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

January 29, 2015 12 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Observations:

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

Owen later rejected each of these three points.

2)

The judgment of most reformed divines is, that the church under the old testament had the same promise of Christ, the same interest in him by faith, remission of sins, reconciliation with God, justification and salvation by the same way and means, that believers have under the new… The Lutherans, on the other side, insist on two arguments to prove that there is not a twofold administration of the same covenant, but that there are substantially distinct covenants and that this is intended in this discourse of the apostle…

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

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

Owen, Exposition of Hebrews 8:6

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

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

Now, let us look at what Owen himself believes.

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

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

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

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

3)

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

Wherefore this blood was a confirmatory sign of the covenant…

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

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

Owen, Exposition of Hebrews 9:18-21

1)

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

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

Owen, Exposition of the Book of Hebrews 8:6

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

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

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

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

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

Exposition of the Book of Hebrews 8:6

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

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

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

Categories: John Owen Tags: , ,

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

January 21, 2011 7 comments

Gary Crampton included a quote from Jonathan Edwards in his book “From Paedobaptism to Credobaptism” regarding the status of the nation of Israel as a type of the church, the Israel of God (rather than equivalent to it). Crampton quoted the following:

That nation was a typical nation. There was then literally a land, which was a type of heaven, the true dwelling-place of God; and an external city, which was a type of the spiritual city of God; an external temple of God, which was a type of his spiritual temple. So there was an external people and family of God, by carnal generation, which was a type of his spiritual progeny. And the covenant by which they were made a people of God, was a type of the covenant of grace; and so is sometimes represented as a marriage-covenant. God, agreeably to the nature of that dispensation, showed a great regard to external and carnal things in those days, as types of spiritual things. What a great regard God did show then to external qualifications for privileges and services, appears in this, that there is ten times so much said in the books of Moses about such qualifications in the institutions of the passover and tabernacle services, as about any moral qualifications whatsoever. And so much were such typical qualifications insisted on, that even by the law of Moses, the congregation of the Lord, or church of visible worshippers of God, and the number of public professors of the true religion who were visible saints, were not the same. Some were of the latter, that were not of the former; as the eunuchs, who were excluded the congregation, though never so externally religious, yea truly pious; and so also bastards, &c.

In looking up the quote in its context, I found an extended argument from Edwards on this subject. He was responding to the Halfway Covenant, specifically over the issue of the Lord’s Supper. The Halfway Covenant argued that people could be members of the church and participate in the Lord’s Supper even if they did not profess saving faith, so long as they are moral people. Edwards considers several arguments made by proponents of the Halfway Covenant. Their second argument is as follows:

Visible saintship in the scripture sense cannot be the same with that which has been supposed and insisted on [those who profess saving faith], because Israel of old were called God’s people, when it is certain the greater part of them were far from having any such visible holiness as this. Thus the ten tribes were called God’s people, Hos. iv. 6.. after they had revolted from the true worship of God, and had obstinately continued in their idolatrous worship at Bethel and Dan for about two hundred and fifty years, and were at that time, a little before their captivity especially, in the height of their wickedness. So the Jews are called God’s people, in Ezek. xxxvi. 20.. and other places, at the time of their captivity in Babylon, a time when most of them were abandoned to all kinds of the most horrid and open impieties, as the prophets frequently represent. Now it is certain, that the people at that time were not called God’s people because of any visibility of true piety to the eye of reason or of a rational charity, because most of them were grossly wicked, and declared their sin as Sodom. And in the same manner wherein the Jews of old were God’s people, are the members of the visible christian Gentile church God’s people; for they are spoken of as graffed into the same olive-tree, from whence the former were broken off by unbelief.

It is very interesting how Edwards responds to this objection, because it is exactly how Charles Hodge responded to the same problem (see here), and because his answer strikes against classic reformed covenant theology (ie Berkhof: “After the exodus the people of Israel were not only organized into a nation, but were also constituted the Church of God… the whole nation constituted the Church…In essence Israel constituted the Church of God in the Old Testament, though its external institution differed vastly from that of the Church in the New Testament” ST, 570-72, BoT). Edwards reasons:

  1. The argument proves too much, because if the nation of Israel was equivalent to the church, then we should admit any and all people into the church, even if they are completely immoral.
  2. “God’s people” and “Israel” are words that have a diversity of meaning.
    1. The nation of Israel were “God’s people” because they were adopted according to their bloodline; while Christians are “God’s people” because of their faith and spiritual adoption, etc.
    2. The nation became God’s outward covenant people in distinction from other nations because of God’s covenant with Abraham. That covenant was in essence the covenant of grace, “but yet that covenant with the patriarchs contained other things that were appendages to that everlasting covenant of grace; promises of lesser matters, subservient to the grand promise of the future seed, and typical of things appertaining to him.”
    3. Why did God set apart a particular bloodline as His people?
      1. To prepare for the coming of the Messiah from their bloodline by walling them off in separation.
      2. God used a typical nation with many types and shadows to teach us about his spiritual kingdom (to be later revealed).
      3. To have a purpose for them even to the end of time: “God’s covenant with Abraham is in some sense in force with respect to that people, and reaches them even to this day; and yet surely they are not God’s Covenant people, in the sense that visible Christians are.”

Answ. 1. The argument proves too much, and therefore nothing at all. Those whom I oppose in this controversy, will in effect as much oppose themselves in it, as me. The objection, if it has any force, equally militates against their and my notion of visible saintship. For those Jews, which it is alleged were called God’s people, and yet were so notoriously, openly, and obstinately wicked, had neither any visibility of true piety, nor yet of that moral sincerity in the profession and duties of the true religion, which the opponents themselves suppose to be requisite in order to a proper visible holiness, and a due admission to the privileges and ordinances of the church of God. None will pretend, that these obstinate idolaters and impious wretches had those qualifications which are now requisite in order to an admission to the christian sacraments. And therefore to what purpose can they bring this objection? which, if it proves any thing, overthrows my scheme and their own both together, and both in an equally effectual manner. And not only so, but will thoroughly destroy the schemes of all protestants through the world, concerning the qualifications of the subjects of christian ordinances. And therefore the support of what I have laid down against those whom I oppose in this controversy, requires no further answer to this objection. Nevertheless, for greater satisfaction, I would here observe further:

2. That such appellations as God’s people, God’s Israel, and some other like phrases, are used and applied in Scripture with considerable diversity of intention. Thus, we have a plain distinction between the house of Israel and the house of Israel, in Ezek. xx. 38-40.. By the house of Israel in the 39th verse is meant literally the nation or family of Israel; but by the house of Israel in the 40th verse seems to be intended the spiritual house, the body of God’s visible saints, that should attend the ordinances of his public worship in gospel—times. So likewise there is a distinction made between the house of Israel, and God’s disciples who should profess and visibly adhere to his law and testimony, in Isa. viii. 14-17.. And though the whole nation of the Jews are often called God’s people in those degenerate times wherein the prophets were sent to reprove them, yet at the same time they are charged as falsely calling themselves of the holy city, Isa. xlviii. 2.. And God often tells them, they are rather to be reckoned among aliens, and as children of the Ethiopians, or posterity of the ancient Canaanites, on account of their grossly wicked and scandalous behaviour. See Amos ix. 7, &c.. Ezek. xvi. 2, 3, &c. verse 45, &c.. Isa. i. 10..

It is evident that God sometimes, according to the methods of his marvellous mercy and long-suffering towards mankind, has a merciful respect to a degenerate church, become exceeding corrupt, and constituted of members who have not those qualifications which ought to be insisted on. God continues still to have respect to them so far as not utterly to forsake them, or wholly to deny his confirmation of and blessing on their administrations. And not being utterly renounced of God, their administrations are to be looked upon as in some respect valid, and the society as in some sort a people or church of God. This was the case with the church of Rome, at least till the Reformation and council of Trent; for till then we must own their baptisms and ordinations to be valid.—The church that the pope sits in, is called, The temple of God, 2 Thess. ii. 4..

And with regard to the people of Israel, it is very manifest, that something diverse is oftentimes intended by that nation being God’s people, from their being visible saints, visibly holy, or having those qualifications which are requisite in order to a due admission to the ecclesiastical privileges of such. That nation, that family of Israel according to the flesh, and with regard to that external and carnal qualification, were in some sense adopted by God to be his peculiar people, and his covenant people. This is not only evident by what has been already observed, but also indisputably manifest from Rom. ix. 3, 4, 5. “I have great heaviness and continual sorrow of heart; for I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen, according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; whose are the fathers; and of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came.” It is to be noted, that the privileges here mentioned are spoken of as belonging to the Jews, not now as visible saints, not as professors of the true religion, not as members of the visible church of Christ; but only as people of such a nation, such a blood, such an external and carnal relation to the patriarchs their ancestors, Israelites according to the flesh. For the apostle is speaking here of the unbelieving Jews, professed unbelievers, that were out of the christian church, and open visible enemies to it, and such as had no right to the external privileges of Christ’s people. So, in Rom. xi. 28, 29.. this apostle speaks of the same unbelieving Jews, as in some respect an elect people, and interested in the calling, promises, and covenants God formerly gave to their forefathers, and as still beloved for their sakes. Rom. xi. 28, 29.“As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sake; but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes: for the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” These things are not privileges belonging to the Jews now as a people of the right religion, or in the true church of visible worshippers of God; but as a people of such a pedigree or blood; and that even after the ceasing of the Mosaic administration. But there were privileges more especially belonging to them under the Old Testament: they were a family that God had chosen in distinction from all others, to show special favour to above all other nations. It was manifestly agreeable to God’s design to constitute things so under the Old Testament, that the means of grace and spiritual privileges and blessings should be—though not wholly, yet in a great measure—confined to a particular family, much more than those privileges and blessings are confined to any posterity or blood now under the gospel. God purposely by these favours distinguished that nation not only from those who were not professed worshippers of the true God, but also in a great measure from other nations, by a constituted wall of separation. This was not merely a wall between professors and non-professors, but between nation and nations. God, if he pleases, may by his sovereignty annex his blessing, and in some measure fix it, for his own reasons, to a particular blood, as well as to a particular place or spot of ground, to a certain building, to a particular heap of stones, or altar of brass, to particular garments, and other external things. And it is evident, that he actually did affix his blessing to that particular external family of Jacob, very much as he did to the city Jerusalem, where he chose to place his name, and to mount Zion where he commanded the blessing. God did not so affix his blessing to Jerusalem or mount Zion, as to limit himself, either by confining the blessing wholly to that place, never to bestow it elsewhere; nor by obliging himself always to bestow it on those that sought him there; nor yet obliging himself never to withdraw his blessing from thence, by forsaking his dwelling-place there, and leaving it to be a common or profane place. But he was pleased to make it the seat of his blessing in a peculiar manner, in great distinction from other places. In like manner did he fix his blessing to the progeny of Jacob. It was a family which he delighted in, and which he blessed in a peculiar manner, and to which in a great measure he confined the blessing; but not so as to limit himself, or so as to oblige himself to bestow it on all of that blood, or not to bestow it on others that were not of that blood. He affixed his blessing both to the place and nation, by sovereign election, Psal. cxxxii. 13-15.. He annexed and fixed his blessing to both by covenant.

