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Kline’s Abrahamic Covenant of Works 6: 1689 Federalism

January 2, 2019 6 comments

In Part 1 we saw how Murray pointed out the conditionality of the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and New covenants were all the same, and how Shepherd built upon that to make works instrumental in our justification. In Part 2 we saw how Kline responded to these claims by arguing that Abraham’s obedience in the Abrahamic Covenant was a condition for the fulfillment of typological, redemptive historical blessings (not ordo salutis blessings). In Part 3 we saw how this related to Kline’s understanding of the Abrahamic Covenant as a royal grant covenant of works at the typological level. Part 4 drew out the resulting contradiction in Kline’s system – notably his belief that the Abrahamic Covenant is a promise covenant. Part 5 addressed a recent series on the Glory Cloud Podcast, demonstrating further contradiction in the Klinean system. In Part 6 I would like to present what I believe is the most consistent and biblical understanding of all the issues we have discussed thus far.

Only Redemptive Historical

As noted in Part 5, Kline and Bordow argue that the blessings of Gen 22:15-18 refer exclusively to the historia salutis. They refer to Abraham’s natural offspring growing numerous and inheriting the land of Canaan, as well as to the promise that Abraham would be the father of the Messiah who would come to bless all nations. Note that this second promise is not itself an ordo salutis promise (regeneration, justification, sanctification, glorification, etc). It is a promise that Christ will come. Once Christ comes, he will bless all nations through the New Covenant, from which flow the blessings of the ordo salutis (regneration, justification, sactification, glorification, etc). So this Abrahamic promise certainly relates very directly to the New Covenant, yet it is in fact distinct from it. The promise that Abraham would be the father of the Messiah is not a promise that Abraham will be born again and will have his sins forgiven through faith alone – though the two promises are certainly related. As Kline said “Salvation would not come from Abraham’s obedience. But salvation would come from Israel because of Abraham’s obedience.”

Consider the example (recognizing that all analogies fail at some point) of this wedding covenant/contract. If you click the link, you will see that it is not a marriage covenant, but a contract regarding the performance of the wedding.

This contract defines the terms and conditions under which The Salem Herbfarm and ___________________________ (hereafter referred to as the CLIENT) agree to the CLIENT’s use of The Salem Herbfarm’s facilities on __________________________ (reception/event date). This contract constitutes the entire agreement between the parties and becomes binding upon the signature of both parties. The contract may not be amended or changed unless executed in writing and signed by The Salem Herbfarm and the CLIENT.

Once signed, this covenant confirms that the wedding will take place. Once confirmed, the contract is binding and cannot be amended or changed. “To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified.” But the actual wedding still has to be performed, because this wedding event covenant is not the marriage union covenant, it simply promises the marriage covenant will occur. Likewise, the Abrahamic Covenant promises that the event of the Messiah will occur, but the New Covenant is the actual marriage union between the Messiah and his bride (from which eternal blessings flow).

Abraham’s New Covenant Union with Christ

“But Genesis 15:6 says that Abraham was justified through faith in the promise.” Yes, but it does not say that justification was a blessing of the Abrahamic Covenant. Abraham believed God when God said a Messiah would be born from him to bless all nations. But the promise “If you believe in the Messiah, your sins will be forgiven” was a New Covenant promise. Note Michael Horton

There are clear passages indicating that ‘the forgiveness of sins’ is unique to the New Covenant (“remember their sins no more”; Jer 31:34)… [OT saints] were forgiven truly but only by anticipation and were not yet propitiated in history… [T]he energies of the Spirit at Pentecost worked retroactively in the lives of OT saints.

Commenting on Hebrews 8:10, Calvin likewise said

The declaration indeed is clear, that a new covenant is made according to which God engraves his laws on our hearts, for otherwise it would be in vain and of no effect… But it may be asked, whether there was under the Law a sure and certain promise of salvation, whether the fathers had the gift of the Spirit, whether they enjoyed God’s paternal favor through the remission of sins?… 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.

John Frame says

Everyone who has ever been saved has been saved through the new covenant in Christ. Everyone who is saved receives a new heart, a heart of obedience, through the new covenant work of Christ… [T]he efficacy of the New Covenant, unlike that of previous covenants, extends to God’s elect prior to Jesus’ atonement. When believers in the Old Testament experienced “circumcision of the heart,” or when they were Jews “inwardly,” they were partaking of the power of the New Covenant.

New Covenant union with Christ for Old Testament saints is no different from Christ’s atonement for OT saints. They received both in anticipation of its event in history. In the same way that someone may get a cash advance on a paycheck before they receive the paycheck, because it is guaranteed, OT saints received a soteriological advance on the New Covenant, because it was guaranteed by the Covenant of Redemption between the Father and the Son.

1689 Federalism

Other people in history, such as Nehemiah Coxe, have made the same observation about Abraham’s typological merit as Kline. In 1705, Congregationalist Samuel Mather said

3. If we consider Abraham as the head of the covenant to that church and people: So he is a type of Christ, the head of the second Covenant. You know God covenanted with Abraham for his seed: So he doth with Christ for all his elect. God’s promise to Abraham was to give a seed to him, and an inheritance to his seed, viz. the land of Canaan, the land of Promise: So God did promise to Jesus Christ, that he should see his seed, Isai. 53. 10, 11. and to bring them to Heaven, Heb 2. 10 – Jesus Christ is the true head of the second covenant, he engageth and undertakes for all his seed: Abraham was but a typical head thereof.

4. Abraham was a type of Christ in regard of his absolute obedience to the will of God… There was nothing so difficult, but if God require it, Abraham will do it; there is not such another example, there is not an higher instance of obedience in all of the Scripture, than in Abraham, save only in Jesus Christ, who was obedient to his Father’s will in all things, even unto death itself (Job 6:38.-8.29-10.18)

Mather noted “I confess [Abraham] is omitted by divers that have handled this subject [of typology]; for what reason I know not.” As we have seen in this series, the reason is because acknowledging Abraham as a type of Christ undoes the system of theology supporting infant baptism. Thus 17th century reformed theologians omitted him from any discussion of typology.

The implications of this are worked out in the system of theology known as 1689 Federalism. The New Covenant alone is the Covenant of Grace. All other post-fall covenants are distinct from, but subservient to the New Covenant. The Noahic Covenant of Common Preservation provides a platform upon which the history of salvation unfolds. The Abrahamic Covenant promises who the Messiah will come from and also develops an elaborate typological kingdom to help us understand the work of the Messiah when he did come. The Mosaic Covenant was an addendum to the Abrahamic Covenant, further elaborating the terms upon which Abraham’s offspring would receive and retain the promised land and its blessings, typologically pointing to the obedience of Christ, the true Israel. Circumcision functioned the same way in both covenants. It bound Abraham and his offspring to loyal service to Yahweh according to the terms of the covenant. Thus it is associated with the works principle (Acts 15:10; Gal 5:1, 3; Rom 2:25 – see here for a longer discussion).

The Abrahamic Covenant sustained Israel’s existence until it was fulfilled. Once the land promise was fully realized under Solomon, the kingdom was split and the 10 tribes were destroyed by the Mosaic curse. Judah was spared because one remaining Abrahamic promise had not yet been fulfilled: the birth of the Messiah. This promise was narrowed from the line of Abrahamic, Isaac, and Jacob down to the line of David (in the Davidic Covenant). Thus the tribe of Judah was spared. Once this promise was fulfilled in the birth of Christ, Judah was destroyed by the Mosaic curse (AD70). Christ is the mediator of the New Covenant, which is established on better promises: regeneration and the forgiveness of sins. It alone is the Covenant of Grace through which all men since the fall have been saved.

I unpack all of this in much more detail in a 5-part series on the Reformed Northwest podcast. I also highly recommend reading Samuel Renihan’s dissertation From Shadow to Substance: The Federal Theology of the English Particular Baptists (1642-1704) to see much of this worked out in historical theology. It’s a really great work.

Here are some related blog posts:

In this series:

 

Kline’s Abrahamic Covenant of Works 5: Glory Cloud Podcast

January 1, 2019 5 comments

I am very thankful for the Glory Cloud Podcast. It is dedicated to explaining the theology of Meredith Kline. The hosts (the first 60 or so episodes are co-hosted by Lee Irons and Chris Caughey and then Todd Bordow later replaced Lee Irons) have a strong grasp of the law/gospel distinction. It is very refreshing to hear and I am thankful for all their efforts in putting the podcast together.

This series of posts was actually prompted by a series of episodes (90-96ish) of the Glory Cloud Podcast. Hosts Chris Caughey and Todd Bordow walk through Kline’s understanding of the Abrahamic Covenant. Episode 93 specifically addresses the question Was the Abrahamic Covenant a Covenant of Works? They call out 1689 Federalism several times and invite baptists to interact with what they have said. So that was the motivation behind this series.

They argue that

  1. The Genesis 15 oath ceremony necessarily means that the Abrahamic Covenant was unconditional.
  2. The NT confirms this in Rom 4 and Gal 3-4 because it says the Abrahamic promise is received through faith alone by grace alone apart from works.
  3. There is only one Abrahamic promise: eschatological salvation in Christ through faith alone. However, this promise is realized on two levels: the typological and anti-typological. Both are realized/received by unconditional grace through faith alone apart from works.
  4. Therefore Israel’s entrance into the land was not conditioned upon their obedience to the law but was a gracious gift received through faith alone apart from works.
  5. The Mosaic Covenant did not take effect when it was established in the wilderness but only started after Israel entered the land. At that point, remaining in the land was conditioned by the Mosaic Covenant, which they eventually broke (hence their exile).
  6. The New Covenant is a continuation of the Abrahamic Covenant of Grace – both of which are antithetical to the Old Covenant (which was of works).

Oath Ceremony

As addressed in Part 4, the analogy of Scripture is not followed on this point. Improper interpretive priority is given to the Genesis 15 ceremony – an implicit prophetic vision narrative. Assumptions about the meaning of this ceremony are used to interpret explicit, clear statements about the Abrahamic Covenant, rather than the other way around. Here are a few examples:

Imagine you’re hearing this for the first time and you’re familiar with both parties always walking through promising to do their part to fulfill the terms and how shocking it is that God walks through and promises that Abraham doesn’t have to do his half, that God is going to do it all while Abraham sleeps. (Ep. 90, 23:30)

God does not say that “Abraham doesn’t have to do his half.” That is an assumption about the meaning of the vision, not something stated in the text. As we have seen Kline taught, per Gen 22:15-18 and 26:5, that Abraham did have to do his half in order to merit the redemptive historical blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant.

