine initiative and fulfillment in Ezekiel 36-37… In short, divine causation replaces the conditions incumbent upon the people. What they are unable to perform in and of themselves, Yahweh will accomplish through his own divinely appointed agency.

However, this prophecy is not isolated to Ezekiel or Isaiah. It is found from the very beginning of Israel. Estelle explains the full meaning of Deuteronomy 30:1-14.

[T]his amazing passage anticipates ahead of time the plight of which the Israelite nation will find itself, destitute and unable to fulfill the stipulations of the covenant on its own. It also describes the new measure of obedience – accomplished by divine initiative – in which they will satisfy the conditions hanging over them. Finally, when Paul creatively brings these two significant passages (i.e., Lev 18:5 and Deut. 30) into closer proximity to one another (Rom 10:1-12), the mystery of the divine plan for fulfillment emerges from the shadows and into the light…

In Deut 10:16, the people are commanded to circumcise the foreskin of their hearts and not stiffen their necks any longer. Verse 6 of Deut 30, however, is no mere allusion to that passage! On the contrary, new covenant language and imagery permeate this Deuteronomy passage because it is clear that divine initiative will supersede human impotence… Verse 8 declares that when God himself circumcises hearts, “you [fronted in the Hebrew] will repent and you will obey the voice of the LORD and you will do all his commandments.” This will happen with the coming of the Spirit in the gospel age…

Just as Leviticus 18:5 is taken up in later biblical allusions and echoes, so also is this Deuteronomy passage. In Jeremiah 31:31-34, the language of the new covenant that was cloaked in the circumcision of heart metaphor is unveiled in this classic passage. I argued above that Deuteronomy 30:1-14 is a predictive prophecy of the new covenant, and, therefore, all that was implicit there becomes explicit in Jeremiah 31. In verse 31, Jeremiah says this will happen “in the coming days” and in verse 33 he says “after these days”; both refer to the new covenant, messianic days.

This new covenant, however, is going to be unlike the old covenant with respect to breaking. The old covenant was a breakable covenant, it was made obsolete… The reader is obliged to say that a works principle in the old covenant was operative in some sense because the text clearly states that it was a fracturable covenant, “not like the one they broke.” Here indeed was a covenant that was susceptible to fracture and breakable! They broke it at Sinai (Ex. 32), and they did it time and again until that old covenant had served its purposes. For the one who holds a high view of God directing history, there must be something going on here…

the point is that the whole old covenant order will be annihilated, it will be wiped out, and it will go down in judgment as a modus operandi.  The new covenant is not like that: it is not subject to breaking because it is built upon God’s initiative to complete it and Christ’s satisfaction in his penalty-paying substitution and his probation keeping. His merit is the surety of the new covenant promises, and therefore it cannot fail. The old Sinaitic covenant by way of contrast is built upon a very fallible hope, and therefore is destined to fail since Israel individually and corporately could not fulfill its stipulations.

This was Jesus’ point in his teaching on the vine. The Old Covenant was broken and its curses were soon to be poured out upon Israel. In this judgment, the dead branches of Israel would be cut off and thrown in the fire. However, there was a true vine who alone obeyed, and those Israelites who believe in Him would be blessed as faithful, fruit-bearing Israel.

John Owen helpfully explained this transition process for the Jews.

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…

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…

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.

The Oneness of the Church

Far from throwing a kink in the “new covenant = salvation” formula, John 15:1-6 beautifully illustrates it.

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

See also:

The promise was sufficient & efficacious

June 2, 2015 17 comments

The Baptists believed that no covenant preceding the New Covenant was the Covenant of Grace. Before the arrival of the New Covenant, the Covenant of Grace was at the stage of promise…

If we are talking about a promise, this implies that it was not yet accomplished and was not yet in the form of a testament or a covenant. The Baptists believed that the New Covenant was the accomplishment of the promise, or in other words, the accomplishment of the Covenant of Grace. This doctrine is expressed in the following way in the 1689: “This covenant is revealed in the gospel; first of all to Adam […] and afterwards by farther steps, until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament.” The New Testament brings the full revelation of the Covenant of Grace since the New Covenant is its accomplishment. The Baptists considered that the New Covenant and it alone was the Covenant of Grace.

