Archive

Posts Tagged ‘halfway covenant’

Presbyterian vs Congregationalist vs Baptist Sacramentology

December 7, 2017 4 comments

Visible Saints and Notorious Sinners: Presbyterian Sacramental Doctrine and Practice and the Vicissitudes of the Baptist Movement in New England and the Middle Colonies is an interesting essay from OPC pastor Peter J. Wallace. He argues that after the Great Awakening, baptist convinctions grew in Congretationalist New England but not in the Presbyterian Middle Colonies because of a difference in sacramentology. Both baptized infants, but they had different views of the visible church.

Congregationalists held to the “English Puritan” belief in “visible saints.” The visible church is for those who have been saved. The Scots and Scotch-Irish Presbyterians rejected that idea. The visible church is for those who want to be saved. Wallace traces some of the history involving Isaac Backus, showing how the baptists convincingly pointed out that if the church is for those who have been saved, then there is no reason left for baptizing infants.

In Congregationalism, in order to partake of the Lord’s Supper (become a “communicant member”), one had to become a visible saint by professing that they were saved.

While the early Puritans, such as William Perkins, still insisted on baptizing all children within the parish [i.e. every English-born child], the increasing emphasis on inward subjectivity and the “disciplined and communal character of the Christian life” in English Puritanism led to a growing emphasis on baptizing only the children of visible saints.[14]  The original New England Puritans attempted to combine the ideal of the pure church with the holy commonwealth [i.e. state church], holding purity and inclusiveness in tension.[15]

They began to recognize this tension and adopted the Half-Way Covenant solution: rather than becoming a visible saint, one merely had to “assent” to Christian doctrine and the desire to be saved in order to have their children baptized (they had to have “historical faith”). They still could not take the Lord’s Supper. According to Wallace, this was a half-step back towards Presbyterianism (rooted in the parish model). “Hereafter the sacraments took on new functions in New England culture:  baptism was the symbol of inclusion in the holy commonwealth, while the Lord’s Supper became the test of purity within the commonwealth.”

Stoddard

Many years later, New England Congregationalist pastor Solomon Stoddard recognized that tension still remained. He took another half-step back towards presbyterianism.

[T]he inclusive policies of the Halfway Covenant received an extra push from the presbyterianizing Solomon Stoddard… Stoddard argued that the church should indeed consist of visible saints, and that those who did not exhibit such signs should be excluded altogether and banished from the church.  But those who qualified for baptism also thereby qualified for the Lord’s Supper.  The Halfway Covenant erred in retaining too strict a definition of visible saints:  “There is not the least foundation in Scripture, for two sort of adult members, one that might, an other that might not come to the Lords Supper; unless they were under offense, or wanted sufficient knowledge for that Ordinance.”[26] Instead, he declared that the Table was for all who made a “solemn Profession of Faith, & Repentance, & are of Godly Conversation, having Knowledge to Examine themselves, & discern the Lords Body.”  This profession was not “an Affirmation that they have Saving Faith and Repentance” but only “an Assent unto, & Acknowledgement of the Doctrine of Faith & Repentance (as the onely Doctrine according to which they hope for Salvation) together with a Promise of Obedience to all the Commandments of God.”[27]

When Stoddard replied in 1690 that the Lord’s Supper was a converting ordinance, he did so on the grounds that the means of grace were intended for all those in the visible church, not only for those who were regenerate, but for all members of the covenant–thereby including only those unregenerate who were already within the covenant.[30]

Edwards & the Baptists

On February 15, 1727, Edwards was ordained minister at Northampton and assistant to his grandfather Solomon Stoddard. Stoddard died 2 years later, leaving Edwards to fill the pulpit. Eventually, Edwards came to disagree with Stoddard’s sacramentology and returned to the Half-Way Covenant, requiring a profession of saving faith for admission to the Lord’s Table. The Northhampton congregation kicked Edwards out of the pulpit, but his views took root elsewhere.