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

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

Thus a sovereign and all-wise God was pleased to ordain things with respect to the nation of Israel. Perhaps we may not be able to give all the reasons of such a constitution; but some of them seem to be pretty manifest; as,

1. The great and main end of separating one particular nation from all others, as God did the nation of Israel, was to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah. God’s covenant with Abraham and the other patriarchs implied that the Messiah should be of their blood, or their seed according to the flesh. And therefore it was requisite that their progeny according to the flesh should be fenced in by a wall of separation, and made God’s people. If the Messiah had been born of some of the professors of Abraham’s religion, but of some other nation, that religion being propagated from nation to nation, as it is now under the gospel, it would not have answered the covenant with Abraham, for the Messiah to have been born of Abraham’s seed only in this sense. The Messiah being by covenant so related to Jacob’s progeny according to the flesh, God was pleased, agreeable to the nature of such a covenant, to show great respect to that people on account of that external relation. Therefore the apostle mentions it as one great privilege, that of them according to the flesh Christ came, Rom. ix. 5.. As the introducing of the Messiah and his salvation and kingdom was the special design of all God’s dealings and peculiar dispensations towards that people, the natural result of this was, that great account should be made of their being of that nation, in God’s covenant dealings with them.

2. That nation was a typical nation. There was then literally a land, which was a type of heaven, the true dwelling-place of God; and an external city, which was a type of the spiritual city of God; an external temple of God, which was a type of his spiritual temple. So there was an external people and family of God, by carnal generation, which was a type of his spiritual progeny. And the covenant by which they were made a people of God, was a type of the covenant of grace; and so is sometimes represented as a marriage-covenant. God, agreeably to the nature of that dispensation, showed a great regard to external and carnal things in those days, as types of spiritual things. What a great regard God did show then to external qualifications for privileges and services, appears in this, that there is ten times so much said in the books of Moses about such qualifications in the institutions of the passover and tabernacle services, as about any moral qualifications whatsoever. And so much were such typical qualifications insisted on, that even by the law of Moses, the congregation of the Lord, or church of visible worshippers of God, and the number of public professors of the true religion who were visible saints, were not the same. Some were of the latter, that were not of the former; as the eunuchs, who were excluded the congregation, though never so externally religious, yea truly pious; and so also bastards, &c.

3. It was the sovereign pleasure of God to choose the posterity of Jacob according to the flesh, to reserve them for special favours to the end of time. And therefore they are still kept a distinct nation, being still reserved for distinguishing mercy in the latter day, when they shall be restored to the church of God. God is pleased in this way to testify his regard to their holy ancestors, and his regard to their external relation to Christ. Therefore the apostle still speaks of them as an elect nation, and beloved for the fathers’ sakes, even after they were broken off from the good olive by unbelief. God’s covenant with Abraham is in some sense in force with respect to that people, and reaches them even to this day; and yet surely they are not God’s Covenant people, in the sense that visible Christians are. See Lev. xxvi. 42..

If it be said, It was often foretold by the prophets, that in gospel-days other nations should be the people of God, as well as the nation of the Jews: and when Christ sent forth his apostles, he bid them go and disciple all nations.

I answer; By a common figure of speech the prevailing part of a nation are called the nation, and what is done to them is said to be done to the nation, and what is done by them is said to be done by that nation. And it is to be hoped, that the time is coming when the prevailing part of many nations, yea of every nation under heaven, will be regularly brought into the visible church of Christ. If by nations in these prophecies we understand any other than the prevailing part, and it be insisted on that we must understand it of all the people belonging to those nations; there never yet has been any nation in this sense regularly brought into the visible church of Christ, even according to the scheme of those whom I oppose. For there never yet has been a whole nation outwardly moral. And besides, what Mr. Blake says in his Treatise of the Covenant, page 238. may be applied here, and serve as an answer to this objection: “The prophecies of the Old Testament (says he) of the glory of the New-Testament times, are in Old-Testament phrases, by way of allusion to the worship of those times, set forth to us.” In Rev. xxi. 24.. nations are spoken of, as having an interest in the New Jerusalem, which yet is represented as perfectly pure, without the least degree of pollution and defilement, verse 27.. And as for the command to the apostles, to disciple all nations, it was a direction to them as to what they should attempt, not a prediction of what they should bring to pass in their day. For they never brought one-half of any one nation into the visible christian church, nor any at all in one-half of the nations in the world, it is very probable.

If it should be further objected, that it is an evidence that Gentile Christians are visible saints, according to the New-Testament notion of visible saintship, in the very same manner as the whole Jewish nation were till they were broken off by their obstinate rejection of the Messiah; that the Gentile Christians are represented as being grafted into the same olive, from whence the Jews were broken off by unbelief, Rom. xi. 17, &c.

I would inquire, What any one can intend by this objection? Whether it be this, viz. That we ought to insist on no higher or better qualifications, in admitting persons as members of the christian church, and to all its privileges, than the whole Jewish nation in Christ’s time possessed, till they had obstinately persisted in their rejection of him? If this is not intended, the objection is nothing to the purpose: or, if this be intended, neither then is it to the purpose of those with whom I have especially to do in this controversy, who hold orthodoxy, knowledge of the fundamental doctrines of religion, moral sincerity, and a good conversation, to be qualifications, which ought to be insisted on, in order to a visible church-state. For a very great part of those Jews were destitute of these qualifications; many of them were Sadducees, who denied a future state; others of them Herodians, who were occasional conformists with the Romans in their idolatries; the prevailing sect among them were Pharisees, who openly professed the false doctrine of justification by the works of the law and external privileges, that leaven of the Pharisees, which Christ warns his disciples to beware of. Many of them were scandalously ignorant, for their teachers had taken away the key of knowledge. Multitudes were grossly vicious, for it was a generation in which all manner of sin and wickedness prevailed.

I think that text in Rom. xi.. can be understood no otherwise, in any consistence with plain fact, than that the Gentile Christians succeeded the Jews, who had been, either in themselves or ancestors, the children of Abraham, with respect to a visible interest in the covenant of grace, until they were broken off from the church, and ceased to be visible saints by their open and obstinate unbelief. Indeed their ancestors had all been thus broken off from the church of visible saints; for every branch or family of the stock of Jacob had been in the church of visible saints, and each branch withered and failed through unbelief. This was the highest and most important sense, in which any of the Jews were externally the children of Abraham, and implied the greatest privileges. But there was another sense, in which the whole nation, including even those of them who were no visible saints, were his children, which (as has been shown) implied great privileges, wherein christian Gentiles do not succeed them, though they have additional ecclesiastical privileges, vastly beyond the Jews.

Whether I have succeeded, in rightly explaining these matters, or no, yet my failing in it is of no great importance with regard to the strength of the objection, that occasioned my attempting it; which was, that scandalously wicked men among the Jews are called God’s people, &c. The objection, as I observed, is as much against the scheme of those whom I oppose, as against my scheme; and therefore it as much concerns them, to find out some explanation of the matter, that shall show something else is intended by it, than their having the qualifications of visible saints, as it does me; and a failing in such an attempt as much affects and hurts their cause, as it does mine.

http://www.ccel.org/e/edwards/works1.x.vi.ii.html

International Fellowship of Christians and Jews

October 17, 2010 12 comments

I was reading the article in Christianity Today about Al Mohler tonight and saw an advertisement that kept popping up on the right side:

It’s from the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. IFCJ was founded by a Rabbi in 1983 who makes roughly $1/2 million a year running the organization.

My interest here is to briefly look at the claims in the ads. The ads are found in Christianity Today, and they obviously work, otherwise IFCJ wouldn’t be wasting their money on Christianity Today ads. That means Christians believe the ads and act upon that belief by supporting the organization financially. But is there anything remotely biblical in these ads?

“Of course there is! Can’t you see all the quotations of Scripture in the ads?” Simply quoting Scripture is not the same thing as truthfully representing Scripture. Satan loves the words of Scripture (Gen 3:1, Matt 4:5, etc) – he just hates them in their proper context and meaning. So do the ads above accurately represent the teaching of the Word of God concerning the modern nation state Israel?

Common Concerns

First of all, before we even get to the quoted verses, let’s just step back and look at the organization. It’s purpose is:

“to promote understanding between Jews and Christians and build broad support for Israel and other shared concerns. Our ministry’s vision is that Jews and Christians will reverse their 2,000-year history of discord and replace it with a relationship marked by dialogue, respect and cooperation.”
http://www.ifcj.org/site/PageNavigator/eng/about/

The purpose is first and foremost to financially support the modern nation state Israel. One of the projects of IFCJ is called Stand for Israel:

Stand for Israel aims to engage people both spiritually and politically on behalf of Israel and the Jewish people by encouraging them to pray for Israel and teaching them to advocate for the Jewish state.
http://www.ifcj.org/site/PageNavigator/eng/about/current_projects

Secondarily it is to promote cooperation and understanding between Jews and Christians. But ask yourself, is one of these common, shared concerns Jesus Christ? No. Jews like Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein (founder) deny that Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah. They still await their Messiah. Of course, they also deny that Jesus is God. Interestingly, IFCJ has been rejected by many Jewish Rabbis who forbid their people to accept IFCJ funds because it promotes idolatry:

Groups that take money from the fund are flouting the Torah’s prohibition of idolatry, Rabbi Elyashiv said, and they even aid future [Christian] missionary activities and grant them legitimacy…Taking money from this fund is an “unclean” act
http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/133972

So make no mistake, this organization is not an alliance of faith. It is an organization that seeks to establish fellowship between the body of Christ and the antichrist (1 John 2:22). God has warned us of such efforts: “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Cor 6:14). And if anyone objects “But they believe in the same God”, please go back and read the 1 John 2 reference. Verse 23 states “No one who denies the Son has the Father.” Meditate upon John 5:30-47 as well, specifically v38;42;46. Jews are as equally idolatrous, rebellious, and damned as the Muslims they hate. We are to have no fellowship with them. Our relationship to them must be as ambassadors of the gospel, ministers of reconciliation.