If the New Covenant did not exist before Jesus Christ, while the Covenant of Grace existed before the coming of the Messiah, does this not mean that both covenants are distinct? The New Covenant did not exist as a covenant before Jesus Christ; however it did exist as a promise (cf. Jr 31.31). The Covenant of Grace revealed to Adam, then to Abraham, was the New Covenant promised. Therefore, before Jesus Christ, the New Covenant did not exist, but the Covenant of Grace, did not exist as a formal covenant either. John Spilsbury affirmed this notion: “Again, it’s called the promise, and not the Covenant; and we know that every promise is not a covenant: there being a large difference between a promise and a covenant. Spilsbury speaks of the Covenant of Grace that God revealed to Abraham and he declares that at this stage, it was not yet a formal covenant, but a promise. This distinction: (revealed/ concluded) summarized the difference between the Covenant of Grace in the Old Testament and the Covenant of Grace in the New Testament. In the Old, it was revealed, in the New, it was concluded [established] (fully revealed according to the expression of the 1689)…

The Abrahamic Covenant, the Sinaitic Covenant and the Davidic Covenant were not the Covenant of Grace, nor administrations of it; however, the Covenant of Grace was revealed under these various covenants.

Denault, Pascal (2014-12-13). The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology: A Comparison Between Seventeenth-Century Particular Baptist and Paedobaptist Federalism (Kindle Locations 1195-1196). . Kindle Edition.

According to 1689 Federalism, Adam, Abraham, and Moses were all saved through their membership in the New Covenant. The typical response from paedobaptists is that we have simply manufactured this artificial distinction between the covenant of grace promised and the covenant of grace established in order to defend our view of baptism. They argue that we do not understand the relationship of a promise to a covenant.

However, note what Louis Berkhof says about the covenant of grace in Genesis 3:

1. The first revelation of the covenant. The first revelation of the covenant is found in the protevangel, Gen. 3:15. Some deny that this has any reference to the covenant; and it certainly does not refer to any formal establishment of a covenant. The revelation of such an establishment could only follow after the covenant idea had been developed in history. At the same time Gen. 3:15 certainly contains a revelation of the essence of the covenant

Up to the time of Abraham there was no formal establishment of the covenant of grace. While Gen. 3:15 already contains the elements of this covenant, it does not record a formal transaction by which the covenant was established. It does not even speak explicitly of a covenant. The establishment of the covenant with Abraham marked the beginning of an institutional Church.

Excerpt From: Louis Berkhof. “Systematic Theology.” iBooks.

Gen 3:15 was not the formal establishment of the covenant of grace. Its formal establishment was to come later. However, it revealed the covenant of grace, and this revelation of the covenant of grace (the promise) was sufficient to save believers prior to its formal establishment.

The Westminster Confession (7.5) and Catechism (WLC 34) also teach that the promise was sufficient to save:

Q. 34. How was the covenant of grace administered under the Old Testament?
A. The covenant of grace was administered under the Old Testament by promises… [that] were sufficient for that time to build up the faith of the elect in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of their sins and eternal salvation.

So there is no legitimate objection to 1689 Federalism’s understanding of the New Covenant (Covenant of Grace) as promised/established.

Furthermore, note that Berkhof says that the formal establishment of the covenant of grace marked the beginning of an institutional Church. We agree. We simply believe he was mistaken as to when the covenant of grace was formally established. Scripture is clear that it was established at the death of its mediator, Jesus Christ.

Note also LBCF 20.1

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

Saved by the New Covenant

“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… 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…

The greatest and utmost mercies that God ever intended to communicate unto the church, and to bless it withal, were enclosed in the new covenant. Nor doth the efficacy of the mediation of Christ extend itself beyond the verge and compass thereof; for he is only the mediator and surety of this covenant.”
-Owen (Commentary, Hebrews 8:6)

“There is yet no reason why God should not have extended the grace of the new covenant to the fathers. This is the true solution of the question.”
-Calvin (Commentary Hebrews 8:10)

“And so it finally came to the most perfect promise of all, that of the new testament, in which, with plain words, life and salvation are freely promised, and actually granted to those who believe the promise. And he distinguishes this testament from the old one by a particular mark when he calls it the “new testament” [Luke 22:20; I Cor. 11:25]. For the old testament given through Moses was not a promise of forgiveness of sins or of eternal things, but of temporal things, namely, of the land of Canaan, by which no man was renewed in spirit to lay hold on the heavenly inheritance.”
-Luther (The Babylonian Captivity of the Church)

“As then the law of works, which was written on the tables of stone, and its reward, the land of promise, which the house of the carnal Israel after their liberation from Egypt received, belonged to the old testament [covenant], so the law of faith, written on the heart, and its reward, the beatific vision which the house of the spiritual Israel, when delivered from the present world, shall perceive, belong to the new testament [covenant]… I beg of you, however, carefully to observe, as far as you can, what I am endeavouring to prove with so much effort. When the prophet promised a new covenant, not according to the covenant which had been formerly made with the people of Israel when liberated from Egypt, he said nothing about a change in the sacrifices or any sacred ordinances, although such change, too, was without doubt to follow, as we see in fact that it did follow, even as the same prophetic scripture testifies in many other passages; but he simply called attention to this difference, that God would impress His laws on the mind of those who belonged to this covenant, and would write them in their hearts, (Jer 31:32-33)… These pertain to the new testament [covenant], are the children of promise, and are regenerated by God the Father and a free mother. Of this kind were all the righteous men of old, and Moses himself, the minister of the old testament, the heir of the new,—because of the faith whereby we live, of one and the same they lived, believing the incarnation, passion, and resurrection of Christ as future, which we believe as already accomplished”
-Augustine (Treatise on the Spirit and the Letter, c. 41, 42; A Treatise Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, b.3 c. 11)

