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They are not all Israel, who are of Israel (Rom 9:6)

August 27, 2016 21 comments

[This post was revised and expanded on 8/27/16]

In Romans 8, Paul lays out the truth that nothing can separate the elect Christian from the love of God. The question then arises: how is that true and how is that comforting if Israel, God’s chosen people, have been separated from God? I believe Paul answers the question using the same framework that he explains in Galatians 4.

In Galatians 4:21-31, Paul uses the terms children of flesh and children of promise with a double meaning. The first meaning refers to the physical births of Ishmael and Isaac. “[H]e who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise.” (v23) He notes that Ishmael “born according to the flesh then persecuted” Isaac “who was born according to the Spirit.” (v29)

He then gives takes these facts and gives them a symbolic interpretation and application. “[W]hich things are symbolic.” (v24, NKJV) “Which things are an allegory.” (KJV) “These things are being taken figuratively” (NIV). “These things are illustrations” (HCSB). “Now this may be interpreted allegorically” (ESV). “By the which things another thing is meant” (Geneva). “The which things be said by another understanding.” (Wycliffe) “[W]hich things are allegorized” (Young’s Literal).

Paul allegorizes the historical narrative of Ishmael and Isaac to explain the differences between the Old and New Covenants “For these are the two covenants” (NKJV). “The women represent two covenants” (NIV). “[T]hese women are two covenants” (ESV). “[F]or these mothers are the two Testaments” (Geneva). The mothers of Ishmael and Isaac correspond to these two covenants. “[T]he one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar.”

The two covenants, in turn, correspond to two Jerusalems: one earthly, one heavenly. “[F]or this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children— but the Jerusalem above is free.”

The allegorical correspondence to Ishmael and Isaac are what these two covenants/Jerusalems had given birth to in Paul’s day: Judaizers and Christians. “Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children – but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all.”

After establishing all of these points, Paul then applies the double meaning of the terms children of flesh and children of promise. “Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise.” (v28) Note that “children of promise” is being used in two different senses. The first sense (v23) referred to the historical narrative of Isaac’s birth as a fulfillment of God’s promise to give Abraham a physical offspring. The second sense refers to eternal salvation as a fulfillment of God’s promise to give Abraham a spiritual offspring (as Paul just established in 3:29). Just as Isaac’s birth was a work of the Spirit apart from Abraham’s work of the flesh (giving birth to Ishmael), so the Christian’s birth is a work of the Spirit apart from his works of the flesh (which the Judaizers insisted upon). In other words, Paul gives Isaac’s birth a typological significance. Commenting on this passage, Augustine said

This interpretation of the passage, handed down to us with apostolic authority, shows how we ought to understand the Scriptures of the two covenants—the old and the new.  One portion of the earthly city became an image of the heavenly city, not having a significance of its own, but signifying another city, and therefore serving, or “being in bondage.”  For it was founded not for its own sake, but to prefigure another city; and this shadow of a city was also itself foreshadowed by another preceding figure.  For Sarah’s handmaid Agar, and her son, were an image of this image.  And as the shadows were to pass away when the full light came, Sarah, the free woman, who prefigured the free city (which again was also prefigured in another way by that shadow of a city Jerusalem), therefore said, “Cast out the bond woman and her son; for the son of the bond woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac,” or, as the apostle says, “with the son of the free woman.”  In the earthly city, then, we find two things—its own obvious presence, and its symbolic presentation of the heavenly city.  And this was typified in the two sons of Abraham,—Ishmael, the son of Agar the handmaid, being born according to the flesh, while Isaac was born of the free woman Sarah, according to the promise.  Both, indeed, were of Abraham’s seed; but the one was begotten by natural law, the other was given by gracious promise.  In the one birth, human action is revealed; in the other, a divine kindness comes to light.

If we turn to Romans 9, we can see Paul employ the very same reasoning. Augustine saw these as parallel passages.

And no doubt the great apostle understood perfectly well what he was saying, when he described the two testaments as capable of the allegorical distinction of the bond-woman and the free,—attributing the children of the flesh to the Old, and to the New the children of the promise: “They,” says he, “which are the children of the flesh, are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.” (Rom 9:8) The children of the flesh, then, belong to the earthly Jerusalem, which is in bondage with her children; whereas the children of the promise belong to the Jerusalem above, the free, the mother of us all, eternal in the heavens. (Gal 4:25, 26)

How does God’s Word not fail when Israel has not been saved through the Messiah? Because Israel according to the flesh was never promised eternal salvation through the Messiah. God’s election to eternal salvation is not based on anything any person does, including being born a child of Abraham. To prove this point, Paul demonstrates that even the blessings his “countrymen according to the flesh” received (principally that “according to the flesh, Christ came” from them) were never based upon physical birth but were only given by God’s sovereign election.

Paul’s approach is the same as in Galatians 4. He gives the birth of Isaac a typological interpretation.

6 But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, 7 nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, “In Isaac your seed shall be called.” 8 That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed. 9 For this is the word of promise: “At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son.”

Note carefully that the word of promise is “At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son.” That promise refers specifically to Isaac’s physical birth. That particular promise does not apply to Christians. It is not a promise of salvation. But, just as in Galatians 4, Paul uses that historical narrative and applies it typologically to the question of eternal salvation. And just as Paul’s argument in Galatians 4 emphasized the work of the Spirit apart from the Christian’s works, Paul applies the typology of Isaac’s birth in Romans 9 to teach that salvation is rooted in God’s sovereign election apart from works – “not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.” He does this by showing that Isaac’s physical birth was according to God’s sovereign election and that Jacob’s selection as the one through whom the Abrahamic Covenant would continue and thus through whom the Messiah would be born was also according to sovereign election. Augustine notes “what we read of historically as predicted and fulfilled in the seed of Abraham according to the flesh, we must also inquire the allegorical [typological] meaning of, as it is to be fulfilled in the seed of Abraham according to faith.” Isaac Backus notes “in the fore-mentioned 9th of Romans, Paul evidently shews, that as Israel literally, was chosen out of other people: so that Israel spiritually are chosen out, from among both Jews and Gentiles.” Nehemiah Coxe said “Believers are the children of promise… typified by Isaac, being begotten to God of his own will by the efficacy and grace of his free promise.” (80)

Romans 9:14-23 then addresses the objection that is raised against God’s sovereign election – both “to service” and “to salvation.” v24-33 then return to the question of Israel’s salvation where he demonstrates the Israel that will be saved is the Israel chosen by God “not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles.” Just as “the children of promise” has a double meaning, so too does “Israel.” There is a typological (“my countrymen according to the flesh”) and an anti-typological (“even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles”) Israel. Therefore “[T]hey are not all Israel who are of Israel.” Paul continues his argument through chapter 11, concluding that “all Israel will be saved” (see Irons “Paul’s Theology of Israel’s Future: A Non-Millennial Interpretation of Romans 11”).

Answering Arminians

This interpretation has the added benefit of more satisfactorily addressing the typical Arminian objection to the Calvinist interpretation of Romans 9, which argues that Romans 9 is about election to service.

The only approach to Romans 9 that truly addresses the issue of God’s righteousness as it relates to ethnic Israel is that the election spoken of in verses 7–18 is election to service. Paul’s thesis is that God’s word of promise to Israel has not failed (Rom. 9:6a). Why not? The answer is Romans 9:6b (NASB), “For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel.” Here Paul is not distinguishing between two groups within Israel, the saved and the lost, with the ensuing discussion focusing on how God unconditionally makes the distinction. Rather, the contrast is of a different sort altogether. There are two groups, but they are not completely distinct from each other. One is actually inside the other, as a smaller body within a larger body. Both groups are called Israel, but they are different kinds of Israel. The larger one is ethnic Israel, the physical nation as a whole; the smaller belongs to this group but is also distinguished from it as a separate entity, i.e., as the true spiritual Israel, the remnant of true believers who enjoy the blessings of eternal salvation.

But the contrast between these two Israels is not that one is saved while the other is lost. This cannot be, since the smaller (saved) group is also a part of the larger body. What is the difference between these two Israels, and why does Paul even bring it up here? The key difference is that God’s covenant promises to these two groups are not the same. The promises God made to ethnic Israel are different from the promises he has made to spiritual Israel. Paul is saying, in effect, “You think God has been unfair to ethnic Israel because all Jews are not saved? Don’t you know there are two Israels, each with a different set of promises? You are actually confusing these two Israels. You are taking the salvation promises that apply only to the smaller group and are mistakenly trying to apply them to Israel as a whole.”

Here is the point: there are two “chosen peoples,” two Israels; but only remnant Israel has been chosen for salvation. Contrary to what the Jews commonly thought, ethnic Israel as a whole was not chosen for salvation but for service. God’s covenant promises to physical Israel as such had to do only with the role of the nation in God’s historical plan of redemption. Their election was utilitarian, not redemptive. God chose them to serve a purpose. The Jews themselves thought that this election involved the promise of salvation for individuals, but they were simply mistaken. This same mistake lies at the root of the Calvinist view that the election in Romans 9 is election to salvation. This is Piper’s root exegetical error, as he strains mightily to read salvation content into the blessings described in Romans 9:4–5. He concludes that “each of the benefits listed in 9:4, 5 has saving, eschatological implications for Israel,” and then proceeds to try to explain why such benefits were not enjoyed by all Jews. His answer is that God makes a distinction within Israel, unconditionally choosing to apply these saving benefits to only some Jews. Schreiner takes a similar approach, saying that Paul’s thesis in Romans 9–11 as stated in Romans 9:6—that “the word of God has not failed”—refers to God’s promises to save his people Israel.

Even Forlines, an Arminian, interprets God’s covenant promises to Abraham and his seed (as in Gen. 13:14–15; 17:8) as including “the promise of eternal life.” But this is simply not true. The terms of the covenant God made with Abraham and later with Israel as a whole did not include a promise to save anyone simply because he or she was a member of the covenant people. The key promise God made to Abraham and his seed was this: “In you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Gen. 12:3 NASB), a promise that was fulfilled when “the Christ according to the flesh” ultimately came from Israel (Rom. 9:5 NASB). All the other promises and blessings were subordinate to this one and were designed to bring about its fulfillment. None involved a promise of eternal salvation for the individual members of the covenant people. The blessings listed by Paul in Romans 9:4–5 do not include salvation content.

Jack W. Cotrell (2006-11-01). Perspectives on Election (pp. 125-126). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.

I completely agree with Cotrell’s criticism of the typical Calvinist misreading of Romans 9 and with what he has said about the Abrahamic Covenant. Of course, he is wrong in the rest of his exegesis, and he misses Paul’s allegorical application as Paul very clearly also speaks of individual salvation. Piper is helpful in addressing this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Internal/External Old Covenant?

Many Calvinists have simply missed this clear and historic explanation of Romans 9 because they have been too eager to use it as a proof-text for infant baptism (and Calvinist Baptists like Piper and Schreiner mentioned above have unwittingly followed this line). Paedobaptist covenant theology views all of the post-fall covenants (Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and New) as various expressions (“administrations”) of the same covenant. They are all the covenant of grace and they are all made with more than just the elect. However, WLC 31 says “With whom was the covenant of grace made? Answer: The covenant of grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed.” How do the non-elect fit into that definition? Louis Berkhof notes

What induced these theologians to speak of the covenant as made with the elect in spite of all the practical difficulties involved?… Reformed theologians were deeply conscious of the contrast between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. They felt that in the former the reward of the covenant was dependent on the uncertain obedience of man and as a result failed to materialize, while in the covenant of grace the full realization of the promises is absolutely sure in virtue of the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ. Its realization is sure through the operation of the grace of God, but, of course, sure only for those who are partakers of that grace. They felt constrained to stress this aspect of the covenant especially over against the Arminians and Neonomians, who virtually changed it into a new covenant of works, and made salvation once more dependent on the work of man, that is, on faith and evangelical obedience. For this reason they stressed the close connection between the covenant of redemption and the covenant of grace, and even hesitated to speak of faith as the condition of the covenant of grace…

The idea that the covenant is fully realized only in the elect is a perfectly Scriptural idea, as appears, for instance, from Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8:8-12… But now the question arises, whether in the estimation of these Reformed theologians all the non-elect are outside of the covenant of grace in every sense of the word. Brakel virtually takes this position, but he is not in line with the majority. They realized very well that a covenant of grace, which in no sense of the word included others than the elect, would be purely individual, while the covenant of grace is represented in Scripture as an organic idea. They were fully aware of the fact that, according to God’s special revelation in both the Old and the New Testament, the covenant as a historical phenomenon is perpetuated in successive generations and includes many in whom the covenant life is never realized. And whenever they desired to include this aspect of the covenant in their definition, they would say that it was established with believers and their seed.