Who is Israel?

All of these ads prominently proclaim “Israel Needs Your Support“. But we must ask ourselves, who is Israel? Or rather, who does the Bible say is the true Israel?

Romans 9:6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.

Romans 2:28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

Paul seems to be saying that there is a deeper meaning to the name Israel than simply the nation of Abraham’s physical descendants. Where is he getting this idea from? He clarifies in Galatians 3:

7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham…28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

Throughout the Old Testament, Israel was identified as the physical descendants of Abraham who received the physical promise of the land of Canaan. But now with the fuller revelation of Jesus Christ, Paul is able to explain that the physical promise of land was only a shadow of the true promise made to Abraham: Christ. Therefore, Paul says that Israel, Abraham’s offspring, is actually Jesus Christ and His body. Christians are the Israel of God (Gal 6:16).

Scripture Quotations

Now let’s take a look at the verses these ads quote.

Isaiah 11:12 And He will lift up a (AC)standard for the nations
And (AD)assemble the banished ones of Israel,
And will gather the dispersed of Judah
From the four corners of the earth.

The IFCJ ad quotes this verse apparently because they believe the creation of the modern state of Israel in 1948 is the fulfillment of Isaiah 11:12. God will “assemble the banished ones of Israel” or as the ad translates it “Gathering the Jewish exiles from the four corners of the earth”. Financial contributions to IFCJ directly support this interpretation of Isaiah 11:12

Is it true that Freedom Flights are provided at no cost to Jews wishing to immigrate to Israel?
The airlines contracted by the Israeli government to provide these flights are commercial businesses that are paid for their services by the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) and the Israeli government. JAFI, in turn, depends on organizations like The Fellowship to cover the cost of these flights, as well as other costs included in the aliyah (immigration) and klitah (resettlement) process. These include the cost of obtaining passports and travel documents, language and job training at absorption centers in Israel, and housing subsidies.
http://www.ifcj.org/site/PageNavigator/eng/about/about_faq/

But is that what Isaiah 11:12 is talking about? Go read the whole chapter (please, actually go read it – I’ll wait).

First of all, who is the shoot who will spring from the stem of Jesse (11:1)? The New Testament is abundantly clear it is Jesus Christ (Acts 13:23; Rev 5:5; 22:16; Rom 15:12).

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein cannot claim the modern state of Israel is a fulfillment of Isaiah 11:12 unless he can identify someone in 1948 as the promised shoot of Jesse because verse 11 says that these Jewish exiles will be gathered “on that day” when the shoot springs up from the stem of Jesse.

Eckstein denies 11:1 refers to Jesus, so his interpretation is already wrong – but he can’t even identify any modern leader as the fulfillment of 11:1.

So if the IFCJ ad’s interpretation of 11:12 is wrong, what is the right interpretation? Is it prophesying Christ’s return when He will  supposedly re-establish the nation of Israel and rebuild a temple and gather the banished ethnic Jews from around the world? No. Paul makes it clear that Isaiah was prophesying about the body of Christ, about the gospel age, when all of God’s elect, Jew and Gentile, will be gathered from throughout the world (through the proclamation of the gospel, Rom 10) into one body: the Israel of God.

Romans 9:23 And He did so to make known (AS)the riches of His glory upon (AT)vessels of mercy, which He (AU)prepared beforehand for glory, 24even us, whom He also (AV)called, (AW)not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. 25As He says also in Hosea,
(AX)I WILL CALL THOSE WHO WERE NOT MY PEOPLE, ‘MY PEOPLE,’
AND HER WHO WAS NOT BELOVED, ‘BELOVED.'”
26(AY)AND IT SHALL BE THAT IN THE PLACE WHERE IT WAS SAID TO THEM, ‘YOU ARE NOT MY PEOPLE,’
THERE THEY SHALL BE CALLED SONS OF (AZ)THE LIVING GOD.”

27Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “(BA)THOUGH THE NUMBER OF THE SONS OF ISRAEL BE (BB)LIKE THE SAND OF THE SEA, IT IS (BC)THE REMNANT THAT WILL BE SAVED;

The remnant are the elect (both Jew and Gentile) and the salvation spoken of in Isaiah is not physical salvation from physical exile from the physical land of Canaan/Palestine. The salvation spoken of is eternal spiritual salvation from spiritual exile from heaven and slavery to Satan. To claim Isaiah 11:12 was fulfilled in 1948 in the creation of the modern state of Israel is to deny the Gospel. Why are Christians giving this organization money?

Genesis 12:3

Next up is Genesis 12:3

1Now (A)the LORD said to Abram,
“Go forth from your country,
And from your relatives
And from your father’s house,
To the land which I will show you;
2And (B)I will make you a great nation,
And (C)I will bless you,
And make your name great;
And so (D)you shall be a blessing;
3And (E)I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse
(F)And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.

IFCJ quotes the verse as “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Apparently they believe verse 3 means that we should financially support the modern state of Israel because we, and everyone, will be blessed by them. The modern state of Israel is a blessing to the world, and so we should support it, according to IFCJ.

But what does God say verse 3 means?

In his second sermon in the book of Acts, Peter said:

Acts 3:23 Moses said, ‘(AI)THE LORD GOD WILL RAISE UP FOR YOU A PROPHET LIKE ME FROM YOUR BRETHREN; TO HIM YOU SHALL GIVE HEED to everything He says to you. 23(AJ)And it will be that every (AK)soul that does not heed that prophet (AL)shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.’ 24“And likewise, (AM)all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and his successors onward, also announced these days. 25“It is you who are (AN)the sons of the prophets and of the (AO)covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘(AP)AND IN YOUR SEED ALL THE FAMILIES OF THE EARTH SHALL BE BLESSED.’ 26“For you (AQ)first, God (AR)raised up His Servant and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.”

Peter, moved by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:19-21), explained that the fulfillment of Genesis 12:3 was the gospel of Jesus Christ. All peoples of the earth will be blessed through Abraham because God will raise up His Servant, descended from Abraham, and will send Him to bless all peoples by commanding repentance and offering forgiveness.

Paul made this even more explicit in his letter to the Galatians:

Galatians 3:7 Therefore, be sure that (J)it is those who are of faith who are (K)sons of Abraham.8The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “(L)ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU.” 9So then (M)those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer. 10For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “(N)CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO DOES NOT ABIDE BY ALL THINGS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF THE LAW, TO PERFORM THEM.”

11Now that (O)no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “(P)THE RIGHTEOUS MAN SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.” 12However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, “(Q)HE WHO PRACTICES THEM SHALL LIVE BY THEM.” 13Christ (R)redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us–for it is written, “(S)CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON (T)A TREE”– 14in order that (U)in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we (V)would receive (W)the promise of the Spirit through faith.

It could not be any more clear. God said that the blessing of Genesis 12:3 is the gospel and that it is accomplished in Christ Jesus – not in the modern state of Israel. Why is a Christian magazine promoting a Jewish Rabbi’s denial of the gospel?

Psalm 122:6

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May they prosper who love you.

Just as we had to ask who Israel is, so now we must as where Jerusalem is. When there was a famine in Jerusalem during the first years of the church, did the Apostles instruct Christians to pray for the earthly city of Jerusalem? No, they were to pray for and financially support the saints (Christians) in Jerusalem. (How many of those who support IFCJ financially stop to consider that the modern state of Israel persecutes Palenstinian saints?!)

Are we to continue to pray for the earthly city of Jerusalem? Again, let us hear the definitive answer from the Word of God:

Galatians 4:21 Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not (AA)listen to the law? 22For it is written that Abraham had two sons, (AB)one by the bondwoman and (AC)one by the free woman. 23But (AD)the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and (AE)the son by the free woman through the promise.24(AF)This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from (AG)Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be (AH)slaves; she is Hagar. 25Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26But (AI)the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother.

27For it is written,
(AJ)REJOICE, BARREN WOMAN WHO DOES NOT BEAR;
BREAK FORTH AND SHOUT, YOU WHO ARE NOT IN LABOR;
FOR MORE NUMEROUS ARE THE CHILDREN OF THE DESOLATE
THAN OF THE ONE WHO HAS A HUSBAND.”

28And you brethren, (AK)like Isaac, are (AL)children of promise. 29But as at that time (AM)he who was born according to the flesh (AN)persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, (AO)so it is now also.

30But what does the Scripture say?
(AP)CAST OUT THE BONDWOMAN AND HER SON,
FOR (AQ)THE SON OF THE BONDWOMAN SHALL NOT BE AN HEIR WITH THE SON OF THE FREE WOMAN.”

31So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman.

God the Holy Spirit explains that there were two Jerusalems: One stemming from the Mosaic Covenant – the earthly city of the earthly descendants of Abraham; the other stemming from the New Covenant – the heavenly city of the spiritual descendants of Abraham. God even goes so far as to explain that the earthly Jerusalem and her people have been “cast out”! To agree with IFCJ’s interpretation of Psalm 122:6 by financially supporting the organization and the modern state of Israel is to deny the explicit teaching of the Holy Spirit.

Revelation 21:1Then I saw(A) a new heaven and a new earth, for(B) the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2And I saw(C) the holy city,(D) new Jerusalem,(E) coming down out of heaven from God,(F) prepared(G) as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold,(H) the dwelling place[a] of God is with man. He will(I) dwell with them, and they will be his people,[b] and God himself will be with them as their God.[c]4(J) He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and(K) death shall be no more,(L) neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

5And(M) he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I(N) am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for(O) these words are trustworthy and true.” 6And he said to me,(P) “It is done!(Q) I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.(R) To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. 7(S) The one who conquers will have this heritage, and(T) I will be his God and(U) he will be my son. 8(V) But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars,(W) their portion will be in(X) the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is(Y) the second death.”

22And(AQ) I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23And the city(AR) has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for(AS) the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24By its light(AT) will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth(AU) will bring their glory into it, 25and(AV) its gates will never be shut by day—and(AW) there will be no night there. 26They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27But(AX) nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s(AY) book of life.