1689 Federalism & Theonomy

April 24, 2015 15 comments

Theonomy may not be heard regularly from pulpits, but it is a view that is alive and well among Christians who take the Bible seriously and are struggling to understand how to apply it to the world they live in.

As appealing as theonomy may be for its apparently simple answer to a difficult subject, it is actually entirely (100%) incompatible with 1689 Federalism. Theonomy, properly defined as the belief that all nations today are obligated to obey Israel’s judicial laws because they have not been abrogated, relies upon an extreme version of the “one substance, multiple administrations” view of covenant theology. It stresses that the Old Covenant is really just the Older Covenant and the New Covenant is just the Newer Covenant – both being administrations of the covenant of grace. Since 1689 Federalism rejects this model, there is no way to hold to both theonomy and 1689 Federalism.

Gary North:

Theonomy, as Greg Bahnsen uses the term.5 is a view of the Bible that argues for the continuing validity of God’s revealed law in every area of life. Bahnsen argues that unless a specific Old Testament law has been abrogated by the New Testament, either by specific revelation or because of an application of a New Testament principle, its authority is still morally and/ or judicially binding. “The methodological point, then, is that we presume our obligation to obey any Old Testament commandment unless the New Testament indicates otherwise. We must assume continuity with the Old Testament rather than discontinuity. This is not to say that there are no changes from Old to New Testament. Indeed, there are — important ones. However, the word of God must be the standard which defines precisely what those changes are for us; we cannot take it upon ourselves to assume such changes or read them into the New Testament.”6

Greg Bahnsen

The fact is that all of the covenants of the Old Covenant (that is, all of the Old Testament covenants) are unified as parts of the one overall covenant of grace established by God. Paul spoke of Gentiles who were not part of the Old Covenant economy which included the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic covenants as “strangers to the covenants of the promise” (Eph. 2:12)…There were many, progressively revealed aspects to the single promise of God in the Old Testament: many administrations of the overall covenant of grace… Given the unity of God’s covenant throughout history and the Bible, then, is it true that Christians living under the New Covenant are not obliged to keep the Old Covenant law (the commandments of the Old Testament, especially those given by Moses)?…[W]e saw that all of the covenants of God are unified into one overall Covenant of Grace, fully realized with the coming of Christ in the New Covenant. So if there is one covenant enjoyed by the people of God throughout the ages, then there is one moral code or set of stipulations which govern those who would be covenant-keepers. Therefore, we must answer that of course New Testament believers are bound to the Old Testament law of God. His standards, just like His covenant, are unchanging. (BTS, 41-42)…

There is no textual indication, however, that the New Covenant brings a new standard of moral conduct, and there is no textual indication that the Old Covenant standard has been categorically laid aside. The Covenantal administrations are dramatically different – in glory, power, realization, and finality – but not as codes defining right and wrong behavior or attitudes. (BTS, 168)

John Owen:

Wherefore the whole law of Moses, as given unto the Jews, whether as used or abused by them, was repugnant unto and inconsistent with the gospel, and the mediation of Christ, especially his priestly office, therein declared; neither did God either design, appoint, or direct that they should be co-existent…

It is not, therefore, the peculiar command for the institution of the legal priesthood that is intended, but the whole system of Mosaical institutions. For the apostle having already proved that the priesthood was to be abolished, he proceeds on that ground and from thence to prove that the whole law was also to be in like manner abolished and removed. And indeed it was of such a nature and constitution, that pull one pin out of the fabric, and the whole must fall unto the ground; for the sanction of it being, that “he was cursed who continued not in all things written in the law to do them,” the change of any one thing must needs overthrow the whole law…

And the whole of this system of laws is called a “command,” because it consisted in “arbitrary commands” and precepts, regulated by that maxim, “The man that doeth these things shall live by them,” Romans 10:5. And therefore the law, as a command, is opposed unto the gospel, as a promise of righteousness by Jesus Christ, Galatians 3:11, 12. Nor is it the whole ceremonial law only that is intended by “the command” in this place, but the moral law also, so far as it was compacted with the other into one body of precepts for the same end; for with respect unto the efficacy of the whole law of Moses, as unto our drawing nigh unto God, it is here considered…

By all these ways was the church of the Hebrews forewarned that the time would come when the whole Mosaical law, as to its legal or covenant efficacy, should be disannulled, unto the unspeakable advantage of the church…

It is therefore plainly declared, that the law is “abrogated,” “abolished… disannulled.”