Insisting that only those who were admitted to the Lord’s Supper could have their children baptized (and requiring transfers from “impure” churches to make a full profession of faith), the New Divinity pastors were often indistinguishable from the Separatists, and frequently cooperated willingly with Isaac Backus and the growing Baptist movement.[37]

Moses Mather and the Old Calvinist establishment responded with alarm.  If gracious affections are “the Band of Union to the visible Church; it will follow, that no Person in an unrenewed State can be a Member of it.”[38]  In Mather’s mind, it was only a small step from such a position to denying infant baptism…

Pushing the visible saints criterion to the next step, Backus argued that only the Baptists could faithfully continue the New England tradition, since even Edwards and the New Lights compromised their principles by allowing non-professing infants into church membership.  Claiming that only the New Testament was a sufficient guide to understand who the church should admit to the sacraments, the Baptists relied heavily on the argumentation of the New Lights to show that the only way to guarantee a church full of visible saints was to stop baptizing babies.[43]

The Great Awakening alone (to say nothing of later developments) produced almost 100 separatist churches–many of which became Baptist.  C. C. Goen’s survey of these churches suggests that “the logic of the pure church ideal” drove New Englanders to affirm believers’ baptism as the only way to guarantee a pure church.[44]  Denying entirely that the “ordinances” of baptism and the Lord’s Supper were converting ordinances, Backus claimed that in them the “work of sanctification in believers is carried on,” but no salvific power.  Hence he denied access to all but visible saints.[45] He rejected infant baptism for several reasons:  1) it falsely supposed that there is no distinction between the old covenant, which was based on the family and the nation, and the new covenant, which was made purely with elect individuals; 2) it permitted the baptism of those who were neither regenerate nor even disciples, since they had not been taught; 3) historically, it was an innovation from the second or third century without warrant in the New Testament; 4) it violated the heart of the Puritan doctrine of visible saints, creating a territorial church that gets mingled with the world; 5) it is harmful to children by making them think that they are inside the covenant of grace, when actually even paedobaptists only believe that they are inside the external covenant; 6) if its advocates were truly consistent, they would give the Lord’s Supper to infants as well.[46]  His arguments resonated with his audience.  Within a span of only fifty years, nearly 300 Baptist churches were founded in New England.

Scottish and Scotch-Irish Presbyterianism in America

Presbyterian sacramental doctrine and practice was rooted in its Scottish and Scotch-Irish background.  Puritan sacramental practices had developed through their attempt to purify the Church of England, resulting in an emphasis on the gathered congregation of visible saints, called out of the world.  Presbyterian sacramental practices had developed through the resistance of local communities against external pressure from England (not to mention a century of struggle with Scottish episcopacy), resulting in a strong emphasis on the sacraments as bonds which held together the whole community… Since Presbyterians emphasized the church “as the means of organising and disciplining the whole society” they only required “external [i.e. non-saving] profession and decent conduct” for church membership.[53] … This Scottish and Ulster Presbyterian community was transplanted to the new world, where it developed in slightly different directions from the parent communities, but still within a similar trajectory.

Wallace argues that Baptist principles did not experience the same growth in the Middle Colonies as it did in New England because Presbyterian sacramentology was not as susceptible to baptist critique of Congregationalism. Presbyterianism did not require a profession of saving faith – only an assent to the truth of Christian doctrine (“historical faith”).

The Presbyterian practice was that virtually everyone should be baptized (even those who were born of scandalous parents could be sponsored by godly folk, who would thereby promise to give them a Christian education).  But some profession was required for admission to the Lord’s Table.  Not indeed the Puritan requirement of a conversion narrative, nor an Edwardsean profession of the will; they simply required that each communicant have an adequate knowledge of Christian doctrine and an outwardly godly life.  Only the scandalous and profane were to be excluded from the Table…

The practice of American Presbyterians in determining the subjects of baptism prior to the Great Awakening was set forth in the Minutes of Synod in 1735:

“And [we] do also exhort all the ministers within our bounds, to take due care in the examination of all candidates for baptism, or that offer their children to God in that sacred ordinance, that they are persons of a regular life, and have suitable acquaintance with the principles of the Christian religion; that that seal be not set to a blank, and that such be not admitted to visible church relation that are manifestly unfit for it.” [68]

Here there is neither a requirement for an account of a conversion experience, nor is there any mention of a “profession of faith,” per se.  Insisting that ministers could not judge the heart, they did not require positive proof of godliness, merely an understanding of the gospel and a life that was consistent with such an understanding [i.e. not scandalous]…