Does that sound like the Jerusalem you hear about in the news today? The Jerusalem we are to pray for is the Jerusalem from above – the kingdom of God.

Breaking Down the Hostility Between Jew and Gentile

The stated purpose of IFCJ is to break down the 2,000 year wall of hostility between Jews and Christians – and yet the wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles was already broken down 2,000 years ago.

Ephesians 2:11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

Jesus Christ is the only means of reconciliation. Fellowship is found in Christ alone. If Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein seeks peace with Christians, the only way to accomplish it is through Jesus Christ. Yet Eckstein refuses to repent of his idolatry. He refuses to acknowledge his guilt before God and cast himself upon the mercy of the Messiah. Instead, he promotes a false gospel of earthly hope and eternal torment.

Support of Christian Leaders

In light of this, I urge you to call Christians and Christian leaders who support IFCJ to repentance. James Dobson of Focus on the Family is an incredibly influential voice (who also appeared in my recent post about Mormons – not a good sign for his ability to discern truth from error). Here is what he has to say about IFCJ:

I’m aware of your own efforts to defend righteousness… it’s heartening to know that you and other members of the Jewish community are standing with us [Christians] in striving to defend biblical truths.

Dr. James C. Dobson
Founder and Chairman, Focus on the Family

How can Dr. Dobson applaud Eckstein’s denial of the gospel as “biblical truth”??

Wailing Wall

Finally, you can see in the ad above a picture of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. It is located at the foot of the western side of the Temple Mount.

According to the Tanakh, Solomon’s Temple was built atop the Temple Mount in the 10th century BCE and destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. The Second Temple was completed and dedicated in 516 BCE. In around 19 BCE Herod the Great began a massive expansion project on the Temple Mount. He artificially expanded the area which resulted in an enlarged platform. Today’s Western Wall formed part of the retaining perimeter wall of this platform. Herod’s Temple was destroyed by the Roman Empire, along with the rest of Jerusalem, in 70 CE during the First Jewish-Roman War.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_Wall

The destruction of the temple in AD70 was God’s judgment upon the nation of Israel. We read in Galatians 3 that the Jerusalem below, the son of the slave woman, was to be cast off – and she was. The Mosaic Covenant was a conditional covenant. Israel would remain in the land of Canaan only if they obeyed God’s statutes and ordinances. They did not, and as a result, they were cut off. God spoke of this:

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

6 And the Lord said to me, “Proclaim all these words in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem: Hear the words of this covenant and do them. 7 For I solemnly warned your fathers when I brought them up out of the land of Egypt, warning them persistently, even to this day, saying, Obey my voice. 8 Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but everyone walked in the stubbornness of his evil heart. Therefore I brought upon them all the words of this covenant, which I commanded them to do, but they did not.”

9 Again the Lord said to me, “A conspiracy exists among the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 10 They have turned back to the iniquities of their forefathers, who refused to hear my words. They have gone after other gods to serve them. The house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken my covenant that I made with their fathers. 11 Therefore, thus says the Lord, Behold, I am bringing disaster upon them that they cannot escape. Though they cry to me, I will not listen to them. 12 Then the cities of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem will go and cry to the gods to whom they make offerings, but they cannot save them in the time of their trouble. 13 For your gods have become as many as your cities, O Judah, and as many as the streets of Jerusalem are the altars you have set up to shame, altars to make offerings to Baal.

14 “Therefore do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer on their behalf, for I will not listen when they call to me in the time of their trouble. 15 What right has my beloved in my house, when she has done many vile deeds? Can even sacrificial flesh avert your doom? Can you then exult? 16 The Lord once called you ‘a green olive tree, beautiful with good fruit.’ But with the roar of a great tempest he will set fire to it, and its branches will be consumed. 17 The Lord of hosts, who planted you, has decreed disaster against you, because of the evil that the house of Israel and the house of Judah have done, provoking me to anger by making offerings to Baal.”

Though the earthly Jerusalem was destroyed because of a broken covenant, hope remains because of an unbreakable covenant:

Hebrews 8:1 Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, 2 a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. 3 For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. 4 Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. 5 They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” 6 But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.

8 For he finds fault with them when he says:

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord,
when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel
and with the house of Judah,
9 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers
on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.
For they did not continue in my covenant,
and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord.
10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws into their minds,
and write them on their hearts,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor
and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
for they shall all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest.
12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,
and I will remember their sins no more.”

13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

The Transtestamental (Retroactive) New Covenant

July 29, 2010 4 comments

I recently read W. Gary Campton’s new book “From Paedobaptism to Credobaptism.” You can find my first post on it here. Crampton does a great job of very clearly communicating a wide range of issues in this important debate.

One of the key issues in Reformed arguments over baptism is properly understanding the New Covenant; both the nature of the New Covenant as well as the scope of its effect in redemptive history.

Regarding the nature of the New Covenant, Crampton argues

The fact is that in the Old Covenant era, unbelieving Jews by right (de jure) were part of the nation of Israel. But in the New Covenant community it is different. As the author of Hebrews, citing Jeremiah 31:31-34, writes, the New Covenant is “not like the covenant” God made with the Old Testament fathers (8:9). In the New Covenant they “shall all know Me from the least of them to the greatest of them” (8:11). In the New Testament era, says Jesus, “they shall all be taught by God” (John 6:45; compare Isaiah 54:13). As state by John Owen, it is the “church of the elect believers,” consisting of both “Jews and Gentiles, with whom this [New] Covenant is made and established, and unto whom the grace is actually communicated”:

For all those with whom this [New] Covenant is made shall as really have the law of God written in their hearts, and their sins pardoned, according unto the promise of it, as the people of old were brought into the land of Canaan by virtue of the covenant made with Abraham. These are the true Israel and Judah, prevailing with God, and confessing unto His name. (Owen, Hebrews Commentary V1:118)

Regarding the scope of the effect of the New Covenant, Crampton states:

This is not to say that persons under the Old Covenant administration did not “know the Lord.” Clearly, there were many who did. There were numerous persons who had their sins forgiven (Psalm 32:1-2), the law of God written on their hearts (Psalm 40:8; 119:11; Isaiah 51:7), and who had professed saving faith in the Messiah to come (John 8:56; Hebrews 11:24-26).* But the great majority of the Old Covenant community did not possess such faith (1 Cor 10:1-11), and membership was not restricted to those who “know the Lord.” The Old Covenant was a breakable covenant, whereas the New Covenant is not (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 8:8-12).

*[footnote] In this sense, as Calvin pointed out, all persons who are saved, both Old and New Covenants (the elect), are saved under the New Covenant; that is, Christ is the only Savior of all the elect (Hebrews 10:5-18; 12:10) (Institutes II: 11:10).

This last footnote from Crampton is extremely important and I wish he had spilled more ink elaborating on it. Crampton quotes both Calvin and Owen in these few pages. Calvin and Owen both say that anyone who has ever been elect has been saved by the New Covenant. However, they provide two very different reasons for this. And I think Owen’s reason is what allows him to say the New Covenant is made of the elect alone, while Calvin does not.

Calvin was careful to insist that “all these [differences between the Old and New Testaments/Covenants] pertain to the manner of dispensation rather than to the substance.” (II:11:1)

This is very specific language used during the time when discussing covenant theology. Most argued that the substance of the covenants remained the same, but only their outward appearance and administration/”manner of dispensation” were different. However, this is precisely what Crampton implies against in his footnote when he says “that is, Christ is the only Savior of all of the elect.” Per my reading, Crampton essentially said the Old Covenant elect must have been saved “under the New Covenant” because the substance of the New Covenant is altogether different from the Old (ie it had a different mediator/Christ is the Great High Priest of the New Covenant, not the Old).

Regarding the difference in substance between the two, John Owen noted:

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. (comments on Hebrews 8:6-13)

“No man was ever saved but by virtue of the new covenant, and the mediation of Christ in that respect.” (ibid)

This very difference in substance is what Calvin actually denied, not affirmed. Calvin said the opposite of Owen:

The Old Testament fathers had Christ as pledge (mediator) of their covenant… The Old Testament or Covenant that the Lord had made with the Israelites had not been limited to earthly things, but contained a promise of spiritual and eternal life. (2.10.23)

The covenant made with all the patriarchs is so much like ours in substance and reality that the two are actually one and the same. Yet they differ in the mode of dispensation. (2.10.2)

Owen said the Old Covenant elect were saved by the promsie, and that the promise was separate from the Old Covenant. Calvin also said they were saved by the promise, but he said the promise was the very substance of the Old Covenant, not separate from it. Also, Owen said Christ’s mediation was limited to the New Covenant, while Calvin said Christ was mediator of the Old Covenant. You may be tempted to brush this aside as useless splitting of hairs, but this is a very nuanced debate and thus we must be very nuanced in our discussion of it – because it does have very serious ramifications.

Commenting on the same passage as Owen, Hebrews 8:6-13, Calvin reaches a very different conclusion:

Here we are to observe how the covenant of the law compares with the covenant of the gospel, the ministry of Christ with that of Moses. For if the comparison had reference to the substance of the promises, then there would be great disagreement between the Testaments. But since the trend of the argument leads us in another direction, we must follow it to find the truth. Let us then set forth the covenant that he once established as eternal and never-perishing. Its fulfillment, by which is is finally confirmed and ratified, is Christ. [Here Calvin magically combines the two distinct covenants under discussion in the passage into one covenant]. While such confirmation was awaited, the Lord appointed, through Moses, ceremonies that were, so to speak, solemn symbols of that confirmation. A controversy arose over whether or not the ceremonies that had been ordained in the law ought to give way to Christ. Now these were only the accidental properties of the covenant, or additions and appendages, and in common parlance, accessories of it [as opposed to the substance of it]. Yet because they were means of administering it, they bear the name “covenant,” just as is customary in the case of other sacraments. To sum up then, in this passage “Old Testament” means the solemn manner of confirming the covenant, comprised in ceremonies and sacrifices.

Because nothing substantial underlies this unless we go beyond it, the apostle contends that it ought to be terminated and abrogated, to give place to Christ, the Sponsor and Mediator of a better covenant [cf. Heb 7:22]; whereby he imparts eternal sanctifications once and for all to the elect, blotting out their transgressions, which remained under the law. Or, if you prefer, understand it thus: the Old Testament of the Lord was that covenant [the eternal covenant] wrapped up in the shadowy and ineffectual observance of ceremonies and delivered to the Jews; it was temporary because it remained, as it were, in suspense until it might rest upon a firm and substantial confirmation. It became new and eternal only after it was consecrated and established by the blood of Christ. Hence Christ in the Supper calls the cup that he gives to his disciples “the cup of the New Testament in my blood” [Luke 22:20]. By this he means that the Testament of God attained its truth when sealed by his blood, and thereby becomes new and eternal.