Exposition of Hebrews 7:12, 18-19

Richard Barcellos

Hearty agreement must be given when New Covenant theologians argue for the abolition of the Old Covenant. This is clearly the teaching of the Old and New Testaments (see Jeremiah 31:31-32; Second Corinthians 3; Galatians 3, 4; Ephesians 2:14-15; Hebrews 8-10). The whole law of Moses, as it functioned under the Old Covenant, has been abolished, including the Ten Commandments. Not one jot or tittle of the law of Moses functions as Old Covenant law anymore and to act as if it does constitutes redemptive-historical retreat and neo-Judaizing. However, to acknowledge that the law of Moses no longer functions as Old Covenant law is not to accept that it no longer functions; it simply no longer functions as Old Covenant law. This can be seen by the fact that the New Testament teaches both the abrogation of the law of the Old Covenant and its abiding moral validity under the New Covenant.

In Defense of the Decalogue, 61.
See also JOHN OWEN AND NEW COVENANT THEOLOGY: Owen on the Old and New Covenants and the Functions of the Decalogue in Redemptive History in Historical and Contemporary Perspective

To be clear, LBCF chapter 19 affirms that the moral law, the decalogue, continues to guide Christians as a rule of righteousness. The difference, however, is that moral law does not continue to guide by virtue of its unabrogated Mosaic establishment. It continues to guide as universal moral standard that transcends all covenants. (For more on this, see JOHN OWEN AND NEW COVENANT THEOLOGY: Owen on the Old and New Covenants and the Functions of the Decalogue in Redemptive History in Historical and Contemporary Perspective).

The point is that the law was given to Israel on Mt. Sinai as a covenant of works. Note Owen “it consisted in “arbitrary commands” and precepts, regulated by that maxim, “The man that doeth these things shall live by them,” Romans 10:5. And therefore the law, as a command, is opposed unto the gospel…” The Old Covenant operated upon the works principle “Do this and live” (Leviticus 18:5). As Owen notes, Paul quotes Leviticus 18:5 to demonstrate that this principle of works is directly opposed to the principle of faith. Thus “with respect unto the efficacy of the whole law of Moses, as unto our drawing nigh unto God, it is here considered…”

The law says “do this”, a covenant of works says “do this and live.” The curses found in the Mosaic covenant (and the blessings) are derived from the law as a covenant of works. Violation of the law brought curses upon individuals and the nation. That is why people were put to death in Israel for violating the moral law. Because it was a covenant of works with life in the balance (Lev 18:5, cited in Gal 3:12 & Rom 10:5). Augustine put it this way

In that testament, however, which is properly called the Old, and was given on Mount Sinai, only earthly happiness is expressly promised. Accordingly that land, into which the nation, after being led through the wilderness, was conducted, is called the land of promise, wherein peace and royal power, and the gaining of victories over enemies, and an abundance of children and of fruits of the ground, and gifts of a similar kind are the promises of the Old Testament. And these, indeed, are figures of the spiritual blessings which appertain to the New Testament; but yet the man who lives under God’s law with those earthly blessings for his sanction, is precisely the heir of the Old Testament, for just such rewards are promised and given to him, according to the terms of the Old Testament, as are the objects of his desire according to the condition of the old man…

[T]he law of works, which was written on the tables of stone, and its reward, the land of promise, which the house of the carnal Israel after their liberation from Egypt received, belonged to the old testament [covenant]…

“But the law is not of faith: but The man that doeth them shall live in them.” (Gal 3:12) Which testimony, quoted by the apostle from the law, is understood in respect of temporal life, in respect of the fear of losing which, men were in the habit of doing the works of the law, not of faith; because the transgressors of the law were commanded by the same law to be put to death by the people.

“‘Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’” Deuteronomy 27:26 (cited in Gal 3:10)

The death penalty instituted under the Old Covenant for violation of the moral law was not itself part of the moral law. It was an addition to the moral law given by way of covenant. The shedding of blood by man for violation of the moral law was specifically a curse. Theonomists who believe Christians should enforce Mosaic curses for violation of the moral law are putting Christians under a covenant of works that we have been freed from (Gal 5:1; Acts 15:10).