It seems to me like both passages [Gen 15:1 & 22:15-18] are episodic or episode-specific. They don’t really seem to be held up as the heart of the covenant that God is making with Abraham. It’s, “Ok, what you’ve done here is going to serve as an example of what the Messiah is eventually going to do.” But if Genesis 15:1 really did characterize the Abrahamic Covenant so that we could say, “Gosh, isn’t this a covenant of works here?” we would expect Abraham to walk those slain animals as well. But we’ve already belabored the point in a previous episode that God is the only one who walks between those halves of animals, and that says a lot about the nature of that covenant. (Ep. 93, 21:00)

Our expectations of what should or should not happen in any given situation does not get interpretive priority over explicit statements in Scripture explaining the meaning of that situation.

I just think – what is the major event associated with Abraham. What stands out? I think it’s the episode in chapter 15 with splitting the animals and God making that promise, which is pure promise. But when we ask that question of Israel it’s really Mt. Sinai and the giving of the law. So, yes, we do have this interesting verse in Genesis 26:5 but it certainly is not what characterizes the covenantal arrangement that God made with Abraham. (Ep. 92, 10:45)

Again, this is not letting Scripture interpret Scripture. What “stands out” to us in a text does not have interpretive priority over what the text states explicitly. “[W]hat characterizes the covenantal arrangement that God made with Abraham” should be determined by what God says characterizes the covenantal arrangement that He made with Abraham (the “interesting” verse that is being dismissed as irrelevant to the question).

Romans 4 and Galatians 3-4

Again, as addressed in Part 4, these passages (per Kline) contrast our eternal inheritance in Christ with Israel’s tenure in the typological land of Canaan. Therefore they do not address the question of Abraham’s works relative to the typological, redemptive historical promises of the Abrahamic Covenant.

Only One Abrahamic Promise?

In response, it is argued that there is only one Abrahamic promise. It is wrong to try to divide the Abrahamic Covenant up into multiple promises.

I know some don’t want to see the Covenant of Grace with Abraham and they want to simply focus on Abraham’s national election as a people. But the New Testament doesn’t let you do that. The New Testament points to Abraham’s election as an individual unto eternal salvation and all those in him – in Christ – who have the same faith as Abraham receive the same promise. So Paul doesn’t say “promises” as if there are separate promises to Abraham that don’t relate. Paul calls it all one promise. And yet there’s a promise that is symbolized in the Old Testament but then fulfilled eternally in Christ. One promise with a temporary fulfillment and then an eternal fulfillment. And that’s the way to understand these two elections – not as two separate promises but as one promise in symbolic form and then in ultimate form. (Ep. 91, 18:15)

Note, however, that co-host Todd Bordow directly contradicts himself when explaining Kline’s interpretation of Genesis 22:15-18.

So on an eternal level, Genesis 15 and the ritual is really pointing beyond the typology to what Christ will do to save Abraham and his offspring – his spiritual descendants. But here, just focusing on the typology alone, not looking past it, Abraham’s works will come into play, and they will have a typological, meritorious purpose… What God grants Abraham is to be a Christ figure in rewarding his works with the typological kingdom only. So for example, in Genesis 22, when the Lord said “Because you have done this, I will bless you and I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven,” he’s not looking ahead to the New Covenant at this point. He’s only speaking of how that will in a very temporary, typological way be fulfilled with the nation of Israel. Abraham’s descendants, his natural descendants, would be multiplied and there would be so many that they couldn’t count. And his offspring would possess the gates of his enemies throughout Old Testament episodes. He’s not talking about the church here in the New Covenant at all. So he’s speaking only on the typological level. So Kline writes – I really love this statement – “Salvation would not come from Abraham’s obedience. But salvation would come from Israel because of Abraham’s obedience.” So Israel was granted – because of Abraham’s obedience – they’re granted a temporary place in the history of salvation, but not an eternal place. Only Christ can bring about that. (Ep. 93, 21:30)

If there is only one indivisible Abrahamic promise then Bordow cannot make a distinction between New Covenant promises and typological promises in the Abrahamic Covenant. But in order to properly classify Abraham’s meritorious works, Bordow distinguishes between promises made about Abraham’s natural offspring and Abraham’s spiritual offspring. Again, that can’t be done if there is only one Abrahamic promise. Note that Kline saw multiple Abrahamic promises. “Thereupon, the Lord swore by himself that he would surely perform the full complement of covenant promises, culminating in the gospel promise of the blessing of the nations through Abraham’s seed (Gen 22:15-18).” (KP 300) Note well that Kline said the Genesis 22 covenant blessings that God swore to fulfill because of Abraham’s obedience included “the gospel promise,” which presents tremendous problems for his system.

In Galatians 3, Paul refers to “the promise” not because there is only one Abrahamic promise, but because he is referring to one specific Abrahamic promise (Gal 3:8), which brings up a crucial point: In Galatians 3:8, Paul quotes Genesis 22:18. This simply does not fit Bordow’s Klinean framework. Remember, they interpret Paul’s appeal to the Abrahamic Covenant in Galatians 3 as teaching that eternal salvation in Christ, in the ordo salutis, comes from the Abrahamic Covenant – and therefore the Abrahamic Covenant is the Covenant of Grace. The text Paul relies on is Genesis 22:18, but Bordow says Genesis 22:18 is not talking about the ordo salutis! It is only talking about the historia salutis.

From one perspective, Kline points out, Abraham’s works demonstrate his faith. So now he’s speaking of what we call the ordo salutis… James points out from that perspective, Abraham’s obedience only demonstrate his faith. They’re not a means to obtain the promise. And James is very clear, as Paul is. But here we have another perspective, it’s the perspective of the historia salutis, over the history of salvation as it works out in the different covenants.

And so the problem is obvious. How then is this different from Israel? The text seems like Abraham is being blessed based on his own obedience. Kline’s solution is that in the historia salutis, or in what we would call typology, there is a meritorious character to Abraham’s works. Not in the ordo salutis, but in the typology of the Old Testament, God will use Abraham as a Christ figure. Therefore he will reward his works with only the typological promises. Not the eternal promises that were his in the ordo salutis. But, in the typology, which means just with national Israel in the Old Testament, just with the land of Canaan, Abraham’s work will have a means to an end. He will be sort of a federal head in a typological sense. His work will bring about the blessings for God’s people only on a typological level. And that is how Kline explains – and I think really the only way to understand this.

The “only way” to understand Genesis 22:15-18 is that the blessings are limited to the historia salutis and do not include ordo salutis blessings. If that is the case, then Paul’s appeal to Genesis 22:18 in Galatians 3 cannot mean that Paul understood the Abrahamic Covenant to include ordo salutis blessings – that is, it cannot mean that Paul saw the Abrahamic Covenant as the Covenant of Grace. I believe that Kline and Bordow are correct here. I believe that the blessings of Genesis 22:15-18 are confined to the historia salutis. As Kline put it “Salvation would not come because of Abraham’s obedience, but because of Abraham’s obedience salvation would come of the Abrahamites, the Jews (John 4:22).” (KP 325)

[Side note: Bordow interprets Gen 22:17b “And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies” as a reference to Israel in Canaan. Note, however, that this reference is singular (“his”) not plural (“their”). This is specifically why Paul argues in Gal 3:16 that “the promise” (Gal 3:8/Gen 22:18) referred to one single offspring, not numerous offspring. For a more detailed analysis, see Galatians 3:16.]

Entrance into Canaan

Because of their misreading of Gal 3, they believe the Abrahamic Covenant, a promise covenant, promised the land of Canaan to Abraham’s offspring unconditionally: that it would be received through faith alone apart from works.

Kline’s response to that was the the promise that God would give them [Israel] the land on the typological level only is to bring them into the land and to bare seed. And so when we get to the book of Joshua when the conquest happens, it actually says at the end of Joshua that God’s promise to Israel has been fulfilled… Kline points out that there’s no promise of an unbroken continuance in the land simply by God’s promise, and there’s no promise, as Kline puts it, of a harmonious transition that when Christ comes they would still be God’s people and they would not be judged based on a promise. And so the promise only gets them to inherit the land and to have seed fill in the land, but at that point their tenure in the land is based on a national covenant of works between God and Israel… So that covenant of works is introduced once that promise is fulfilled. (Ep. 91, 25:30)

Kline said

[I]f the ground of Israel’s tenure in Canaan was their covenant obedience, their election to receive the typological kingdom in the first place was emphatically not based on any merit of theirs (cf. Deut 9:5,6). Their original reception of this kingdom, as well as their restoration to it after the loss of their national election in Babylonian exile, is repeatedly attributed to God’s remembrance of his promissory commitments of grace to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Exod 2:24; 3:6ff.; 6:2ff.; 32:13; Deut 9:27; 10:15; Lev 26:42), pointing to the coming Messiah and the new covenant. (KP 323)

In sum, it is argued that the works principle (obedience to the law) did not take effect until after Israel entered the land – that is, the Mosaic Covenant did not take effect until after the conquest by Joshua (40 years after Mt. Sinai). Until that point, the promise-grace principle determined their inheritance of Canaan. It is argued that the reason the first generation died was because they did not have faith, whereas the second generation was given the land because they had faith. Therefore the land was inherited through faith alone apart from works.

The truth of this framework should be doubted, however, given all that we have seen above. The Abrahamic Covenant simply was not a promise-grace covenant, opposite in kind to one of works. The Klinean framework, on this point, does contain a partial (and important) truth: Abraham, a federal head, did earn the typological reward of Canaan for his descendants. However, Scripture never says that this reward was to be received by his descendants through faith alone apart from works. In fact, it says the opposite.

First of all, Scripture nowhere teaches that the Mosaic Covenant commenced or took effect only after the Israelites entered the land under Joshua’s leadership. The Mosaic Covenant was in effect from the moment the oath was sworn, when the people said “All this we will do.” That is specifically why they offered sacrifices according to Mosaic law and why the first generation experienced so many curses and eventually death (Num 14:22-23, 29-30, 33; Deut 1:35; Ps 95:10-11). As T. David Gordon notes “While the land was eventually given to the Israelites, the terms of the Sinai covenant delayed their inheritance by forty years.” The role of the Abrahamic Covenant was to preserve the people as a whole despite their disobedience to Mosaic law. While they did experience the curses of Mosaic law in the wilderness, they were not utterly destroyed (per Mosaic law) because the Abrahamic promise had not yet been fulfilled (Ex 32:10, 13; Num 14:20; Deut 9:5-8, 13-14, 19, 25, 27-28; 28:26; Jer 7:33; Ps 106:8, 23, 44-45).

