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Review: Captive to the Word of God – A Particular Baptist Perspective on Reformed and Covenant Theology

captive_coverStuart Brogden has written an overview of baptist theology that is directed, as far as I can tell, towards baptists who unaware of, or are perhaps just dipping their toes into Calvinistic baptist beliefs. For that audience, the book provides a helpful overview of certain aspects of baptist beliefs. Though my review will focus on areas of concern/disagreement, there is much in the book that I agree with as well. I’d love to sit down and talk with Brogden some day. I sympathize with his journey deeper into historic baptist beliefs, even if we don’t end up agreeing on everything.

I do have to note that potential readers may be misled by the title of this book for two reasons. First, it’s not primarily a book on covenant theology. It is more broadly a book on baptist theology, with a discussion of covenants filling one section. Second, the label “particular baptist” tends to be associated with 17th century baptists. The author, Stuart Brogden, is a proponent of New Covenant Theology (NCT), not the theology of the 17th century men typically associated with the label “particular baptist.” I won’t quibble over the title only to note that some people may misunderstand what the book is about (as evidenced by the numerous times people have asked if it is a book on 1689 Federalism).

The book is divided into 4 sections: Part 1: The Baptists, Part 2: A Baptist View of Reformed Theology, Part 3: A Baptist View of Covenant Theology, Part 4: How it Works Together in a Local Church. My review will focus on Part 3 and two issues related to it (confessionalism and the law).

2nd London Baptist Confession

As a proponent of NCT, Brogden voices his problems with the 2nd LBCF and those who hold to it. First, he argues that modern churches or associations that hold to the 2nd LBCF as a confessional standard are not using the confession the way it was originally designed. Its purpose was primarily political and was never used as any kind of doctrinal standard for a church or association. He quotes ARBCA’s Constitution explaining its use of the confession and then asks “Is this the intended purpose of these aged confessions?”

Early Baptists who held to the battle cry of the Reformation were known as particular Baptists, to differentiate them from Baptists who held to general atonement. Baptists were not seeking commonality with the Presbyterians until late in the 17th century when they sought a way to make peace with the state church and government in England, weary of being persecuted. (vii)

“The Confessions published by the Baptists in the Seventeenth Century were neither creeds written to secure uniformity of belief, nor articles to which subscription was demanded.” (Goadby)… James Renihan… [agrees] with Goadby’s observation that the main reason confessions were written in this era was to tell others what the confessors thought, not to bind the confessors to an in-house creed… [W]e know that no man has pure motives and must admit that we would likely have taken some pragmatic steps to lessen the pain of constant harassment and persecution.  (93-94, 98)

The quote Brogden provides from Renihan does state that the particular baptists were interested in distancing themselves from anabaptists, but it does not say that churches did not subscribe to it or use it as a doctrinal standard amongst themselves. It is not clear that Brogden properly used Goadby’s quote either. Goadby appears to be referring to the idea of an established church demanding conformity by the use of the sword. Baptists certainly didn’t use their confession that way. But they did require those who confessed it to actually believe it and they did use it as the standard of association between each other.

Brogden suggests that the very idea of “subscription” is Presbyterian, not Baptist. He quotes ARBCA’s Constitution, stating

Confessional subscription employs three main terms in its nomenclature: absolute, strict/full, and loose. ARBCA has adopted the middle position. According to Dr. Morton H. Smith, “strict or full subscription takes at face value” the terminology used in adopting a confession of faith.

And then notes

Of interest to Baptists, I hope: Dr. Morton H. Smith, whose definition of full subscription ARBCA embraces, is a life-long Presbyterian. Their view of confessions has influenced Baptists as much as their view of covenants has. (92)

I find this comment and line of reasoning troubling. First, since Smith’s paper outlines all the various ways of subscribing to a confession, if any Baptist subscribes to a confession in any way, they must be unduly influenced by Presbyterianism. Second, the vast majority of Presbyterian churches do not hold to full subscription. Largely because of their view of ecclessiastical authority, they hold to various versions of loose subscription, including system (OPC) and good faith (PCA). Various Presbyterians, including Smith, have argued that these forms of loose subscription are incoherent and defeat the whole purpose of a confession, which is to state what you believe. ARBCA is unique in this instance and, rather than simply following Presbyterians, is actually leading them in demonstrating a more appropriate way to subscribe to a confession. And the Baptist distinctive of local church autonomy means that any particular church is free to agree or disagree with the 2nd LBCF and ARBCA without their pastors’ ordination being in jeopardy. For more on this point, see here and here and here.

These brief statements [from ARBCA] reveal deliberate use of a confession as the primary document (no matter their written protests to the contrary) that defines the doctrine and identity of the association and the churches that belong to it. The confession is “excellent” and becomes the “sum of sound doctrine” for them (as one elder in a 1689 LBC church put it to me), “founded on the Word of God”, and, in some cases, displacing it as the first line of defense and doctrine. This sad condition is well known among churches that hold to the Westminster Confession and some that hold to the 1689 LBC; and it shows up in their ecclesiology, how they function as a church, such as requiring “strict or full subscription” for serving as an elder while failing to take into account what is laid out in 1 Timothy 3 or Titus 3. (92-93)

Again, I find this kind of reasoning troubling, and perhaps not well thought out. The alternative is to not require any confession at all from an elder or church. I can certianly understand why Brogden does not think the 2nd LBCF should be the standard for a church, since he thinks it is unbiblical, but his comments here are directed at the concept of using any confession at all as a church’s standard. Brogden also quotes from Bob Gonzales arguing in favor of “something close to biblicism” rather than “confessionally colored glasses.”

A final note on this point, Brogden makes many statements throughout the book that reveal a superficial understanding of the topics he is dealing with. Here is one example:

While some within the 1689 camp insist on putting the Savoy between the Westminster Confession of Faith and the 1689 LBC, this is an argument without substance; as the Savoy was a clone of the Westminster, differing only on church government. The 1689 LBC is largely a clone of the Westminster. (104)

There are numerous important differences between Savoy and Westminster if one studies carefully. One pertinent example is the difference between the two in 19.1-2.

Chapter 19 on the Law of God

All of this is prepatory for Brogden’s criticism of the 2nd LBCF’s doctrine of the law. He argues the editors of the confession changed the obvious stuff, but were oblivious to various aspects of the Presbyterian system that were incompatible with Baptist beliefs and therefore they did not adquately revise their confession.

These issues (baptism, ecclesiology, church/civil relationships) are those which are easy to detect, above the water line one might say. What our Baptist forefathers did was to knock these matters out of the way and replace them with Baptist alternatives. What the early Baptists apparently did not do is carefully examine the foundation that was below the water line… One, perhaps the major area in which it appears the Baptists erred in cloning the Westminster regards the treatment of the Decalogue… This paedobaptist influence is found predominately in chapter 19 of the 1689 LBC, but also in one paragraph of chapter 22, addressing the “Christian Sabbath”. (104-105)

Brogden marches through Chapter 19 and its misused Scripture references (in the span of 4 1/2 pages) and quickly declares that the confession obviously contradicts itself.

Herein is a conflict within the confession…

How can the law given to Adam be the law of the Gentiles, who are without the law of Moses, then be described as the Ten Words which were given to Moses as law that the Jews had possession of? And how does using Romans 2:12a & 14-15 as the proof text prove that? Other versions of the 1689 LBC refer to Deuteronomy 10, which describes the tablets but that passage does not indicate that they are the same law as given to Adam. This is conjecture, not exegesis. And it conflicts with itself regardless of which footnotes are used in a given version of the confession…This is a sign of trouble in any document, when the Scripture passages used as references do not support the point being made. (106, 110, emphasis original)

In my opinion, his analysis is rather rash and would have been more meaningful if he had interacted with expositions or elaborations of the doctrine found in modern or historic writings, rather than just commenting on the choice of Scripture references. The meaning of the confession on this point is fairly simple: What God wrote on the hearts of all men had some level of identity with what God revealed externally and supernaturally to Israel. Gentiles do not have the law in the sense that they do not have a written copy of it revealed by God. But they do know the law because it is revealed innately within them, by which they will be judged just as Jews are judged by the written law.