Wow. Look at how radically different Calvin’s conclusion is from Owen’s when commenting on the same passage of Scripture. Calvin strips Scripture of its plain teaching and insists that “Old Covenant” in Hebrews 8 actually means “Old Covenant Ceremonies” because the Old Covenant is really the same covenant as the New Covenant, they just look different. According to Calvin, they are both the same eternal covenant. The Old “becomes” the New. They are the same.

This is drastically different from Owen’s more biblically faithful conclusion that these are two separate covenants, and that only one of them saves. “Having noted these things, we may consider that the Scripture does plainly and expressly make mention of two testaments, or covenants, and distinguish between them in such a way as can hardly be accommodated by a twofold administration of the same covenant.”

This difference between Owen and Calvin is important, because it is precisely (in my opinion) why Crampton can rely upon Owen to provide the excellent quote about the New Covenant being made of elect, regenerate members only.

Below is the section from Calvin that Crampton cites – and I think it makes much more sense if interpreted along Owen’s view of the covenants. Remember that Calvin believes the Old and New Covenants are actually the same covenant, they just look different:

The three latter comparisons to which we have referred are of the law and the gospel. In them the law is signified by the name “Old Testament,” the gospel by “New Testament.” The first extends more widely, for it includes within itself also the promises published before the law. Augustine, however, said that these should not be reckoned under the name “Old Testament.” This was very sensible. He meant the same thing as we are teaching: for he was referring to those statements of Jeremiah and Paul wherein the Old Testament is distinguished from the word of grace and mercy. In the same passage he very aptly adds the following: “the children of the promise [Rom 9:8], reborn of God, who have obeyed the commands by faith working through love [Gal 5:6], have belonged to the New Covenant since the world began. This they did, not in hope of carnal, earthly, and temporal things, but in hope of spiritual, heavenly, and eternal benefits. For they believed especially in the Mediator; and they did not doubt that through him the Spirit was given to them that they might do good, and that they were pardoned whenever they sinned.” It is that very point which I intend to affirm: all the saints whom Scripture mentions as being particularly chosen of God from the beginning of the world have shared with us the same blessing unto eternal salvation. This, then, is the difference between our analysis and his: ours distinguishes between the clarity of the gospel and the obscurer dispensation of the Word that had preceded it, according to that statement of Christ, “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the Kingdom of God is proclaimed” [Luke 16:16]; Augustine’s division simply separates the weakness of the law from the firmness of the gospel.

We must also note this about the holy patriarchs: they so lived under the Old Covenant as not to remain there but ever to aspire to the New, and thus embraced a real share in it.

If you look at what Augustine said in its original context, you can see that Augustine actually shared Owen’s view of the covenants, not Calvin’s. Augustine said:

In that testament [covenant], however, which is properly called the Old, and was given on Mount Sinai, only earthly happiness is expressly promised… But then the happy persons, who even in that early age were by the grace of God taught to understand the distinction now set forth, were thereby made the children of promise, and were accounted in the secret purpose of God as heirs of the New Testament [covenant];

In my reading, Calvin does not quite take it as far as Crampton would imply, though close. Calvin attempts to save himself from contradiction by saying he does not agree with Augustine’s statements absolutely, but only insofar as they apply to the administration/appearance of things (“ours distinguishes between the clarity of the gospel and the obscurer dispensation…”). In other words, Calvin appears to be saying that the Old Covenant elect looked through the shadows of the Old Covenant to see the more clearly revealed gospel of the New Covenant, and thus shared in this clearer gospel dispensation, for Calvin continues:

The apostle condemns as blind and accursed those who, content with present shadows, did not stretch their minds to Christ.

In the footnote, Crampton’s point (per my reading) is that OT saints must have been saved by the New Covenant because Christ is mediator and priest of the New Covenant – but Calvin disagrees. I believe there is warrant for claiming Calvin meant something different from Crampton because Crampton’s comment “that is, Christ is the only Savior of all of the elect” and his reference to Hebrews 10:5-18; 12:10, are not found in the Calvin reference he provides.

In sum: Calvin said Christ is the mediator of both the Old and the New because they are the same. But Owen disagreed with Calvin, saying that Moses was the mediator of the Old while Christ is the mediator of the New.

You may be thoroughly confused by now – which is why I wish Crampton had elaborated on this footnote 🙂 However, I think this is an important topic worth pressing and clarifying further. Hopefully I was able to do that to an extent. I welcome all comments, critiques, and corrections.

Addendum

A common objection to the idea that the Old Covenant elect were actually members of the New Covenant is the idea that the New Covenant was not inaugurated until Christ’s sacrifice. To that, I have previously answered as follows:

I don’t think that we need to break the bounds of cause-and-effect in time.

The OT saints looked forward to the formal inauguration of the NC in the death of Christ as their Mediator, and thus were made partakers of, heirs of, or members of the New Covenant.

How is that possible if the NC was not inaugurated until Christ’s death?

(1) I think we need to acknowledge that the OT saints did not consider their Mediator, their Redeemer, as having already come and accomplished their redemption. For them it was yet future. Thus the cause-and-effect in time aspect is still in force for them.

(2) I think the reason this is possible is because the New Covenant is founded upon that eternal transaction (LBC 7.3) between the Father and the Son (I would equate what is commonly called the Covenant of Redemption with the New Covenant). The Father promised to give the Son a people of His choosing upon the condition of the Son dying on their behalf. And Christ promised to do so. Titus 1:2 says “in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began.” (cf. Heb 6:17-18)

The Son promising to do something is enough to make it a reality. Thus OT saints could look forward to their Savior who had not yet come, yet benefit by that coming and dying because it was a certainty. It was a legal certainty they could bank on because it was sworn by the Son. This is consistent with what one may read from someone like Berkhof in regards to Christ as surety:

The position of Christ in the covenant of redemption is twofold. In the first place He is Surety (Gr. egguos), a word that is used only in Heb 7:22. The derivation of this word is uncertain, and therefore cannot aid us in establishing its meaning. But the meaning is not doubtful. A surety is one who engages to become responsible for it that the legal obligations of another will be met. In the covenant of redemption Christ undertook to atone for the sins of His people by bearing the necessary punishment, and to meet the demands of the law for them. And by taking the place of delinquent man He became the last Adam, and is as such also the Head of the covenant, the Representative of all those whom the Father has given Him… [An uncondintional] surety takes upon himself unconditionally to pay for another, thus relieving the guilty party of his responsibility at once.

-Systematic Theology p. 267 (Banner of Truth)

Commenting on Heb 8, Owen puts it this way:

This is the meaning of the word “established”, say we; but it is, “reduced into a fixed state of a law or ordinance.” All the obedience required in it, all the worship appointed by it, all the privileges exhibited in it, and the grace administered with them, are all given for a statute, law, and ordinance to the church. That which before lay hid in promises, in many things obscure, the principal mysteries of it being a secret hid in God himself, was now brought to light; and that covenant which had invisibly, in the way of a promise, put forth its efficacy under types and shadows, was now solemnly sealed, ratified, and confirmed, in the death and resurrection of Christ. It had before the confirmation of a promise, which is an oath; it had now the confirmation of a covenant, which is blood.

Note O. Palmer Robertson’s comment regarding the Mosaic Covenant:

“Interestingly, the prophet does not refer (Jer 31) specifically to the formal inauguration of the covenant that occurred at Sinai. Instead, he refers to the covenant established on the day in which the Lord brought Israel out of Egypt. This lack of preciseness does not mean that Jeremiah did not have the Mosaic covenant itself in mind when he developed this contrast. He speaks too specifically of a law written in the heart, implying a contrast with law written in stone. His allusion to the Mosaic covenant by reference to the exodus from Egypt simply conforms to a repeated pattern found in Scripture with respect to the covenants. Historical events associated intimately with the covenant often precede the formal inauguration of the covenantal relationship. According to E. W. Hengstenberg:
‘The substance of the covenant evidently precedes the outward conclusion of the covenant, and forms the foundation of it. The conclusion of the covenant does not first form the relation, but is merely a solemn acknowledgment of a relation already existing.’”
(Christ of the Covenants, pp 280-281)

Kerux vs TLNF

July 26, 2010 10 comments

I’ve been slowly working my way through TLNF one chapter at a time. I’m about half way through. I really enjoy the book. There is a lot of great material – particularly Brenton C Ferry’s Taxonomy and Bryan D Estelle’s chapter on Leviticus 18:5 and Deuteronomy 30:1-14. However, I have been concerned from the outset that the book is handicapped by fear.

While I find much biblical merit for what they say, I have become rather convinced that their position is contrary to the WCF. That doesn’t matter for me, cause I’m just an ignorant 1689 babtist. But it does mean I’m sensitive to how the thesis and arguments of TLNF are muddied because of their desire to remain within the bounds of the WCF.

One example is the almost absolute silence about John Owen. Owen has written perhaps the very best articulation and defense of republication in his commentary on Hebrews 8:6-13. Owen’s argument is thorough (150 pages on those 7 verses) and very convincing. So why not rely upon him in TLNF? Because in the course of his argument he rejected the opinion of the “reformed divines” and WCF 7.6, saying “Having noted these things, we may consider that the Scripture does plainly and expressly make mention of two testaments, or covenants, and distinguish between them in such a way as can hardly be accommodated by a twofold administration of the same covenant.”

So Owen provides an excellent argument for republication, but in a book devoted to republication, he is silenced because he believes republication is contrary to WCF 7.6. So clarity is sacrificed for tradition.

Fesko on Calvin

All this is simply a preface to what I want to comment on. A very lengthy 150 page review of TLNF was published in the Kerux journal. Apparently there is all kinds of history I should be aware of regarding Kerux, as R. Scott Clark’s blog series “Consider the Source” implies (and I’m sure he’s probably right). He asserts quite strongly that no one should waste their time reading the review, saying “After re-reading ONLY the first breathless page of the review I do not and cannot repent of anything I said earlier. Indeed, the review is more poorly written, more amateur, and more shoddy than I remembered. There is so much that is objectionable on the first page of the review alone, I stop there.” And he refers to it as an “ill-begotten waste of time passing itself off as a review.”