“And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God. You shall not defile your land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance.”
(Deuteronomy 21:22-23, cited in Gal 3:13)

It is specifically this principle of curse for violation of the law that Christ died on the cross for (Gal 3:13). Christians are not under the decalogue as a means to earn their life or lose it. Christ has earned our life and saved us from the curse. (Note, however, that although the Old Covenant was a covenant of works, it was not the covenant of works: it did not deal with eternal blessing and curse)

Rushdoony v Booth

How is Christ’s Kingdom to come? Scripture is again very definite and explicit. The glorious peace and prosperity of Christ’s reign will be brought about ONLY as people obey the covenant law. In Lev. 26, Deut. 28, and all of Scripture, this is plainly stated. There will be peace and prosperity in the land, the enemy will be destroyed, and men will be free of evils only “If ye walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them (Lev. 26:3). The obedience of faith to the law of God produces IRRESISTIBLE BLESSINGS. “And all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God” (Deut. 28:2). On the other hand, disobedience leads to IRRESISTIBLE CURSES. . . .

God’s determination of history is thus plainly described in His law. If we believe and obey, then we are blessed and we prosper in Him; if we deny Him and disobey His law, we are cursed and confounded. . . .

-Rushdoony, The Meaning of Postmillennialism, pp. 53-56

God established His covenant with Adam, and again with Noah. It was a dominion covenant. It was man’s authorization to subdue the earth, but under God’s overall authority and under His law. God also covenanted with Abram, changing his name to Abraham, and instituting the sign of His covenant, circumcision. He covenanted with Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, changing his name to Israel, promising to bless Jacob’s efforts (Genesis 32:24-30). God covenanted with Moses and the children of Israel, promising to bless them if they conformed to His laws, but curse them if they disobeyed (Deuteronomy 8:28). The covenant was a treaty, and it involved mutual obligations and promises. The ruler, God, offers the peace treaty to a man or selection of men, and they in turn accept its terms of surrender. The treaty spells out mutual obligations: protection and blessings from the King, and obedience on the part of the servants. It also spells out the term of judgement: cursings from the King in case of rebellion on the part of the servants.

This same covenant is extended to the church today. It covers the institutional church, and it also applies to nations that agree to conform their laws to God’s standards . . . .

-Gary North, Unconditional Surrender

This failure to distinguish between biblical covenants and the way the law functions in each is both the lynchpin and the fatal error of theonomy. Theonomy rests upon what is called “monocovenantalism.” You can see it in the above quote where North says we are under the same covenant as Adam before the fall. You could also say theonomy rests upon “mononomism.” This is why theonomy speaks of God’s law and God’s covenant in the singular.

Compare the above two quotes with Abraham Booth (1689 Federalism).

Now, as the immunities, grants, and honors, bestowed by the King Messiah, are ail of a spiritual nature; his faithful subjects have no reason to wonder, or to be discouraged, at any persecutions, afflictions, or poverty which may befall them. Were his empire of this world, then indeed it might be expected, from the goodness of his heart and the power of his arm, that those who are submissive to his authority, zealous for his honor, and conformed to his image, would commonly find themselves easy and prosperous in their temporal circumstances. Yes, were his dominion of a secular kind, it might be supposed that an habitually conscientious regard to his laws, would secure from the oppression of ungodly men, and from the distresses of temporal want. — Thus it was with Israel under their Theocracy. When the rulers and the people in general were punctual in observing Jehovah’s appointments, the stipulations of the Sinai Covenant secured them from being oppressed bv their enemies, and from any remarkable affliction by the immediate hand of God. Performing the conditions of their National Confederation, they were, as a people, warranted to expect every species of temporal prosperity. Health, and long life, riches, honors, and victory over their enemies, were promised by Jehovah to their external obedience.[ 64] The punishments also, that were denounced against flagrant breaches of the Covenant made at Horeb, were of a temporal kind.[ 65]

In this respect, however, as well as in other things, there is a vast difference between the Jewish, and the Christian economy. This disparity was plainly intimated, if I mistake not, by the opposite modes of divine proceeding, in establishing Jehovah’s kingdom among the Jews, and in founding the empire of Jesus Christ. To settle the Israelitish church, to exalt the chosen tribes above surrounding nations, and to render the ancient Theocracy supremely venerable, the divine Sovereign appeared in terrible majesty. Wasting plagues and awful deaths were often inflicted by eternal justice, on those who dared to oppose, or to oppress, the people of God. An angel was commissioned to destroy the Egyptian first-born; Pharaoh, with his mighty host, were drowned in the Red sea; and the Canaanitish nations were put to the sword, that the subjects of Jehovah might possess their fertile country. Manifest indications these, in connection with express promises, that the special Providence of God would exalt and bless the natural seed of Abraham with temporal felicity; provided they did not violate the Sinai Covenant.

But when the Prince Messiah founded his kingdom, all things were otherwise. No marks of external grandeur attended his personal appearance: and, instead of executing righteous vengeance on those who opposed him, his language was, The Son of man is ‘not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do! — After a life of labour and of beneficence, of poverty and of reproach, he fell a victim to persecution, and a martyr to truth. Such was the plan of divine Providence, respecting Christ our King, and such was the treatment with which he met from the world! Striking intimations, those, that his most faithful subjects would have no ground of discouragement, in any sufferings which might await them; and that, considered as his dependents, spiritual blessings were all they should have to expect.