-Systematic Theology

He then discusses various attempts by reformed theologians to explain these different senses of covenant membership under IV. The Dual Aspect of the Covenant. He lists An External and Internal Covenant, The Essence and Administration of the Covenant, A Conditional and an Absolute Covenant, The Covenant as Purely Legal Relationship and as Communion of Life. He defends the last view (and argues against the others):

E. Membership in the Covenant as a Legal Relationship…

2. Children of believers in the covenant. With respect to the children of believers, who enter the covenant by birth, the situation is, of course, somewhat different. Experience teaches that, though by birth they enter the covenant as a legal relationship, this does not necessarily mean that they are also at once in the covenant as a communion of life. It does not even mean that the covenant relation will ever come to its full realization in their lives. Yet even in their case there must be a reasonable assurance that the covenant is not or will not remain a mere legal relationship, with external duties and privileges, pointing to that which ought to be, but is also or will in time become a living reality. This assurance is based on the promise of God, which is absolutely reliable, that He will work in the hearts of the covenant youth with His saving grace and transform them into living members of the covenant…

The promises of God are given to the seed of believers collectively, and not individually. God’s promise to continue His covenant and to bring it to full realization in the children of believers, does not mean that He will endow every last one of them with saving faith. And if some of them continue in unbelief, we shall have to bear in mind what Paul says in Rom. 9:6-8. They are not all Israel who are of Israel; the children of believers are not all children of promise. Hence it is necessary to remind even children of the covenant constantly of the necessity of regeneration and conversion. The mere fact that one is in the covenant does not carry with it the assurance of salvation.

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

Note the Westminster Larger Catechism:

WLC Question 166: Unto whom is Baptism to be administered? Answer: Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church, and so strangers from the covenant of promise, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to him, but infants descending from parents, either both, or but one of them, professing faith in Christ, and obedience to him, are in that respect within the covenant, and to be baptized.

In other words, there is more than one sense in which a person can be in the covenant of grace. Paedobaptists without exception go to Romans 9:6 to defend this “dual aspect” of the Covenant of Grace. It says “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel,” which they interpret to mean “not all who are in the Covenant of Grace belong to the Covenant of Grace,” thus establishing two levels of covenant membership. But is that what the text is teaching?

The fundamental error of paedobaptist covenant theology is that they combine all of the post-fall covenants together into one covenant, against the testimony of Scripture which clearly distinguishes them as separate covenants. If we approach Romans 9:6 with this faulty presupposition, we will misread the text. As we saw above, Romans 9:6 is a parallel to Galatians 4:21-31 where Paul distinguishes between the Old and the New as separate covenants. In addition to simply not understanding Paul’s argument, and Paul’s view of the typology of Israel throughout his letters (as explained above), this has two more problems.

First, it leads them to identify the promise of Isaac’s birth itself as somehow identical to the promise of salvation. After all, Paul says “For this is what the promise said: About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.'” Thus many try to argue this meant that salvation was to be confined to the line of Isaac, rather than the line of Ishmael, which is not supported by anything in Scripture. This line of reasoning is found as well when it is implied that salvation was limited to the nation of Israel during the Old Testament. Not only is this the necessary implication of their misreading of Romans 9; it is also a necessary implication of their identification of the Old Covenant as the Covenant of Grace. Nehemiah Coxe explains:

[T]his [Abrahamic] covenant did not confine the solemn worship of God (by sacrifices or otherwise) to Abraham’s family. Nor were other holy men living then under any obligation to incorporate themselves into it by circumcision or at all to take on them that sign or seal of this covenant of peculiarity that God now made with Abraham. Yet without a doubt they should have done this if in its first institution it had been given simply and directly as a seal of the covenant of grace. For then by reason of their interest in that covenant, both in point of duty and privilege, it belonged as much to them as to the seed and family of Abraham.

From the sacred history it is evident that the command by virtue of which circumcision was administered, extended no further than to Abraham and his family. Therefore we have no ground to conclude that Lot (though closely allied to Abraham) was circumcised. There is nothing in the command of God or in the first institution of circumcision that obligated him to it or interested him in it. Yet there is no doubt to be made of his interest in the covenant of grace.

Nor was Lot the only righteous man living in the world beside those of Abraham’s family for the patriarchs Heber, Salah, and Shem were now living. They had their distinct families and interests so there is no question that the pure worship of God was maintained in them and they promoted the interest of true religion to the utmost of their power while they lived.

Melchizedek was alive about this time. Whether he was Shem named earlier or another does not concern us. But this is certain: that it was he who was the priest of the most high God and King of Salem. In both respects he was the most eminent type of Jesus Christ that ever was in the world; a person greater than Abraham, for Abraham paid tithes to him and was blessed by him. Now considering that he was both king and priest, there is no doubt that there was a society of men that were ruled
by hint and for whom he ministered. For a priest is ordained for men in things pertaining to God. This society was at this time as much a church of God as Abraham’s family was and as truly interested in the covenant of grace as any in it. Yet they were not involved as parties in this covenant of circumcision nor to be signed by it. And so it is manifest that circumcision was not at first applied as a seal of the covenant of grace, nor did an interest in it presently render a man the proper subject of it.

Again, to suppose that all good men then living should have been circumcised as Abraham was, and their offspring bound to keep this covenant in their generations as his were, would necessarily frustrate one great (if not the greatest) end of circumcision and its covenant. This was the separating of one family of people from all others in the world for the bringing out of the Messiah, that promised seed, from them and among them for the establishing of all the promises made to the fathers. Moreover, the promise of this covenant regarding the inheritance of the land of Canaan could never have been made good to them all. And yet certainly the sealing of that promise was on thing intended in circumcision.

From the whole it appears that, on the one hand, there was a positive command which made it necessary to circumcise many that never had interest in the covenant of grace. So, on the other hand, from the first date of circumcision there were many truly interested in the covenant of grace who were under no obligation to be circumcised. This is how far from truth it is that a new covenant interest and right to circumcision may be inferred the one from the other.

Covenant Theology From Adam to Christ, p. 116-118

Second, and following the above, there is no way to explain why Ishmael, someone whom God declared was not a child of promise (and therefore, according to their reading of Romans 9:6-8, declared reprobate) and with whom the Abrahamic Covenant would not be established, would receive circumcision, which paedobaptists claim is a seal of the righteousness of faith.

Conclusion

Rather than being a proof text for Westminster federalism, the internal/external covenant construct is imported into Romans 9:6 because of a prior covenantal commitment. Paul is making distinctions between Israel after the flesh, to whom belong the [old] covenants (they are/were actually in covenant with God), and true, spiritual Israel, to whom belong the ultimate fulfillment of those previous covenants: the new covenant/covenant of grace. He demonstrates that even Israel after the flesh was granted blessings on the basis of God’s sovereign election and he applies this historical reality allegorically to come to the conclusion that they are not all [spiritual] Israel [with whom the New Covenant is made] who are from [carnal] Israel [with whom the Old Covenant was made].

For more, see http://www.1689federalism.com as well as Blood of bulls and goats : blood of Christ :: physical Israel : spiritual Israel and Augustine: Proto-1689 Federalist

Here is a quote from Isaac Backus:

But what will, I apprehend, set this matter in the clearest light, is to consider it in the line of type and antitype.—It is abundantly shewn in Scripture, that the Jewish church, and the forms and ordinances thereof, did shadow forth, and typify heavenly things, Heb. 8:2–6 and 9:9, 23, 24, &c. The seed of Abraham, Isaac and Israel’s being selected out of other nations, and being redeem’d with almighty power, and bro’t near to God, to be his peculiar people, and to partake of those ordinances and privileges which no other nation then enjoyed, did remarkably shadow forth God’s spiritual Israel, whom he hath chosen and by almighty grace redeemed; Out of every kindred, tongue, people and nation. Rev. 5:9. And as the Lord said to Israel at Sinai; Ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, (Exod. 19:6) so these saints say, Thou hast made us unto our God kings and priests, ver. 10. And in the fore-mentioned 9th of Romans, Paul evidently shews, that as Israel literally, was chosen out of other people: so that Israel spiritually are chosen out, from among both Jews and Gentiles. The same apostle calls the old-testament dispensation the Letter; and the new-testament, the Spirit, 2 Cor. 3:6. That church had a literal house and temple where God’s name was fixed, and his worship confined. Deut. 12:13. 1 King. 8:29…

Thus by jumbling type and antitype together, persons run themselves into a sad dilemma: whereas if we take them distinct, the case is easy…

Now if we take these things distinct, there is no difficulty; but to jumble them together, leads into endless confusion.

A Short Description of the Difference between the Bond-Woman and the Free, as They Are the Two Covenants

In “DOLPHINS IN THE WOODS”: A Critique of Mark Jones and Ted Van Raalte’s Presentation of Particular Baptist Covenant Theology, Samuel Renihan provides the following quote

We conceive, that this Scripture [Gal. 3:29; Rom. 9:6-9] doth expound, Gen. 17. God made an everlasting covenant of Grace with ABRAHAM and his seed. Now the Scriptures declare, that ABRAHAM had two kindes of seed; one born after the flesh, the other born after the Spirit, Gal. 4. 29. The question is, who are counted for Abrahams seed according to the covenant of grace?

-Benjamin Coxe, William Kiffin, and Hanserd Knollys
A Declaration Concerning the Publike Dispute Which Should have been in the Publike Meeting-House of Alderman-Bury, the 3d of this instant Moneth of December; Concerning Infants-Baptisme. Together, with some of the Arguments which should have been propounded and urged by some of those that are falsly called Anabaptists, which should then have disputed (London: n.p., 1645), 16.

Nehemiah Coxe

“In Isaac will your seed be called.” It was Isaac’s seed and not Ishmael’s that the Lord would set apart for himself, give the land of Canaan to, and establish his solemn worship among them to be their God…

But once more the Lord restrains it by the rejection of Esau and the choosing of Jacob before the children had done either good or evil. This was so the purpose of God according to election might stand and he might set before us an awe-inspiring type of his sovereignty in the later dispensation of the grace of the gospel…

[T]he covenant of peculiarity made with Israel and the dispensation that God brought them under pursuant to its ends, was typical of the gospel covenant and the state of things in it. In Isaac we have a type of the children of God by faith. As he (in his seed) was the heir of Canaan, so they are heirs of heaven. As he was persecuted by Ishmael, so must they expect trouble in the world and look to be maligned by all carnal and Pharisaic spirits who seek to establish their own righteousness and refuse to submit to the righteousness of God. In a word, the people, their worship, and their inheritance were all typical. And yet, as Abraham’s spiritual seed may behold the shadow of their own state and privilege in the spiritual relation and typical economy of the Jewish church, so they again might and ought to consider themselves in their outward state to be but typical. While they were figures of the children of promise, both themselves, their state, and their end were figured in the son of the bond-woman and his rejection.