[W]hile some New Side Presbyterians were drawn towards a practice that echoed certain features of the halfway covenant, others appear to have retained the traditional Presbyterian understanding that Christ called all who were “labouring and heavy laden” to the Table.  The key difference from the Congregational practice is that Presbyterianism had no strong tradition of the “visible saints” doctrine.  Rather, colonial Presbyterians had inherited from Ulster and southwestern Scotland a tendency to develop regional communities organized around their presbyteries…

This also helps to explain why Baptists never took root among the Scots and Scotch-Irish.  Baptists affirmed an extreme version of the Puritan visible saints criterion, insisting that the church should be composed only of the hopefully converted.  Presbyterians had little interest in starting with visible saints; they gathered all but the profane and scandalous into the church and through preaching, catechizing, and communing, sought to transform the community into visible saints.

John Green & Modern Presbyterianism

In 1764, under the influence of Edwards, John Green sought to change Presbyterian sacramentology.

At first he had followed his mentors, Jonathan Dickinson and Aaron Burr in “admitting to the sacraments all who seemed desirous of leading a godly life,”[79] but now after reading Watts and Edwards he had decided that only those who could manifest a “relish for religion” would be permitted to have their children baptized (9)… Green concluded by asserting that membership in the visible church consisted of three things for an adult:  profession, life and baptism; but four for an infant:  being a child of believing parents, baptism, and then profession and life when he reached years of understanding.  Here he clearly followed the trend in New England to dissociate church membership from baptism.  Insisting that the church should discipline her youth, he argued that if by age eighteen or so they neither love Christ nor walk in his ways, churches should “drop them out of their number” (71).

Note that Green’s view matches the practice of modern American Presbyterianism. When a baptized infant becomes an adult, they must become a visible saint by professing saving faith, or else be dropped from membership entirely. But in the 18th century, Green’s views were rejected. “Faced with resolute opposition from even the New England-born ministers in the New York Presbytery, Green finally led a four minister secession in 1780, founding the independent Morris Presbytery on Edwardsean principles.”

Presbyterianism responded by the pen of John Blair. “Blair had previously established himself as one of the leading Edwardseans in the Presbyterian church” but came to reconsider his position. He argued since there is no promise of salvation outside the church, all those who want to be saved should be included.

Blair bluntly asserts that baptism alone makes one a church member:  “Membership in the Church of Christ admits not of Degrees” (9).  There are no grounds, he claimed, for distinguishing between the church and the congregation–as though one were gathered out of the other.  Rather, all who are baptized are commanded by Christ to come to the Table as soon as they have sufficient knowledge to examine themselves and discern the Lord’s body (11).

Rejecting Green’s insistence on trying to discern a work of grace, Blair argued that the “visible church consists of all those, who by an external Profession of the Doctrines of the Gospel, and subjection to the Laws and Ordinances of Christ, appear as a Society separate from the World, and dedicated to God and his Service” (13-14)…

Blair argued that if we view baptism as the seal of the covenant which truly makes us members of the visible church, then we should treat all baptized children as fully obligated to the covenant.  Those who do not live according to Christ should be cut off (20-21).  Yet the very means by which Christ has chosen to build faith within his people is through the sacraments.  Baptism and the Supper “exhibit Jesus Christ and him crucified” and by the Holy Spirit “quicken and raise the Affections, and enliven every grace” (21).  But if we truly believe that baptism brings our infants into the covenant, then we should believe that infants are “reputed the Professors of it untill they disavow it” (24).

But Blair went a step further and challenged the very notion of a profession of faith arguing that requiring a public profession of baptized infants denies their membership:  “Are not the signs which our Lord Jesus Christ has appointed and the Manner of Covenanting which he has prescribed sufficient, without the Addition of our own Inventions to supply the Defect?” (26).  Those who have been baptized should be welcomed to the Table as soon as they have sufficient knowledge to examine themselves.  No public profession is necessary…

[R]egeneration is not accomplished apart from the means of grace; hence we ought to welcome all who desire salvation into the church (74)…

In this argument Blair returns to the Scottish and Scots-Irish practice of viewing the sacraments as the bonds which hold the community together… [H]is description of the sacraments as converting ordinances … echoes the Stoddardean approach.  As odd as it may sound, Blair utilized an Edwardsean understanding of regeneration to undergird his Stoddardean (or more precisely, Presbyterian) view of the sacraments.