Further, how could Adam know the Decalogue or any version of the “moral law” prior to having knowledge of good and evil? Only after he and Eve ate the forbidden fruit did Adam know he was naked (Genesis 3:11). Only then God said the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil (Genesis 3:22). It is clear that Adam did not know evil before he sinned, though he clearly knew the goodness of God. Since knowledge of the Law incites sin (Romans 3:20; 5:20; 7:7), one can only conclude that Adam was given the “moral law” conjunction with The Fall; not when he was created nor when he walked in innocence. There is no warrant in Scripture to take the Decalogue as an eternally binding “moral law” for all people: it was given to Moses and the infant nation of Israel (Nehemiah 9:13 & 14) and the tablets sit in an ark that is to be forgotten (Jeremiah 3:15-16). (106, emphasis original)

Just to make sure I was not misunderstanding him, I emailed the author to confirm that he does not believe man was created with knowledge of the law of God. He said that is correct. Since Adam and Eve had no knowledge of the law, they must not have been obligated to obey it. Again, Brogden confirmed via email that that is correct. No one knew or was obligated to obey the moral or universal law of God until after the Fall. The only command Adam and Eve had to obey was not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

With regards to Brogden’s argument: after the Fall, with a corrupt nature, knowledge of the law incites sin. That was not the case prior to the Fall with an uncorrupted nature. The “knowledge of good and evil” did not mean “knowledge of what God requires of man.” The tree of knowledge of good and evil was symbolic. It represented man’s effort to discern good from evil apart from the help of God’s wisdom. Adam’s duty was to apply the law of God to every situation he encountered in life. If he faced a difficult situation, he was to seek wisdom from God and not rely on his own understanding, thereby growing in maturity (Prov 2:6; James 1:5; Deut 1:39; 1 Kings 3:9; Is. 7:15; Heb 5:14; Rom 12:2; Ps. 119:66; Eph 5:10). This was, in fact, Adam’s test (probation). When he had grown in wisdom and maturity, when he had grown wise enough to be judge (1 Cor 6:2-3), then he would enter God’s rest, be confirmed in righteousness, granted to eat from the tree of life and live forever with an immutable nature. But when he faced a difficult situation (the serpent’s twisted teaching about what God said), he did not ask God for wisdom, but rather relied on his own understanding of what is good and evil (Gen 3:5-6) and therefore ate of the tree. That’s what the tree symbolized.

Brogden favorably quotes John Reisinger’s simplistic linguistic objection to the term “moral law.” He offers an alternative.

Since the Hebrews under the Mosaic covenant rightly saw all the commands of YHWH as moral (why else would picking up sticks on the Sabbath be a capital offense? – Numbers 15:32-36), it dawned on me that the right nomenclature would be universal law (do not murder, marriage, etc.) and covenantal law (do not eat pork, stay in your home on the Sabbath, etc.). Many people refer to a “natural law” that applies to all people, but since such a law is instituted and communicated by Creator God, it’s a supernatural law which applies universally. Hence my preference for that label. The covenant one is in determines which laws apply, apart from the universal laws which apply to all men. (107)

This is conceptually the same as 1689 Federalism’s distinction between moral and positive law. In fact, Brogden actually quotes part of a 1689 Federalism essay to defend his view.

There is no argument that the Decalogue contains universal law, but it contains more; specific instructions and commands that are part of the Mosaic covenant with national Israel and no other nation or people. Rather than being the universal law of God, it would seem that the Decalogue is a particular application of law given in the Mosaic Covenant to the Jews.

In a critique of New Covenant Theology [in the Appendix to the Coxe/Owen volume and also found online here], Richard Barcellos quotes John Owen from his Works, 22:215… In this quote, both Owen invalidates the common assertion that what we see in Exodus 20 is nothing but the “moral” law, although he did specify the “prescriptive parts” as “absolutely moral;” which is the universal law shining through the tablets.

However, rather than recognizing that perhaps he has misunderstood the confession’s position, since both Barcellos and Owen agree with the confession’s position, Brogden declares Owen to be in support of his rejection of the confession.

Terrence O’Hare tell us that Thomas Aquinas appears to be the first to develop this line of thought, “asserting that the old law contains moral (emanating from natural law), judicial (laws regarding justice among men), and ceremonial (laws touching on worship, holiness, and sanctification) precepts; and that these three can be distinguished in the Decalogue as well.”… Accepting such a novel teaching from anyone is treading on thin ice; that the originator was a Roman Catholic makes it all the more important that we examine it closely before declaring it truth that binds everyone.  (108-109)

As someone who hold’s to the Confession’s teaching on the law, I have examined it closely (more closely than Brogden if his analysis in this book is any indication) and I find it to be biblical. Aquinas was not the first one to teach the concept of distinguishing between natural law and positive law in the Mosaic Covenant.

In summary, I believe the 1689 LBC suffers from paedobaptist influence in its perception of The Law, resulting in unavoidable conflicts within itself. Baptists ought not to embrace this unless we embrace their view of the covenants as well, for therein lies the basis for the view espoused in chapter 19 and chapter 22.8 of the 1689 LBC…

An astute observation from a news story wherein Paul McHugh, a respected psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins, refuted self-identification of sex is most appropriate here: “gird your loins if you would confront this matter. Hell hath no fury like a vested interest masquerading as a moral principle.” So it is in discussing the “Christian Sabbath” with those who hold to it. (120-121)

Covenant Theology

Brogden expresses appreciation for 1689 Federalism. He quotes from Denault, Coxe, Owen, Keach, and Pink. He does generally hold to a similar construct regarding the Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and New Covenants. In this regard I am thankful that an NCT proponent is studying and recognizing the value of historic baptist views. I wish more of them would do so. However, he also quotes extensively from NCT authors. He does recognizes that aspects of his view are not shared by proponents of NCT, who reject both the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace, though he maintains “the differences one may have with New Covenant Theology brothers are small and deal in large part with defining our terms.” In the end, he makes it clear that the book represents his own unique perspective.

I’ve taken part of Luther’s statement as my title because while I am thankful to God for myriad men in the Reformed Baptist world that have taught me much, I cannot claim full allegiance to a document written in the 17th century; it being mostly right… It is not my intention to present the 17th century Baptist view on the covenants, as if theirs was the ultimate expression of Baptist thought. Pascal Denault’s book, The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology, is an excellent review of that position and the folks at http://www.1689federalism.com/ have been doing a very good job explaining some of the historic Baptist distinctives and how they differ from the Westminster Confession of Faith. My intention is to present what I, a particular Baptist, see as the biblical view of the covenants. Conforming to what particular Baptist have historically believed is not my main concern. I desire to conform the Scriptures, not to 16th and 17th century brothers who no more had perfect theology than you or I. We are not to be disciples of mere men (1 Corinthians 3:1-9), but disciples of the Lord Jesus; thankful for those who have been faithful and gone before us but not trapped in their teachings. Hence the title of this part of the book: A Baptist View of Covenant Theology; not The Baptist View of Covenant Theology. There are, today, many variants of how Baptists view the covenants in Scripture; far be it from me to speak on behalf of those with whom I disagree on topics relevant to this (such as reviewed in Part 2: A Baptist View of Reformed Theology). My desire is to be captive to the Word of God; not captive to a 17th century confession nor a system of theology developed by men. (vii, 131-132, emphasis original)

The Adamic Covenant

Brogden affirms that God did make a covenant with Adam, even though the early chapters of Genesis do not explicitly call it a covenant. He also affirms that the covenant was a covenant of works (in disagreement with NCT/Progressive Covenantalism proponents like Gentry and Wellum).

The covenant made with Adam was a covenant of works which did not comprehend sin and the need for redemption… (Hosea 6:7; Jeremiah 33:19-22; Isaiah 24:5-6)… Adam was commanded by God to “do this and live” (You may surely eat of every tree in the garden, Genesis 2:16) and “do that and die” (but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die. Genesis 2:17). Though very narrow in scope, this relationship required obedience by Adam for him to remain in fellowship with Creator God. And by his disobedience, death came to every man (Romans 5:12-19; 1 Corinthians 15:21 & 22), Jew and Gentile without distinction. (151, 149)

Brogden appears to be in agreement with the 2nd London Baptist Confession’s teaching on the Adamic Covenant of Works (see The Covenant of Works: Its Confessional and Scriptural Basis), but upon closer inspection we find that is not the case. As we saw above, Brogden rejects the idea that the law was written on the heart of man at creation, but the law is the basis of the Adamic Covenant of Works. He rejects the historic meaning of the concept while retaining the label and some aspects of it. This is very confusing and is not made clear to the reader. He approvingly quotes Owen and Keach defending the doctrine. However, both quotes do not reflect Brogden’s view since they are specifically focused on showing how the law was the basis of the Covenant of Works.

John Owen, a paedobaptist who shared much in common theologically with Baptists, agreed with Pink on this point in his commentary on Hebrews 8:6 (emphasis mine):

“There was an original covenant made with Adam, and all mankind in him. The rule of obedience and reward that was between God and him, was not expressly called a covenant, but it contained the express nature of a covenant. For it was the agreement of God and man concerning obedience and disobedience, rewards and punishments. Where there is a law concerning these things, and an agreement upon it, by all parties concerned, there is a formal covenant. Wherefore it may be considered two ways.

1st. As it was a law only; so it proceeded from, and was a consequent of, the nature of God and man, with their mutual relation unto one another. God being considered as the Creator, Governor, and Benefactor of man: and man as an intellectual creature, capable of moral obedience; this law was necessary, and is eternally indispensable.

2dly. As it was a covenant; and this depended on the will and pleasure of God. I will not dispute whether God might have given a law unto men, that should have had nothing in it of a covenant properly so called as is the law of creation unto all other creatures, which hath no rewards nor punishments annexed unto it. Yet this God calls a covenant also, inasmuch as it is an effect of his purpose, his unalterable will and pleasure, Jer. 33:20, 21.”