-Covenant Theology from Adam to Christ (102-3, 132)

From “Children of Promise”: Spiritual Paternity and Patriarch Typology in Galatians and Romans,

[T]his article closely examines Gal 3 and 4:21–31 as well as Rom 4 and 9:7–13 in order to demonstrate that there is an underlying hermeneutical consistency to Paul’s typological use of the patriarchs and that this consistency is supportive of the view that “Israel” in Rom 9:6b refers to spiritual Israel—that is, the church… These texts are all part of a larger pattern of predominantly typological exegesis; they have all been cut, so to speak, from the same hermeneutical cloth and cannot be understood in isolation from one another…

[H]is argument in Rom 9:7–8 closely resembles and in part even seems to assume what had been explicitly proved in Gal 4:21– 31, namely, the existence of a typological antithesis between Isaac as a child of Abraham according to promise and Ishmael as a child according to the flesh with all that kata; sarkav often entails. The sudden introduction of multiple children of promise along with multiple children of flesh in Rom 9:8 only follows epexegetically (touÅt∆ eßstin) from the bare mention of Isaac in Rom 9:7 if the respective typological identities of both of Abraham’s sons can be taken for granted—identities that are not fully articulated here but in Galatians. In fact, only here and in Gal 4:23, 28–29 do we find the antithesis between “children of flesh” and “children of promise.” This makes the Galatians passage with its considerably greater elaboration indispensable for a proper understanding of Rom 9:8…

As a child of promise whose birth was wholly dependent on the gracious activity of God, Isaac stands as a type of the “children of promise,” namely, Jewish and Gentile believers…

Over against “the Israel of the old covenant,” Paul thus sets “the Israel of the new covenant, consisting of believing Jew and Gentile.”…

Believing Jews and Gentiles together are the people of God. They alone are the “seed” of Abraham and the “children of promise,” because they, and they alone, are the eschatological antitypes of Isaac and Jacob…

Not only has he consistently viewed descent from Abraham spiritually, he has consistently treated Abraham’s literal progeny typologically. The patriarchs of the first two generations after Abraham stand in Scripture as types of still greater eschatological realities. Isaac and Jacob are types of the “children of promise”… At the same time that these typologies were seen to be crucial to Paul’s view of the people of God in both Galatians and Romans, they were also seen to be part of a larger pattern of interpretation, namely, the systematic appropriation to the church of the Scriptures, blessings, and promises of Israel.

Finally, hear Augustine once more:

What then is the import of the “All, from the least unto the greatest of them,” but all that belong spiritually to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah,—that is, to the children of Isaac, to the seed of Abraham? For such is the promise, wherein it was said to him, “In Isaac shall thy seed be called; for they which are the children of the flesh are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son. And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac, (for the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him that calleth,) it was said unto her, “The elder shall serve the younger.” (Rom 9:7-12) This is the house of Israel, or rather the house of Judah, on account of Christ, who came of the tribe of Judah. This is the house of the children of promise,—not by reason of their own merits, but of the kindness of God. For God promises what He Himself performs: He does not Himself promise, and another perform; which would no longer be promising, but prophesying. Hence it is “not of works, but of Him that calleth,” (Rom 9:11) lest the result should be their own, not God’s; lest the reward should be ascribed not to His grace, but to their due; and so grace should be no longer grace which was so earnestly defended and maintained by him who, though the least of the apostles, laboured more abundantly than all the rest,—yet not himself, but the grace of God that was with him. (1 Cor 15:9-10)

“They shall all know me,” (Jer 31:34) He says,—“All,” the house of Israel and house of Judah. “All,” however, “are not Israel which are of Israel,” (Rom 9:6) but they only to whom it is said in “the psalm concerning the morning aid” (Ps 22) (that is, concerning the new refreshing light, meaning that of the new testament [covenant]), “All ye the seed of Jacob, glorify Him; and fear Him, all ye the seed of Israel.” (Ps 22:23) All the seed, without exception, even the entire seed of the promise and of the called, but only of those who are the called according to His purpose. (Rom 8:28) “For whom He did predestinate, them He also called; and whom He called, them He also justified; and whom He justified, them He also glorified.” (Rom 8:30) “Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed: not to that only which is of the law,”—that is, which comes from the Old Testament into the New,—“but to that also which is of faith,” which was indeed prior to the law, even “the faith of Abraham,”—meaning those who imitate the faith of Abraham,—“who is the father of us all; as it is written, I have made thee the father of many nations.” (Rom 4:16-17) Now all these predestinated, called, justified, glorified ones, shall know God by the grace of the new testament [covenant], from the least to the greatest of them.

As then the law of works, which was written on the tables of stone, and its reward, the land of promise, which the house of the carnal Israel after their liberation from Egypt received, belonged to the old testament [covenant], so the law of faith, written on the heart, and its reward, the beatific vision which the house of the spiritual Israel, when delivered from the present world, shall perceive, belong to the new testament [covenant].”

A Treatise on the Spirit and the Letter.
Chapter 40.—How that is to Be the Reward of All; The Apostle Earnestly Defends Grace.
Chapter 41.—The Law Written in the Heart, and the Reward of the Eternal Contemplation of God, Belong to the New Covenant; Who Among the Saints are the Least and the Greatest.

Augustine explains Rom 9:6 with reference to Jeremiah 31:34. All Israel shall know the Lord, but they are not all [spiritual] Israel [with whom the New Covenant is made] who are from [carnal] Israel [with whom the Old Covenant was made]. He correctly identifies the thrust of Paul’s argument in Romans 9 as election & reprobation, but he also correctly identifies election to salvation as corresponding to membership in the New Covenant (not to “inner” membership in the Abrahamic Covenant/Covenant of Grace).

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The Olive Tree (Rom 11:16-24)

February 8, 2015 12 comments

Ancient_Olive_Tree_in_Pelion,_Greece

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

Baptists frequently hear the following refrain:

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

Camden Bucey

The argument goes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nations or Individuals?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Answer:  We deny that children born within the visible church are an unclean offering to the Lord and that the baptizing of them pollutes the nation (and all the worship of the nation), as they would gather from Haggai.  For being born of the holy nation, they are holy with a federal and national holiness, Rom. 11:16.  If the root be holy so are the branches.

On the Baptism of the Children of Adherents

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

Abraham the root. Israel the tree.

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

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

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

Note what John Owen says about Abraham and his seed:

Two privileges did God grant unto Abraham, upon his separation to a special interest in the old promise and covenant: —

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

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

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

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

5. And herein lay the great mistake of the Jews of old, wherein they are followed by their posterity unto this day. They thought no more was needful to interest them in the covenant of Abraham but that they were his seed according to the flesh; and they constantly pleaded the latter privilege as the ground and reason of the former. It is true, they were the children of Abraham according to the flesh: but on that account they can have no other privilege than Abraham had in the flesh himself; and this was, as we have showed, that he should he set apart as a special channel, through whose loins God would derive the promised Seed into the world. In like manner were they separated to be a peculiar people, as his posterity, from amongst whom He should be so brought forth.

That this separation and privilege was to cease when the end of it was accomplished and the Messiah exhibited, the very nature of the thing declares; for to what purpose should it be continued when that was fully effected whereunto it was designed? But they would extend this privilege, and mix it with the other, contending that, because they were the children of Abraham according to the flesh, the whole blessing and covenant of Abraham belonged unto them. But as our Savior proved that in the latter sense they were the children of Abraham, because they did not the works of Abraham; so our apostle plainly demonstrates, Romans 4:9. 10. 11. Galatians 3:4., that those of them who had not the faith of Abraham had no interest in his blessing and covenant. Seeing, therefore, that their other privilege was come to an end, with all the carnal ordinances that attended it, by the actual coming of the Messiah, whereunto they were subservient, if they did not, by faith in the promised seed, attain an interest in this of the spiritual blessing, it is evident that they could on no account be considered as actual sharers in the covenant of God.

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

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

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

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

The Oneness of the Church

Here’s what we learn from Owen:

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

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

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

Two Covenants

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

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

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

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

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

Exposition of the Book of Hebrews 8:6

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Puritan Hope, p. 79

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

Typology of Israel

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

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

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

Ridderbos, Kingdom, 352.

Ernst Kasemann notes:

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

In sum:

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

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

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

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

No Natural Branches Remain

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nehemiah Coxe made the same point:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elect Excised?

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

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

-Murray

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

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

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

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

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

-Calvin

Summary

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

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

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

See also:

Abraham Booth’s “The Kingdom of Christ”

October 16, 2014 2 comments

Here is a quote from the introduction to Abraham Booth’s The Kingdom of Christ. You can find more quotes/excerpts from this Evernote link.

This mistake of the Jews, respecting the kingdom of the Messiah, lying at the foundation of all the opposition with which they treated him, and of their own ruin; it behoves us to guard with diligence against every thing which tends to secularize the dominion of Christ : lest, by corrupting the Gospel Economy, we dishoabraham-boothnour the Lord Redeemer, and be finally punished as the enemies of his government. Our danger of contracting guilt, and of incurring divine resentment in this way, is far from being small. For we are so conversant with sensible objects, and so delighted with exterior show, that we are naturally inclined to wish for something in religion to gratify our carnality. Under the influence of that master prejudice, the expectation of a temporal kingdom, Jewish depravity rejected Christ; and our corruption, if we be not watchful, may so misrepresent his empire, and oppose his royal prerogatives, as implicitly to fay, ” We will not have him to reign over us.”*

* “As the great source of the infidelity of the Jews was a notion of the temporal kingdom of the Messiah, we may justly say, that the great source of the corruption of Christians, and of their general defection, foretold by the inspired writers, has been an attempt to render it, in effect, a temporal kingdom, and to support and extend it by earthly means. This is that spirit of Antichrist, which was so early at work, as to be discoverable in the days of the Apostles.” Dr. George Campbell’s Four Gospels Preface, p Iviu Second edition

John Erskine’s “The Nature of the Sinai Covenant”

October 16, 2014 22 comments

Owen

Owen’s work on the Mosaic Covenant is tremendous. He was bold enough to recognize that the Old Covenant was separate from the Covenant of Grace (New Covenant), that it was made with the nation of Israel, that it was based upon works, and that it was limited to temporal life in the land (not eternal life).

However, when it comes to the question of what type of obedience was required, I think Owen can be improved upon. He noted:

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

That which remains for the declaration of the mind of the Holy Ghost in this whole matter, is to declare the differences that are between those two covenants, whence the one is said to be “better” than the other, and to be “built upon better promises.”

Those of the church of Rome do commonly place this difference in three things:

1. In the promises of them: which in the old covenant were temporal only; in the new, spiritual and heavenly.

2. In the precepts of them: which under the old, required only external obedience, designing the righteousness of the outward man; under the new, they are internal, respecting principally the inner man of the heart.

3. In their sacraments: for those under the old testament were only outwardly figurative; but those of the new are operative of grace.

But these things do not express much, if any thing at all, of what the Scripture placeth this difference in. And besides, as by some of them explained, they are not true, especially the two latter of them. For I cannot but somewhat admire how it came into the heart or mind of any man to think or say, that God ever gave a law or laws, precept or precepts, that should “respect the outward man only, and the regulation of external duties.” A thought of it is contrary unto all the essential properties of the nature of God, and meet only to ingenerate apprehensions of him unsuited unto all his glorious excellencies. The life and foundation of all the laws under the old testament was, “Thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thy soul;” without which no outward obedience was ever accepted with him.

Hebrews 8 (p 105)

Pink

Perhaps the way in which Rome expressed or argued this point led Owen to reject it. But I think Owen was incorrect. Insofar as it was a national covenant, I believe it only required outward obedience. I think Pink is more correct on this point:

arthurwpinkThe covenant which God made with Israel at Sinai required outward obedience to the letter of the law… The Sinaitic covenant in no way interfered with the divine administration of either the everlasting covenant of grace (toward the elect) nor the Adamic covenant of works (which all by nature lie under); it being in quite another region. Whether the individual Israelites were heirs of blessing under the former, or under the curse of the latter, in no wise hindered or affected Israel’s being as a people under this national regime, which respected not inward and eternal blessings, but only outward and temporal interests.