Second, when we look at explicit statements about the Abrahamic Covenant, we see that its fulfillment is conditioned upon Abraham’s obedience (Gen. 17:1-2, 9, 14; 22:15-18; 26:5). But we also see that its fulfillment is conditioned upon Abraham’s offsprings’ obedience (Ex. 19:5-8; 23:20-22; Deut 4:1; 6:3, 17-18, 24-25; 7:12; 8:1-2; 11:8, 22-24; 29:13; Jer 11:5).

Ex 19:5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”

 

Ex 23:20 “Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. 21 Pay careful attention to him and obey his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression, for my name is in him.

22 “But if you carefully obey his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries.

 

Deut 4:1 “And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you.

 

Deut 6:3 Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey… 17 You shall diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and his testimonies and his statutes, which he has commanded you. 18 And you shall do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord, that it may go well with you, and that you may go in and take possession of the good land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers 19 by thrusting out all your enemies from before you, as the Lord has promised… 24 And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day. 25 And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us.’

 

Deut 7:12 “And because you listen to these rules and keep and do them, the Lord your God will keep with you the covenant and the steadfast love that he swore to your fathers.

Regarding Deut 7:12, recall Kline:

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

Deut 7:12 teaches that the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise to Abraham’s descendants was conditioned upon their obedience to the law, which Kline identified as the meritorious works principle, and he said it functioned in the same manner as Abraham’s meritorious obedience. Therefore Abraham’s offspring had to obey, like Abraham, in order to enter and possess the land God swore to give them.

Deut 8:1 “The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers. 2 And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.

 

Deut 11:8 “You shall therefore keep the whole commandment that I command you today, that you may be strong, and go in and take possession of the land that you are going over to possess… 22 For if you will be careful to do all this commandment that I command you to do, loving the Lord your God, walking in all his ways, and holding fast to him, 23 then the Lord will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations greater and mightier than you. 24 Every place on which the sole of your foot treads shall be yours. Your territory shall be from the wilderness to the Lebanon and from the River, the river Euphrates, to the western sea.

 

Deut 29:10 “You are standing today, all of you, before the Lord your God: the heads of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, all the men of Israel, 11 your little ones, your wives, and the sojourner who is in your camp, from the one who chops your wood to the one who draws your water, 12 so that you may enter into the sworn covenant of the Lord your God, which the Lord your God is making with you today, 13 that he may establish you today as his people, and that he may be your God, as he promised you, and as he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

 

Jer 11:1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Hear the words of this covenant, and speak to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 3 You shall say to them, Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Cursed be the man who does not hear the words of this covenant 4 that I commanded your fathers when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace, saying, Listen to my voice, and do all that I command you. So shall you be my people, and I will be your God, 5 that I may confirm the oath that I swore to your fathers, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey, as at this day.”

Dennis Johnson comments

On the other hand it also is true to say that Israel, though small and stubborn, is receiving the land through obedience. Moses has already drawn a connection between obedience and conquest of the Promised Land in Deuteronomy 4:1. “And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possesion of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you.” Israel is to hear and to do the Lord’s commands “that” the promised consequences might follow, namely life and possession of the land. Israel’s reception of the relative and temporal/temporary possession of life and land as a reward for relative fidelity to the law of the Lord foreshadows a covenantal principle of reciprocity that the apostle Paul will articulate in its eschatologized, absolutized form: “The one who does [God’s commands] shall live by them” (Gal 3:12). (Him We Proclaim 298)

Richard Pratt, Jr. summarizes

Abraham’s personal reception of the promises made to him in covenant were contingent on his loyalty… Despite the fact that God promised Abraham’s descendants the land, this promise did not guarantee this promise for particular individuals, families or groups… In sum, there were senses in which the covenant with Abraham was both unconditional and conditional. Abraham was promised by divine oath that in one way or another his descendants would come out of Egypt and possess the land of Canaan. But at the same time, for particular individuals, families and groups to enjoy this promise, they had to fulfill covenant obligations.

Deut 9:4-6

One passage seems to contradict this clear teaching. Kline references Deut 9:4-6

4 “Do not say in your heart, after the Lord your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out before you. 5 Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. 6 “Know, therefore, that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people.

It is argued that this passage teaches that the second generation entered the land not through obedience to the law but through faith alone apart from works. At first glance it certainly seems to teach that. However, note that this passage calls them a stiff-necked people (v6). That is a label for unrepentant, unbelieving people. So if this passage refers to the second generation, it must mean they were a rebellious, unbelieving people just like their parents, and that they entered the land through rebellious unbelief (which would contradict the Klinean view). I do not believe that is what the passage means. Rather, “you” is simply a reference to Israel corporately, including the first generation. This is clear from the rest of the chapter. Moses likewise uses “you” to refer to Israel corporately, including the first generation (despite the fact that they were all dead at the time), in Deut 3:26 and 4:21.

The point of Deut 9:4-6 is that Israel collectively, as a nation, deserved to be utterly destroyed according to the terms of the Mosaic Covenant that God made with them, which would include the children. But because God had sworn to fulfill his promise to Abraham (because of Abraham’s loyalty/obedience), he spared the children. This is not what the nation deserved, therefore they should not be prideful. But he spared the children to see if they would obey, unlike their parents (Deut. 8:2 “And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.”). This is how the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants relate. The Mosaic covenant simply elaborated upon the obedience required by the Abrahamic Covenant. But Abraham’s obedience as the federal head of the Abrahamic Covenant guaranteed that his offspring would not be utterly destroyed until they entered the land (through obedience to the law).

New Covenant = Abrahamic Covenant?

All of this provides sufficient reason to reject the claim that the Abrahamic and the New Covenant are the same covenant: the Covenant of Grace. As we will see in the next part, the Abrahamic Covenant did not include any ordo salutis blessings.

I had a chance to discuss all of these matters with Todd Bordow in the Meredith Kline Facebook group, if you are interested in reading further. After this post was published, we also discussed these issues on Twitter.

Kline’s Abrahamic Covenant of Works 4: Contradiction

December 31, 2018 5 comments

At this point, a tension arises in Kline’s formulation. He considers the Abrahamic Covenant a promise covenant that “connotes the principle of grace, the opposite of work,” wherein the “Inheritance of the promise was not through the works principle of the law (v.13), for that is contrary to the promise-grace-faith-forgiveness principle.” (KP 294) This holds true for Abraham at the “substratum” layer of eternal inheritance, which he receives through faith apart from works because of Christ’s work (in another covenant). However, this does not hold true for Abraham at the typological, redemptive historical level. Abraham did not receive the promised blessings at the typological, historia salutis level through faith apart from works, but rather through his works. Abraham was not made the father of the Messiah through faith apart from works, but rather through his works. How then can the Abrahamic Covenant be a pure “promise covenant” if at least some of its promises are received through the works principle?

For this reason, some Klineans have tried to argue that “Kline’s point is that though it sounds like at times Abraham is given the covenant blessings through his works, that is not the really case, for Gen. 22 occurs many years after the promise of Gen. 15.” and that a works principle “was operative in the life of Abraham, but not ‘within the Abrahamic Covenant’ itself.” But that’s simply not what Kline said, as we have seen (Abraham’s obedience was “the basis for the Lord’s bestowing on him the blessings of the covenant.” (GHHM 102), etc).

Galatians 3

They appeal to passages such as the following.

Clearly, the Abrahamic Covenant is a grace arrangement, a subdivision of the comprehensive Covenant of Grace. The apostle Paul identifies it as a covenant informed by the principle of promise, the opposite of the principle of works that was operative in the Law (Gal 3:12, 17, 18; Rom 10:4-10). According to Paul the salvation blessings offered in the Abrahamic Covenant are obtained through faith in Jesus Christ (Gal 3:22). (GHHM 96)

However, note that Kline explains the contrast in Galatians is between tenure in Canaan (type) and the inheritance of the Messianic kingdom (antitype).

Most familiar of the instances of the introduction of a works principle in a premessianic redemptive economy is the Mosaic Covenant. According to the emphatically and repeatedly stated terms of this old covenant of the law, the Lord made Israel’s continuing manifestation of cultic fidelity to him the ground of their continuing tenure in Canaan. This was not then one of the covenants of grant; it was not a matter of Israel’s being given the kingdom originally in recognition of past meritorious conduct. But this case of the old covenant is relevant in the present context as another notable example of the pattern which finds the principles of works and grace operating simultaneously, yet without conflict, because the works principle is confined to a separate typological level. Paul, perceiving the works principle in the Mosaic law economy, was able to insist that this did not entail an abrogation of the promises of grace given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob centuries earlier (Gal 3:17), precisely because the works principle applied only to the typological kingdom in Canaan and not to the inheritance of the eternal kingdom-city promised to Abraham as a gift of grace and at last to be received by Abraham and all his seed, Jew and Gentile, through faith in Christ Jesus. The pedagogical purpose of the Mosaic works arrangement was to present typologically the message that felicity and godliness will be inseparably conjoined in the heavenly kingdom, or, negatively, that the disobedient are forever cut off from the kingdom of the eschaton. (KP 237)

According to Kline, Paul is addressing “the salvation blessings offered in the Abrahamic Covenant” not the typological kingdom blessings offered in the Abrahamic Covenant. So appeal simply cannot be made to this passage to address the question of the typological kingdom/redemptive historical blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant, for it does not speak to it.

There is, however, real contradiction in Kline’s thought here as he does argue from Galatians 3 that the nature of the Abrahamic Covenant itself is “of grace” and not “of works.” That simply cannot be reconciled with what Kline says elsewhere concerning the redemptive historical blessings granted to Abraham for his works in the Abrahamic Covenant. Kline does refer to the “double role” of Abraham “serving as the great example of justification by faith, and yet, with respect to the typological phase of the kingdom, viewed as the recipient of a divine grant based on his obedience.” (KP 239) At best it could be argued from here that the Abrahamic Covenant was mixed, partially of works, partially of grace. But that would not fit with the claim that Paul says the nature of the covenant is “of grace.”

In my opinion, Kline has simply misread Galatians 3. Paul is not at all arguing from the nature of the Abrahamic Covenant. He is not making an argument from the concept of a “promise” in general. Rather, he is making an argument from a very specific promise made to Abraham: that one of his offspring would come to bless all nations (Gal 3:8). He argues that this promised blessing to all nations is not through the law. For more on this, see Gal. 3:18 – Generic Law and Promise, or Sinai and Messiah?

Oath Ceremony

In addition to arguing from Galatians 3, Kline also argues from the oath ceremony in Genesis 15 that the Abrahamic Covenant is “of grace” and a promise covenant. A basic assumption of Kline’s is that the party who swears the oath in a covenant ceremony determines the conditionality of the covenant.