Benjamin Keach addressed the question of whether Adam was party to a covenant with God:

“Proposition: That the Breach betwixt God and Man, was occasioned by the violation of the First Covenant which God entered into with Adam, as the Common or Public Head and Representative of all Mankind; which Covenant was a Covenant of Works; I say, God gave a Law, or entered into a Covenant of Works with the First Adam and his Seed, and in that Covenant he gave himself to be our God, even upon the strict and severe condition of perfect Obedience, personally to be performed by Man himself, with that Divine Threatening of Death and Wrath if he broke the Covenant, In the Day thou eats thereof thou shalt surely die. Yet some may doubt (as one observes) whether this was a Covenant of Works, because here is only a threatening of Death upon his Disobedience to this one positive Law.”

In the style of 17th century apologetics (often called diatribes), Keach stated the propositions and provided the answers. This is his answer to the above proposition:

“Man in his First Creation was under a Natural Obligation to universal compliance to the Will of God, and such was the Rectitude of his Nature, it imports an exact Conformity to the Divine Will, there being an inscription of the Divine Law upon Adam’s heart, which partly still remains, or is written in the hearts of the very Gentiles (though much blur’d) which is that light which is in all, or that which we call The light of Nature.”

The fact that Brogden included these quotes in support of his view suggests to me that perhaps he did not adequately understand the quotes. He could have found other quotes dealing more narrowly with the existence of a Covenant of Works, or simply used the beginning of these ones without including the explainations of how the moral law was the basis of the Covenant of Works. Owen says “As it was a law only; so it proceeded from, and was a consequent of, the nature of God and man… this law was necessary, and is eternally indispensable.” Brogden rejects that idea. All that existed prior to the Fall was the one positive law not to eat from the tree. The subsequent “universal law” that Brogden says was written on man’s heart after the Fall was not natural, stemming from God and man’s nature as imago dei, or necessary (since it didn’t exist prior to the Fall). It must therefore have been positive law that depended only on the will and pleasure of God (note well that this means there is no law derived from God’s nature, a problem with many/most versions of NCT that reformed baptists have pointed out, leading to rejections of the imputation of the active obedience of Christ, see also here). Since that is Brogden’s view, it makes little sense for him to quote Owen making the opposite point. Owen’s point was simply to explain LBCF 7.1, which says that man, by nature, owes obedience to God without expecting any reward, but that God voluntarily condescended (by His will and pleasure) to establish a covenant with Adam to offer him a reward for his obedience.

His quotation of Keach is even more out of place. Keach says “[S]ome may doubt (as one observes) whether this was a Covenant of Works, because here is only a threatening of Death upon his Disobedience to this one positive Law.” That describes Brogden’s view: there is only a threatening of punishment for disobedience to one positive law. Keach says that is wrong because “Man in his First Creation was under a Natural Obligation to universal compliance to the Will of God, and such was the Rectitude of his Nature.” Keach is referring to Ecc. 7:29, which Brogden says has nothing to do with the law being written on man’s heart. These quotations are out of place and they reveal, in my opinion, that perhaps Brogden has not wrestled deeply with the doctrine.

Brogden also rejects the idea that the reward of the Covenant of Works was glorification – being made immutable.

There is nothing in the Scripture to support the notion widely held by some in the paedobaptist world of Covenant Theology that Adam had a “time of probation” that hypothetically held out access to the Tree of Life. This notion implies a “plan B” in God’s mind, which Scripture flat-out proscribes (Acts 2:23 for example) yet open theology embraces. Our God is in His heavens and does what He pleases.

This is simply a confusion of God’s revealed/preceptive will and His secret/decretive will. (see The Covenant of Works: Its Confessional and Scriptural Basis as well as Better Than the Beginning for helpful discussion of this point.)

Abrahamic Covenant

Brogden affirms the dichotomous nature of the Abrahamic Covenant, noting that Abraham’s physical offspring was a type of his spiritual offspring. I will just note one aspect that I do not personally agree with.

I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him” (Genesis 17:19). This everlasting covenant is an eternal one, established and fulfilled by God, reconciling elect sinners with holy God. This is testified to by the apostle in Galatians 4:21-31 as he identifies the covenant represented by Sarah as the covenant with the heavenly Jerusalem, which is liberty (John 8:36); sharply contrasted with earthly Jerusalem, which is slavery, condemnation, and death (2 Corinthians 3:7-9). (137)

I think Brogden’s identification of the Covenant of Circumcision with the Eternal Covenant (Covenant of Redemption) is mistaken. The use of the word “everlasting” does not sufficiently establish that view. Neither does Galatians 4:21-31, which rather teaches that two subsequent covenants (Old and New) come from the Covenant of Circumcision. This leads him to mistakenly believe Christians are under the Abrahamic Covenant.

In several places, God promised several things to Abraham and his offspring. The apostle is precise in correcting the Jewish perspective wherein they supposed all national Israel was being spoken of as that offspring. Paul has even confused some modern commentators here, but clearly he means that what was promised to Abraham’s offspring was not to national Israel and its countless members; it was promised to one offspring, the promised seed that national Israel had been formed to protect as it was delivered through 43 generations (Matthew 1:17). Here is how one commentary explains it:

promises—plural, because the same promise was often repeated (Gen 12:3, 7; Gen 15:5, 18; Gen 17:7; Gen 22:18), and because it involved many things; earthly blessings to the literal children of Abraham in Canaan, and spiritual and heavenly blessings to his spiritual children; but both promised to Christ, “the Seed” and representative Head of the literal and spiritual Israel alike (163)

I do not agree with Brogden here and I think it overlooks the dichotomous nature of the Abrahamic Covenant. As Augustine explained, God made two promises to Abraham, one about the land of Canaan and his physical offspring, the other about Christ blessing all nations. In Galatians 3:16, Paul is not denying that God promised certain things to Abraham’s physical offspring (plural). Rather, he is clarifying that the promise to bless all nations was about one particular offspring, which was fulfilled in Christ. For more on this, see here.

Mosaic Covenant

In some comments Brogden rightly notes that the Mosaic Covenant was limited to temporal life and blessing in Canaan, in distinction from the Adamic Covenant.

While they lived in the flesh, they were in the Mosaic Covenant as God’s temporal people. So all national Israel was at all times members of two covenants – one identifying their spiritual condition (in Adam or in Christ), the other identifying them as God’s temporal people (under Moses). (146)

But elsewhere he argues that Christ secured eternal life and blessing for his people through the Mosaic Covenant.

Under the Old Covenant, Israel’s obedience procured God’s temporal favor: produce, favor with other nations, power, and God’s protection. Under the Old Covenant, as one born under the law, Jesus’ obedience procured spiritual and eternal favor: redemption, sanctification, righteousness, and Christ’s intercession for the New Jerusalem, sealing the New Covenant under which sinners are declared righteous (Romans 5:18-20, 8:3-4, Galatians 3:13, 4:4-5). The Old Covenant, in each of its administrations, demands much, but provides no hope of reconciliation with God.

A covenant cannot be bifurcated like that. You can’t say it means one thing to some members but a different thing to other members. That would imply two different covenants/agreements. Brogden appears to follow Jeffery Johnson here.

Some people, including Baptists (recall Spurgeon’s unclear statement in the introduction to this topic), make the error of claiming that the New Covenant was conditional for its mediator, that Jesus’ redemptive work was His part of the Covenant of Redemption. Scripture tells us Christ fulfilled the Old Covenant and earned the right to issue the New Covenant. He came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17); this phrase is commonly used “shorthand” to refer to what we call the Old Testament. (196)

Brogden also argues the Old Covenant was not the Mosaic Covenant, but was rather an umbrella covenant that embraced the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic Covenants.

The Old Covenant represents God’s relationship to national Israel, and includes the three major covenants contained therein, although the Abrahamic Covenant is only partially in this arena. This began to close with the Davidic Covenant, coming to a final close when the son of David who was his Lord fulfilled all the requirements of Moses and the prophets and cut the New Covenant (Galatians 3:24). The Old Covenant was worn out and ended. (145)

I do not agree with this articulation. I believe Scripture identifies the Old Covenant as the Mosaic Covenant, and that the Abrahamic and Davidic are different covenants. However, the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants have a great deal of overlap with the Mosaic Covenant and to the degree that they overlap, Scripture’s comments about the Old Covenant apply to them as well.

Final Note

Brogden makes some confused comments about the 2nd LBCF with regards to covenant theology.

I read, studied and taught the 1689 London Baptist Confession and saw it had much the same view of the Mosaic Covenant as taught by the WCF; and I wondered how this could be. Then I found a book that shook me with some simple explanations from Scripture on the covenants. Jeff Johnson’s The Fatal Flaw of the Theology of Infant Baptism exposed the flawed foundation of paedobaptism, but more importantly, it explained the dichotomist nature of the covenant given unto Abraham as clearly presented by the Apostle Paul in Galatians 4. (iv)

If Brogden had been reading the confession as teaching the same thing as the WCF on the Mosaic Covenant, then he was misreading it. Johnson’s book and his subsequent reading of Denault would have made that clear. Why then does he still imply the confession teaches the same thing as the WCF on the Mosaic Covenant, rather than what is found in Denault’s 17th century survey?