It must indeed be acknowledged, that as vicious tempers and immoral practices have a natural tendency to impair health, distress the mind, and waste the property; to the exercise of holy affections, and the practice of true godliness, have the most friendly aspect on a Christian’s own temporal happiness, (except so far as persecution intervenes) and on the welfare of society. But then it is evident that this arises from the nature of things, and from the superintendency of common Providence; rather than from the dominion of Christ, as a spiritual monarch. For, so considered, spiritual blessings are all that they have to expect from his royal hand.

By the prophetic declarations of our Lord himself, and by the history of this kingdom, it plainly appears, that among all the subjects of his government, none have been more exposed to persecution, affliction, and poverty, than those who were most eminent for obedience to his laws, and most useful in his empire. The most uniform subjection to his authority, and the warmest zeal for his honor, that ever appeared upon earth; were no security from bitter persecution, from pinching poverty, or from complicated affliction. Our divine Lord, considered as a spiritual sovereign, is concerned for the spiritual interests of those that are under his government. His personal perfections and royal prerogatives, his power and wisdom, his love and care, are therefore to be regarded as engaged, both by office and by promise, — not to make his dependents easy and prosperous in their temporal concerns; but– to strengthen them for their spiritual warfare; to preserve them from finally falling by their invisible enemies; to make all afflictions work together for their good; to render them, in the final issue, more than conquerors over every opposer; and to crown them with, everlasting life.

Our Lord has promised, indeed, that their obedience to his royal pleasure, shall meet with his gracious regards in the present life. Not by indulging them with temporal riches, or by granting them external honor and ease; but by admitting them into more intimate communion with himself, and by rejoicing their hearts with his favor.[ 66] Yes, to deliver from spiritual enemies, and to provide for spiritual wants; to indulge with spiritual riches, and to ennoble with spiritual honors, are those royal acts which belong to Him, whose kingdom is not of this world. In the bestowment of these blessings, the glory of his regal character is much concerned. But millions of his devoted subjects may fall by the iron hand of oppression, starve in obscurity, or suffer accumulated affliction in other ways; without the least impeachment of his power, his goodness, or his care, as the sovereign of a spiritual kingdom.

-Booth, Abraham. An Essay on the Kingdom of Christ (Kindle Locations 1090-1130). Reformed Libertarian.

For more on this, see Abraham Booth’s An Essay on the Kingdom of Christ.

General Equity

A separate question is whether or not nations today may or should enforce the general equity of Israel’s judicial laws in their own civil laws. Here are two resources to help unpack 19.4 of the 2nd London Baptist Confession from a 1689 Federalism perspective:

Nehemiah Coxe on Merit in LBCF 7.1

April 22, 2015 19 comments

The OPC is currently debating Klinean republication. One of the central elements in that debate is WCF/LBCF 7.1

1. The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.a

[WCF Proofs, LBCF proofs in bold]

a. Isa. 40:13–17. Who hath directed the Spirit of the LORD, or being his counseller hath taught him? With whom took he counsel, and who instructed him, and taught him in the path of judgment, and taught him knowledge, and shewed to him the way of understanding? Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance: behold, he taketh up the isles as a very little thing. And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, nor the beasts thereof sufficient for a burnt offering. All nations before him are as nothing; and they are counted to him less than nothing, and vanity.

Job 9:32–33. For he is not a man, as I am, that I should answer him, and we should come together in judgment. Neither is there any daysman betwixt us, that might lay his hand upon us both.

Ps. 113:5–6. Who is like unto the LORD our God, who dwelleth on high, who humbleth himself to behold the things that are in heaven, and in the earth!

Job 22:2–3. Can a man be profitable unto God, as he that is wise may be profitable unto himself? Is it any pleasure to the Almighty, that thou art righteous? or is it gain to him, that thou makest thy ways perfect?

Job 35:7–8. If thou be righteous, what givest thou him? or what receiveth he of thine hand? Thy wickedness may hurt a man as thou art; and thy righteousness may profit the son of man.

Luke 17:10. So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.

Acts 17:24–25. God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things

One side speaks only of “ontological merit” and says this means that eternal life was a gracious gift to Adam, not something he earned or merited. In response, the other side rejects the concept of “ontological merit” (and thus rejects 7.1) and speaks only of “covenantal merit” saying that merit is whatever God says it is.

I have found Nehemiah Coxe (the likely editor of the LBCF) to be a very helpful anchor between these two extremes.