In his “Divine Covenants”, A.W. Pink quotes Abraham Booth at length to establish this critical point:

“It is of great importance to the right interpretation of many passages in the O.T., that this particular be well understood and kept in view. Jehovah is very frequently represented as the Lord and God of all the ancient Israelites; even where it is manifest that the generality of them were considered as destitute of internal piety, and many of them as enormously wicked. How, then, could He be called their Lord and their God, in distinction from His relation to Gentiles (whose Creator, Benefactor, and Sovereign He was), except on the ground of the Sinai covenant? He was their Lord as being their Sovereign, whom, by a federal transaction they were bound to obey, in opposition to every political monarch who should at any time presume to govern them by laws of his own. He was their God, as the only Object of holy worship; and whom, by the same National covenant, they had solemnly engaged to serve according to His own rule, in opposition to every Pagan idol.

…Again, as none but real Christians are the subjects of our Lord’s kingdom, neither adults nor infants can be members of the Gospel Church in virtue of an external covenant or a relative holiness. A striking disparity this, between the Jewish and the Christian Church. A barely relative sanctity [that is, a sanctity accruing from belonging to the nation of God’s choice, A.W.P.] supposes its possessors to be the people of God in a merely external sense; such an external people supposes an external covenant, or one that relates to exterior conduct and temporal blessings; and an external covenant supposes an external king.

…The covenant made at Sinai having long been obsolete, all its peculiarities are vanished away: among which, relative sanctity [that is, being accounted externally holy, because belonging to the nation separated unto God, A.W.P.] made a conspicuous figure. That National Constitution being abolished, Jehovah’s political sovereignty is at an end.

The Covenant which is now in force, and the royal relation of our Lord to the Church, are entirely spiritual. All that external holiness of persons, of places, and of things, which existed under the old economy, is gone for ever; so that if the professors of Christianity do not possess a real, internal sanctity, they have none at all. The National confederation at Sinai is expressly contrasted in Holy Scripture with the new covenant (see Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8:7-13), and though the latter manifestly provides for internal holiness, respecting all the covenantees, yet it says not a word about relative sanctity” (Abraham Booth, 1796).

Pink, Arthur W. (2010-03-19). The Divine Covenants (Kindle Locations 2607-2635). . Kindle Edition.

Booth

If you consult Abraham Booth’s The Kingdom of Christ on this point, he further references someone else:

abraham-boothPerforming the conditions of their National Confederation, they were, as a people, warranted to expect every species of temporal prosperity. Health and long life, riches, honours, and vic tory over their enemies, were promised by Jehovah to their external obedience. (Ex 25:25,26; 28:25-28; Lev 26:3-14; Deut 7:12-24; 8:7-9; 11:13-17; 28:3-13) The punishments also, that were denounced against flagrant breaches of the Covenant made at Horeb, were of a temporal kind.*

*Lev. xxvi. 14—39. Deut. iv. 25, 26, 27* xi. 9.7. xxviii. 15— 68. xxix. 22— 28, See Dr. Erskine’s Theological Dissert. p. 22– 29. External obedience. — Punishments of a temporal kind. These and similar expressions in this essay are to be underwood, as referring to the Sinai Covenant strictly considered, and to Jehovah’s requisitions as the king of Israel. They are quite consistent, therefore, with its being the duty of Abraham’s natural seed to perform internal obedience to that sublime Sovereign, considered as the God of the whole earth; and with everlasting punishment being inflicted by him, as the righteous desert of sin.

Erskine

NPG D16868,John Erskine,by John KayJohn Erskine was a contemporary of Booth (1721–1803). He was a Scottish Presbyterian. “Unusual for minister at that time, the highborn Erskine purposely chose the office of the pastorate for his profession, knowing that one day he would inherit his father’s and grandfather’s estates at Carnock and Torryburn. Erskine’s family assumed he would follow his father’s footsteps and become a lawyer, but Erskine had different plans for his life. Impassioned to contribute to the growth of the evangelical revival in Britain and America, Erskine believed that as a minister he would have the best opportunity to lend a hand to this worthy Christian enterprise.” (Yeager)

He defended the rights of the American colonies against the British, was a vocal member of the Slave Abolition Society, and led the evangelical party of the Church of Scotland in a passionate plea for the work of missions. In short, he was not afraid to speak his mind in controversial matters. His “Dissertation I: The Nature of the Sinai Covenant, and the Character and Privileges of the Jewish Church“, intended to be read along with “Dissertation II: The Character and Privileges of the Apostolic Churches” as an argument against the national church, noting “The greater part of modern Christians, have, I acknowledge, in their sentiments of the nature of the church, widely deviated from Scripture and antiquity. And the fiction of a visible church, really in covenant with God, and yet partly made up of hypocrites, has almost universally prevailed.”

The thrust of his argument was to demonstrate that the Old Covenant is separate from the New Covenant and thus cannot be a model for the Christian Church.

The common distinction of the church into visible and invisible, or at least the incautious manner in which some have explained it, has contributed not a little to the prevalence of this opinion. But let us impartially examine, whether it has any solid foundation in the sacred oracles; and for this purpose enquire whether the proofs of such an external covenant under the Old Testament, will equally apply to gospel times.

To prove this, Erskine labored to explain that the Sinai Covenant was established with God as a “temporal prince”. Thus it required outward, temporal obedience to the monarch of the land of Canaan.

That God was one of the parties, in the Mosaic covenant, is universally acknowledged. It is, however, necessary to observe, that God entered into that covenant, under the character of King of Israel. He is termed so in Scripture (Judges 8:23, 1 Sam 8:7, 12:12) and he acted as such, disposed of offices, made war and peace, exacted tribute, enacted laws, punished with death such of that people as resufed him allegiance and defended his subjects from their enemies…

he appeared chiefly as a temporal prince, and therefore gave laws intended rather to direct the outward conduct, than to regulate the actings of the heart. Hence every thing in that dispensation was adapted to strike his subjects with awe and reverence. The magnificence of his palace, and all its utensils ; his numerous train of attendants ; the splendid robes of the high priest, who, though his prime minister, was not allowed to enter the holy of holies, save once a year, and, in all his ministrations, was obliged to discover the most humble veneration for Israel’s king ; the solemn rites, with which the priests were consecrated ; the strictness with which all impurities and indecencies were forbidden, as things, which, though tolerable in others (Deut 14:21), were unbecoming the dignity of the people of God…

To conclude this argument, the fidelity and allegiance of the Jews was secured, not by bestowing the influences of the spirit necessary to produce faith and love, (Deut 29:3-4) but barely by external displays of majesty and greatness, calculated to promote a slavish subjection, rather than a chearful filial obedience. (p. 4-6)

Because this was an earthly kingdom, the unregenerate were included in the covenant.

The party, with whom God made this covenant, was the Jewish nation, not excluding these unregenerate, and inwardly disaffected to God and goodness. In the original records of the Sinai covenant (Ex 19:8, 24:3, Deut v:1-3), all the people are expressly said to enter into it, and yet the greater part of that people, were strangers to the enlightening and converting influences of the spirit, and to a principle of inward love to God and holiness (Deut 29:3, 5:29).

…Descent from Israel gave any one a title to the benefits of this covenant, for which reason the children even of unregenerate Israelites, were circumcised the eighth day, and were said to be born unto God (b).

…Hence Paul tells us, that he had, whereof be might trust in the flesh, he esteemed himself entitled to the carnal benefits of the Sinai covenant, seeing he was of the flock of Israel’, and an Hebrew of the Hebrews (d). Now this plainly supposes, that all of the flock of Israel were interested in that covenant. Nay, these adopted by a Jew, born in his house, or bought with his money, were circumcised, as a token that they were entitled to the same benefits (e).

{a) Deut. xxix. 14, 15. (b) Ezek.xvi. 20. (c) Mat. iii. 9. John viii. 33. (d) Phil. iii. 4, 5. (e) Gen. xv)i. 12, 13. Seidell de Jur. Nat. & Gent. 1. 5. c. n.

The blessings of the covenant were temporal.

[T]he blessings of the Sinai covenant are merely temporal and outward. God in that covenant acted as a temporal monarch. And from a temporal monarch, temporal profperity is all that we hope, not spiritual bleffings, such as righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.

…[P]romises of temporal blessings and threatenings of the opposite evils are almost every where to be found in the Scripture accounts of the Sinai covenant, whilst there is a remarkable silence as to spiritual and heavenly blessings. (28)

Erskine believed that the Sinai Covenant was of works. “All these promises may be considered as so many enlargements, or rather explications of that general one, Lev 18:5 ‘The man that doeth these things shall live in them’” (28). He said “the Mosaic covenant had a respect to the covenant of grace as typified by it. But then the burdensome servile obedience it enjoined, was to be performed by the Jews without any special divine assistance, and was to found their legal title to covenant blessings.”

It is now time to investigate the condition, the performance of which entitled to the blessings of the Sinai covenant. …in general, obedience to the letter of the law, even when it did not flow from a principle of faith and love. A temporal monarch claims from his subjects, only outward honour and obedience. God therefore, acting in the Sinai covenant, as King of the Jews, demanded from them no more. (37)

This understanding sheds light on many passages of Scripture.

He who yielded an external obedience to the law of Moses, was termed righteous, and had a claim in virtue of this his obedience to the land of Canaan, so that doing these things he lived by them (s). Hence, says Moses (t), “It shall be our righteousness, if we observe to do all these commandments,” i. e. it shall be the cause and matter of our justification, it shall found our title to covenant blessings. (44)

(s) Lev. xviii. 5. Deut. v. 33. (t) Deut. vi.25

…Deut 26:12-15 – Would God have directed them, think you, to glory in their observance of that law, if, in fact, the sincerest among them had not observed it. Yet doubtless that was the case, if its demands were the same as those of the law of nature. But indeed, the things mentioned in that form of glorying were only external performances, and one may see, with half an eye, many might truly boast they had done them all, who were strangers not with-standing to charity, flowing from a pure heart, a good conscience, and faith unfeigned. Job, who probably represents the Jews after their return from the Babylonish captivity, was perfect and upright {v). Zacharias and Elizabeth were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless(w). The young man, who came to Jesus, enquiring what he should do to inherit eternal life, professed that he had kept the commandments from his youth up, and our Lord does not charge him with falsehood in that profession (x). Paul was touching the righteousness which was of the law, blameless (y). Yet Job curses the day in which he was born (z) Zacharias is guilty of unbelief {a) ; the young man, in the gospel loves this world better than Christ (b) ; and Paul himself groans to be delivered from a body of sin and death (c), These seeming contradictions will vanish, if we take notice, that all of these though chargeable with manifold breaches of the law of nature, had kept the letter of the Mosaic law, and thus were entitled to the earthly happiness promised to its observers.

(v) Job i. i» xix. 20. (a) Luke i. ao. vii. 24. (w) Luke i. 6. (x) Matth. (y) Phil. iii. 6. (z) Job iii. i, 3. (Jb) Mat. xix, 22, 23. (c) Rom.

Bishop Warburton has observed, Divine Legation vol. II. part I. p. 355,—360. that the title of Man after God’s own heart, was given to David, not on account of his private morals, but of a behavior so different from that of Saul, in steadily maintaining purity of worship. (47)

Erskine’s ultimate goal was to demonstrate the glory of the gospel age.