As Baptists learn more about the covenants of Scripture (explored in more detail in Part 3: A Baptist View of Covenant Theology), apart from the Presbyterian hermeneutic so prevalent in Reformed publications, will we be willing to examine what our confessions say about the secondary doctrines that flow out from one’s view of the covenants? We will if we are to be true to our calls of Sola Scriptura and Semper Reformanda. And we will also not be willing to defend our confession by mere argument, but with a clear conscience led by the teaching from the Word of God. (103)

Brogden seems to suggest we have two options: the Presbyterian covenant theology, or his own personal covenant theology. There is no category for 1689 Federalism, which rejects Presbyterian covenant theology, but also rejects Brogden’s covenant theology.

Conclusion

This is not a complete review. It doesn’t touch on everything in the book, but since readers of this blog are primarily interested in 1689 Federalism and whether this book is a good resource for it, that is what I focused on. The critical nature of this review should not overshadow many good things this brother has to say in the book. In the end, however, I would not recommend the book because its pluses do not outweigh its minuses. The helpful things in book can easily be found in other, more reliable sources. In an endorsement at the beginning of the book, Jeffery Johnson says “In my opinion, this helpful work needs to be required reading for all Baptist seminary students.” I am surprised by such a strong endorsement and do not share his assessment.

CFTP Podcast: NCT & 1689 Federalism

April 30, 2017 10 comments

Conversations From the Porch Episode #50 is a discussion between a proponent of NCT (Dustin Segers) and a proponent of the 2nd London Baptist Confession (Jason Mullet). For those interested, the conversation is worth listening. It shows have far NCT has come (at least this version of it). Segers notes that to deny a constant, unchanging absolute law that binds all men (something some proponents of NCT have denied) is a serious error. Segers argues this unchanging absolute law transcends the Old Covenant but also overlaps with many Old Covenant commands (he says 9 of the 10 commandments). The Old Covenant as a unit was abrogated, but absolute law continues. I offered the following comments on the web page.


 

Thank you for the discussion, gentlemen. Jason gave a disclaimer that he hasn’t necessarily studied all the details of 1689 Federalism. With that in mind, I’d like to clarify a very important point.

1689 Federalism agrees with Dustin that the entire Old Covenant, as a unit, was abrogated. On this point, we disagree with Westminster covenant theology. Note Richard Barcellos:

“Hearty agreement must be given when New Covenant theologians argue for the abolition of the Old Covenant. This is clearly the teaching of the Old and New Testaments (see Jeremiah 31:31-32; Second Corinthians 3; Galatians 3, 4; Ephesians 2:14-15; Hebrews 8-10). The whole law of Moses, as it functioned under the Old Covenant, has been abolished, including the Ten Commandments. Not one jot or tittle of the law of Moses functions as Old Covenant law anymore and to act as if it does constitutes redemptive-historical retreat and neo-Judaizing. However, to acknowledge that the law of Moses no longer functions as Old Covenant law is not to accept that it no longer functions; it simply no longer functions as Old Covenant law. This can be seen by the fact that the New Testament teaches both the abrogation of the law of the Old Covenant and its abiding moral validity under the New Covenant.”
-In Defense of the Decalogue, 61.

For more on this, see:

It seems that Dustin is also unfamiliar with 1689 Federalism distinctives. He said there are only two possible approaches to law in the NT: either all Old Covenant commands are binding unless explicitly repealed, or all Old Covenant commands are abrogated unless explicitly repeated in the New. Neither approach is held by 1689 Federalism, which argues that all Old Covenant law was abrogated with the Old Covenant, however, when the Old Covenant was abrogated, what remained was a transcovenantal law that pre-dated the Old Covenant. We call this the moral law, while you call it absolute law. But the basic concept we agree on.

The question then is how do we know which Old Covenant commands overlapped with absolute law? You say “Those that are repeated by the Apostles in the New Covenant.” We say, “No, that’s not something that the Apostles say” (a point Justin brought out well). We believe that the Apostles’ hermeneutic should be our hermeneutic. Obviously the Apostles did not determine which laws were absolute by looking at what was repeated in the NT. They had to have a method of reading the Old Testament and determining which ones still applied (which ones were absolute law). Whatever their method was is our method as well. Their method was not “whatever is repeated” and neither is ours. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the teaching of Christ, we believe that the Apostles avoided being arbitrary by carefully studying the Old Testament and recognizing that some laws were distinguished from other laws from the beginning. Some laws were written in stone by the finger of God (Ex 24:12; 32:16; 34:1, 28) and spoken by God (Ex 20:1), and the rest of the laws written by (Ex 24:4;34:27) and spoken by (Ex 21:1; 24:3) Moses. Only the 10 Commandments/tablets of stone were placed in the ark of the covenant (Ex 25:16; 40:20; Deut 10:1-6; 1 Kings 8:9; Heb 9:4). We believe this was the hermeneutical tool or filter that the Apostles used to determine which Old Covenant laws were absolute.

For more on this “filtering” concept, see

See also


 

Also, a clarification regarding the Sabbath. Jason seemed to suggest that some who hold to the 1689 Confession deny there are any changing aspects of the 4th commandment. He said “I don’t think the Sabbath’s application in the OT fits that, otherwise God would have been resting every 7th day from all eternity.” The comments were a bit ambiguous and likely involve some misunderstanding on either Jason or Dustin’s part, or both. To clarify, the 1689 Confession teaches that the Sabbath was a moral-positive law. 22.7 says “in a positive moral, and perpetual commandment…” Positive refers to a law that is not eternal and not necessitated by God’s nature. Thus the Sabbath reflects an unchanging principle: that man is to set aside time to worship God. Which day is a matter of God’s choice via positive law. For an explanation, see Positive law and covenantal canon. See also Owen’s lengthy discussion of how positive law relates to the 10 commandments.

1689 Federalism Response to Wellum’s “Progressive Covenantalism and the Doing of Ethics”

July 24, 2015 30 comments

A 20 page paper by Stephen J. Wellum titled “Progressive Covenantalism and the Doing of Ethics” was posted in the New Covenant Theology Facebook group recently [Note: it has since been removed as it was not supposed to be posted publicly – it will be available in this volume]. It presents a good opportunity to bring to attention some of the important areas where 1689 Federalism (a particular version of covenant theology) disagrees with Westminster Federalism (what Wellum simply refers to as “covenant theology”), as well as highlight where 1689 Federalism believes Progressive Covenantalism errs. My comments will be brief, and I won’t be summarizing his argument, so make sure to read it first.

Covenant theology has sought to do ethics and establish the basis for moral law by following the venerable tradition of dividing the Mosaic law into three parts: moral, civil, and ceremonial… A direct equation is made between the Decalogue and eternal moral law and a general hermeneutical rule is followed: unless the NT explicitly modifies or abrogates the Mosaic law (as in the ceremonial and civil parts), it is still in force today. This rule becomes the principle by which moral law is established across the canon.

This is an important point. This is how modern RB and paedobaptist covenant theology answers the question, but it is not how 1689 Federalism answers the question. Unlike the other groups, we do not believe the Old and New are two administrations of the same covenant, therefore we do not believe the Mosaic covenant continues to be in force today aside from specific laws (or categories of laws) that have been repealed. Progressive Covenantalism is simply unaware of our position (I don’t blame them for that). We believe the entire Mosaic covenant, and thus the Mosaic law, is abrogated. Therefore we do not follow Westminster Federalism (“covenant theology”) in arguing that all Mosaic law is still in force today unless abrogated (because it was all abrogated).

Wherefore the whole law of Moses, as given unto the Jews, whether as used or abused by them, was repugnant unto and inconsistent with the gospel, and the mediation of Christ, especially his priestly office, therein declared; neither did God either design, appoint, or direct that they should be co-existent…It is not, therefore, the peculiar command for the institution of the legal priesthood that is intended, but the whole system of Mosaical institutions. For the apostle having already proved that the priesthood was to be abolished, he proceeds on that ground and from thence to prove that the whole law was also to be in like manner abolished and removed. And indeed it was of such a nature and constitution, that pull one pin out of the fabric, and the whole must fall unto the ground; for the sanction of it being, that “he was cursed who continued not in all things written in the law to do them,” the change of any one thing must needs overthrow the whole law…

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

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

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

-John Owen, Exposition of Hebrews 7:12, 18-19

What is important to understand is that the law, including the moral law, was abrogated “so far as it was compacted with the other into one body of precepts for the same end.” That is, the law as a unit is abrogated as a covenant of works for life in the land of Canaan (operating upon the maxim of Lev 18:5/Rom 10:5).

Continuing with Wellum:

First, Scripture views the old covenant as a unit or package and it does not appeal to the tripartite distinction as the means by which the continuity and discontinuity of moral law is established for Christians today.