Now, to be clear, I agree with the idea of republication – but that doesn’t mean I can’t learn from the Kerux review, and it doesn’t mean the Kerux review can’t be right in its critique of TLNF. I approached Patrick Ramsey’s essay in WTJ and his blog posts in the same way, and learned a lot by doing so https://contrast2.wordpress.com/2010/02/11/confusing-law-and-gospel-and-the-wcf/

I was working on another blog post after reading W. Gary Crampton’s “From Paedobaptism to Credobaptism” where he references a passage of Calvin’s Institutes (2.11.10). I read the passage and others around it, which I had read before – but something seemed different from what I had remembered about it. I went back and looked at Fesko’s chapter from TLNF where he references a similar passage (2.11.4) and was immediately struck by how inaccurate Fesko’s representation of Calvin was and how confusing he had made a rather clear statement from Calvin.

Here is what Calvin said:

…For through animal sacrifices it could neither blot out sins nor bring about true sanctification. He therefore concludes that there was in the law “the shadow of good things to come,” not “the living likeness of the things themselves” [Heb 10:1]. Therefore its sole function was to be an introduction to the better hope that is manifested in the gospel [Heb 7:19; and Ps. 110:4; Heb 7:11; 9:9; 10:1].

Here we are to observe how the covenant of the law compares with the covenant of the gospel, the ministry of Christ with that of Moses. For if the comparison had reference to the substance of the promises, then there would be great disagreement between the Testaments. But since the trend of the argument leads us in another direction, we must follow it to find the truth. Let us then set forth the covenant that he once established as eternal and never-perishing. Its fulfillment, by which it is finally confirmed and ratified, is Christ. While such confirmation was awaited, the Lord appointed, through Moses, ceremonies that were, so to speak, solemn symbols of that confirmation. A controversy arose over whether or not the ceremonies that had been ordained in the law ought to give way to Christ. Now these were only the accidental properties of the covenant, or additions and appendages, and in common parlance, accessories of it. Yet because they were means of administering it, they bear the name “covenant,” just as is customary in the case of other sacraments. To sum up then, in this passage “Old Testament” means the solemn manner of confirming the covenant, comprised in ceremonies and sacrifices.

Because nothing substantial underlies this unless we go beyond it, the apostle contends that it ought to be terminated and abrogated, to give place to Christ, the Sponsor and Mediator of a better covenant [cf. Heb 7:22]; whereby he imparts eternal sanctifications once and for all to the elect, blotting out their transgressions, which remained under the law. Or, if you prefer, understand it thus: the Old Testament of the Lord was that covenant wrapped up in the shadowy and ineffectual observance of ceremonies and delivered to the Jews; it was temporary because it remained, as it were, in suspense until it might rest upon a firm and substantial confirmation. It became new and eternal only after it was consecrated and established by the blood of Christ. Hence Christ in the Supper calls the cup that he gives to his disciples “the cup of the New Testament in my blood” [Luke 22:20]. By this he means that the Testament of God attained its truth when sealed by his blood, and thereby becomes new and eternal.

2.11.4

So Calvin is talking about the two administrations of the single eternal covenant [of grace]. He calls one administration (Moses) the covenant of the law and he calls the other administration (Christ) the covenant of the gospel. He insists that the difference between the two is only accidental (meaning non-essential appearances), and not in the “substance of the promises.” Finally, he says the covenant of the law and the covenant of the gospel are successive, not concurrent.

Now, is this what we find in Fesko’s summary of Calvin’s teaching on the covenant of law and the covenant of the gospel?

Given Calvin’s explanation of soteriology in the OT, one has a framework in which to understand the place and function of the Mosaic covenant in his theology. Calvin explains that with the dispensation of the Mosaic covenant there are two separate covenants, the foedus legale and the foedus evangelicum, the ministries of Moses and Christ (2.11.4). There is a sense in which Calvin sees these two covenants in an antithetical relationship to one another, as the law functions within the foedus legale only “to enjoin what is right, to forbid what is wicked; to promise a reward to the keepers of righteousness, and threaten transgressors with punishment” (2.11.7). In other words, Calvin is not afraid to say that the Mosaic administration of the law sets forth a covenant governed by a works principle, namely, eternal life through obedience: “We cannot gainsay that the reward of eternal salvation awaits complete obedience to the law, as the Lord has promised” (2.7.3). The problem, however, with this covenant of obedience is, because of man’s sinfulness, “righteousness is taught in vain by the commandments until Christ confers it by free imputation and by the Spirit of regeneration” (2.7.2). Calvin, therefore, sees the Mosaic covenant characterized by the promise of eternal life which can be obtained by Israel’s obedience, yet because of her sin, Israel is unable to fulfill the requirements of the covenant – only Christ was able to do this.

In this sense, then, the foedus legale and the foedus evangelicum are antithetical, in that they both extend the promise of salvation, the former through obedience and the latter through faith in Christ.

Wow. Was that anything close to what we just read from Calvin? No. Fesko misrepresents Calvin to make Calvin say exactly what the entire volume of TLNF is attempting to argue. How convenient. Fesko first twists Calvin’s words regarding a foedus legale and a foedus evangelicum to say they were two different covenants both operating during the Mosaic dispensation. Calvin nowhere says that. He says they are two successive administrations of the one covenant. Fesko then moves out of Calvin’s 2.11.4 passage where Calvin uses the term “covenant of law” and uses quotes where Calvin is talking about the moral law narrowly and apart from the Mosaic covenant. All this in an attempt to make Calvin say the Mosaic covenant operated on a works principle. Note Fesko’s “in other words” because he can’t find any actual words from Calvin to say what he wants Calvin to say.

This was a very disappointing realization for me as I have really enjoyed Fesko’s “Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine” and I must now question everything I have read in that book. The authors of the Kerux review were spot on in their critique of Fesko on this point:

What then, does Fesko say is Calvin’s view of the Mosaic covenant? According to him, “Calvin explains that in the dispensation of the Mosaic covenant there are two separate covenants” (30). What evidence does Fesko provide to support this view? He appeals to Calvin’s linguistic distinction between a foedus legale and a foedus evangelicum, arguing that there is “a sense in which Calvin sees these two covenants in an antithetical relationship to one another” (30). The primary difference, for Fesko, is that the foedus legale “sets forth a covenant governed by a works principle, namely, eternal life through obedience” (30).

However, there is a problem with Fesko’s analysis. The terms foedus legale and foedus evangelicum are almost always (for Calvin) terms used to describe the various administrations of the covenant of grace, not a “separate covenant,” characterized by a “works principle” operative in the Mosaic administration. This is clearly the case in 2.11.4 of the Institutes (which Fesko cites to defend his analysis), where Calvin writes (commenting on Heb. 7-10):

Here we are to observe how the covenant of the law (legale) compares with the covenant of the gospel (evangelicum), the ministry of Christ with that of Moses. For if the comparison had reference to the substance of the promises, there would be great disagreement between the Testaments. But since the trend of argument leads us in another direction, we must follow it to find the truth.

For Calvin, the foedus legale and foedus evangelicum are not “two separate covenants” as Fesko states, but they are in fact two names for two different administrations of the same covenant. The comparison between the foedus legale and the foedus evangelicum does not refer to the “substance” of the covenants. Rather as Calvin goes on to explain in the same section, the two terms only refer to a twofold way of administering the same covenant:

Let us then set forth the covenant that he once established as eternal and never-perishing. Its fulfillment, by which it is finally confirmed and ratified, is Christ. While such con- firmation was awaited, the Lord appointed, through Moses, ceremonies that were, so to speak, solemn symbols of that confirmation. A controversy arose over whether or not the ceremonies that had been ordained in the law ought to give way to Christ. Now these were only the accidental proper- ties of the covenant, or additions and appendages, and in common parlance, accessories of it. Yet, because they were means of administering it, they bear the name “covenant,” just as is customary in the case of the other sacraments. To sum up, then, in this passage “Old Testament” means the solemn manner of confirming the covenant, comprised in ceremonies and sacrifices (2.11.4).

In 2.11.4, Calvin is not teaching that the Mosaic covenant should be viewed as a “separate covenant” governed by a works-principle. In fact, Calvin makes the opposite point in this very passage, namely, that the Mosaic covenant is essentially a covenant of grace, though differently administered.

Fesko also appeals to Calvin’s Institutes 2.11.7 to support his interpretation of the foedus legale. The reader should note the jump: the first quote comes from 2.11.4, while the second comes three sections later. The two are then woven together in a way that makes them appear like a seamless garment. But in 2.11.7, Calvin is not speaking of a “separate covenant” during the Mosaic administration, but rather of “the mere nature of the law” abstracted from that covenant. Calvin is analyzing the words of Hebrews and Jeremiah, whom he says “consider nothing in law, but what properly belongs to it.” As the very next section (2.11.8) clearly demonstrates, Calvin understands Jeremiah to be speaking simply of the moral law itself, not of a “separate covenant” operative in the Mosaic administration: “Indeed, Jeremiah even calls the moral law a weak and fragile covenant [Jer. 31:32].” In other words, Fesko’s error is that he applies what Calvin says about the moral law to a separate covenant in the Mosaic administration. This is very strange, considering that he himself had told us at the start of the article that—“When one explores Calvin’s understanding of the function of the law, he must therefore carefully distinguish whether he has the moral law or the law as the Mosaic covenant in mind” (28). Well said. But when it comes to one of the most crucial points in his reading of Calvin, he chooses to ignore that distinction and applies what Calvin says about the moral law to the Mosaic covenant itself.

The significance of this mistake cannot be underestimated. It is the only primary document evidence that Fesko gives to support this key aspect of his thesis. On page 33, he summarizes in six points his thesis regarding Calvin’s view of the Mosaic covenant. To points 1-4, we say “Amen.” But for the reasons outlined above we cannot agree with points 5-6.

(5) The Mosaic administration of the law is specifically a foedus legale in contrast to the foedus evangelicum, the re- spective ministries of Moses and Christ; and (6) the foedus legale is based upon a works principle but no one is able to fulfill its obligations except Christ (33).

What Fesko should have said is that for Calvin, the moral law, narrowly considered, promises eternal life for perfect obedience. To say that the “Mosaic covenant is characterized by a works principle” (32) is only to confuse what Calvin keeps clear. The moral law itself may promise life for perfect obedience, but Calvin does not speak this way about the Mosaic covenant or the foedus legale.