In postlapsarian history, where we encounter covenants both of works and grace, the identity of the party who takes the ratification oath is an indicator of which kind of covenant it is in a particular case. It must be noted here that not all oaths of covenantal commitment function as ratification oaths. For example, the role played by the oath ritual of circumcision (Gen 17) is that of a supplementary seal added to the Abrahamic Covenant, which had been ratified by God’s oath on an earlier occasion (Gen 15). More precisely, in the situation after the Fall it is the presence or absence of a human oath of ratification that provides the clue as to the governing principle, for divine oath is at least implicit in the ratification of all divine-human covenants, whether of works or grace. If the covenant is ratified by divine oath alone, it is a covenant of grace, either saving or common. But when the covenant-making includes a human oath of ratification, as in the case of Israel’s oath in the Sinaitic Covenant (Exod 24), the arrangement is informed by the works principle. (KP 5)

Therefore

The manner of the ratification of the Abrahamic Covenant manifests its grace character. It is the Lord God who makes the solemn oath commitment that ratifies the covenant, guaranteeing the fulfillment of the promises. (GHHM 96)

How can this be reconciled with what Kline has said in Part 3? I don’t believe it can be. That’s why Klineans have tried to deny what Kline said regarding Abraham’s typological merit in the Abrahamic Covenant. If the Abrahamic promises, at the typological, redemptive historical level operated upon a works principle (as Kline said), the Abrahamic covenant was not a gracious promise covenant.

Kline’s error is his assumption about oath ceremonies. The rationale is circular: The Abrahamic Covenant is a promise covenant. God alone swore the oath in the Abrahamic Covenant. Therefore God alone swearing the oath indicates whether a covenant is a promise covenant. In the Abrahamic Covenant God alone swore the oath. Therefore the Abrahamic Covenant is a promise covenant.

Not only did Kline make an assumption about the Genesis 15 ritual, he also made an assumption about the Genesis 17 ritual. “It must be noted here that not all oaths of covenantal commitment function as ratification oaths. For example, the role played by the oath ritual of circumcision (Gen 17) is that of a supplementary seal added to the Abrahamic Covenant, which had been ratified by God’s oath on an earlier occasion (Gen 15).” Kline’s error here is violating the rule of the analogy of Scripture. Kline allowed his interpretation of a vision (implicit) to determine his interpretation of explicit statements. “The implicit teaching passages of Scripture will shape our theology, but if we allow implicit teaching to contradict what the Bible says explicitly and directly, we will draw erroneous conclusions.” Giving these passages their proper interpretive priority we learn that both Genesis 15 and 17 are foundational components of the progressively revealed Abrahamic Covenant. Genesis 15, answering Abraham’s question of how these miraculous promises could be fulfilled, represents God’s commitment to His part of the covenant. Genesis 17, on the other hand, represents Abraham’s part of the covenant (17:1; 18:19; note that it includes sanctions, Gen 17:14 cf. Ex 4:24-26). Gen 22:15-18, as we have seen, concludes the two by confirming that Abraham fulfilled his part, resulting in God swearing that His part will therefore be fulfilled, as 26:5 summarizes.

It is worth noting that in his early work By Oath Consigned, Kline did give Genesis 17 proper weight.

It is important to recall Kline’s earlier rule of thumb that you know a covenant is a law covenant whenever the vassal takes the oath, binding himself to obedience to the suzerain under threat of a curse. Since the Kline of BOC views circumcision as the vassal’s ratification oath, by this rule of thumb (as applied to Gen 17), the Abrahamic Covenant seems to be a law covenant.

Since in this covenant [Gen 17] the Suzerain is also the divine Witness, the promissory obligations which Yahweh undertakes as Suzerain are also a blessing sanction which he will honor as the divine Witness when he beholds faithfulness in the covenant servant. Another element of the treaty pattern, viz., the sanctions, is thus included here among the stipulations. Curse sanction appears too, appended to the stipulation regarding circumcision (v. 14) … In short, the transaction recorded in Genesis 17 may be identified as a covenant of the vassal type, an administration of the lordship of the covenant Giver, binding his servant to himself in consecrated service under dual sanctions, blessing and curse. Of special importance in the establishment of vassal covenants was the function of the oath. It was by an oath that the vassal expressed his incorporation within the sphere of the lord’s jurisdiction. This oath invoked the covenant sanctions, more precisely, the curse, so that curse became a synonym for oath…

This means that circumcision was the rite by which the covenant of Genesis 17 was “cut”. It means further that circumcision symbolized the oath-curse by which the Abrahamic community confessed themselves under the judicial authority and more precisely under the sword of God Almighty.

What is suggested by the broad structure of Genesis 17 is confirmed by the particulars about circumcision given in verses 9–14. Circumcision is called God’s covenant, his covenant in the flesh of his people (vv. 9 , 10 , 13). This identification of covenant with circumcision reminds us at once of the coalescence of the covenant with its oath-curse in the extra-biblical treaties. Moreover, the meaning of circumcision as symbol of the oath-curse is actually expressed in so many words in verse 14 . There the threat of the curse sanction sounds against the one who breaks the covenant by not obeying the command of circumcision: “(he) shall be cut off”. The use of the verb kārat in this specific description of the curse clearly echoes the idiom of cutting a covenant (kārat bÿrît) and it is an unmistakable allusion to the nature of the rite of circumcision. So in this, the primary passage for the interpretation of circumcision, the general and specific considerations unitedly point to the conclusion that circumcision was the sign of the oath-curse of the covenant ratification. In the cutting off of the foreskin the judgment of excision from the covenant relationship was symbolized.

The oath whose curse sanction circumcision symbolized was an oath of allegiance. It was an avowal of Yahweh as covenant Lord, a commitment in loyalty to him. As the symbolized curse which sealed this pledge of allegiance, circumcision partook of the import of the oath. It was, therefore, a sign of consecration. Hence Israel is commanded: “Circumcise yourselves to the Lord” (Jer. 4:4). (BOC 40-41)

The broader import of circumcision is determined by the specific nature of that covenant of which it is declared to be a sign, and especially, since circumcision is a sanction sign, by the peculiar nature of the judgment in which that covenant issues. As for the covenant, it was a law covenant, not a simple guarantee of blessing but an administration of the lordship of God, a covenant therefore which confronted the servant with dual sanctions, curse and blessing (BOC 48).

Meredith Kline’s By Oath Consigned Compared with Kingdom Prologue, Lee Irons

Kline’s Abrahamic Covenant of Works 3: Royal Grant Proposal

December 30, 2018 5 comments

How does Abraham’s typological merit relate to the Abrahamic Covenant? It is important to note that Kline did not deny that the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promises (at the typological level) were conditioned upon Abraham’s obedience. He did not see Abraham’s typological merit as something that functioned outside of the Abrahamic Covenant. “Genesis 22:16 and 26:5 are relevant here as statements affirming a causal relationship between Abraham’s obedience and the fulfillment of the promises.” (KP 311) “[T]he promised program of the Abrahamic Covenant would proceed to unfold because Abraham had done this.” (KP 324) Kline referred to this arrangement as a royal grant made to Abraham.

Suzerain-Vassal & Royal Grants

In his study of the Ancient Near-East, Kline saw two types of covenants of the time. Suzerain-vassal covenants were made between a king (suzerain, like Nebuchadnezzar) and lesser rulers of conquered kingdoms (vassal, like Jehoiakim; 2 Kgs 24:1). It imposed rules of perpetual obedience to maintain the status quo and included sanctions (punishment) for disobedience. Royal grant covenants were special covenants that kings (suzerain) made with exceptional rulers under them (vassal). The king granted the ruler a gift (land, etc) as a reward for his previous demonstration of loyalty. These two types of covenants can be combined into one under the idea of probation. A ruler can be placed under a suzerain-vassal covenant, but with the promise that after successfully demonstrating their loyalty over a period of time, they may receive a greater reward (grant). Kline referred to this as a proposal of a grant. Both suzerain-vassal and grant-proposal covenants are covenants of works.

Adamic Suzerain-Vassal Grant Proposal

The creational covenant will here be called “The Creator’s Covenant of Works with Adam.”… [I]t involves not only the bestowal of the kingdom on a holy people of God but an offer to make the kingdom given in creation a permanent possession on a glorified level of existence. Described in terms of varieties of international covenants familiar at the time of the writing of the book of Genesis, the original covenant with Adam was thus a suzerain-vassal covenant plus the proposal of a special grant to the vassal for loyal service… [T]his covenant contained the proposal of a special grant to man, the servant-son, for loyal service to his Lord. It offered an eschatological advance in kingdom glory conditioned on man’s obedience… A principle of works – do this and live – governed the attainment of the consummation-kingdom proferred in the blessing sanction of the creational covenant. Heaven must be earned. (KP 20-21, 103, 108)

 

In our introductory comments on the Creator’s Covenant of Works with Adam we suggested that that covenant was comparable to the proposal of a grant in which a great king offered to give favored treatment to a lesser ruler on the condition of his assuming and performing the obligations of loyal service as a covenant vassal. Although Adam was created with the status of covenant servant, he was under a probation which proposed a special eschatological grant for covenant-keeping. (KP 234-5)

Messianic Grant Proposal

In distinguishing the two varieties of conditionality the key question is that of the function of the response of obedience. If the obedience functions as the meritorious ground of reception or retention of the kingdom blessings, the conditionality is that of the works principle, the opposite of the principle of grace. Obedience functions that way in the eternal covenant of the Father and Son, in the Covenant of the Creator with Adam, and in the Mosaic Covenant at the level of the typological kingdom (see further below). (KP 318)

Noahic Grant

Kline saw the Noahic Covenant as one of several instances of a typological works-based grant covenant.

The Genesis 6:18 covenant with Noah might be identified more precisely as a covenant of grant. That is the kind of covenant that ancient rulers gave to meritorious individuals for faithful service to the crown… Noah, unlike Adam, is viewed as a covenant servant who has already demonstrated his fidelity. He therefore receives not just the proposal of a grant but the actual reward, which the Lord was in fact in the process of bestowing in making this covenantal disclosure with its directives concerning the ark, the means of salvation and kingdom realization…

It is, of course, the gospel truth that God’s dealings with Noah found their ultimate explanation in the principle of God’s sovereign grace. This covenantal grant to Noah came under the Covenant of Grace whose administration to fallen men deserving only the curse of the broken creational covenant (and Noah too was one of these fallen sons of Adam) was an act of God’s pure mercy in Christ.