First, God made him a reasonable creature and endued him with original righteousness, which was a perfection necessary to enable him to answer the end of his creation. Eminently in this respect he is said to be created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26, 27) and to be made upright (Ecc 7:29). This uprightness or rectitude of nature consisted in the perfect harmony of his soul with that law of God which he was made under and subjected to.

1… The sum of this law was afterward given in ten words on Mount Sinai and yet more briefly by Christ…

Secondly, this law was guarded by a sanction in the threatening of death for its transgression (Gen 2:17)… This sanction belonged not only to the positive precept to which it was expressly annexed, but also to the law of nature; the demerit for transgressing this law is known to man by the same light as the law itself is known to him…

Thirdly, Adam was not only under a commination of death in case of disobedience, but also had the promise of an eternal reward on condition of his perfect obedience to these laws. If he had fulfilled this condition, the reward would have been due to him by virtue of this compact into which God was pleased to condescend for the encouraging of man’s obedience and the manifestation of his own bounty and goodness…

S4… He was capable of and made for a greater degree of happiness than he immediately enjoyed. This was set before him as the reward of his obedience by that covenant in which he was to walk with God. Of this reward set before him, these things are further to be observed.

1. Although the law of his creation was attended both with a promise of reward and a threatening of punishment, yet the reason of both is not the same nor necessary in the same way. For the reward is of mere sovereign bounty and goodness. It therefore might have been either less or more, as it pleased God, or not proposed at all without any injury being done. But the threatened punishment is a debt to justice and results immediately from the nature of sin with reference to God without the intervention of any compact. It is due to the transgression of it, even by those that are already cut off from any hope of reward by a former breach of the covenant…

S6. From these things it is evident that God dealt with Adam not only on terms of a law but by way of covenant…

2. But it is certainly concluded from that promise of reward and the assurance that was given to Adam which he could never have obtained except by God condescending to deal with him by terms of a covenant… (42-48)

Yet this restipulation [meaning counter-engagement or covenant response] (and consequently, the way and manner of obtaining covenant blessings, as well as the right by which we claim them) necessarily varies according to the different nature and terms of those covenants that God at any time makes with men. If the covenant be of works, the restipulation must be by doing the things required in it, even by fulfilling its condition in a perfect obedience to its law. Suitably, the reward is of debt according to the terms of such a covenant. (Do not understand it of debt absolutely but of debt by compact.) But if it be a covenant of free and sovereign grace, the restipulation required is a humble receiving or hearty believing of those gratuitous promises on which the covenant is established. Accordingly, the reward or covenant blessing is immediately and eminently of grace. (39)

Coxe maintains the confessional balance. There is both “debt absolutely” (“ontological merit”) and “debt by compact” (“covenantal merit”). A proper understanding of the law as well as the covenant of works requires a proper understanding of both types of debt/merit. By the law alone, Adam could merit nothing. Obedience was simply what was required of image bearers/servants (Luke 17:10). But God lovingly offered a reward (eternal life/immutable nature/fruition of God) for that obedience by way of a covenant. Once that covenant was established, the reward was not gracious, but merited (though not “absolutely”), which made Adam no longer a servant, but a wage-earner (Rom 4:4). Thus the law was given as a covenant of works (19.1).

The Kline debate is getting more convoluted every day it seems. Rick Phillips recently wrote a brief critique of Mark Jones in which he claims the confession excludes the concept of merit from the pre-fall covenant of works. In doing so, he is contradicting his church’s Report on the Federal Vision, which states:

This is precisely the point of the Standards’ use of the term and theological category of “merit.” Merit relates to the just fulfillment of the conditions of the covenant of works (LC 55, 174). This no man can do since the Fall (LC 193) but Christ only (WCF 17.3). The Standards consistently assert our inability to merit pardon of sin (WCF 16.5), and contrast our demerit with Christ’s merit (LC 55, cf. WCF 30.4). Christ’s work (active and passive, preceptive and penal, perfect and personal, obedience and satisfaction) fulfills the conditions of the covenant of works (WCF 8.5, 11.1, 3, 19.6), and thus secures a just and righteous redemption that is at the same time freely offered and all of grace.

I’m hoping to put together a post comparing 4 different views on this and how it relates to Lev 18:5 in the future.

See also:

  1. Covenantal Merit in the Confession of Faith
  2. Do the Westminster Standards Teach Merit? great piece by Wes White from 2011 written against the Federal Vision

James White doesn’t know what 1689 Federalism is

April 3, 2015 24 comments

James White is a tremendous preacher, teacher, apologist, and reformed baptist. I greatly value his ministry.

However, there is some confusion regarding his covenant theology. People have asked him before if he agrees with 1689 Federalism and he has said yes. However, I have suspected for many reasons, that he misunderstands the question, thinking it is simply a question about the 2nd London Baptist Confession, and that he doesn’t actually know what 1689 Federalism is.