That’s a false dichotomy. We agree with PC, in contrast to Westminster Federalism, that the old covenant is a unit, and it expires as a unit. But that does not mean there is not overlap between a transcendent moral law that pre-dated the Mosaic law and the Mosaic law itself. One can affirm that the old covenant is a unit, and expires as a unit, and at the same time affirm that Scripture teaches a tripartite distinction as a means of determining the continuity and discontinuity of the moral law. To clarify even further, the tripartite distinction can sometimes be distracting. What we really recognize in Scripture is a two-fold distinction between moral law (unchanging) and positive law (changing). Here is how Calvin and Owen explained it:

We must attend to the well known division which distributes the whole law of God, as promulgated by Moses, into the moral, the ceremonial, and the judicial law, and we must attend to each of these parts, in order to understand how far they do, or do not, pertain to us. Meanwhile, let no one be moved by the thought that the judicial and ceremonial laws relate to morals. For the ancients who adopted this division, though they were not unaware that the two latter classes had to do with morals, did not give them the name of moral, because they might be changed and abrogated without affecting morals. They give this name specially to the first class, without which, true holiness of life and an immutable rule of conduct cannot exist.-Calvin http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.vi.xxi.html

Positive laws are taken to be such as have no reason for them in themselves – nothing of the matter of them is taken from the things themselves commanded – but do depend merely and solely on the sovereign will and pleasure of God. Such were the laws and institutions of the sacrifices of old and such are those which concern the sacraments and other things of the like nature under the new testament. Moral laws are such as have the reasons of them taken from the nature of the things themselves required in them for they are good from their respect to the nature of God himself and from that nature and order of all things which he hath placed in the creation. So that this sort of law is but declarative of the absolute goodness of what they do require the other is constitutive of it as unto some certain ends. Laws positive, as they are occasionally given, so they are esteemed alterable at pleasure. Being fixed by mere will and prerogative without respect to any thing that should make them necessary antecedent to their giving, they may by the same authority at any time be taken away and abolished. Such I say are they in their own nature and as to any firmitude that they have from their own subject matter. But with respect unto God’s determination, positive divine laws may become eventually unalterable. And this difference is there between legal and evangelical institutions. The laws of both are positive only, equally proceeding from sovereign will and pleasure and in their own natures equally alterable; but to the former God had in his purpose fixed a determinate time and season wherein they should expire or be altered by his authority; the latter he hath fixed a perpetuity and unchangeableness unto during the state and condition of his church in this world. The other sort of laws are perpetual and unalterable in themselves so far as they are of that sort, – that is moral. For although a law of that kind may have an especial injunction with such circumstances as may be changed and varied (as had the whole decalogue in the commonwealth of Israel), yet so far as it is moral – that is, as its commands or prohibitions are necessary emergencies or expressions of the good or evil of the things it commands or forbids – it is invariable. And in these things there is an agreement unless sometimes through mutual oppositions men are chafed into some exceptions or distinctions.Unto these two sorts do all divine laws belong and unto these heads they may be all reduced. And it is pleaded by some that these kinds of laws are contradistinct, so that a law of one kind can in no sense be a law of the other. And this doubtless is true reduplicatively because they have a special formal reasons. As far and wherein any laws are positive they are not moral; and as far as they are purely moral they are not formally positive, though given after the manner of positive commands. Howbeit this hinders not but that some do judge that there may be and are divine laws of a mixed nature; for there may be in a divine law a foundation in and respect unto somewhat that is moral, which yet may stand in need of the superaddition of a positive command for its due observation unto its proper end.

-Owen, A Treatise on the Sabbath

Wellum continues:

Texts such as Gal 5:3 and James 2:8-13 point in this direction. Keeping or breaking one part of the law assumes the keeping or breaking of the whole law.

This is an interesting citation from Wellum. Yes, Galatians 5:3 clearly establishes the Old Covenant as a unit. The law was given as a covenant of works to Abraham’s physical offspring, which is symbolized by circumcision. Thus, one who insists on circumcision becomes a debtor to the whole covenant that corresponds to circumcision. In this context, as in many others, Paul is using the term “law” to refer to the law as a covenant of works, specifically, the Old Covenant of works for life in the land of Canaan. This is where Progressive Covenantalism and New Covenant Theology tends to falter. They think “the law” can only mean “the Mosaic law.” But “the law” clearly has many more meanings and nuances that are determined by context. Just as one brief example among many, does Jeremiah 31:33 mean that God will write the Old Covenant of works on the hearts of members of the New Covenant? Does it mean that God will write the laws of the Levitical priesthood on the hearts of believers in the New Covenant, thereby making it an integral part of the New Covenant? That would clearly contradict the argument of the book of Hebrews. So “law” here must mean something other than “the Mosaic law.”

James is clearly not referring to the Mosaic law. His argument is entirely different from Paul’s in Galatians. Whereas Paul is telling Judiazers that if they want to be under the Old Covenant, they are bound to keep all of it, James is telling Christians that they are not free from sin if they just keep part of the law. If they keep part of it, but do not keep another part of it, they are “committing sin.” If Christians are not under the Old Covenant and thus not under “the law,” and James is not arguing against Judiazers but instructing Christians, why does James tell them they are “committing sin” and are “convicted by [the Old Covenant]”? They’re not under the Old Covenant. Is James a Judiazer? No, James clearly has a different meaning in mind when he says “the law.” He does not mean “the Old Covenant.” He means the unchanging commands that bind all image bearers, including Christians. He says that unchanging law is a unit. The moral law (the decalogue) is a unit.

Wellum continues:

Or, as the author of Hebrews argues, the law-covenant is an integrated whole grounded in the priesthood (Heb 7:11), and with a change in priesthood (Ps 110; Heb 7), there is necessarily an entire covenantal change, not merely parts of it (Heb 7:12; 8:7-13).

1689 Federalism agrees (re-read Owen’s exposition of those same verses above). But note again the problem this creates for Wellum if this is the only meaning of “the law.” If “the law” only means “the Mosaic law covenant” then the entire Mosaic law covenant, including the priesthood, is written on the heart of believers in the New Covenant. Again, law is often used as a euphemism for the law given as a covenant of works.” But that is not the only meaning of “the law.” Context must determine its meaning.

Second, Scripture teaches that the entire law-covenant was temporary in God’s plan, serving a number of purposes, but ultimately pointing forward to its fulfillment, telos, and terminus in Christ (Rom 10:4; Gal 3:15-4:7; Heb 7:11-12).

We agree in general, but Wellum’s appeal to Rom 10:4 is deeply flawed – again because of his rigid definition of “law.” 10:4 is not referring to the Mosaic covenant. It is referring to the Adamic Covenant of Works. See my interview with Guy Waters on a recent Confessing Baptist podcast about this. We discuss his excellent chapter in The Law is Not of Faith about this exact passage. 10:4 is not referring to Christ as the goal of the law. Christ is the termination of the law unto righteousness, for all who believe. Christ is the end of the law as a means of obtaining righteousness. Christ is the termination of the law as a covenant of works, for all who believe. Unlike the Old Covenant, which has been abrogated, the law as the Adamic Covenant of Works continues for all those who do not believe.

This context, moreover, defines the meaning of the word “nomos” at Romans 10:4. Paul’s concern for the law here is not as it establishes boundary markers between Jew and Gentile. Nor is his concern for the law here as an economy or covenantal administration [Old Covenant]. Paul’s concern for the law, as Romans 10:5 indicates, is the commandments and precepts of the moral law.What does this mean for a definition of the word telos? While it is a thoroughly Pauline teaching that Christ is the goal of the law, or the one to whom the law points (whether considered as a covenantal administration or as commandments and precepts), that is not what Paul is claiming here. He is claiming that Christ is the “termination” of the law to the believer. Paul, however, is not affirming that the believer is thereby altogether free from the commandments and precepts of the law. Paul is no antinomian. The law as precept continues to bind believers. He is, however, claiming that the believer is free from the law’s commandments as they bring life to the one who perfectly performs them and condemnation to the one who fails to meet this standard. He is, in other words, freed from the law as it functions within the covenant of works.

-Guy Waters, “Romans 10:5 and the Covenant of Works” in The Law is Not of Faith

Earlier he established that Paul is not referring to the Old Covenant, but to the law that binds all image bearers, Jew and Gentile:

While Paul concerns himself with the commandments found within the Mosaic law, he does not concern himself with commandments that are found only within the Mosaic law. This is evident from a few considerations. First, Paul’s argument in 10:4-13 is universal in scope. Paul affirms at 10:4 that Christ is the “end of the law to everyone who believes.” The righteousness of justification is not restricted to Jews only… Second, if the solution is universal, it stands to reason that what has occasioned that solution (the “problem”) is universal as well… The problem that Paul identifies, then, is one to which Moses gives expression, but is not one that Paul limits or restricts to the Jews, the recipients of the Torah…Paul, however, has affirmed that it is to the “law” that the problem of Jews and Gentiles has reference… Romans 1:18-3:20… Romans 2:12-15… What can be said of this “law” which is thus available to all men and women? This “law” can certainly be distinguished from the Mosaic law in its totality, since Gentiles are expressly said not to have the Mosaic law. Nevertheless, because Paul uses the term “law” to describe this standard available to the Gentiles, neither may one separate it from the Mosaic law…

How could Paul have derived a testimony regarding the moral law, revealed to Jews and Gentiles, from Leviticus 18:5? The answer is found in the overlap that exists between the moral law and the Mosaic law. Because of this overlap Paul can quote the Mosaic writings, deducing therefrom a principle that applies universally to Jews and Gentiles alike.