Conclusion

Wallace concludes

Scots and Scotch-Irish Presbyterians had never developed the “visible saints” criterion that had arisen among the English Puritans, but had welcomed all who desired salvation into the church.  While both camps may have sounded similar when insisting upon faithful participation in the Lord’s Supper, the actual practice of communion differed drastically, due to the fundamentally different conceptions of the nature of the visible church.

Below is attempt to categorize these differing views.

Baptism
Lord’s Supper
Non-Communicant Adults
Examples
Scottish Presbyterianism
all in external covenant:
regenerate & unregenerate
all in external covenant:
regenerate & unregenerate
only the scandalous; barred from communion but continue as members
John Blair, Solomon Stoddard
Half-Way Covenant
all in external covenant:
regenerate & unregenerate
visible saints
(profession of saving faith)
all baptized members who do not profess saving faith; continue as members & may baptize their children
Increase Mather*
Modern Presbyterian**
only the children of visible saints
visible saints
(profession of saving faith)
if fail to profess saving faith when an adult, then dropped from membership (no non-communicant adult members)
John Green, Increase Mather*, OPC, PCA
Baptist
visible saints
(profession of saving faith)
visible saints
(profession of saving faith)
none
2LBCF adherents, Benjamin Keach, Isaac Backus

*At first, Increase Mather opposed the Half-Way Covenant, but when challenged, he could not reconcile his opposition with the practice of infant baptism, so he embraced and began to defend the Half-Way Covenant. He later argued against Stoddard’s practice.

**I am not sure how best to label this position

Further Reading:

Keach on Inconsistent Congregationalists

June 24, 2017 8 comments

In the 17th century, three main reformed camps were the Presbyterians, the Congregationalists, and the Baptists. The Presbyterians believed in a national church. Congregationalists believed the church consists of people who had been saved out of the world (the nation) who then gather together in congregations. No one was considered a member of the church until they had made a credible profession of saving faith and was thus admitted to the Lord’s Table. Baptists were Congregationalists who rejected infant baptism.

Keach recognized a great inconsistency in the Congregationalists. In fact, it was specifically this inconsistency that led to a controvery in New England, resulting in the Synod of 1662. The Congregationalists were faced very practically with Keach’s dilemma. They could not answer it, so they abandoned a key Congregationalist tenet and turned back towards a Presbyterian view, which did not restrict membership to those who had been called out of the world. This is known as the Half-Way Covenant.

As for our Brethren, called Congregational, I cannot tell what they mean by contending for the Practice of Pædo-Baptism, nor do I well know what their Sentiments are about it: they agree (as I do understand) with us (and other Christians,) that Baptism is an initiating Rite or Ordinance; now if their Infants are in Covenant with themselves, and are made visible Church-Members by Baptism in Infancy, and until by actual Sins they violate their Right and Privilege, abide Members thereof.

(1.) Then I would know whether they have their Names in their Church-Book, or Register, as Members? And

(2dly,) Whether they ever Excommunicate (or bring under any Church Censure) such of their Children who fall into scandalous Sins, or actual Transgressions, or not?

(3dly,) If not, what kind of polluted Churches must thir’s be, who have not purged out such corrupt Members?

The truth is, I see not how Infant Baptism is consistent with any Church State, unless it be National; and no doubt, the first Contrivers or Founders of it, devised that way for the Progress of that they call the Christian Religion, and so opened a Door, that Christ shut, when he put an end to the National Church of the Jews.—Therefore I wonder at our strict Independants, considering their Notions, (knowing how their Principles differ from; and their Understanding or Knowledge of Gospel-Church Constitution exceeds others) for Baptism does not initiate into their Churches, it seems by their Practice; unless their Children, when baptized, were thereby made Members with them.

Keach, B. (1693). Sermon III. In The Ax Laid to the Root, Parts I & II (Vol. 2, p. 34). London: John Harris.

(Note that modern Presbyterians, in abandoning the national church model, have followed largely in the path of Congregationalism)

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

January 21, 2011 14 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