The blessings of the Sinai covenant, were patterns of the heavenly things (Heb 9:9,23), shadows of good things to come (Col 2:16,17), and surely patterns and shadows differ in nature from the things of which they are patterns and shadows. (33)

Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, which was as it were the foundation of the Sinai covenant, was only an outward redemption. Is it then reasonable to suppose, that the blessings founded upon it were spiritual and heavenly? (24)

Obedience to them [Mosaic laws] was never designed to entitle to heavenly and spiritual blessings. These last are only to be looked for through another and a better covenant, established upon better promises. (4)

The Israelites were put upon obedience as that which would found their claim to the blessings of the Sinai covenant. But they were never put upon seeking eternal life by a covenant of works. It is on this account, that the Mosaic precepts are termed, Heb. ix. 10, carnal ordinances, or, as it might be rendered, righteousnesses of the flesh, because by them men obtained a legal outward righteousness… But to Spiritual and heavenly blessings, we are entitled only by the obedience of the son of God, not by our own. (44)

…The difference of the Christian dispensation from the Sinai covenant, in these respects, is hinted, John i. 13. and 1 Peter i. 23. and in that celebrated expression of Tertullian, “Christiani fiunt, non nafcuntur. It needs no proof, that men might be interested in the blessings of the Sinai covenant, in any of the ways mentioned above, and yet notwithstanding be slaves of Satan, and dead in trespasses and sins. When God promised the land of Canaan to Abraham and his seed, circumcision was instituted for this among other purposes, to shew that descent from Abraham was the foundation of his posterities right to these blessings. But, in gospel times, when not the children of the flesh, but the children of the promise are counted for a seed, Rom. ix. 8. in consequence of this the circumcision of the flesh is of no more avail, and the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ becomes necessary, Col. ii. ir. Rom. ii. 28. (9)

…Agreeably to all this, we are told Heb. ii. 3. that ” the great salvation first began to be “preached by the Lord” 2 Tim. i. 9, 10. that the gracious purpose of God for the salvation of sinners is only “now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath “brought life and immortality to light thro the “gospel” and Heb. ix. 8. that “the way into” the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, “while as the first tabernacle was yet standing.”

If Jesus was the first who plainly published the doclrine of salvation; if, until he appeared, the purposes of redeeming love were not opened and unfolded, and immortal life was not brought to light ; if the Jewish dispensation did not declare the means of obtaining the heavenly happiness we muft conclude, that there were not in the Sinai covenant, promises of spiritual and eternal blessings. But why need I multiply arguments, when the authority of two divinely inspired writers has been interposed, to decide the controversy. We are not only told Jer. xxxi. 31,—34. and Heb. viii. 12. that the Sinai and gospel covenants were essentially different: but are also informed, in what that difference chiefly consisted, even that the latter conferred pardon of sin and the enlightening and sanctifying influences of the spirit. Now this could be neither instance nor proof of such a difference, if the Sinai covenant had done the same things. But the words of the author to the Hebrews will bid fairer to strike conviction into the candid reader, than any thing I can say in illustration of them. (35)

Of course, this raised an immediate objection (as it does today): Are you saying Israelites weren’t saved?

Let it not however be thought, I would conclude from this and such like Scriptures, that none under the Sinai covenant had an interest in spiritual blessings. I only mean to alert, that the claim of the inwardly pious Jew to pardoning mercy, to sanctifying grace, and to the heavenly glory, was no more founded on his obedience to Moses’s law, than Job’s claim to these bleflings was founded on his being born in the land of Uz, and having seven sons and three daughters. The special favor of God was vouchsafed both to Jew and Arabian, only in virtue of that promise, which being before the law, could not be annulled by it (Gal 3:17). The law, or Sinai covenant, made nothing perfect, that honour being referved to the bringing in of a better hope (Heb 7:19). It could not give life (Gal 3:21). It could not give righteousness (2 Cor 3:9). Sins committed under it, as to their moral guilt, and spiritual and eternal punifhment, were forgiven only in consequence of the New Teftament, confirmed by the death of Chrift (Heb 9:15), without whose death the righteousness of God in forgiving these sins could not have been manifested (Rom 3:25). So that without us, the Old Testament saints were not made perfect (Heb 11:40) (36-37)

…The dispensation of grace, which took place under the Mosaic covenant, was no part of it, did not extend to all who were, and did extend to some who were not under it. (3)

Yet many will still object that there were very clearly revelations of spiritual things in the Old Testament. How can this be reconciled with what has been argued?

You will ask, if this reasoning is just, why did the prophets so often insist upon it, that Sacrifices and meer outward obedience were not acceptable to God (d)? I answer, in many such passages, the Jews are rebuked for neglecting the moral law, and placing all their religion in the ceremonial. (48)

(d) Pfal. 1. 8. Ila. i. 11. xliii. 13. Jer. vii. si. Hof. v. ,6, 7. vi. 6. Mic. vi. 8.

…We must not imagine that everything in Moses’s writings relates to the Sinai covenant. Some things in them were intended as a republication of the law of nature. And they contain many passages, which evidently relate to the duties and privileges of thofe interested in the gospel covenant. (49)

…I would further observe, that the laws of Moses in general had a Spiritual and a literal meaning The righteousness upon which the temporal prosperity of Israel depended, was the righteousness of the letter of the law. The righteousness through which believers are entitled to eternal life, is the righteousness of the spirit of the law. And as the earthly Canaan was a type of heaven, so that external obedience which gave a right to it, prefigured that perfect obedience of the Redeemer, whereby alone we are entitled to the heavenly bliss. The law therefore, in its spiritual sense, required inward, nay, even perfect obedience. And possibly the prohibition of coveting, and the precept of loving God with all the heart, were left in the letter of the law, to lead good men to the spirit of it : the very letter of these precepts, when taken in their full emphasis, reaching to the inmost thoughts and intents of the heart, and forbidding the least sinful desire.
This explains in what sense Paul asserts (Rom 7:8-11), that in taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in him all manner of concupiscence, yea, deceived him and slew him. Perceiving as an ingenious congregational minister well remarks (Glass’ Notes on Scripture texts No. 2 p. 28, 29), that the precept thou shalt not covet, commanded not only his outward conversation, but had a spiritual sense in which it reached the very thoughts and affections of the heart : while he was yet in the flesh, he set himself with all his might to obey this precept, bound himself with vows and resolutions against the breach of it, and earnestly implored the divine assistance to render his endeavours effectual, that so he might be blameless in the righteousness of the law. But the more he set his heart on this righteousness, he would be the more strongly affected to the earthly happiness annexed to it as its reward : and thus all his attempts to be righteous by not coveting, only served to quicken and inflame his covetousness. So that finding himself utterly incapable to keep this command, he saw his sin exceedingly sinful, and found himself condemned to death, by the spiritual sense of that very law, by which he once thought to live.

Yet still the breach of these precepts, in this their full emphasis and spiritual meaning, was no breach of the Sinai covenant : since, as has been already urged, heart sins were neither punished by death, nor expiated by sacrifice

…These remarks will serve to illustrate, what is meant by the flesh and by the spirit in Paul’s epistles to the Romans and Galatians. Mr. Glass has observed (Glass’ Notes, No. 3, p. 27 and 5), that the letter of the law, or the law in that carnal view without the spirit of it in which it is set before us, Rom. vii. i, 5, 6. the state of the nation under it, and the suitable disposition of that people to perform the national righteousness, and to enjoy the national happiness annexed to it as its reward, is called the flesh. In some Scriptures the flesh means bondage under the Sinai covenant (v) ; and the condition of that covenant is described as the law of a carnal commandment (w), and as consisting in carnal ordinances (x). The rewards also of that covenant were carnal, and so was the disposition of the Jewish people. Meat and drink were in their esteem chief blessings of the kingdom of God (y). Their god was their belly (z). And hence of old they gathered themselves for corn and wine (a), and afterwards sought the Saviour, not because they saw his miracles, but because they did eat of the loaves and were filled (b). These then are not after the flesh, but after the spirit, whose prevailing desire it is, not to establish their own righteousness, and to enjoy an earthly happiness, but to be clothed with a Redeemer’s righteousness, and through him to attain the blessings of a spiritual and divine life. (t) Exod. xxxiv. 24. (v) Isa. xl. 6. Phil. iii. 3. Gal. (w) Heb. vii. 16. (x) Heb. ix. 10. (y) Rom. xiv. 17 (z) Phil iii. 3. (a) Hos vii. 14, (b) Jo. vi 26

(51)

This had clear implications for the doctrine of justification in Erskine’s day just as it does for us today.

The preceding pages will guide to the meaning of several texts, which have been often urged for the unscriptural tenets of justification by the deeds of the law, and of the attainableness of perfection in a present life. I shall not trespass on the patience of my readers, by spending time in illustrating what is so obvious.

…Ezek. xviii. 24, 26. has been often appealed to as an evidence, that faints may fall from grace, and eternally perish. The fallacy of this argument will appear, if we take notice, that a righteous man here means one, who yields an external obedience to the law of Moses, and in virtue of that obedience has a righteous title (Deut 6:25) to long life and prosperity in the land of Canaan.

…Of such a one it is said, Ezk 28 ver. 22.  “in his righteousness that he hath done, he shall live.” i. e. he shall receive life on account of his good works : whereas persons just, in an evangelical sense, are entitled to eternal life by the righteousness of the Redeemer, and live by faith. (56)

One other important objection Erskine answers is how could God establish a covenant based upon works with people already condemned in Adam?

But, if this reasoning proves anything, will it not prove, that a God of spotless purity, can enter into a friendly treaty with men, whom yet, on account of their sins, he utterly abhors. And what if it does? Perhaps, the assertion, however shocking at first view, may, on a narrower scrutiny, be found innocent. We assert not any inward eternal friendship between God and the unconverted Jews. We only assert an external temporal covenant, which, though it secured their outward prosperity, gave them no claim to God’s special favour. Where then is the alleged absurdity? Will you say it is unworthy of God to maintain external communion with sinners, or to impart to them any blessings? What then would become of the bulk of mankind? Nay, what would become of the patience and longsuffering of God? Or is it absurd, that God should reward actions that flow from bad motives when we have an undoubted instance of his doing this in the case pf Jehu? Or is it absurd, that God would entail favours on bad men, in the way of promise or covenant? Have you forgot God’s promise to Jehu, that his children of the fourth generation should sit on the throne of Israel? Or have you forgot, what concerns you more, God’s covenant with mankind in general, no more to deftroy the earth by a flood (2 Kings 10:30; Gen 9:12)? (15-16)

I was blessed by Erskine’s work because it really helped me understand just how glorious the revelation of the New Covenant is compared to the darkness of the Old Covenant. Yes, we can look back now and clearly see Christ in all sorts of ways. But it was not so obvious to the majority of Israelites under the Sinai covenant. In light of the above, ponder 1 Samuel 11:13 closely and ask yourself if it’s any real surprise the Jews expected Christ to deliver them from the Romans.

That Christ, and the benefits of Redemption, were typified by the Law of Moses and that the spiritual sense of Moses’ Law, though veiled from the Jews in common was in some measure revealed to those mentioned, Heb. xi. I firmly believe. I doubt not, there were many more, whose eyes were opened, under that dark dispensation, to behold wonderous things out of God’s Law. (vii)
Perhaps it may be alledged to invalidate my argument, that the land of Canaan was a type of the heavenly inheritance: that the temporal blessings of the Sinai covenant, were representations, earnests, and pledges of spiritual and eternal blessings : that the meaning of these types and figures was explained to those to whom “they were first delivered, and by oral tradition transmitted to succeeding ages : so that the Sinai covenant was enforced not only by the temporal promises which it literally contained., but also by the spiritual promises which the letter of that covenant pointed out.—As this is plausible, it merits to be thoroughly examined.

That types not explained, were too obscure a medium, for conveying the pretended spiritual sanctions of the Sinai covenant, especially to so gross and carnal a people as the Jews, will be proved § 5. Now no explanation is given of the types, in the books of the Old Testament, which were the only rule of faith and practice to the Jewish church. And finely, that which was intended as a principal sanction of the Sinai covenant, would not have been left to so treacherous and uncertain a method of transmission as oral tradition. We are told, 2 Cor. iii. 13. that ” Moses put a veil over his face, that the children of Israel could not steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished,” i. e. could not discern what was typified by the precepts and sanctions of the temporary Sinai covenant. Surely, casting a veil over an object, and holding it up to full and open view, are two things so very opposite, that a scheme to do both at once, could never enter into any rational mind. If the meaning of the types was delivered to the Jewish church, a typical delineation would no more have veiled from them the spirit of the law, than the meaning of a Greek or Latin classic is veiled from a boy at school, by publishing it along with an exact literal translation into his mother language. The nature of types demonstrates, that they can have no existence, where there is nothing to be veiled or covered. If therefore, when the law of Moses was given to Israel, the spiritual sense of it was known, or was intended to be revealed, a carnal veil to conceal that sense, must on either of these suppositions be absurd and preposterous. So that the typical genius of the Old Testament, instead of proving, plainly confutes the alleged spiritual sanctions of the Sinai covenant.