December 2009 issue of Kerux: The Journal of Northwest Theological Seminary (PDF, 1.03 MB)

If the Kerux review is a “poorly written, amateur, and shoddy ill-begotten waste of time” then what is TLNF?

Fesko states: “Calvin uses the distinction between form and substance to explain that the Mosaic covenant, as to its substance, is part of the spirituale foedus, but as to its form, its administratio is a foedus legale.” This is accurate, but the problem is that Fesko misrepresents (or perhaps misunderstands) what “substance” means. As already noted, Calvin says precisely the opposite of Fesko. Fesko claims “Calvin is not afraid to say that the Mosaic administration of the law sets forth a covenant governed by a works principle, namely, eternal life through obedience.” And yet Calvin argues the exact opposite, saying “if the comparison had reference to the substance of the promises, then there would be great disagreement between the Testaments.”

Saying that one covenant promises eternal life upon personal obedience, and the other promises life upon faith in Christ is to say that they differ in substance – according to Calvin (and everyone else who used the term). And this is precisely the point of dispute regarding the entire TLNF volume. Fesko has muddied the waters in an already confusing debate. For the sake of tradition, he has forsaken clarity. I agree with the Kerux review when it says:

Fesko misinterprets and misrepresents Calvin’s position by suppressing the above-mentioned aspects of his teaching. In so doing, Fesko makes Calvin sound more like one of his (and the other authors) favorite contemporary covenant theologians: Meredith G. Kline. In fact, in our opinion, he appears to be doing nothing more than Mark Karlberg did before him: reading a form of Kline’s view onto Calvin. Kline taught that in the Mosaic administration there were two separate covenants: one of works, and one of grace. The former was superimposed upon the underlying substratum of the Abrahamic covenant of grace. Again, Fesko’s interest in vindicating his own view (Kline’s) of the Mosaic covenant seems to have created a roadblock in his efforts for an “accurate contextualized historical theology.”

Personally, I think that Kline’s formulation is more biblical than Calvin’s. But we shouldn’t be afraid to say it is different.

P.S. (This does not mean Kerux is correct in everything it says or that R. Scott Clark is wrong in all he said in response to it)

Iron Can’t Sharpen Iron Without Honesty

March 31, 2010 5 comments

John Owen had a somewhat unique view of the Mosaic covenant (at least compared to the “Reformed divines”). You can read about it here: https://contrast2.wordpress.com/2010/02/15/john-owens-commentary-on-the-old-and-new-covenants-outline/

He presents a very compelling argument for his view, particularly his view of republication. He would be a strong ally for those today who argue for republication, but he is hardly ever mentioned, and never discussed. This might seem strange, but it’s not that strange when you realize Owen rejected WCF’s formulation. So I can understand why those who want to argue republication is compatible with WCF ignore Owen.

However, occasionally people do mention Owen. Take, for example, Michael Brown’s series of posts “The Mosaic Covenant in Reformed Orthodoxy.” Here is Michael’s particular post on Owen’s view of the Mosaic Covenant. He seems to accurately summarize Owen’s view, but I asked him in the comments section why he included Owen in an overview of “Reformed Orthodoxy” when Owen rejected WCF. The debate current in Reformed circles over the doctrine of republication has to do with whether or not it is consistent with the WCF. So why would he present Owen as someone who defended the Reformed Orthodoxy of WCF in regards to the Mosaic covenant?

Not only did he not respond to my comment, but he deleted it altogether.

In his concluding post, Some Concluding Thoughts on the Mosaic Covenant in Reformed Orthodoxy, someone truly searching for answers asked a great question:

I hope you don’t mind me posing a question I’ve had for quite a long time: is it fair to say that Owen and Bolton (and the others that held similar positions, whom you listed above) held views that contradict WCF 7.5, which identifies the old covenant with the covenant of grace?

This is someone who has been looking for an answer for “quite a long time.” He’s just looking for some help in sorting out this difficult issue. Michael responded:

I don’t think that Owen and Bolton would consider their views as contradicting the WCF. Bolton, as I am sure you know, was a member of the Westminster Assembly. And Owen, while not a member of the WA (he was a little too young at the time) was the chief arcitect of the Savoy Declaration, which was a modified version of the WCF. The Savoy maintained the exact language of WCF 7.5. Owen simply believed that the Mosaic covenant was superimposed upon the covenant of grace (see Owen’s Works, Vol 22, pp70-113). Like Bolton, he saw the Mosaic as subservient to the covenant of grace, as well as a republication of teh covt of works through its commands, sanctions, and reward for obedience.

So, I think there is more than one way to understand the Mosaic covenant as “an administration of the covenant of grace.” That is very broad language upon which many writers holding different views could agree. It allows for different nuances about the Mosaic in its more strict sense.

Michael’s answer is wrong and is significantly misleading to anyone trying to reach an understanding of the Mosaic covenant..

  1. Savoy 7.5 did not maintain the exact language of WCF 7.5, as can very easily be seen by just reading it http://www.proginosko.com/docs/wcf_sdfo_lbcf.html#LBCF7
  2. Michael tries to imply Owen viewed the Mosaic covenant as an administration of the covenant of grace, just like the WCF. And yet that is EXACTLY what Owen argues against. In his commentary he explains the view of the “reformed divines” and then politely disagrees with them: “Having noted these things, we may consider that the Scripture does plainly and expressly make mention of two testaments, or covenants, and distinguish between them in such a way as can hardly be accommodated by a twofold administration of the same covenant…Wherefore we must grant two distinct covenants, rather than merely a twofold administration of the same covenant, to be intended.” And, so as to prevent any wiggle room for Michael, Owen also says “Having shown in what sense the covenant of grace is called “the new covenant,” in this distinction and opposition to the old covenant, so I shall propose several things which relate to the nature of the first covenant, which manifest it to have been a distinct covenant, and not a mere administration of the covenant of grace.”

So an honest answer to the original question would be, “Yes, Owen’s view contradicts and expressly rejects WCF 7.5 and the identification of the old covenant with the covenant of grace.” I proceeded to point this out in the comments section. Michael, again, never responded. Instead, I received the following response from someone named David:

Brandon, I went to your site to see what you were talking about. What you said about Owen and thus about Mr. Brown’s research just sounded ‘off’. At your site I read this opening passage:

“Owen rejected the formulation of the Westminster Confession (one covenant, two administrations) and held that the new and the old were two distinct covenants with two different mediators and everything else that follows.”

Brandon, the above is a nonsense statement.

I replied with the following quote from Owen and told David he needed to ask forgiveness for his accusation:

The Scripture’s Doctrine on the Difference Between the Covenants Expounded on 17 Particulars:

#4  In Their Mediators:

They differ in their mediators. The mediator of the first covenant was Moses. “It was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator,”  Galatians 3:19. And this was no other than Moses, who was a servant in the house of God,  Hebrews 3:5. And he was a mediator, by God’s design, chosen by the people, following the dread that befell them on the terrible promulgation of the law.  For they saw that they could no way bear the immediate presence of God, nor deal with him in their own persons. Wherefore they desired that there might be a go-between, a mediator between God and them, and that Moses might be the person,  Deuteronomy 5:24-27.

24 And ye said, Behold, the LORD our God hath shewed us his glory and his greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the midst of the fire: we have seen this day that God doth talk with man, and he liveth. 25 Now therefore why should we die? for this great fire will consume us: if we hear the voice of the LORD our God any more, then we shall die. 26 For who is there of all flesh, that hath heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived? 27 Go thou near, and hear all that the LORD our God shall say: and speak thou unto us all that the LORD our God shall speak unto thee; and we will hear it, and do it.

But the mediator of the new covenant is the Son of God himself. For “there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all,”  1 Timothy 2:5. He who is the Son, and the Lord over his own house, graciously undertook in his own person to be the mediator of this covenant; and in this the new covenant is unspeakably superior to the old covenant.

What was the response? None, because Michael deleted my comment. I wrote a new comment asking why my comment was deleted. That comment was subsequently deleted. I emailed Michael to ask him why my comment was deleted. I wanted to revise my comment and re-post it if I had violated some terms or if he found my comments offensive. He has not replied to my email.

How can we ever hope to understand what the Bible teaches about these issues if we can’t be honest with one another in our discussions?

*[Update] Michael responded to my email and let me know why he deleted my comments. You’ll have to ask him yourself if you want to know why, as he said I don’t have permission to tell anyone. Just be warned he may not hear you all the way up in his ivory tower.

*[Update 2] Not sure what the deal is, but it seems Michael has removed all comments from the relevant posts on his blog now, not just mine.

Is the Abrahamic Covenant Conditional or Unconditional?

March 6, 2010 48 comments

I’ve been teaching a Wednesday night Bible study through the book of Genesis for about a year now. We’ve finally made it to Genesis 17 and the question has come up: Is the Abrahamic covenant (the covenant of circumcision, Acts 7:8) conditional or unconditional? This is not an easy question to answer, but it’s a very important one to answer. In a very helpful essay, Richard Pratt Jr. notes:

In recent years, it has become increasingly apparent that contemporary reformed theologians are taking different stances on whether the covenants God made with Abraham and David were conditional or unconditional. This is not to say that we have enjoyed complete unanimity on this and related matters in past centuries. Covenant theology has always been riddled with varying opinions. Yet, in our day, differences on this particular issue have so impacted other theological and practical dimensions of the Christian faith that they should no longer be ignored.

Details notwithstanding, two tendencies have emerged. On the one side, some theologians in our circles have argued that the covenants with Abraham and David were unconditional. That is to say, these covenants guaranteed future blessings unconditionally to Abraham and David.

On the other side, other theologians in our circles have argued that the covenants with Abraham and David were conditional. In this view, the future blessings of these covenants were gracious but in some ways dependent upon the condition of human loyalty.

God of Covenant

The reason it is so difficult to determine if the Abrahamic covenant is conditional or unconditional is because we seem to get two different answers from Scripture. In Genesis 15 God instructs Abram to cut animals in half and spread them out on the ground. This was a typical covenant ceremony wherein the covenanting parties then both pass through the parts of the animals, signifying that if either of them broke the covenant, they would be torn apart like the animals (take a look at Jeremiah 34:18, referring to the Mosaic covenant). However, in Genesis 15, Abram does not walk through the parts. Instead, in a vision, a flaming torch and a smoking fire pot (signifying God) pass through the parts. This would seem to communicate that Abram was not obligated to keep the covenant, that it was unconditional.