Waters’ entire chapter is worth quoting, so please read it. He continues this explanation of the universal nature of this law as a covenant of works by discussing Matthew 19:16-18 as well as Romans 5:12-21.

Wellum:

This entails, as Moo suggests, “The ‘law’ under which Christians live is continuous with the Mosaic law in that God’s eternal moral norms, which never change, are clearly expressed in both.

This is a crucial admission. By this Wellum admits that even though the Mosaic law is a unit, certain parts of it that are eternal do not expire. This is precisely our position. While Wellum attempts to create a rubric for determining what exactly these moral norms are, we believe God has testified clearly throughout Scripture that these eternal moral norms are summarized in the decalogue. When we look to the Mosaic law, this distinction was abundantly clear from the very first giving of the law where we see a very clear distinction in the text between the law written in stone by the finger of God (Ex 24:12; 32:16; 34:1, 28) and spoken by God (Ex 20:1), and the rest of the laws written by (Ex 24:4;34:27) and spoken by (Ex 21:1; 24:3) Moses. Only the 10 Commandments/tablets of stone were placed in the ark of the covenant (Ex 25:16; 40:20; Deut 10:1-6; 1 Kings 8:9; Heb 9:4). Thus there is a distinction inherent within the Mosaic law of a division within the Mosaic law.

Yet, in the end, God’s righteousness comes apart from the old covenant (Rom 3:21), and it is only found in the new covenant—that to which the law pointed (Rom 3:21-31; 8:2-4; Gal 3:13-14; 4:4-7).

Strongly agree. And it’s important to point out the agreements, since Progressive Covenantalism is largely unfamiliar with how we differ from Westminster Federalism.

Wellum dances around Matthew 5 and alludes to Carson’s treatment of it. Carson is wrong in his claim that Christ fulfills the law by establishing a new law. Greg Welty has a good, detailed analysis of Carson’s argument.

What is needed is a “whole Bible” hermeneutic, unpacking the Bible’s own internal categories, placing texts in the Bible’s unfolding storyline according to their covenantal location, and then thinking through their relation to Christ.

I believe Wellum has ignored “the Bible’s own internal categories” by ignoring how God very clearly distinguished the decalogue from the rest of the Mosaic law, as explained above, though he has done a better job than Westminster of placing texts in the Bible’s unfolding storyline according to their covenantal location.

Also, even if the new covenant does not explicitly forbid bestiality, this does not entail that the Mosaic law is still in force unless the NT explicitly modifies/abrogates it, or that we are only bound to that which is clearly repeated in the NT. Both of these approaches fail to do justice to a “whole Bible” reading, grounded in the Bible’s own biblical-theological framework, and which moves across the covenants from creation to the consummation.

We can agree with this, though come to different conclusions.

Yet, in the new age, the full intent of how we are to love as God’s people is now realized in a greater way. This is why Jesus stresses that it is not merely the absence of the act of murder, adultery, or lying which is forbidden, but our very heart-attitude toward one another (Matt 5:21-48). What God demands of his people is love. In the old era, the law-covenant demanded it, but it also anticipated something more. Now, in Christ, what the old anticipated is now here.

That is incorrect. Christ was not teaching a new requirement of the law nor a new law. He was unpacking the full spiritual significance and requirements of the moral law that have always existed from creation. The difference is that the Mosaic law only regulated the outward behavior of the nation (because the entire Old Covenant was about outward and temporal, not eternal, blessings and curses). The Mosaic law did not regulate the full spiritual requirements of the moral law. However, the moral law, from creation, continued to require full spiritual obedience from the heart form every individual Israelite. A.W. Pink unpacks this well, as does John Erskine.

However, as Scripture, the law-covenant is for our instruction. As we apply these commands, what this entails is that we must think through whether old covenant commands are tied to creation, whether they are tied solely to the old era, and how they are fulfilled in the NT.

Again, 1689 Federalism can agree with this, yet come to different conclusions because we don’t feel Wellum has correctly observed and interpreted everything in that process.

We also agree with his comments regarding Mosaic civil law and its application typologically to the church and excommunication.

This difference [between progressive covenantalism and (westminster) covenant theology] is also illustrated in the ongoing debate over the present-day application of the Sabbath command—a debate which functions as a crucial test case for how the biblical covenants are “put together” and moral law is established… As we approach the Sabbath command (Exod 20:8-12), once again, we apply it in exactly the same way. In thinking through the Sabbath’s covenantal location—that which looks back to the covenantal rest at creation (Gen 2:1-3), a day to be obeyed by Israel under the law, and a day which typologically pointed forward to a greater rest to come (Psalm 95; cf. Matt 11:28-30; Heb 3:7-5:13)—it is now applied to us in light of its fulfillment, namely Christ who has achieved for us salvation rest. All of the other commandments (Exod 20:12-17) are applied in the same way.

Wellum falters here in applying his hermeneutic. He previously said “Just as it is crucial to begin the Bible’s storyline and covenantal unfolding in creation in order to grasp God’s plan; it is also necessary to ground ethics in the norm of creation. As Hill rightly insists, it is the original creation with its revealed goals or purposes which “provides us with the basis for determining what is morally good.”” If the Sabbath is grounded in creation, then it is not a command unique to Israel, but instead falls in the category of moral law that applies to all image bearers. If the bible’s own “internal categories” places the 4th commandment within the decalogue, which is distinguished from the rest of the Mosaic law, then it is not a command unique to Israel, but instead falls into the category of moral law that applies to all image bearers. If we understand the Bible’s storyline and covenantal unfolding we see that Adam did not enter this rest in the garden. We see that he was created in a covenant of works with the goal of earning that rest, and he universally represented all of humanity in that law covenant (as our discussion of Romans 10:4 above shows). Adam’s observation of the weekly sabbath rest at the end of the week reminded him of the glorification that lie ahead. This sabbath principle took on a typological level as it was expanded to include additional Sabbaths, new moons, and festivals for Israel – all directly related to their temporal life in the land of Canaan, which was a shadow of the substance, Christ. Now that Christ has come and established a new creation and earned that eternal sabbath rest for his people, we enter into that rest. But we do so already and not-yet. We rest with Christ spiritually, ceasing from our works unto righteousness, knowing that Christ has secured our righteousness. But we do not-yet rest with Christ physically in our glorified bodies in the new heavens and the new earth. We still groan for that day. And thus we still have need of that reminder each week in the abiding moral law, with the day changed to the first day of the week to remind us that we do not enter after our labor is done, but after Christ’s labor was done and He rose again.

And Wellum does not apply all of the other commandments the same way. Does he apply the 7th commandment in that way? Marriage is rooted in creation, but has it’s full meaning in Christ, to whom we are wed, and the new creation. Do we therefore nullify our marriages here on earth? No, we apply the same already/not-yet paradigm. The marriage is not yet consummated we have not yet celebrated the marriage feast. When we do, we will neither marry nor be given in marriage. Until then, the 7th commandment and our earthly marriages continue as a creation ordinance – just like the weekly Sabbath.

Related resources:

London Baptist Confession, Chapter 19

Paragraph 1. God gave to Adam a law of universal obedience written in his heart, and a particular precept of not eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil;1 by which he bound him and all his posterity to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience;2 promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it, and endued him with power and ability to keep it.3
1 Gen. 1:27; Eccles. 7:29
2 Rom. 10:5
3 Gal. 3:10,12

Paragraph 2. The same law that was first written in the heart of man continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness after the fall,4 and was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments, and written in two tables, the four first containing our duty towards God, and the other six, our duty to man.5
4 Rom. 2:14,15
5 Deut. 10:4

Paragraph 3. Besides this law, commonly called moral, God was pleased to give to the people of Israel ceremonial laws, containing several typical ordinances, partly of worship, prefiguring Christ, his graces, actions, sufferings, and benefits;6 and partly holding forth divers instructions of moral duties,7 all which ceremonial laws being appointed only to the time of reformation, are, by Jesus Christ the true Messiah and only law-giver, who was furnished with power from the Father for that end abrogated and taken away.8
6 Heb. 10:1; Col. 2:17
7 1 Cor. 5:7
8 Col. 2:14,16,17; Eph. 2:14,16

Paragraph 4. To them also he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the state of that people, not obliging any now by virtue of that institution; their general equity only being of modern use.9
9 1 Cor. 9:8-10

Paragraph 5. The moral law does for ever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof,10 and that not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator, who gave it;11 neither does Christ in the Gospel any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation.12
10 Rom. 13:8-10; James 2:8,10-12
11 James 2:10,11
12 Matt. 5:17-19; Rom. 3:31

Paragraph 6. Although true believers are not under the law as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified or condemned,13 yet it is of great use to them as well as to others, in that as a rule of life, informing them of the will of God and their duty, it directs and binds them to walk accordingly; discovering also the sinful pollutions of their natures, hearts, and lives, so as examining themselves thereby, they may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred against, sin;14 together with a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ and the perfection of his obedience; it is likewise of use to the regenerate to restrain their corruptions, in that it forbids sin; and the threatenings of it serve to show what even their sins deserve, and what afflictions in this life they may expect for them, although freed from the curse and unallayed rigour thereof. The promises of it likewise show them God’s approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof, though not as due to them by the law as a covenant of works; so as man’s doing good and refraining from evil, because the law encourages to the one and deters from the other, is no evidence of his being under the law and not under grace.15
13 Rom. 6:14; Gal. 2:16; Rom. 8:1, 10:4
14 Rom. 3:20, 7:7, etc.
15 Rom. 6:12-14; 1 Pet. 3:8-13

Paragraph 7. Neither are the aforementioned uses of the law contrary to the grace of the Gospel, but do sweetly comply with it,16 the Spirit of Christ subduing and enabling the will of man to do that freely and cheerfully which the will of God, revealed in the law, requires to be done.17
16 Gal. 3:21
17 Ezek. 36:27

Critique of Jon Zens’ “Is There A Covenant of Grace?”