The covenant of grant given to Noah is one of several such divine dispensations in the premessianic era of redemptive history. Wherever we encounter such a bestowal of the kingdom and its honors on the basis of the good works of the grantee, the question naturally arises as to the consistency of this with redemptive covenant’s promises of grace. In all such cases the key point to observe is that the opposing principles of works and grace are operating in different spheres or at different levels from one another. For these works-arrangements all involve a situation where there is a typological representation of the messianic king and kingdom, superimposed as a second distinct level over a fundamental level that has to do with the eschatological kingdom reality itself. Now at that basic underlying level, where it is a matter of the individual’s gaining entrance into the eternal heavenly kingdom, not just a symbolic prototype thereof, sovereign saving grace is ever and only the principle that governs the inheritance of kingdom blessings. It is at the other level, the level of the superimposed typological stratum, that the Lord has been pleased on occasion to make the attainment of the rewards of the kingdom dependent on man’s obedient performance of his covenantal duty. Since, then, the introduction of the works principle in such covenantal arrangements affects only the typological overlay and not the underlying stratum of ultimate redemptive-eschatological reality, these works-grants assume their ancillary place harmoniously within the administrations of the Covenant of Grace. And grace thus remains at all times the constant principle of eternal salvation. (KP 234-6)

 

As in the other cases we have discussed, we must keep in mind the typological level of the kingdom that was secured by Noah’s righteousness if we are to perceive the consistency of this works-grant with the grace principle that was operating at the permanent, fundamental stratum of the Covenant of Grace. The flood judgment was but a type of the messianic judgment and the kingdom in the ark that was granted to Noah as the reward for his good works was only typological of the messianic kingdom. Therefore, this covenant of grant to Noah was not in conflict with or an abrogation of the grace of the redemptive covenant. (KP 239)

Davidic Grant

Abraham and David were recipients of such covenants of grant as rewards for faithfulness… [T]he dynastic grant promised in the Davidic Covenant (2 Sam.7) follows David’s victorious campaigns against the enemies of God’s people and his capture of Zion as the site for God’s sanctuary (2 Sam 5 and 6; cf. 7:1). (KP 237-8)

When the king promise attained its first level fulfillment, it was embodied in a separate covenant of its own. God gave to his faithful servant David a covenantal guarantee that his dynasty would endure forever and that his descendants would build God’s house (2 Sam 7:5ff.). (333-4)

Abrahamic Grant Proposal

Kline saw the Abrahamic Covenant, at the typological level, as another instance of a typological grant for a servant’s covenant obedience.

In the case of the covenants of grant, the message to be conveyed through the introduction of the works principle did not so much concern the nature of the messianic kingdom, but rather the role of the messianic king. The biblical data indicate that the Lord was pleased to take the exemplary obedience of certain of his servants and to constitute that a typological sign of how the obedience of the coming messianic Servant of the Lord would secure the kingdom and its royal-priestly blessings for himself and for his people. Abraham and David were recipients of such covenants of grant as rewards for faithfulness. Phinehas was another (cf. Num 25:11-13). Each of these individuals had personal hope of heaven only through God’s grace in Jesus Christ, only as a gift received by faith alone. But the conspicuous faithfulness of their lives in general or of certain specific acts of outstanding service they performed was invested by the Lord with typological significance so that they, with reference to a typological manifestation of the kingdom, pointed to Christ as one who also was under a covenant of works and received the grant of the kingdom for the obedient fulfillment of his covenantal mission.

Common to all the displays of obedience that were rewarded with grants of the kingdom in a typological form may be discerned the motif of victory in the holy war against Satan and his earthly forces and followers. Actual military combat is at times involved. The promise of great reward to Abraham in Genesis 15:1 comes on the background of his warrior role in the conflict against the forces of the kings from the east (Gen 14)… It is as if these servants of the Lord had been confronted, like Adam, with a probation-mission, challenging them as guardians of God’s sanctuary to enter into judgment against the Adversary. By their valiant exploits in faithful performance of their mission they typified beforehand the obedient second Adam’s salvation-victory in his judicial combat with Satan and his hosts.

These other covenants of grant will be discussed further below, particularly the case of Abraham and his double role, serving as the great example of justification by faith, and yet, with respect to the typological phase of the kingdom, viewed as the recipient of a divine grant based on his obedience, a grant which God honored in bestowing the typological kingdom on the Israelites. Hence, though Israel’s original reception of the typological kingdom under the Mosaic Covenant was not a grant bestowed on the ground of the Israelites’ past performance, it may be construed as the carrying out of the Lord’s grant to Abraham for his accomplishments of faith. (KP 237-9)

As just seen, Kline referred to Abraham as one who was “also” under a covenant of works like Christ. Like Adam, Abraham was given a probation-mission. Abraham passed his probation. As a result, he was granted the reward of the typological kingdom of Israel and the role of being father of the Messiah (as we saw in Part 2). This reward was a covenantal reward (all royal grants are, by definition, covenantal). Commenting on Genesis 22, Kline said

Another display of outstanding covenantal obedience by Abraham, the most remarkable of all, was the occasion for a second divine disclosure presenting the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant as a divine grant for the servant’s work of obedience. (KLP 324)

 

Like Noah, Abraham became the recipient of a covenantal grant of the kingdom because of faithful service he rendered… Gen 15:1 depicts the Lord as a suzerain who bestows a royal grant on an officer for notable military service… Genesis 22 records another episode in which an outstanding act of obedience on Abraham’s part is said to be the basis for the Lord’s bestowing on him the blessings of the covenant. (GHHM 102)

[A] works principle was operative both in the grant of the kingdom to Abraham and in the meting out of the typological kingdom blessings to the nation of Israel[.] (GHHM 128)

It should be noted that the redemptive historical blessings that God granted Abraham in Genesis 22 upon successful completion of his probation are the blessings originally promised in Gen 12 and subsequently repeated throughout the intervening chapters. These blessings are promised in Gen 15. Recall Kline said “Common to all the displays of obedience that were rewarded with grants of the kingdom in a typlogical form… The promise of a great reward to Abraham in Genesis 15:1 comes on the background of his warrior role.” (KP 238) That is, Kline understood the Gen 15 revelation of the Abrahamic Covenant to be a royal grant for Abraham’s faithfulness. Throughout all of its iterations, the redemptive historical blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant are conditioned upon his obedience, his fulfillment of the covenant terms. Thus the Abrahamic Covenant, at the upper, redemptive historical level was a royal grant proposal (probation) successfully fulfilled.

Kline’s Abrahamic Covenant of Works 2: Typological Merit

December 29, 2018 5 comments

In Part 1 we saw how John Murray and Norman Shepherd interpreted the Abrahamic Covenant (like the Mosaic and New) as the Covenant of Grace requiring obedience in order for its promises to be fulfilled.

Old and New Covenants

How did Kline respond? First, he distinguished between the Old and New Covenants with regards to their principle of inheritance.

The contrast between the old and new covenants repeatedly drawn by the apostle Paul is the same works-grace contrast found in Jeremiah’s familiar prophecy of the new covenant (Jer. 31:31-34). Identifying the old covenant as one that could be and was broken, the prophet declared that the new covenant would not be like the old covenant, a breakable covenant. It does of course happen that individuals prove false to the new covenant, but Jeremiah is referring to the kingdom order as such. The eternal antitypical kingdom of the new covenant, the kingdom of the righteous knowledge of God in the Spirit, is attained on the ground of the meritorious accomplishment of Christ, and its realization is thus made sure as a matter of guaranteed grace to Christ’s people, God forgiving their iniquity and remembering their sin no more. But the prototypical kingdom immediately in view in the old covenant obviously lacked that unbreakable guarantee, for once and again, and at last irrevocably, that kingdom was taken away from the covenant people by their removal into exile. Indeed, the kingdom order as such was ultimately terminated in a devastating divine infliction of the curse of the covenant. The principle operating here was manifestly altogether different from the promise-faith principle of God’s sovereign grace in Christ. Apart from a recognition of the operation of the principle of works in the old covenant it is impossible to account for Jerusalem’s desolation. As Moses had solemnly warned in the constitutional documents of the old covenant, the continuance of the Israelite kingdom in Canaan was conditioned on their covenant-keeping; corporate disloyalty against the Lord of the covenant would result in the catastrophic ending of the whole kingdom order.

(Of Works and Grace)

 

With the abolishing of the Mosaic order, the second level kingdom of the messianic age was initiated under the Lord’s New Covenant with the church. Jeremiah, speaking of the new covenant to be made in the coming days (Jer 31:31–34), drew a sharp contrast between it and the covenant made at Sinai (i.e., the stratum of it concerned with the typological kingdom). He described the Old Covenant as breakable and in fact as having been broken by Israel, which means that it was informed by the works principle of inheritance. And he asserted that the new covenant would be unlike the Torah covenant. It would be unbreakable; it would be an administration of gospel grace and forgiveness. While then we will want to affirm the New Covenant’s continuity with the foundational gospel stratum of the Mosaic economy and with the Abrahamic Covenant of promise, we must also acknowledge the works-grace discontinuity between the new and the old (at its typological level), the difference that Jeremiah so emphatically asserted.

(GHHM 97)

 

Abrahamic Covenant of Promise

In this way Kline avoided making Leviticus 18:5 the condition of our salvation in Christ. But how does the Abrahamic Covenant relate to these two covenants and therefore our salvation? He saw the Abrahamic Covenant as a grace-promise covenant.

Divine promise in the context of redemptive covenant connotes the principle of grace, the opposite of works. Thus, when Paul in his analysis of the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants in Galatians 3 identifies the former as promise (v. 17; cf. Eph 2:12), he sets it over against the principle of works (“law,” v.18) operative in the latter, and says it is received by faith in Jesus Christ (v.22). God’s promise arrangement with Abraham is made synonymous with the gospel of grace… Inheritance of the promise was not through the works principle of the law (v.13), for that is contrary to the promise-grace-faith-forgiveness principle (vv.14,15; cf. vv.4-8)…

By its identification with the gospel of Jesus Christ the Abrahamic Covenant is seen to be a promissory anticipation of the new covenant.

(KP 294-95)

 

Two-Level Fulfillment

Thus the New, not the Old Covenant, is identified with the Abrahamic. But what then of Abraham’s obedience? As Murray noted, the conditionality of the Mosaic is seen first in the conditionality of the Abrahamic, and the Mosaic appears to be a confirmation or continuation of the Abrahamic. To address this, Kline first explained that there are two different levels of fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant: typological and antitypological.