That suspicion was basically confirmed in his recent debate on baptism with Gregg Strawbridge.

1:31:45
Strawbridge: “So the New Covenant only includes regenerate people in your point of view?”

White: “The New Covenant does, certainly.”

Strawbridge: “And is that distinctive of the new covenant?”

White: “That’s what Hebrews 8 says, yes.”

Strawbridge: “Was Abraham regenerate?”

White: “Of course.”

Strawbridge: “How so? He wasn’t in the New Covenant.”

White: “He’s in the covenant of grace. This is a well known position. We’re not saying that the only people who are regenerate were in the New Covenant. There were regenerate people under the Old Covenant. The point is that those individuals who were regenerate under the Old Covenant were called the remnant. There is never a remnant of the New Covenant.”

Strawbridge: “Is Abraham called the remnant in the bible?”

White: “No, but the remnant are those people in Israel who are differentiated from those who do not have a true faith.”

Strawbridge: “The remnant becomes part the later history of Israel when various things fall away. I believe that. But what I’m saying is that if what’s new about the New Covenant is regeneration–”

White: “No, it’s not. You’ve misunderstood our position. I’m sure you know that Reformed Baptists believe that there were regenerate people under the Old Covenant. The point was that the Old Covenant did not guarantee the regeneration of everyone that received that received its signs.”

Dr. White’s response was very clearly an articulation of the modern or “20th century Reformed Baptist” view, as opposed to the 1689 Federalism view. Which is completely fine, if that’s what he believes. But my suspicion has been that, because he is so busy, he’s simply unaware of 1689 Federalism and the covenantal heritage being recovered.

That suspicion was confirmed in his chat chan today:

brandonadams: In cross-ex Strawbridge asked White how Abraham was regenerated if he wasn’t in the new covenant. White responded by appealing to the covenant of grace under multiple administrations, stating that regeneration is not exclusive to the new covenant, but the extent of regeneration in the covenant is the difference…
[09:07am] DrOakley: I was totally amazed that he, a former Reformed Baptist, even asked the question.
[09:07am] brandonadams: why?
[09:07am] DrOakley: Because he should know better.
[09:07am] DrOakley: He should know we believe there were regenerate men before the cross! Good grief!
[09:07am] DrOakley: That would be like me asking him if he’s a Trinitarian or something. Just silly.
[09:08am] brandonadams: Dr White, have you had an opportunity to study 1689 Federalism yet?
[09:08am] • DrOakley stares
[09:08am] DrOakley: No, brandon, never heard of the 1689. What’s that?
[09:09am] brandonadams: i’m not asking if you’ve studied the confession. I’m asking if you’ve studied 1689 Federalism, which is a specific covenant theology that is different from modern reformed baptist covenant theology

[09:16am] brandonadams: Dr. White?
[09:16am] DrOakley: Yes?
[09:17am] brandonadams: Have you studied 1689 Federalism?
[09:17am] brandonadams: i’m just trying to find out if you studied and reject it, or if you haven’t had time to study it yet
[09:17am] DrOakley: Are you suggesting modern Reformed Baptists have misunderstood their own confession?
[09:17am] brandonadams: yes
[09:17am] DrOakley: I see.
[09:18am] brandonadams: And James Renihan says the same thing
[09:18am] DrOakley: No, I do not invest much time studying every little off-shoot idea out there, sorry. There are…many.
[09:18am] DrOakley: Can’t keep up with them all.
[09:18am] DrOakley: Is it a major movement?
[09:18am] brandonadams: yes
[09:18am] DrOakley: Lots of books on it?
[09:18am] brandonadams: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZvPoAnMGuGE
[09:18am] brandonadams: yes
[09:18am] DrOakley: I see.
[09:18am] DrOakley: Great.
[09:19am] brandonadams: http://1689federalism.com/
[09:20am] brandonadams: I’m asking because 1689 Federalism teaches that Abraham was a member of the New Covenant because regeneration is a blessing exclusive to the New Covenant. It rejects the multiple administrations view of the covenant of grace and identifies the new covenant alone as the covenant of grace
[09:21am] DrOakley: I see.
[09:22am] DrOakley: I would think the writer to the Hebrews would have mentioned such a claim.

I don’t blame Dr. White at all. He’s got a lot on his plate. But I just want to avoid confusion for people out there who have studied 1689 Federalism. James White does not hold to it. He does not know what it is. He may hold to it in the future, but at the present time, he holds to the modern reformed baptist view of covenant theology. His chapters as they appear in Recovering a Covenantal Heritage are consistent with 1689 Federalism, but it was written many years ago as a journal article and he has clearly not read any of the other chapters in the book (which, again, is totally fine – he’s busy).