February 6, 2010 8 comments

I was recently directed to Jon Zens’ article “Is There a Covenant of Grace?” as an outline and defense of NCT’s rejection of covenant theology.  There is much to appreciate in Zens’ article.  I think the majority of his criticism is very good and needs to be heard, particularly the tensions in covenantal paedobaptism and the lack of sensitivity to the progress of revelation.  However, the article suffers from a couple of key problems.  The first is Zens’ handling of the law.  His comparison between the law of Moses and the law of Christ is inadequate and misleading.  Interacting with this point is beyond the scope of this post, suffice it to say the contrast in 2 Cor 3 is between the law written outward on stone and the law written inward on hearts.  The difference is not the content of the law.

But Zens’ other problem, and one that is even more foundational to the entire thesis of his article, is that he fails to distinguish different strains of covenant theology. He is guilty of lumping them all together and then dismissing them all by critiquing only one. Zens’ statement

While Dispensationalism stresses the diversity of God’s dealings with men in different eras of history, Covenant Theology has emphasized “one” covenant of grace. The historical covenants are seen as just different administrations of the “covenant of grace.” Are these two approaches the only two alternatives? Historically, during the last hundred years, the answer has been “Yes”

is historically false.  Zens appears to be ignorant of the history of covenant theology, particularly

  1. the version(s) of covenant theology rejected by WCF (see In Defense of Moses)
  2. Owen’s, and thus Savoy’s, explicit rejection of the “two administrations, one covenant” view
  3. the LBC’s adoption and further reform of Savoy’s Ch 7 (see a tabular comparison of these confessions here)

I do not entirely blame Zens for not being aware of the important differences amongst covenant theology.  Many Reformed Baptists seem unaware of the history of their own confession as well.  Because Sam Waldron’s Exposition of the LBC is the only one in print, many look to such a book for an explanation of Ch 7 of the LBC .  However, Waldron personally disagrees with Owen’s formulation of covenant theology (though he does not acknowledge it is Owen he is disagreeing with) and instead adopts a slightly modified version of John Murray’s covenant theology (ie one covenant, various administrations).  Waldron is not the only one who espouses his view and his book is certainly not the only reason other Reformed Baptists hold this view, but I can’t help but think his book, and others written by Reformed Baptists, have led to some confusion regarding historic debate over covenant theology, and the progress that the LBC represents in that debate.

At some later point I hope to write a post interacting with Waldron’s chapter and showing an alternative understanding. But for now I hope to simply demonstrate that the view Zens has critiqued is not the only view of covenant theology and that the “two administrations, one covenant” is not a necessary consequence of covenant theology.

One of the best treatments of this issue, in my opinion, is John Owen’s commentary on Hebrews 8:6-13 (which has been made available from RBAP, along with Nehemiah Coxe’s work, in the volume “Covenant Theology: From Adam to Christ” and is also available online here and here).  Believe it or not, Owen makes some of the same arguments that Zens does.  Owen rejects the “two administrations, one covenant” view as unbiblical. Here is the way he put it:

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. We must do so, provided always that the way of reconciliation and salvation was the same under both. But it will be said, and with great pretence of reason, for it is the sole foundation of all who allow only a twofold administration of the same covenant, ’That this being the principal end of a divine covenant, if the way of reconciliation and salvation is the same under both, then indeed they are the same for the substance of them is but one.’ And I grant that this would inevitably follow, if it were so equally by virtue of them both. If reconciliation and salvation by Christ were to be obtained not only under the old covenant, but by virtue of it, then it must be the same for substance with the new. But this is not so; for no reconciliation with God nor salvation could be obtained by virtue of the old covenant, or the administration of it, as our apostle disputes at large, though all believers were reconciled, justified, and saved, by virtue of the promise, while they were under the old covenant.

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.

I highly encourage everyone to read Owen’s work. It is a wonderful 150 page exercise in applying deductive reasoning to the axiom of Scripture (btw, logic is something NCT needs to become more acquainted with). I’m in the process of writing an interactive outline of his argumentation that I will hopefully be able to provide online. In my opinion, I see no reason to entertain NCT until its advocates deal honestly and adequately with the history of covenant theology, particularly John Owen.

Linking Owen’s development to the LBC is a helpful forward to the Coxe/Owen volume. In it, James Renihan comments:

The reader will notice that Coxe, in the preface to his Discourse, indicates that he was preparing materials for a subsequent volume to be written on the Mosaic Covenant and the New Covenant, but was “happily prevented” by the publication of Owen’s volume on Hebrews chapter 8. So far as the Baptist Nehemiah Coxe was concerned, John Owen’s work on this part of Hebrews clearly articulated the things that Coxe himself would have said (and he recognized that Owen said them better as well). This does not mean Coxe endorsed every jot and tittle of Owen’s work, but simply indicates the massive agreement between the two. Owen, for his own part, exegetically demonstrates that the New Covenant is profoundly different from the Old – it is characteristically new. For Coxe (it must be remembered that he is the most likely candidate to have served as editor of the Second London Baptist Confession of 1677/1689 [he died shortly before it was signed]), and confessional Reformed Baptists who agree with his theology, Owen’s emphasis on the newness of the New Covenant is a helpful step forward in the discussion.

see http://www.reformedbaptistinstitute.org/?p=93

So, again, until NCT interacts competently and adequately with John Owen, I see no reason to entertain their rejection of covenant theology.

Pink and NCT

January 30, 2010 19 comments

In my last post, I mentioned how properly understanding the Mosaic covenant will help to resolve a number of current debates.  I think Pink has done a great job of articulating some crucial, and almost completely disregarded points about the Mosaic covenant and in this post I will be applying his thoughts to the issue of New Covenant Theology.  If you are unfamiliar with NCT, it is very briefly summed up in the belief that only the New Testament is normative today.  They are sympathetic to dispensationalism and covenant theology, but depart from both.  The crux of the disagreement between NCT and Covenantal Baptists has to do with the law of God.

Law of Christ

NCT argues that Christ abolished the 10 commandments and replaced them with “the law of Christ” (which happens to be 9 of the 10 commandments). They argue that the 10 commandments were only for Israel and they were only concerned with outward obedience. Christ’s law is more spiritual and is concerned with the inward. Therefore, we should only obey the commands that are explicitly commanded in the NT.

Problems with Reformed Baptist Responses

While there are a number of problems with NCT (imputation of Christ’s righteousness, the law written on the hearts of all men, Matt 5, Rom 7:22, knowledge of the inward, spiritual law in the OT, distinction between Decalogue and rest of the laws of Moses from the beginning, etc, etc), I do not feel that Covenantal Baptists have done the best possible job in refuting NCT.  Many of them have done a tremendous job of showing the new covenant spiritual understanding of the Decalogue, but in my opinion, they have not done a tremendous job of showing the Mosaic understanding of the Decalogue.  I feel that too many Covenantal Baptists are content to rest on the shoulders of paedobaptist covenant theologians and allow them to do the heavy lifting.  I do not think this is good for the baptist cause, or for critiquing NCT.

The paedobaptist understanding of the Mosaic covenant is completely at odds with the baptist understanding of the Mosaic covenant.  While the WCF sees the Mosaic covenant as simply an administration of the covenant of grace, the (most likely) editors of the LBC denied the Mosaic covenant was an administration of the covenant of grace and instead believed it was an entirely separate covenant. They agreed with John Owen:

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.

Owen, Works, 22:85-86. (Commentary on Hebrews 8:6-13)

(Richard Barcellos does an excellent job of explaining Owen’s view and refuting the NCT claim to Owen http://www.rbtr.org/RBTR I.2 John Owen and NCT.htm )

That the Mosaic covenant was not part of the CoG, and that it was “confined unto things temporal” is essential to understand. It was a covenant of works (mixed with some ceremonial grace), the reward of which was healthy living in the promised land, the curse of which was war, plague, and exile.

Outward Obedience

One of the important contributions that Pink makes (Owen rejects it, or at least a Roman Catholic version of it), is that not only did the Decalogue in the Mosaic covenant serve a different end, the required obedience to it was also different. As part of their national covenant of works, God required an outward obedience to the letter of the Decalogue.