We have already remarked on the law-gospel contrast between the Old and New Covenants. Another aspect of the discontinuity between them emerges when they are viewed as two stages in the fulfilling of the kingdom promise of the Abrahamic Covenant. The Old Covenant kingdom is only a temporary type, a provisional symbol, while the New Covenant kingdom is the permanent antitypical reality. Emphasizing this difference, the Book of Hebrews declares the discontinuity to be such that with the initiating of the New Covenant, the Old Covenant becomes obsolete and vanishes away (Heb 8:13). (GHHM 97-98)

At the typological level, the Abrahamic Covenant was fulfilled in Israel’s redemption out of Egypt and their inheritance of the land of Canaan. Their retention of the land was governed by the Sinai covenant, which operated upon a works principle (Lev 18:5) in contrast to a faith principle (Gal 3:12). Israel thus lost the land because of their disobedience and the LORD divorced them for their unfaithfulness. At the antitypological level, Jesus Christ, the true and only faithful Israelite obeyed the law perfectly, earning the antitypical eschatological land inheritance for his people, who receive it through faith alone.

 

Abraham’s Obedience

Ordo Salutis

Kline acknowledges Murray’s point that covenant fellowship with God demands obedience. The question is how that obedience relates to the covenant promises.

Reflection of the ethical glory of God must always be required of all, men or angels, who dwell in fellowship with him. Such divine demand for godliness is therefore found in covenants of works and grace alike. The precise kind of conditionality carried by the imposed obligations differs, however, in these two types of covenant.

In distinguishing the two varieties of conditionality the key question is that of the function of the response of obedience. If the obedience functions as the meritorious ground of reception or retention of the kingdom blessings, the conditionality is that of the works principle, the opposite of the principle of grace. Obedience functions that way in the eternal covenant of the Father and Son, in the Covenant of the Creator with Adam, and in the Mosaic Covenant at the level of the typological kingdom (see further below). But what about the Abrahamic Covenant – how did the response of obedience function there? (KP 318-19)

Using his distinction between the two different levels of the Abrahamic Covenant, Kline said that the gospel grace of the Abrahamic Covenant required obedience as a fruit of saving faith, but the gospel inheritance was secured not by Abraham’s obedience, but Christ’s.

Under the Abrahamic Covenant human obedience was indispensable… Such indispensability of obedience did not, however, amount to the works principle. For in the Abrahamic Covenant, human obedience, though indispensible, did not function as the meritorious ground of blessing. That ground of the promised blessings was rather the obedience of Christ, in fulfillment of his eternal covenant with the Father. And man’s appropriation of salvation’s blessing was by faith…

Though it involves a kind of conditionality and has a certain kind of necessity, obedience thus originating and thus functioning is agreeable with the principle and guarantee of grace. Functioning as it does as a confirmation of saving faith it is supportive of the grace-promise-faith principle of salvation. And originating as it does from the renewing grace of God it did not nullify the guaranteed fulfillment of the kingdom promises, the grace that produces it being sovereign grace which infallibly accomplishes its purpose… [S]uch obedience is itself one of the promised blessings. (KP 319-20)

Historia Salutis

By distinguishing between the two different levels of the Abrahamic Covenant, Kline was able to correlate Abraham’s obedience as securing one, but not the other. Shepherd argued that Genesis 26:5 referred to Abraham’s obedience in the ordo salutis. In response, Kline argued that it referred only to the typological level of fulfillment – the historia salutis, not the ordo salutis.

How Abraham’s obedience related to the securing of the kingdom blessings in their old covenant form is a special question within the broad topic of the role of human works under redemptive covenant. Several times previously we have had occasion to note that the old (Mosaic) covenant order, though in continuity with the Abrahamic covenant of promise and even an initial fulfillment of its kingdom promises, was nevertheless itself governed by a principle of works…

Paul affirmed that the Mosaic Covenant did not annul the promise arrangement given earlier to Abraham (Gal 3:17). The explanation for this is that the old covenant order was composed of two strata and the works principle enunciated in Leviticus 18:5, and elsewhere in the law, applied only to one of these, a secondary stratum… The works principle in the Mosaic order was confined to the typological sphere of the provisional earthly kingdom which was superimposed as a secondary overlay on the foundational stratum [of gospel grace]…

But if the ground of Israel’s tenure in Canaan was their covenant obedience, their election to receive the typological kingdom in the first place was emphatically not based on any merit of theirs (cf. Deut 9:5,6). Their original reception of this kingdom, as well as their restoration to it after the loss of their national election in Babylonian exile, is repeatedly attributed to God’s remembrance of his promissory commitments of grace to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Exod 2:24; 3:6ff.; 6:2ff.; 32:13; Deut 9:27; 10:15; Lev 26:42), pointing to the coming Messiah and the new covenant.

When, however, we trace the matter back to the record of God’s covenant revelation to the patriarchs we encounter statements that connect the promissory grant of the kingdom to the faithful service rendered to the Lord by Abraham…

[T]he Lord’s word to Abraham (Gen 15:1) has the character of a royal grant to an officer of the king for faithful military service. God identifies himself by the military figure of a shield (cf. Deut 33:29; Ps 18:2), otherwise read as suzerain, and promises: “Your reward will be very great” (also read: “who will reward you very greatly”). The term sakar, “reward,” is used for the compensation due to those who have conducted a military campaign. In Ezekiel 29:19 it refers to the spoil of Egypt which the Lord gives Nebuchadnezzar as wages for his army (cf. Isa 40:10; 62:11). The imagery of Genesis 15:1 is that of the Great King honoring Abraham’s notable exhibition of compliance with covenant duty by the reward of a special grant that would more than make up for whatever enrichment he had foregone at the hands of the king of Sodom for the sake of faithfulness to Yahweh, his Lord. The broader record of the Lord’s dealings with Abraham includes numerous key expressions paralleled in the ancient royal grants to loyal servants: such a servant is one who obeys, keeps the charge, serves perfectly, walks before his lord.

Another display of outstanding covenantal obedience by Abraham, the most remarkable of all, was the occasion for a second divine disclosure presenting the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant as a divine grant for the servant’s work of obedience. At the conclusion of the sacrificial episode on Moriah, the Angel of the Lord, the very one who was at last to be the only Son and substitutionary ram of sacrifice, called out of heaven to Abraham: “By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, because thou hast done this thing and hast not withheld thine only son that in blessing I will bless thee … because thou hast obeyed my voice” (Gen 22:16-18). Viewing this episode from the perspective of justification by faith in Christ, James expounded Abraham’s act of obedience as the work that demonstrated the vital reality of his faith (Jas 2:21ff.). But this event is to be seen from the redemptive-historical perspective as well as that of the personal, subjective experience of salvation. It had a special, decisive significance for the subsequent course of covenant history. This is suggested by the double affirmation, at the beginning and close of the oracle, that the promised program of the Abrahamic Covenant would proceed to unfold because Abraham had done this.

That Abraham’s obedience had special historic significance as the basis for God’s future favorable action towards his descendants is confirmed by the Lord’s later repetition of the substance of this oracle, now to Isaac (Gen 26:2ff.). Having restated his commitment to fulfill the covenant promises to Isaac and his line, the Lord concluded: “because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws” (Gen 26:5, cf. v. 24). Here the significance of Abraham’s works cannot be limited to their role in validation of his own faith. His faithful performance of his covenantal duty is here clearly declared to sustain a causal relationship to the blessing of Isaac and Israel. It had a meritorious character that procured a reward enjoyed by others.

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

Because of Abraham’s obedience redemptive history would take the shape of an Abrahamite kingdom of God from which salvation’s blessings would rise up and flow out to the nations. God was pleased to constitute Abraham’s exemplary works as the meritorious ground for granting to Israel after the flesh the distinctive role of being formed as the typological kingdom, the matrix from which Christ should come. Within this typological structure Abraham emerges as an appointed sign of his promised messianic seed, the Servant of the Lord, whose fulfillment of his covenantal mission was the meritorious ground of the inheritance of the antitypical, eschatological kingdom by the true, elect Israel of all nations. Certainly, Abraham’s works did not have that status. They were, however, accorded by God an analogous kind of value with respect to the typological stage represented by the old covenant. Though not the ground of the inheritance of heaven, Abraham’s obedience was the ground for Israel’s inheritance of Canaan. Salvation would not come because of Abraham’s obedience, but because of Abraham’s obedience salvation would come of the Abrahamites, the Jews (John 4:22)

The obedient Abraham, the faithful covenant servant, was a type of the Servant of the Lord in his obedience, by which he became the surety of the new covenant. Like the messianic Servant, the one whose meritorious service secured God’s blessings for the many who were his “seed” (Isa 52:15; 53:10-12), so Abraham was one, and the reward of his obedience was the blessings of the typal kingdom for the many who were his seed (cf. Isa 51:2).

Kingdom Prologue, 320-26

 

Eternal salvation would come because of Christ’s obedience, but because of Abraham’s obedience Christ would come as to the flesh from Israel (Rom 9:5) and thus salvation would come from the Abrahamites, the Jews (John 4:22)

God, Heaven, and Har Magedon, 103

In sum Abraham’s works merited the reward of numerous natural offspring who would inherit the land of Canaan, as well as the reward that Abraham would be the father of the Messiah.

Kline’s Abrahamic Covenant of Works 1: Murray and Shepherd

December 28, 2018 6 comments

Kline developed his covenant theology in interaction with and response to John Murray and Norman Shepherd (among others).

John Murray

In an effort to iron out inconsistencies in Westminster covenant theology, Murray rejected the Covenant of Works and interpreted Leviticus 18:5 as a condition of the Covenant of Grace (both Old and New dispensations). Here is how he dealt with the Abrahamic Covenant:

The necessity of keeping the covenant on the part of men does not interfere with the divine monergism of dispensation… It may plausibly be objected, however, that the breaking of the covenant envisaged in this case interferes with the perpetuity of the covenant. For does not the possibility of breaking the covenant imply conditional perpetuity? ‘The uncircumcised male . . . shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant’ (Gn. xvii. 14, RV). Without question the blessings of the covenant and the relation which the covenant entails cannot be enjoyed or maintained apart from the fulfillment of certain conditions on the part of the beneficiaries. For when we think of the promise which is the central element of the covenant, ‘I will be your God, and ye shall be my people’, there is necessarily involved, as we have seen, mutuality in the highest sense. Fellowship is always mutual and when mutuality ceases fellowship ceases. Hence the reciprocal response of faith and obedience arises from the nature of the relationship which the covenant contemplates (cf. Gn. xviii. 17-19, xxii. 16-18). The obedience of Abraham is represented as the condition upon which the fulfilment of the promise given to him was contingent and the obedience of Abraham’s seed is represented as the means through which the promise given to Abraham would be accomplished. There is undoubtedly the fulfilment of certain conditions and these are summed up in obeying the Lord’s voice and keeping His covenant…

Grace is bestowed and the relation established by sovereign divine administration. How then are we to construe the conditions of which we have spoken? The continued enjoyment of this grace and of the relation established is contingent upon the fulfilment of certain conditions…

By breaking the covenant what is broken is not the condition of bestowal but the condition of consummated fruition…

At the outset we must remember that the idea of conditional fulfilment is not something peculiar to the Mosaic covenant. We have been faced quite poignantly with this very question in connection with the Abrahamic covenant. And since this feature is there patent, it does not of itself provide us with any reason for construing the Mosaic covenant in terms different from those of the Abrahamic… We must not, therefore, suppress or discount these important considerations that the Mosaic covenant was made with Israel as the sequel to their deliverance from Egypt, a deliverance wrought in pursuance of the gracious promises given by covenant to Abraham, wrought with the object of bringing to fulfilment the promise given to Abraham that his seed would inherit the land of Canaan, and a deliverance wrought in order to make Israel His own peculiar and adopted people.