However, when we get to chapter 17, God tells Abram “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations (v9).” What does that mean? Well, in context, it is referring to circumcision:

10 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, 13 both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant.

So it would seem that there is something required for Abraham to do. There is a condition. This is made very, very clear in the next verse: “Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” Verse 14 very clearly establishes that this covenant is conditional and that a failure to meet the conditions will result in being “cut off,” which means put to death (cf Exodus 12:15, 19; Leviticus 7:25, 27).

Pratt notes:

These two chapters are the only places where the term “covenant” (berith.) appears in the Abrahamic narratives, but they are very different from each other. On the one hand, Genesis 15:9-21 reports how Abraham killed animals in a ceremony of malediction and how Yahweh passed through the carnage to confirm by divine oath that Abraham’s descendants would certainly inherit the land of Canaan. On the other hand, in Genesis 17:9-14 the maledictory cutting ceremony of circumcision is required of Abraham and his descendants as a sign of their loyalty to Yahweh. These texts report truths about Abraham’s covenant in very different ways.

So what are we to conclude? I believe the analogy of faith provides us with helpful guidance. Chapter 1 paragraph 9 of the London Baptist Confession says:

The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched by other places that speak more clearly.

What we have is an apparent discrepancy between Genesis 15 and Genesis 17. One appears to say the Abrahamic covenant is unconditional, the other says it is conditional. How should we try to resolve the problem? Well, if we agree with the confession, then we should seek to answer the question using the passage that speaks most clearly. Genesis 17:14 is very clear. It is not possible to get a clearer answer to our question. Furthermore, the relevant part of Genesis 15 is a vision. A clear, explicit passage should guide our interpretation of a less clear vision – not the other way around, as is common.

So if Gen 17 is to guide our understanding of Gen 15, where does that leave us? How can we harmonize these two accounts? Well, it would seem we have two options:

  1. Gen 15 and Gen 17 refer to two different covenants. This is the conclusion reached by Paul R. Williamson, for example: Abraham, Israel and the nations: the patriarchal promise and its covenantal development in Genesis
  2. There is some other way of understanding the vision in Genesis 15 that does not lead us to conclude that the Abrahamic covenant is unconditional.

In my limited studies, I don’t think option 1) is an option. Pratt notes:

First, we should note that we are not dealing with two covenants made with Abraham. In Genesis 15:18 we read that “the LORD made a covenant with Abram,” or more literally “cut a covenant” (karath), a common way to speak of the initiation of a covenant. In Genesis 17:2, however, God said, “I will confirm my covenant,” using the Hebrew expression ve’ettenah>, meaning to confirm or establish what was already in existence. So, we find here not two covenants, but two facets or dimensions of God’s one covenant with Abraham, the latter being a confirmation and further explanation of the earlier.

That leaves us with 2). But what other meaning could the vision and ceremony have?

The Meaning of the Genesis 15 Vision

In short, I believe the vision means not that there are no conditions for its fulfillment that depend upon Abraham and his offspring, but that God promises to work in the lives of Abraham and his offspring to meet those conditions and thus bring about the fulfillment of the covenant promises.

For example, the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham clearly depend upon him having an offspring. If Abraham does not have an offspring, then the promises cannot be fulfilled. But remember what we read in Genesis 17. If Abraham does not circumcise himself then he will be cut off, killed. And the same goes for his offspring. If Abraham had failed to obey God in chapter 17, then it would have been impossible for God’s promises to be fulfilled. If Abraham and his offspring are killed, then so is the hope of the Messiah.

The fulfillment of God’s promise depends upon the obedience of Abraham. But Abraham did obey. In an act of faith, he circumcised himself at 99 years old. Abraham obeyed because God gave him a new heart that was willing to obey.

If we look at the nation of Israel, we see a similar dilemma. If the nation is destroyed, then so is the hope of the Messiah. And yet God warns in Deuteronomy 28 and elsewhere that if Israel does not obey, they will be destroyed. In Ch. 28 we read a lengthy list of blessings and curses for obedience and disobedience to the Mosaic law. Numerous times we read that “all these curses shall come upon you and pursue you and overtake you till you are destroyed” (v45), “until he has destroyed you” (v48), “until you are destroyed” (v51), “until they have caused you to perish” (v51), “until you are destroyed” (v61).

So, again, the fulfillment of God’s promise depends upon the obedience of Abraham’s offspring. If they disobey, God will curse them until they are destroyed, and with their destruction comes the destruction of the hope of the Messiah. How is this dilemma handled? The same way it is handled in Abraham’s account in Genesis 17.

Take a look at Deut 30:1-10. Here (and in ch 28 to an extent), Moses is not simply giving warnings, but is instead prophesying of what will happen.

1 “And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the LORD your God has driven you, 2and return to the LORD your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, 3then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you. 4 If your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there the LORD your God will gather you, and from there he will take you. 5And the LORD your God will bring you into the land that your fathers possessed, that you may possess it. And he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers.

So the destruction of Israel will be prevented when Israel turns to the Lord and obeys him. But notice how this will happen. In 30:6 we read: “And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.”

This is how God can ensure that His promise will come to pass. He will cause the elect to fulfill the conditions necessary to the fulfillment of His promise to Abraham. Note that this is not the same thing as saying the Abrahamic covenant is unconditional because it’s conditions were fulfilled by a mediator (like the New Covenant).

So we see the obedience of Abraham and his offspring as a condition for the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham, and we also see that God will provide the necessary cause of that obedience: a new heart. I believe this is what the vision in Genesis 15 is promising.

Further support for this claim is found in Deut 28:26. In the midst of reciting the curses upon Israel, we read:

25 “The LORD will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. You shall go out one way against them and flee seven ways before them. And you shall be a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth. 26 And your dead body shall be food for all birds of the air and for the beasts of the earth, and there shall be no one to frighten them away.

A parallel warning is found in Jeremiah 7:33

30″For the sons of Judah have done evil in my sight, declares the LORD. They have set their detestable things in the house that is called by my name, to defile it. 31And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind. 32 Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when it will no more be called Topheth, or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter; for they will bury in Topheth, because there is no room elsewhere. 33 And the dead bodies of this people will be food for the birds of the air, and for the beasts of the earth, and none will frighten them away. 34 And I will silence in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, for the land shall become a waste.

In both instances, the warning is that when Israel disobeys, there will be no one to frighten away the birds from eating their corpses. What is this referring to? What does it mean for someone to frighten away the birds? Where else do we see this imagery in Scripture? Genesis 15:11 “And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.”

Abraham, or rather, the promise God made to Abraham, is what fightens the birds away. God’s promise to Abraham prevents Israel from being utterly destroyed. But how exactly does it prevent Israel from being destroyed? How does Abraham frighten away the birds? These passages say that if they disobey, there will be no one to frighten the birds away. So again, we see that obedience is a crucial condition for the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. And thus, God works obedience in the elect to bring about the fulfillment of His promise to Abraham. Obedience frightens the birds away.

Take note of Leviticus 26:

40″But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers in their treachery that they committed against me, and also in walking contrary to me, 41 so that I walked contrary to them and brought them into the land of their enemies—if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity, 42 then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and I will remember my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land.

The condition for God remembering his covenant with Abraham is the circumcision of Israel’s heart – something only He can do. That is the meaning of the vision in Genesis 15. It does not mean there are not conditions to be met by Abraham’s descendants. It means God will cause them to obey and meet those conditions. And I will add that He does that by means of the new covenant. Only the new covenant provides the regeneration necessary for faith and obedience. Witsius notes, regarding the Mosaic covenant:

Nor Formally the Covenant of Grace: “Because that requires not only obedience, but also promises, and bestows strength to obey. For, thus the covenant of grace is made known, Jer. xxxii. 39. ‘and I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear me for ever.’ But such a promise appears not in the covenant made at mount Sinai. Nay; God, on this very account, distinguishes the new covenant of grace from the Sinaitic, Jer. xxxi. 31-33. And Moses loudly proclaims, Deut xxix. 4. ‘yet the Lord hath not given you a heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day.’ Certainly, the chosen from among Israel had obtained this. Yet not in virtue of this covenant, which stipulated obedience, but gave no power for it: but in virtue of the covenant of grace, which also belonged to them.

http://www.reformationtheology.com/2008/11/the_mosaic_covenant_works_or_g.php

Conclusion

Though the thesis of Pratt’s essay is slightly different from mine, he concludes:

To reinforce what we have seen at this point, we should mention that the language of conditionality is the same in all three covenants God made with Israel. As we have already seen, in Genesis 17:9 God told Abraham and his descendants to “keep my covenant” by observing circumcision. This expression also appears in the Mosaic covenant when God says to Israel in Exodus 19:5 “and you must keep my covenant”. In the same way, in Psalm 132:11 the Davidic line is also required to “keep my covenant.” This shared language makes it clear that the fundamental dynamics of all three covenants are the same…

…In my estimation reformed theologians who argue that the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants were unconditional are fundamentally misguided. Although we may distinguish the central concerns of Abrahamic, Mosaic and Davidic covenants from each other and from other biblical covenants, there is little justification for arguing that the difference is conditionality and unconditionality.

However, Pratt makes a very serious error in his essay. He makes a number of helpful observations about the Abrahamic covenant, including observations about Royal Land Grant and Suzzerain-Vassal Treaties, so I encourage you to read it. But after establishing that the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic covenants were conditional, he erroneously applies these conclusions to the New Covenant, because he believes that the New Covenant is only an historical administration of the covenant of grace, of which the Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and Noahic are all parts or dispensations. He therefore concludes that our salvation is conditioned upon our obedience:

“a measure of conformity to God’s standards of holiness is a necessary condition for receiving salvation…the New Testament makes sanctification a necessary condition for eternal salvation…faith that justifies has always resulted in meeting the requirements of good works.”

Pratt’s error is that he lumps in the New Covenant with all the others and fails to recognize it’s utter distinctness, it’s utter newness. Furthermore, he fails to recognize that the New Covenant, working throughout the OT, was the means God used to fulfill His promise to Abraham in Genesis 15. The Abrahamic Covenant was not the New Covenant/Covenant of Grace. See how John Owen explained this:

“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 Hebrews 8:6″

Abraham’s disobedience would cut him off from the covenant of circumcision. Our disobedience can never cut us off from the New Covenant because our obedience is found in our mediator Jesus Christ.

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.