…And it seems to me less culpable to adopt sentiments, which I could not improve than to do wrong to my argument by omitting an essential branch of it, and perhaps also to raise suspicions in some of my readers, that I declined meddling with a knotty objection, merely becaufe I was conscious I could not resolve it. Upon the whole, I firmly believe that Canaan was a type of the heavenly inheritance. But this only proves, that it represented heaven, as the Jews who possessed it, represented the heirs of heaven. It does not prove, that the land flowing with milk and honey, was bestowed, to reveal and seal to its inhabitants spiritual and heavenly blessings. (29-32)

Baptists Couldn’t Possibly Know What They’re Talking About: Debating Owen, Round 472

October 6, 2014 5 comments

In a recent Facebook discussion about covenant theology (I haven’t been able to join the group), someone posted some quotes from Pascal Denault’s “The Distinctive Covenant Theology of 17th Century Particular Baptists.” A paedobaptist objected, as is common, to the quotations from John Owen:

to say that Owen developed in this respect is not fair to Owen unless he himself recognized a departure from his previous statements and positions, which we have no evidence of. Rather, his words should be interpreted in light of his whole theological construct, not what statements he made in one place, unless he consciously and explicitly repudiated his prior assertions.

What would constitute evidence? Does he have to say “Dear reader, I previously held a different view, but now I have changed my mind (just in case it wasn’t obvious from what I just said)”?

A case could be made that Owen presupposed that the Mosaic economy was one of grace, rightly understood, in that he makes statements to that affect, that he presupposes it as an idea in his sermons and other theological works

So this is the question: Did Owen hold to classic WCF covenant theology? Did he believe the covenant of grace was an overarching covenant administered by the historical, biblical covenants? Did he believe the the Mosaic covenant was a gracious administration of the covenant of grace?

Before looking at his evidence, it should be noted that any attempt to place Owen’s commentary on Hebrews 8 within the context of presuppositions found elsewhere in Owen’s writings still has to explain what Owen meant in his commentary on Hebrews 8 (this person never offered an explanation).

He brings forward several points of evidence:

(as his works on Christ and the Holy Spirit), and also in that, as an act,

1) Owen subscribed to and helped put together a document which was explicitly in favor of what I am advocating. He was one of the two leading theologians that helped to pen the savoy declaration, and subscribed to it as accurately representing his theological views. A mere glance at that document in reference to covenant will show that it is word for word the same as the Westminster Assembly’s confession, which is notoriously “presbyterian” in covenant theology, it articulates purely and entirely my own position on covenant theology in this respect.

2) Owen wrote favorably of books about covenant which were in favor of a traditional “presbyterian” view of covenant. He wrote the preface to and in praise of Patrick Gillespie’s work on the covenant mentioned above, the most explicit work in favor of the position I am here contending for (my favorite work on covenant as well).

3) Owen made statements which are fairly and explicitly in favor of the same view

4) Owen made statements which presuppose a view which is only consistent with the Westminster/Savoy doctrine of covenant in relation to the OC and NC

5) Owen makes statements which seem, when divorced from this other information, to be saying that the Mosaic economy was one of works or some other nonsense. I leave it to the individual to determine whether Owen was inconsistent and confused, or whether many have just misunderstood him in his commentary on Hebrews 8 [notice he offers no explanation for how to properly interpret Owen’s comments on Hebrews 8]. Either way, since he may be used by either side of the line to advocate their position, your appeal to him is trite at best.

When someone pressed him, using quotes from Owen, he responded:

again, Owen means little to me, and he may err, as I have already said. Further, I have already illustrated that, even if I have misunderstood him in these quotes, that that would only prove that he was confused himself about what he was subscribing to in the Savoy Declaration and what he was writing in favor of in the preface to Gillespie’s work.

…so, again, either you have misunderstood Owen, or Owen is really, very confused (admittedly, Owen has spoken somewhat strongly, and I would like to see him clarify his meaning and reconcile it with what he says very clearly elsewhere, but this is why I put no stock in him in this, because he can’t clarify now that he is dead: his view could be construed to be at odds with either of our views).

…I am saying that your knowledge is inadequate, you haven’t read nearly enough to prove your claims, and the claims that you have made concerning Owen are in clear contradiction with what he says elsewhere. If you wish to discuss the scriptural validity of covenant theology, great, come; but don’t come at me with caricatures of history you know very little about and maintain it in spite of other clear evidence to the contrary.

So, before this person is willing to admit development in Owen’s mind, he is willing to simply say Owen (“one of the most influential men of his generation” -Trueman) was confused and didn’t really understand what he was saying.

Since Owen “can’t clarify now that he is dead”, I’m going to help him out.

Claim 1: Savoy Declaration

Is the Savoy word for word the same as the WCF? Perhaps a mere glance will suggest it is the same, but if we give it more than a glance we will see there are two major changes in regards to covenant theology:

  1. Savoy omits WCF 7.6, which reads “…There are not, therefore, two covenants of grace differing in substance, but one and the same under various dispensations.”
  2. Savoy changes WCF 19.2 by deleting “as such”

The implication the first difference is obvious, since we are discussing Owen’s statement that “Scripture does plainly and expressly make mention of two testaments, or covenants, and distinguish between them in such a way as can hardly be accommodated by a twofold administration of the same covenant…Wherefore we must grant two distinct covenants, rather than merely a twofold administration of the same covenant, to be intended.”

The 2009 Kerux Journal review of “The Law is Not of Faith” notes:

Much of what Savoy says subtly modifies the WCF. Both attempt to affirm the essential unity of the covenant of grace, but Savoy omits the important declaration of the WCF that “there are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under vari- ous dispensations.” In other words, the Savoy declaration refuses to exclude various views of the Mosaic covenant which construe it as a substantially distinct covenant.

And, just so that people didn’t misunderstand him, or think he was confused, Owen “explicitly” said he was rejecting the reformed view in favor of the Lutheran view:

The judgment of most reformed divines is, that the church under the Old Testament had the same promise of Christ, the same interest in him by faith, remission of sins, reconciliation with God, justification and salvation by the same way and means, that believers have under the new. And whereas the essence and the substance of the covenant consists in these things, they are not to be said to be under another covenant, but only a different administration of it. But this was so different from that which is established in the gospel after the coming of Christ, that it hath the appearance and name of another covenant… See Calvin. Institut. lib. 2:cap. xi.; Martyr. Loc. Com. loc. 16, sect. 2; Bucan. loc. 22, etc.

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

Again, the authors of the 2009 Kerux Journal review of “The Law is Not of Faith” note how “conscious” Owen was of what he said:

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

The implication of the second difference is more subtle, but still significant. In short:

in 19:2, the Savoy declaration omits the important phrase “as such,” referring to the way in which the law was given to Israel (namely, as a perfect rule of righteousness).

While subtle, this omission is important. WCF clearly defines the manner in which the law was given to Israel. In contrast to Adam (who was given the law as a covenant of works), Israel received the law as a perfect rule of righteousness for those in covenant with God. The Savoy declaration, however, leaves open the possibility that the law may have been given to Israel in some other way. In other words, Savoy leaves open the possibility that the Mosaic law was given to Israel as a covenant of works, a subservient covenant, or some other covenant.

When we compare this formulation with the various proposals of its au- thors, the reason for this omission becomes clear. Nearly half of the authors of the Savoy Declaration took a minority view of the Mosaic covenant. As noted above, the majority of divines viewed the law given at Sinai as a covenant of grace, that is, as a rule of righteousness for those already in covenant with God.

2009 Kerux Journal review of “The Law is Not of Faith”

Claim 2: Book Endorsements

It is true that Owen wrote the preface to Gillespie’s “The Ark of the Covenant Opened; or a Treatise of the Covenant of Redemption Between God and Christ as the Foundation of the Covenant of Grace” in 1677.

I haven’t read the preface or the book, so I can’t comment directly on it. But the title suggests the focus is on defending the covenant of redemption as a foundation for the covenant of grace, a position Owen supported.

But if book endorsements are going to carry weight in this debate, then it must also be noted that Owen wrote a forward to Samuel Petto’s “The Ark of the Covenant Opened; or a Treatise of the Covenant of Redemption Between God and Christ as the Foundation of the Covenant of Grace” in 1674. Michael Brown notesOwen called Petto a “Worthy Author” who labored “with good success,” and there is some evidence to suggest that Petto’s work may have influenced Owen’s own thinking on the subject.

Why is that significant? Because Petto’s thesis was that the Mosaic Covenant was a covenant of works offering eternal life to those who obey. He said “the Lord, in infinite wisdom made a revival or repetition of the Covenant of Works as to the substance of it (with a new intent) in the Covenant at Mount Sinai.” Brown comments:

For Petto, there were two possible ways of viewing the Mosaic covenant, either as a ‘Covenant of works, as to be fulfilled by Jesus Christ’ or ‘the Covenant of Grace as to its legal condition to be performed by Jesus Christ, represented under a conditional administration of it to Israel.’ Viewed either way, Sinai was a covenant of works for Christ. What the original covenant of works was to the first Adam, the Mosaic covenant was to the second Adam; it provided the temporal setting for the Federal Head to obtain eternal life for those whom he represented.

CHRIST AND THE CONDITION: SAMUEL PETTO (C.1624–1711) ON THE MOSAIC COVENANT
by Michael G. Brown

By the way, Petto subscribed to the Savoy Declaration.

Claim 3&4 : Explicit Statements & Presuppositions

Exercitation 21

For a refutation of the idea that he thought anything contrary to traditional covenant theology, I encourage you to read Exercitation XXI, in vol. XVII of his works, for therein you will find him more fully explaining himself concerning law, covenant, and covenant continuity. The Exercitations, by Owen’s own explanation were meant to more fully and systematically handle certain issues of doctrine which he found so frequently assumed in the book of Hebrews, which, rather than to constantly go off on bunny trails, he felt should be handled in a prefatory fashion, and thus may be used to explain what Owen says in his commentary of the actual text.

I appreciate the reference, as I’m always interested in learning more about Owen’s perspective. However, Exercitation 21 (p 654) does not live up to the claims. Nowhere in the essay does Owen directly comment on the covenant continuity in question. His statements have to be read, as this person previously argued, in light of the rest of his writing. He claims that the Exercitation was written so that Owen would not have to “go off in bunny trails” to address covenant continuity. If that is the case, why did Owen bother writing 150 pages on Hebrews 8:6-13 regarding the Old and New Covenants? I think that interpretive weight should be given to the 150 pages directly on the subject rather than the two pages tangentially on the subject. Also, note that this Exercitation was written in 1668, while his comments on Hebrews 8 were written 12 years later in 1680.

To wet your appetite, after carefully defining what he meant by law, and in what way the covenant of Sinai was the covenant of grace, and in what way it could be falsely understood to be a covenant of works, he refers to the promises of the law as concerning “[life] eternal with God, as the promise or covenant of grace was exemplified or represented therein, Lev. xviii. 5; Ezek. xx. 11; Rom. x. 5; Gal. iii.12,”

I believe he has read Owen too quickly. The first and greatest error is that Owen is not discussing the covenant of Sinai in this essay. This is a complicated essay. Here is an outline. In short, when Owen mentions “covenant” in this essay he is primarily referring to the original covenant of works with Adam. When he mentions “administration of the law” he is referring to the “new end” given the original covenant of works by the promise in Gen 3:15 – that is, that Christ would fulfill it’s terms.

So when Owen says “[life] eternal with God, as the promise or covenant of grace was exemplified or represented therein…” he is referring to the “new end administration”, not to the Mosaic Covenant.

and, “there are given out of the law various promises of intervenient and mixed mercies, to be enjoyed in earthly things in this world, that had their immediate respect into the mercy of the land of Canaan, representing spiritual grace, annexed to the then present administration [!] of the covenant of grace.”