The Covenant of Grace, John Murray

Murray elaborated in a lecture titled Law and Grace.

A good deal of the misconception pertaining to the relation of the law to the believer springs from a biblico-theological error of much broader proportions than a misinterpretation of Paul’s statement in Romans 6:14. It is the misinterpretation of the Mosaic economy and covenant in relation to the new covenant. It has been thought that in the Mosaic covenant there is a sharp antithesis to the principle of promise embodied in the Abrahamic covenant and also to the principle of grace which comes to its efflorescence in the new covenant, and that this antithetical principle which governs the Mosaic covenant and dispensation is that of law in contradistinction from both promise and grace…

In dealing with this question we must take several considerations into account.

1. The Mosaic covenant in respect of this condition of obedience is not in a different category from the Abrahamic. ‘And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations’ (Genesis 17:9). Of Abraham God said, ‘For I know him, that lie will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him’ (Genesis 18:19). There is nothing principially different in the necessity of keeping the covenant and of obeying God’s voice, characteristic of the Mosaic covenant, from what is involved in the keeping of the covenant required in the Abrahamic…

4. Holiness, concretely and practically illustrated in obedience, is the means through which the fellowship entailed in the covenant relationship proceeds to its fruition and consummation. This is the burden, for example, of Leviticus 26. It is stated both positively and negatively, by way of promise and by way of threatening. ‘If ye walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them.. . I will set my tabernacle among you: and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people’ (Leviticus 26:3, 11, 12).

We may therefore sum up the matter by saying that the holiness of God demanded conformity to his holiness, that holiness was of the essence of the covenant privilege, that holiness was the condition of continuance in the enjoyment of the covenant blessings and the medium through which the covenant privilege realized its fruition. Holiness is exemplified in obedience to the commandments of God. Obedience is therefore entirely congruous with, and disobedience entirely contradictory of, the nature of God’s covenant with Israel as one of union and communion with God.

In all of this the demand of obedience in the Mosaic covenant is principially identical with the same demand in the new covenant of the gospel economy.

Norman Shepherd

Shepherd succeeded Murray at WTS. While Murray retained the doctrine of our justification through faith alone, Shepherd did not. He realized that without a Covenant of Works, there was no law/gospel distinction and therefore no justification through faith alone apart from works. While at WTS (and after), Shepherd taught that we are justified through faith and works – that our works, like our faith, are instrumental in our justification.

He built upon Murray’s understanding of the Abrahamic Covenant.

[T]he question arises whether this covenant with Abraham really is, in fact, unconditional. Will the promises be fulfilled irrespective of any response on the part of Abraham and his children? I believe the biblical record shows that there are, indeed, conditions attached to the fulfillment of the promises to Abraham. Let me offer a series of six considerations that serve to demonstrate this observation.

First, there is the requirement of circumcision… God was requiring the full scope of covenantal loyalty and obedience all along the line…

Second, the Abrahamic covenant required faith…

Third, the faith that is credited to Abraham as righteousness is a living and obedient faith… James 2:21-24…

Fourth, Abraham is commanded to walk before the Lord and to be blameless. Gen 17:1-2… What is significant is the way that walking before the Lord blamelessly is connected with confirmation of the covenant. ‘The covenant with its promises is confirmed to Abraham who demonstrates covenant faith and loyalty. He fulfills the obligations of the covenant. This connection between a blameless walk and confirmation of the covenant is no artificial connection, as is evident from Genesis 26:3-5… Here we have a repetition of the promises that are at the heart of the Abrahamic covenant… The promises are renewed and will be fulfilled because Abraham trusts God and walks in righteousness according to the word of the Lord.

Fifth, the history of Israel demonstrates that the promises made to Abraham are fulfilled only as the conditions of the covenant are met… It was a covenant made with Abraham and his children… The land is a free gift of God’s grace; but it can be received only by a living and active faith.

Sixth and finally, the ultimate proof of the conditional character of the Abrahamic covenant resides in Jesus Christ.

COVENANT LIGHT ON THE REFORMATION

The sixth point might make you scratch your head as we would normally point to Christ’s fulfillment of covenant conditions as the basis for our reception of the blessings through faith apart from works. Shepherd, however, argues that Christ’s atonement merely forgives our sins. To earn the blessing we must have the same faith as Jesus: active, obedient faithfulness.

His was a living, active and obedient faith that took him all the way to the cross. This faith is credited to him as righteousness. In Romans 5:18 his death on the cross is called the “one act of righteousness” that resulted in justification and life for all men…

Nothing demonstrates the conditional character of the Abrahamic covenant more clearly than the way in which the promises of that covenant are ultimately fulfilled. They are fulfilled through the covenantal loyalty and obedience of Jesus Christ.

But just as Jesus was faithful in order to guarantee the blessing, so his followers must be faithful in order to appropriate the blessing.

For more on Shepherd’s denial of sola fide, see Norman Shepherd: What’s All the Fuss?, The Current Justification Controversy, and OPC Report on Republication – Background. In Part 2 we will see how Kline responded to these interpretations of the Abrahamic Covenant.

Some Disagreement with Coxe on Galatians 3:17

May 25, 2017 10 comments

Coxe’s “A Discourse on the Covenants that God Made with Men Before the Law” is densely packed with a very helpful analysis of the biblical covenants. I highly recommend that everyone give it a read. I made an interactive outline to help get the most of it. Preparing that outline allowed me to more clearly understand Coxe’s view of the Abrahamic Covenant.

Upon first reading it years ago, I walked away thinking that Coxe believed God made two covenants with Abraham in the span of Gen 12-22. I disagreed and sided with A.W. Pink, who said “There were not two distinct and diverse covenants made with Abraham (as the older Baptists argued), the one having respect to spiritual blessings and the other relating to temporal benefits.” But others insisted I had misread Coxe. Coxe believed there was only one Abrahamic Covenant, but that God also revealed the separate Covenant of Grace (New Covenant) to Abraham throughout Gen 12-22 in the midst of the Abrahamic Covenant of Circumcision. This outlook fits with the promised/inaugurated concept of the New Covenant, which understands the New Covenant to have been revealed in numerous ways prior to its formal legal establishment in the death of Christ.

Upon reviewing Coxe again, it appears (in my opinion) that his view actually lies somewhere in between. First, Chapter 4 is titled “The Covenant of Grace Revealed to Abraham: God Specially Honors Abraham by this Covenant.” The [new] covenant of grace that was first revealed in Genesis 3:15 was “made with Abraham.” (71, see editorial note) Second, God made more than one covenant with Abraham. Coxe refers to “the covenants made with him” and “the covenants given to him.” (73) Third, “Abraham is to be considered in a double capacity: he is the father of all true believers and the father and root of the Israelite nation. God entered into covenant with him for both of these seeds.” (72) “The covenant of grace [w]as made with Abraham” for his spiritual offspring and “The covenant [of circumcision was] made with him for his natural offspring.” (73)

The covenant of circumcision

The covenant of circumcision promised Abraham numerous carnal offspring that would possess the land of Canaan. This covenant was revealed by degrees in several parts from Gen 12 to Gen 17. (83) The restipulation (required response on man’s part) of this covenant was circumcision, representing the obedience to the law required for one to have a covenant interest to inherit the covenant blessings (“Do this and live.”). (90-91) “[I]n the covenant of circumcision were contained the first rudiments of the one in the wilderness [Mosaic covenant], and the latter was the filling up and completing of the former.” (99) “This covenant of circumcision properly and immediately belongs to the natural seed of Abraham and is ordered as a foundation to that economy which they were to be brought under until the times of reformation.” (91)

The new covenant of grace

“[T]he covenant of circumcision… was not that covenant of grace which God made with Abraham for all his spiritual seed, which was earlier confirmed of God in Christ.” (116) The new covenant of grace is union with Christ and is made with all believers, including Old Testament saints. (133) “The grace and blessings of the new covenant were given and ensured to Abraham for himself… but it pleased God to transact it with him as he had not done with any before him.” (75, 72) “[T]his covenant was made with Abraham as a root of covenant blessings and the common parent to all true believers.” (78) The restipulation of this covenant is believing. (79) “There is but one covenant of spiritual and eternal blessing in Christ Jesus, founded in the eternal decree and counsel of God’s love and grace, which is now revealed to Abraham.” (79) “This covenant of grace… by which Abraham was made the father of the faithful… was confirmed and ratified by a sure promise to Abraham. This was a considerable time (about twenty five years) before the covenant of circumcision was given to him.” (80)

Galatians 3:16-17

Galatians 3 is central to Coxe’s understanding of the covenant of grace revealed to Abraham. “[T]hat the gospel was preached to Abraham and the covenant of grace revealed to him, is asserted in such full terms in this context that no one can rationally doubt it. Furthermore, in verse 17 we have the time of God’s establishing this covenant with him exactly noted. The text says it was 430 years,” which Coxe calculates to refer to Genesis 12:2-3. (74) “[I]n the transaction of God with Abraham recorded in Genesis 12 he solemnly confirmed his covenant with him.” (74) “[T]he sum and substance of all spiritual and eternal blessings was included in the covenant and promise given to Abraham (Genesis 12) in these words: ‘I will bless you, and you will be a blessing.'” (75)

[T]his covenant was made with Abraham in and through Jesus Christ. It is not Abraham but Christ that is its first head… The apostle asserts this most clearly (Galatians 3:17) and argues it from the form of the promises made to Abraham (verse 16)… I conceive the apostle here has a direct and special view to that promise found in Genesis 22:18,* “In your seed will all the families of the earth be blessed.” This runs directly parallel both in terms and sense with the promise given to Abraham in Genesis 12:3 which was pleaded by him earlier (Galatians 3:18 [I believe this reference is to Gal 3:8]). *This promise is particularly cited by Peter as a summary of the covenant of grace made with Abraham, Acts 3:25.” (76)

Thus Coxe divides out the promises in Genesis 12:2-3. Some of the promises are promises of the covenant of grace, some are promises of the covenant of circumcision. (83) He maintains this division in all its elaborations and repititions through to Genesis 22.