This quote is clearly referring to Israelites in Canaan during the Mosaic Covenant, but Owen makes a careful qualifying statement:

It is of the law under this third consideration [instrument of the rule and government of the people and church of Israel], — though not absolutely as the instrument of the government of the people in Canaan [Mosaic Covenant], but as it had a representation in it of that administration of grace and mercy which was contained in the promises, — whereof we treat.

Here Owen distinguishes between the law “absolutely” for Israel, which would be the Mosaic Covenant, and the law insofar as it represented the promise given out in Gen 3:15, what he calls the “new end administration” (that Christ would fulfill the original covenant of works).

This makes more sense when you read his comments on Hebrews 8:6:

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

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

So again, Owen’s quote from the Exercitation is making this distinction between the law absolutely for Israel (Mosaic Covenant) and the representation in it of the grace contained in the promise (New Covenant/Covenant of Grace). The rest of his essay discusses it under this latter consideration, not how the law functioned as the Mosaic Covenant.

And there is no problem with Owen’s language of “the then present administration of the covenant of grace”. It is not debated if the covenant of grace was administered during the Mosaic Covenant. The question is if it was administered by the Mosaic Covenant, or by the New Covenant.

This covenant [Sinai] thus made, with these ends and promises, did never save nor condemn any man eternally. All that lived under the administration of it did attain eternal life, or perished for ever, but not by virtue of this covenant as formally such. It did, indeed, revive the commanding power and sanction of the first covenant of works; and therein, as the apostle speaks, was “the ministry of condemnation,” 2 Cor. iii. 9; for “by the deeds of the law can no flesh be justified.” And on the other hand, it directed also unto the promise, which was the instrument of life and salvation unto all that did believe. But as unto what it had of its own, it was confined unto things temporal. Believers were saved under it, but not by virtue of it. Sinners perished eternally under it, but by the curse of the original law of works.

…No man was ever saved but by virtue of the new covenant, and the mediation of Christ in that respect.

A Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit

For further proof that Owen did not hold such views of Covenant theology which were contrary to classic covenant theology, see Volume IV (of the Goold edition) of his works, start with page 261 and read about 3 pages, where Owen, answering an objection to the promises given to Israel (which he frequently refers to as the church) being applied to NT believers, says they are ours since the covenant has only been enlarged so as to include the Gentiles. “For the saints under the Old Testament were really made partakers of all the same graces with those under the New.” (263) He makes the difference to consist in extent and degree, and speaks of Christ bringing in an “abundant administration [!]” of “all spiritual supplies of grace.” This work, Discourse of the Work of the Holy Spirit in Prayer, was published in 1682, two years after his commentary on Heb. 8 was published (1680). I hope this will help to put to rest the notion that Owen had a change of mind.

This Facebook commenter does not understand the position of 1689 Federalism. Understanding what he is trying to refute would be the first step. There is nothing in this essay that disagrees with anything that has been argued. There is nothing in it that a baptist would disagree with either. This essay is not commenting on all the differences between the Old and New Covenants. It is addressing one specific issue regarding the Holy Spirit during the Old Testament and during the New Testament.

There is no disagreement so long as we understand that Owen believes it was only the New Covenant that administered the Holy Spirit during the Old Testament. It administered it by way of the promise, rather than by way of a covenant (which was yet to be formally inaugurated). Owen (Hebrews 8):

two objections must be removed, which may in general be laid against our interpretation.

First, ‘This covenant is promised as that which is future, to be brought in at a certain time, “after those days,” as hath been declared. But it is certain that the things here mentioned, the grace and mercy expressed, were really communicated unto many both before and after the giving of the law, long ere this covenant was made; for all who truly believed and feared God had these things effected in them by grace: wherefore their effectual communication cannot be esteemed a property of this covenant which was to be made afterwards.’

Ans. This objection was sufficiently prevented in what we have already discoursed concerning the efficacy of the grace of this covenant before itself was solemnly consummated. For all things of this nature that belong unto it do arise and spring from the mediation of Christ, or his interposition on the behalf of sinners. Wherefore this took place from the giving of the first promise; the administration of the grace of this covenant did therein and then take its date. Howbeit the Lord Christ had not yet done that whereby it was solemnly to be confirmed, and that whereon all the virtue of it did depend. Wherefore this covenant is promised now to be made, not in opposition unto what grace and mercy was derived from it both before and under the law, nor as unto the first administration of grace from the mediator of it; but in opposition unto the covenant of Sinai, and with respect unto its outward solemn confirmation.

Secondly, ‘If the things themselves are promised in the covenant, then all those with whom this covenant is made must be really and effectually made partakers of them. But this is not so; they are not all actually sanctified, pardoned, and saved, which are the things here promised.’

Ans. The making of this covenant may be considered two ways:
1. As unto the preparation and proposition of its terms and conditions.
2. As unto the internal stipulation between God and the souls of men.

In this sense alone God is properly said to make this covenant with any. The preparation and proposition of laws are not the making of the covenant. And therefore all with whom this covenant is made are effectually sanctified, justified, and saved.

Claim 5: Statements to the Contrary

Here an attempt is made to explain away Owen’s statements to the contrary:

the more I read of what you say, the more I am convinced that the facts have been misconstrued for you. “They saw one Covenant of Grace revealed from the Fall in a progressive way until it’s full revelation and conclusion in the New Covenant,” so far we agree, “but this covenant was not the same in substance as the Old.” This is where the confusion comes in. There is a real and true sense in which I can say that it is not the same for substance, for we have the fullest revelation of the covenant, the fulfillment of the promises, we have the substance revealed in Christ, rather than typified obliquely. In this way, I freely speak of a New Covenant. What we have now is radically different from that Old Covenant which has faded to nothing. But I mean this in the same way as we speak of, say, a new model of an old car being “new and improved,” which readily admits of speaking in terms of two different things (the old car and the new, or the old model and the new, makes no difference) and comparing different things together. However, beyond this, I don’t see anything new for substance per se. Had not the Israelites prophets, priests, kings? Had they not the promise that God would be there God and they should be his people? And did not all these things substantially point them to Christ, the substance of the covenant? Did they not have Christ? Then what did they lack? They lacked Christ come. For when he came, he did away with all the types, for he was the substance of those shadows, the thing towards which they pointed. He was the better sacrifice. He was all they were looking for. You see then, in one sense, the substance of the two covenants was different, for they lacked Christ’s actual appearing to accomplish his work; but in a totally different sense, the substance of the one covenant was the same in both administrations, for they had Christ, really and truly; and all the things ordained to point towards him, were but parts of the administration given until Christ should come.

Within the context of covenant theology, “substance” has a very specific meaning. It’s not silly puddy we can make into whatever we want. Owen said he was disagreeing with the WCF view of one substance two administrations. Patrick Ramsey’s “In Defense of Moses” does a good job of explaining what is meant in WCF by “substance”. Here is a short blog post from Ramsey summarizing the “substance” issue.

Also, here is Owen directly disagreeing:

On this declaration, God promiseth to make another covenant with them, wherein all these evils should be prevented. This is the covenant which the apostle designs to prove better and more excellent than the former. And this he cloth principally from the mediator and surety of it, compared with the Aaronical priests, whose office and service belonged wholly unto the administration of that first covenant. And he confirms it also from the nature of this covenant itself, especially with respect unto its efficacy and duration. And hereunto this testimony is express, evidencing how this covenant is everlastingly, by the grace administered in it, preventive of that evil success which the former had by the sin of the people.

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

Continuing from Facebook:

“They found the hermeneutic of Promise/Fulfillment to be more faithful to the biblical data than that of one substance/two administrations.” If you have read what I just said rightly, then you will see that there is no difference with us between promise/fulfillment and one substance/two administrations. The promise, until fulfilled, was administered by legal rites in Moses, but once fulfilled, was administered by Christ: but, and this is important, *the promise was the same all along.*

All I can say is, please read Owen on Hebrews 8:6-13 more carefully. This outline may be helpful. Owen saw a difference and spent a great deal of care explaining that difference. Owen specifically rejects this person’s view and gives many reasons why.

Covenant of Works?

Owen clearly distinguished between the covenant of grace and the Mosaic Covenant. But did Owen believe the national Mosaic Covenant was “of works”, or “of grace”? These quotes should suffice:

5. They differ in their subject-matter, both as unto precepts and promises, the advantage being still on the part of the new covenant. For, —

(1.) The old covenant, in the preceptive part of it, renewed the commands of the covenant of works, and that on their original terms. Sin it forbade, — that is, all and every sin, in matter and manner, — on the pain of death; and gave the promise of life unto perfect, sinless obedience only: whence the decalogue itself, which is a transcript of the law of works, is called “the covenant,” <023428>Exodus 34:28. And besides this, as we observed before, it had other precepts innumerable, accommodated unto the present condition of the people, and imposed on them with rigor. But in the new covenant, the very first thing that is proposed, is the accomplishment and establishment of the covenant of works, both as unto its commands and sanction, in the obedience and suffering of the mediator. Hereon the commands of it, as unto the obedience of the covenanters, are not grievous; the yoke of Christ being easy, and his burden light.

(2.) The old testament, absolutely considered, had,
[1.] No promise of grace, to communicate spiritual strength, or to assist us in obedience; nor,

[2.] Any of eternal life, no otherwise but as it was contained in the promise of the covenant of works, “The man that doeth these things shall live in them;” and,

[3.] Had promises of temporal things in the land of Canaan inseparable from it. In the new covenant all things are otherwise, as will be declared in the exposition of the ensuing verses.

God used the right and authority of a husband with whom a wife breaks covenant; he ‘neglected them,’ shut them out of his house, deprived them of their dowry or inheritance, and slew them in the wilderness.

Epilogue

When confronted, this individual confessed that he has not even read Owen’s commentary on Hebrews 8. Yet he was still adamant that baptists misunderstand it.

See also: Owen on Changing His Mind

Isaac Backus’ Comments on the Non-Establishment Clause

August 23, 2014 Leave a comment

“That colony was first planted in 1607, the first of all our colonies, and the church of England had all the government there until 1775, when Britain commenced a war against us* in which dissenters from them prevailed, and took away the support of those ministers by law. And though they tried hard to regain their power afterwards, yet in the beginning of 1786, a law was made, which said,

…” Be it therefore enailed by the General Assembly, ,That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or bur- thened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or be lief ; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in mat ters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities…

And Christianity has never appeared in the world, in its primitive purity and glory, since infant baptism was brought in, and after it the sword of the magistrate to support religious teachers. Yea, the foregoing declaration of Dr. Chauncy plainly says as much ; and the inconsistencies and contradictions, that he and others have been guilty of, serve to confirm the above observations. The credit of the paper money, which supported our war for several years, gradually declined, until it entirely failed in 1781 ; so that if a kind Providence had not opened other ways for us, the independence of America could not have been establish ed. And when that was granted, private and pub lic debts, and the fierce methods that were taken to recover them, brought on an insurrection in the Massachusetts, where the war began.

It was then found to be necessary for a new plan to be formed for the government of all these states ; and this was done in 1787. A large convention met at Boston, in January, 1788, to consider of this new constitution, where men discovered what was in their hearts in various ways. I before observed that a constitution for the Massachusetts was formed in 1778, which was not accepted. But I would observe now, that when it was in suspence, a noted minister said to our rulers, ” Let the restraints of religion once be broken down, as they infallibly would be by leaving the subject of public worship to the humours of the multitude, and we might well defy all human wisdom and power to support and preserve order and government in the state.”*

Yet this same man was in the Convention of 1788, wherein much was said against adopting a constitution of government, which had no religious tests in it ; and he was then in favour of the constitution, and to promote the adoption of it, he said, ” The great object of religion being God supreme, and the seat of religion in man being the heart or conscience, that is, the reason God has given us, employed on our moral actions, in their most important consequences, as related to the tribunal of” God, hence I infer, that God alone is the God of the conscience, and consequently, attempts to erect human tribunals for the consciences of , men, are impious encroachments upon the prerogatives of God.”*

Can these two paragraphs, from one man, possibly be reconciled together? Yea, or can any men support ministers by the sword of the magistrate, without acting contrary to a good conscience? The support of the ministers of Christ is as plainly a matter of conscience towards God, as any ordinance of his worship is. This I shall more clearly prove hereafter. In the mean time, the sentiments and example of the greatest men in America, deserve our serious notice.