“[B]y way of preface to it [the covenant of circumcision] in Genesis 17:4, 5, you have a recapitulation of former transactions and a renewed confirmation of one great promise of the covenant of grace given earlier to Abraham, that is, ‘A father of many nations have I made you.’ This is principally to be understood of his believing seed collected indifferently out of all nations as appears from Romans 4:17. That Abraham was constituted the father of the faithful before this covenant of circumcision was made and did not obtain the grant of this privilege by it, has been proven before from Moses’ history.” (91)

(Interesting note: Gill seems to largely follow Coxe in this. See his comments on Gal. 3:16 and 3:17)

Confirmed, Ratified, and Established

Coxe does say that the covenant of grace was “revealed” to Abraham in Genesis 12. But, as we saw above, based on his reading of Galatians 3:15-17, Coxe also says that the covenant of grace was “confirmed,” “ratified,” and “established” in Genesis 12. These are all synonyms for the official, legal institution of a covenant, and that is precisely how Paul uses the term “confirmed” in Galatians 3:15-17. “Though it is only a man’s covenant, yet if it is confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it… [T]he law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before.” How is this consistent with the idea that the new covenant of grace was not established until the death of Christ? Note Owen’s commentary on Hebrews 8:6.

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

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

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

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

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

p. 78 PDF

If the new covenant of grace was not “legally established,” “ratified,” and “solemnly confirmed” until the death of Christ, then it was not “confirmed,” “ratified,” and “established” in Genesis 12. If that is the case, then what are we to make of Galatians 3:17? Note that Owen wrestles with it as well. His comment is sparse, but he appears to argue that the “promise and benefits” of the new covenant of grace were “confirmed of God in Christ” but the new covenant of grace itself, as a covenant, was not legally established and confirmed until the cross. In my opinion, this distinction does not hold, especially since Paul specifically argues on the basis of a covenant that has been legally established and confirmed.

The Covenant Concerning Christ

Coxe interprets Galatians 3:17 (“the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ”) as referring to the new covenant of grace. “[T]his covenant was made with Abraham in and through Jesus Christ. It is not Abraham but Christ that is its first head… The apostle asserts this most clearly (Galatians 3:17) and argues it from the form of the promises made to Abraham (verse 16).” Commenting on Hebrews 4:2, Owen argued

That the promise made unto Abraham did contain the substance of the gospel. It had in it the covenant of God in Christ, and was the confirmation of it, as our apostle disputes expressly, Galatians 3:16-17. He says that the promise unto Abraham and his seed did principally intend Christ, the promised seed, and that therein the covenant was confirmed of God in Christ. And thence it was attended with blessedness and justification in the pardon of sin, Romans 4; Galatians 3:14-15. So that it had in it the substance of the gospel, as hath been proved elsewhere.

Both Coxe and Owen are following Westminster’s interpretation of the verses.

Q. 31. With whom was the covenant of grace made?

A. The covenant of grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed.[114]

[114] Galatians 3:16. Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. Rom 5:15-21; Is. 53:10-11

It is a principle argument from Westminster that the Abrahamic Covenant is the Covenant of Grace. Coxe agrees with their interpretation of the verse, but argues it does not have reference to the Abrahamic Covenant of Circumcision, but to the New Covenant. I think Coxe was misled. I do not think that is best way to understand the verse. Consider these comments:

[in Christ] … should be rendered, “unto (i.e. with a view to) Christ”.
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

In Christ – With respect to the Messiah; a covenant relating to him, and which promised that he should descend from Abraham. The word “in,” in the phrase “in Christ,” does not quite express the meaning of the Greek εἰς Χριστὸν eis Christon. That means rather “unto Christ;” or unto the Messiah; that is, the covenant had respect to him. This is a common signification of the preposition εἰς his
Barnes’ Notes on the Bible

 

And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God {m} in Christ

(m) Which pertained to Christ.
Geneva Study Bible

 

The only phrase which is obscure in this verse is the clause rendered “in Christ.” Some would render it to Christ; others till Christ, i.e. till Christ came, which is undoubtedly its meaning at chapter v. 24. I apprehend the true rendering of the particle is concerning or in reference to — a meaning which the term by no means uncommonly bears in the New Testament. I shall give a few examples, — Eph. v. 32 ; Acts ii. 25 ; Heb. vii. 14 ; Luke xii. 21 ; Bom. iv. 20 ; xvi. 19 ; 2 Cor. ii. 9. The covenant in reference to Christ is just the arrangement or settlement as to justification by faith to be extended to the Gentiles through the Messiah, which was made known in the Divine declaration to Abraham. This Divine arrangement was “confirmed of God,” ratified by God in the ordinance of circumcision which was given to Abraham as a person justified in uncircumcision, and made known as a fixed appointment in the Divine declaration so often referred to. It was “confirmed before.” That is, it was a finished, ratified deed, long previously to the law.
John Brown

 

The only difficulty lies in the words “in Christ.” Inasmuch as “the covenant” here mentioned was confirmed only four hundred and thirty years before the law (at Sinai), the reference cannot be to the everlasting covenant—which was “confirmed” by God in Christ ere the world began (Titus 1:2, etc.). Hence we are obliged to adopt the rendering given by spiritual and able scholars: “the covenant that was confirmed before of God concerning Christ”—just as eis Christon is translated “concerning Christ” in Ephesians 5:32 and eis auton is rendered “concerning him” in Acts 2:25. Here, then, is a further word from God that His covenant with Abraham concerned Christ
Pink

There was a covenant that God made with Abraham about Christ. In his comments on 3:17, Chrysostom helpfully states what should be obvious, but is sometimes overlooked.

Thus God made a covenant with Abraham, promising that in his seed the blessing should be bestowed on the heathen; and this blessing the Law cannot turn aside… It was promised Abraham that by his seed the heathen should be blessed; and his seed according to the flesh is Christ.

This actually fits very well with what Owen says about the Abrahamic Covenant.

When God renewed the promise of it [the covenant of grace] unto Abraham, he is said to make a covenant with him; and he did so, but it was with respect unto other things, especially the proceeding of the promised Seed from his loins.

Scottish Presbyterian turned baptist James Haldane explains

It is indeed said, that “the scripture foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith preached before the gospel to Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed,” Gal. iii. 8. But this was merely a declaration of all nations being blessed in Jesus, who was Abraham’s seed. The covenant is said to have been confirmed of God in (rather concerning, eis Christon*) Christ; for there is no doubt that Christ, springing from the loins of Abraham, was the great promise made to him. Hence, it is opposed to the law, and called the promise, Gal. iii. 18… This was a promise that the Savior, revealed immediately after the fall, Gen. iii. 15. should spring from him. To this promise the apostle alludes, when he says “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many, but as of one, and to thy seed, which is Christ,” Gal. iii. 16.

To call this the covenant of grace, is only calculated to mislead; for surely it was peculiar to Abraham that Christ should spring from him… [A]lthough an oath was made to Abraham, securing the blessing to all families of the earth through him, this does not prove that the covenant made with him was the new covenant

*See Whitby, Macknight, &c. The covenant of God concerning Christ was the promise, that in Abraham all families of the earth should be blessed, Gen. xii. 3. This was afterwards confirmed by an oath, Heb vi. 17.

Thus 3:17 is not referring to the New Covenant of Grace. It is referring to the Abrahamic Covenant of Circumcision wherein God promised that Abraham would be the father of the Messiah, who would bless all nations. (For more on this see, my post on Galatians 3:16 and my post on 3:18). This covenant was “confirmed,” “ratified,” and “established” by God 430 years before the Mosaic Covenant (Gill argues this refers back to Gen 15, not Gen 12, which does make more sense). The Abrahamic Covenant revealed the Covenant of Grace insofar as it repeated the Genesis 3:15 promise that there would be a seed of the woman who would bless all nations. But, as Owen explained, it was uniquely an Abrahamic promise, and thus particularly the Abrahamic Covenant, that Abraham would be the father of this seed.

When we look at Abraham’s personal salvation, we see that it was the same as ours. He heard the gospel (that a Messiah would come, in fulfillment of Gen 3:15 to bless all nations) and believed that gospel, and was thus counted righteous. Thus Abraham looked forward and we look back. But that salvation was not strictly a promise of the Abrahamic Covenant. The Abrahamic Covenant did not promise “I will put a new heart within you and remember your sins no more.” The Abrahamic Covenant promised “you will be the father of the Messiah” who will bless all nations by establishing the New Covenant, by which “I will put a new heart within you and remember your sins no more.” Thus Abraham was saved just like us, but just like us, it was through the New Covenant (which is union with Christ).

Two Abrahamic Promises

As I explained in my post on Galatians 3:16, Paul is making an argument about two different promises given in the Abrahamic Covenant of Circumcision. I think that Augustine captured this well.

Now it is to be observed that two things are promised to Abraham, the one, that his seed should possess the land of Canaan, which is intimated when it is said, “Go into a land that I will show thee, and I will make of thee a great nation;” but the other far more excellent, not about the carnal but the spiritual seed, through which he is the father, not of the one Israelite nation, but of all nations who follow the footprints of his faith, which was first promised in these words, “And in thee shall all tribes of the earth be blessed.”… “And the Lord appeared unto Abram, and said unto him, Unto thy seed will I give this land.” (Gen 12:7) Nothing is promised here about that seed in which he is made the father of all nations, but only about that by which he is the father of the one Israelite nation; for by this seed that land was possessed… After these leaders there were judges, when the people were settled in the land of promise, so that, in the meantime, the first promise made to Abraham began to be fulfilled about the one nation, that is, the Hebrew, and about the land of Canaan; but not as yet the promise about all nations, and the whole wide world, for that was to be fulfilled, not by the observances of the old law, but by the advent of Christ in the flesh, and by the faith of the gospel.

When the second promise is fulfilled in Christ, it richochets back through the first promise, showing how the carnal offspring (Israel) as numerous as the stars and their inheritance of the land of Canaan were types of those redeemed in Christ (true Israel) and given an inheritance in the new heavens and earth. It does not mean God did not make any promises to Abraham’s carnal offspring about Canaan. It simply means that the first promise is eclipsed by the fulfillment of the second promise. (See They Are Not All Israel Who Are of Israel).

Conclusion

Coxe is correct when he says “The grace and blessings of the new covenant were given and ensured to Abraham for himself,” but Coxe is incorrect to say that “You will be the father of the Messiah” is also a New Covenant promise. It is a promise of the Covenant of Circumcision. I see this as an important, but minor disagreement with Coxe, and one that I think actually further strengthens the rest of his observations and arguments.