After General Washington was established as President of these United States, a general committee of the Baptist churches in Virginia presented an address to him, in August, 1789, wherein they expressed an high regard for him ; but a fear that our religious rights were not well secured in our new constitution of government. In answer to which, he assured them of his readiness to use his influence to make them more secure, and then said, ” While I recollect with satisfaction, that the religious society of which you are members, have been throughout America, uniformly and almost unanimously the firm friends of civil liberty, and the persevering promoters of our glorious revolution, I cannot hesitate to believe, that they will be the faithful supporters of a free, yet efficient general government,”*

And an amendment to the constitution was made the next month, which says, ” Congress shall make no law, establishing articles of faith, or a mode of worship, or prohibiting the free exercise of religion, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition to the government for a redress of grievances.” This was dated September 23, 1789 ; and it has been adopted by so many of the States, that it is part of the constitution of our general government, and yet the Massachusetts and Connecticut act contrary to it to this day.

And so all the evils that worldly establishments have ever produced, ought to be considered as a warning to them ; for our Lord assured the Jews, that all the blood which had been shed by former persecutors^ whom they imitated, should be required of them. Mat. xxiii. 29—35. And the blood that was shed at Boston, an hundred and forty years ago, brought the greatest reproach upon New-England, of any thing that was ever done in it.

A mistaken idea of good, in maintaining the government of the church over the world, was the cause of that evil ; but the worst of men in our land have equal votes with the best, in our present government. A view of this caused many fathers in Boston to procure an act to abolish the use of force there for the support of religious ministers ; and all that is done of that nature in the country, is contrary to that example, as well as to our national government. A work of the Spirit of God at this time discovered the glory of a free gospel ; for many new plantations on our eastern coasts had scarce any ministers at all to preach to them, as a view to worldly gain could not draw them there ;

https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=m-4pAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&output=reader&authuser=0&hl=en&pg=GBS.PA220

Understanding Dispensationalists

November 5, 2010 3 comments

I may be a bit late to the ballgame (published in 1987), but I just finished Vern Poythress’ Understanding Dispensationalists and I really enjoyed it. Poythress took a sabbatical to study dispensationalism in depth and this book is the result. I have heard it mentioned in many other places as a breakthrough in covenant-dispensational dialogue.

For someone who has never studied dispensationalism directly, he provides a very helpful overview and analysis of the theology. I could see more clearly precisely what it means to be a “dispensationalist”. An important point that Poythress makes is that “dispensational” is not the best label because, as dispensationalists like to point out, everyone believes God deals differently with men at different points in redemptive history. “The salient point is what the D-theologians say about these dispensations, not the fact that they exist. (12)” He then more accurate labels:

The debate is not over whether there are dispensations. Of course there are. Nor is the debate over the number of dispensations. You can make as many as you wish by introducing finer distinctions. Hence, properly speaking, “dispensationalism” is an inaccurate and confusing label for the distinctiveness of D-theologians. But some terminology is needed to talk about the distinctiveness of D-theologians. For the sake of clarity, their distinctive theology might perhaps be called “Darbyism” (after its first proponent), “dual destinationism” (after one of its principal tenets concerning the separate destinies of Israel and the church), or “addressee bifurcationism” (after the principle of hermeneutical separation between meaning for Israel and significance for the church). However, history has left us stuck with the term “dispensationalism” and “dispensationalist.” (12)

There is much more to be said, but I won’t say it all here. You can pick the book up for $6.99 at Monergismbooks.com and you can also read it online here: Understanding Dispensationalists

Grammatical-Historical Interpretation and Typology

I do want to note one important point. The chapter Interpretive Viewpoint in Old Testament Israel was particularly helpful. Poythress, very succinctly and cogently, argues that seeing typology (symbolism) in Old Testament prophecy is not opposed to a commitment to the grammatical-historical hermeneutic. Typology is not just something that we can look back on and see now that Christ has come, but it was something that could be understood by Israelites in the Old Testament (though not in full detail).

His basic argument is that the nation of Israel, from day one, was told that what was happening on earth, in Palestine, and among them, was a copy and shadow of the heavenly reality (Heb 8:5). They were to understand that God’s presence amongst Israel and the “new Eden” of Canaan was only a shadow of the eschaton, the new heavens and new earth where God will dwell fully. Here is a lengthy quote (I encourage you to read the whole chapter):

Israel’s existence as a kingdom of priests therefore possessed symbolic significance. This does not at all mean that Israel’s priesthood was “merely” symbolic or “merely” something of illustrative or pedagogical value. It was not “merely” an illusion, reflecting the “real” priestly reality in heaven. No, it was substantial, it was “real”–on the level that the Israelites could take it, and on the level appropriate to the preliminary character of God’s deliverance and his revelation at this point. The true God, not merely a surrogate for God, was really present with Israel. And his presence meant their consecration as priests. Yet God was not present in the way and with the intensity that he is present at the coming of Jesus Christ. His presence with Israel was preliminary and “shadowy” in comparison to that.

The latter days mentioned in the prophets are that broad eschatological era when the glory of God is revealed on earth (Isa 40:5, 60:2-3, Zech 2:5). The glory of God was formerly confined to heaven, and subordinately appeared in order to fill the holy and holies in the tabernacle and the temple. But eschatologically God will come to earth in his majesty. In those days the heavenly reality with supersede the earthly symbolic reflection. The heavenly original will fill and transform what was shadow. Hence those days imply a revision also in Aaronic priesthood (Ps 110:4), and by implication a revision of the law, which is bound up with the priesthood (Heb 7:12). But more than that, they imply a revision in the existence of Israel itself, since Israel itself is constituted as a kingdom of priests (cf. Isa 66:18-24). Since the existence of Israel itself has symbolic and heavenly overtones from the beginning, the fulfillment of prophecy encompasses these same overtones. The eschatological time is the time when the symbolic overtones in the very nature of Israel itself are transformed into reality.

Consider now what this meant for Israel’s perception of the nature of the land of Palestine. The land belonged to God (Lev 25:23). It was not to be desecrated by unclean practices (Deut 21:23, Lev 20:22-24). In an extended sense, the land itself was holy, the dwelling place of God. As a holy land, it was modeled after God’s rule over his heavenly dwelling. But it also illustrated what God would do to all the earth in the latter days. God’s kingdom would come to earth as it was (in OT times ) in heaven. The land of Palestine was also analogous to Eden (Isa 51:3). It pointed back to what Adam failed to do. Adam’s dominion over Eden (the starting point for rule over the whole earth) was ruined by the fall. Israel was granted dominion over a “new Eden.” This dominion over Palestine in turn anticipated the full dominion that was to be restored by the “seed of the woman,” one born to be the “last Adam” (1 Cor 15:45).

All this means that it is a violation of grammatical-historical interpretation to read prophecy flat. It is even a violation to read Israel’s history flat. The history of Israel has some symbolic overtones derived from the symbolic dimension in Israel’s own existence as kingdom of priests. But eschatological prophecy is the point at which these symbolic overtones are bound to be emphasized and come out into the open, since that is the time of transition from the preliminary to the final.

These symbolic overtones include almost everything that has in the past been classified as typology, and more besides. In fact, Israel’s existence was so saturated with incipient typology that it is hard for us, who live in the light of the fulfillment, to appreciate the Israelite situation. In a certain sense, it is impossible. We cannot forget what we have learned of Christ. But I would say this: Israel could on the one hand know much through a dim sense of symbolic overtones. And simultaneously it could know little because the shadows did not provide all the depth and the richness which the reality provides. A good deal would be known tacitly rather than by explicit, rationally articulated means.1

Now one more point should be observed about the eschatological expectations of OT Israel. The “latter days,” but not before, is the decisive time when the heavenly reality of God in his glory comes to earth. Therefore, prophetic predictions with regard to the near future have a character distinct from predictions about the “latter days.” In the near future, the organized political and social community of Israel continues in more or less a straight line. Predictions, even when they use symbolic and allusive language, can expect to find fulfillment on the symbolic level on which Israel then exists. But fulfillment in the “latter days” (eschatological fulfillment in the broad sense of eschatology) is a different matter. There the symbol is superseded by the reality, and hence straight-line reckoning about fulfillments is no longer possible. Pre-eschatological prophetic fulfillments have a hermeneutically different character than do eschatological fulfillments. (102-105)

And

When Jesus comes the “latter days” are inaugurated. In particular Jesus at his death inaugurates the new covenant by his blood (Matt 26:28 and parallels)… With whom is the new covenant made? It is made with Israel and Judah. Hence it is made with Christians by virtue of Christ the Israelite. Thus one might say that Israel and Judah themselves undergo a transformation at the first coming of Christ, because Christ is the final, supremely faithful Israelite. Around him all true Israel gathers. (106)

Eschatological prophecy may indeed have the same two dimensions: the dimension of the symbol in itself, and the dimension of what the symbol symbolizes. But the time of fulfillment of the eschatological prophecy is the time of climactic revelation. Hence, it may well be that, at that future time, the symbol is superseded by the reality, and no longer needs a separate historical realization along side the reality. (114)

Consider now the type of fulfillment that takes place in the NT. In the NT era, do we now need a second dimension of symbolism, a temple of material stones? In the OT there were two dimensions, “literal” (temple of stone) and typological-spiritual (the spiritual reality of God’s communing with human beings, now realized in the resurrection and the sending of the Holy Spirit). If there were two dimensions then, shouldn’t there be two dimensions now? But that reaction overlooks the theme of the book of Hebrews. According to Hebrews, that which is shadowy (temple of stone) can be “abolished” when it is superseded by the perfect (Heb 10:9). (115)

In the course of the chapter, Poythress makes a very compelling case that seeing the body of Christ as fulfillment (or at least participating in fulfillment) of Old Testament prophecy is not “allegorically spiritualizing” OT texts, but is instead interpreting them according to their gramatical-historical intended meaning.

I claim that there is sound, solid grammatical-historical ground for interpreting eschatological fulfillments of prophecy on a different basis than pre-eschatological fulfillments… What I am calling for, then, is an increased sense for the fact that, in the original (grammatical-historical) context, eschatologically-oriented prophecy has built into it extra potential. With respect to eschatology, people in the OT were not in the same position as they were for short-range prophecy. Eschatological prophecy had an open-ended suggestiveness. The exact manner of fulfillment frequently could not be pinned down until the fulfillment came. (106-107)

ince grammatical-historical interpretation will find the same symbolic, typological significance within prophecy, it shows how prophecy also has an organically unified relation to NT believers. Typological relations cannot merely be dismissed as a secondary application. The major weakness of classic dispensationalist interpretive theory, at this point, has been to have neglected the integration of typological interpretation with grammatical-historical interpretation. (115)

And finally:

One more difficulty arises in relation to typology. It is this. As I argued in the previous chapter, the significance of a type is not fully discernible until the time of fulfillment. The type means a good deal at the time. But it is open-ended. One cannot anticipate in a vague, general way how fulfillment might come. But the details remain in obscurity. When the fulfillment does come, it throws additional light on the significance of the original symbolism.

In other words, one must compare later Scripture to earlier Scripture to understand everything. Such comparison, though it should not undermine or contradict grammatical-historical interpretation, goes beyond its bounds. It takes account of information not available in the original historical and cultural context. Hence, grammatical-historical interpretation is not enough. It is not all there is to interpretation. True, grammatical-historical interpretation exercises a vital role in bringing controls and refinements to our understanding particular texts. But we must also undertake to relate those texts forward to further revelation which they anticipate and prepare for. (115-116)