Here, finally, is how A. W. Pink expressed it (I apologize for the length, but it’s worth it):

“The national covenant with Israel was here (Ex. 19:5) meant; the charter upon which they were incorporated, as a people, under the government of Jehovah. It was an engagement of God, to give Israel possession of Canaan, and to protect them in it: to render the land fruitful, and the nation victorious and prosperous, and to perpetuate His oracles and ordinances among them; so long as they did not, as a people, reject His authority, apostatize to idolatry, and tolerate open wickedness. These things constitute a forfeiture of the covenant; as their national rejection of Christ did afterwards. True believers among them were personally dealt with according to the Covenant of Grace, even as true Christians now are; and unbelievers were under the Covenant of Works, and liable to condemnation by it, as at present: yet, the national covenant was not strictly either the one or the other, but had something in it of the nature of each.

“The national covenant did not refer to the final salvation of individuals: nor was it broken by the disobedience, or even idolatry, of any number of them, provided this was not sanctioned or tolerated by public authority. It was indeed a type of the covenant made with true believers in Christ Jesus, as were all the transactions with Israel; but, like other types, it ‘had not the very image,’ but only ‘a shadow of good things to come.’ When, therefore, as a nation, they had broken this covenant, the Lord declared that He would make ‘a new covenant with Israel, putting His law,’ not only in their hands, but ‘in their inward parts’; and ‘writing it,’ not upon tables of stone, ‘but in their hearts; forgiving their iniquity and remembering their sin no more’ (Jer. 31:32-34; Heb. 8:7-12; 10:16, 17). The Israelites were under a dispensation of mercy, and had outward privileges and great advantages in various ways for salvation: yet, like professing Christians, the most of them rested in these, and looked no further. The outward covenant was made with the Nation, entitling them to outward advantages, upon the condition of outward national obedience; and the covenant of Grace was ratified personally with true believers, and sealed and secured spiritual blessings to them, by producing a holy disposition of heart, and spiritual obedience to the Divine law. In case Israel kept the covenant, the Lord promised that they should be to Him ‘a peculiar treasure.’ ‘All the earth’ (Ex. 19:5) being the Lord’s, He might have chosen any other people instead of Israel: and this implied that, as His choice of them was gratuitous, so if they rejected His covenant, He would reject them, and communicate their privileges to others; as indeed He hath done, since the introduction of the Christian dispensation” (Thomas Scott).

The above quotation contains the most lucid, comprehensive, and yet simple analysis of the Sinaitic covenant which we have met with in all our reading. It draws a clear line of distinction between God’s dealings with Israel as a nation, and with individuals in it. It shows the correct position of the everlasting covenant of grace and the Adamic covenant of works in relation to the Mosaic dispensation. All were born under the condemnation of their federal head (Adam), and while they continued unregenerate and in unbelief, were under the wrath of God; whereas God’s elect, upon believing, were treated by Him then, as individuals, in precisely the same way as they are now. Scott brings out clearly the character, the scope, the design, and the limitation of the Sinaitic covenant: its character was a supplementary combination of law and mercy; its scope was national; its design was to regulate the temporal affairs of Israel under the divine government; its limitation was determined by Israel’s obedience or disobedience. The typical nature of it—the hardest point to elucidate—is also allowed. We advise the interested student to reread the last four paragraphs.

Much confusion will be avoided and much help obtained if the Sinaitic economy be contemplated separately under its two leading aspects, namely, as a system of religion and government designed for the immediate use of the Jews during the continuance of that dispensation; and then as a scheme of preparation for another and better economy, by which it was to be superseded when its temporal purpose had been fulfilled. The first design and the immediate end of what God revealed through Moses was to instruct and order the life of Israel, now formed into a nation. The second and ultimate intention of God was to prepare the people, by a lengthy course of discipline, for the coming of Christ. The character of the Sinaitic covenant was, in itself, neither purely evangelical nor exclusively legal: divine wisdom devised a wondrous and blessed comingling of righteousness and grace, justice and mercy. The requirements of the high and unchanging holiness of God were clearly revealed; while His goodness, kindness, and long-suffering were also as definitely manifested. The moral and the ceremonial law, running together side by side, presented and maintained a perfect balance, which only the corruption of fallen human nature failed to reap the full advantage of.

The covenant which God made with Israel at Sinai required outward obedience to the letter of the law. It contained promises of national blessing if they, as a people, kept the law; and it also announced national calamities if they were disobedient. This is unmistakably clear from such a passage as the following: “Wherefore it shall come to pass, if ye hearken to these judgments, and keep and do them, that the Lord thy God shall keep unto thee the covenant and the mercy which he sware unto thy fathers: And he will love thee, and bless thee, and multiply thee: he will also bless the fruit of thy womb, and the fruit of thy land, thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep, in the land which he sware unto thy fathers to give thee. Thou shalt be blessed above all people: there shall not be male or female barren among you, or among your cattle. And the Lord will take away from thee all sickness, and will put none of the evil diseases of Egypt, which thou knowest, upon thee; but will lay them upon all them that hate thee. And thou shalt consume all the people which the Lord thy God shall deliver thee” (Deut. 7:12-16).

In connection with the above passage notice, first, the definite reference made to God’s “mercy,” which proves that He did not deal with Israel on the bare ground of exacting and relentless law, as some have erroneously supposed. Second, observe the reference which the Lord here made unto His oath to their fathers, that is Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; which shows that the Sinaitic covenant was based upon, and not divorced from, the Abrahamic—Israel’s occupation of Canaan being the “letter” fulfillment of it. Third, if, as a nation, Israel rendered unto their God the obedience to which He was entitled as their King and Governor, then He would love and bless them—under the Christian economy there is no promise that He will love and bless any who live in defiance of His claims upon them! Fourth, the specific blessings here enumerated were all of a temporal and material kind. In other passages God threatened to bring upon them plagues and judgments (Deut. 28:15-65) for disobedience. The whole was a compact promising to Israel certain outward and national blessings on the condition of their rendering to God a general outward obedience to His law.

The tenor of the covenant made with them was, “Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people; for all the earth is mine, and ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:5, 6). “Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared. Beware of him, and obey his voice, provoke him not; for he will not pardon your transgressions: for my name is in him. But if thou shalt indeed obey his voice, and do all that I speak; then I will be an enemy unto thine enemies, and an adversary unto thine adversaries” (Ex. 23:20-22). Nevertheless, a provision of mercy was made where true repentance for failure was evidenced: “If they shall confess their iniquity, and the iniquity of their fathers, with their trespass which they trespassed against me, and that also they have walked contrary unto me; and that I also have walked contrary unto them, and have brought them into the land of their enemies: if then their uncircumcised hearts be humbled, and they then accept of the punishment of their iniquity: Then will I remember my covenant with Jacob, and also my covenant with Isaac, and also my covenant with Abraham. . . . These are the statutes and judgments and laws which the Lord made between him and the children of Israel in Mount Sinai by the hand of Moses” (Lev. 26:40-42, 46).

The Sinaitic covenant in no way interfered with the divine administration of either the everlasting covenant of grace (toward the elect) nor the Adamic covenant of works (which all by nature lie under); it being in quite another region. Whether the individual Israelites were heirs of blessing under the former, or under the curse of the latter, in no wise hindered or affected Israel’s being as a people under this national regime, which respected not inward and eternal blessings, but only outward and temporal interests. Nor did God in entering into this arrangement with Israel mock their impotency or tantalize them with vain hopes, any more than He does so now, when it still holds good that “righteousness exalteth a nation; but sin is a reproach to nations” (Prov. 14:34). Though it be true that Israel miserably failed to keep their national engagements and brought down upon themselves the penalties which God had threatened, nevertheless, the obedience which He required of them was not obviously and hopelessly impracticable: nay, there were bright periods in their history when it was fairly rendered, and the fruits of it were manifestly enjoyed by them.

The Sinaitic covenant, then, was a compact promising to Israel as a people certain material and national blessings on the condition of their rendering to God a general obedience to His laws. But at this point it may be objected that God, who is infinitely holy and whose prerogative it is to search the heart, could never be satisfied with an outward and general obedience, which in the case of many would be hollow and insincere. The objection is pertinent and presents a real difficulty: how can we meet it? Very simply: this would be true of individuals as such, but not necessarily so where nations are concerned. And why not, it may be asked? For this reason: because nations as such have only a temporary existence; therefore they must be rewarded or punished in this present world, or not at all! This being so, the kind of obedience required from them is lower than from individuals, whose rewards and punishments shall be eternal.

But again it may be objected, Did not the Lord declare, “I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God” (Ex. 6:7)? Is there not something far more spiritual implied there than a national covenant, something in its terms which could not be exhausted by merely outward and temporal blessings? Once more we must insist upon drawing a broad line between what pertains to individuals and what is applicable to nations. This objection would be quite valid if that promise described the relation of God to the individual soul, but the case is quite different when we remember the relation in which God stands to a nation as such! To ascertain the exact purport and scope of the divine promises to Israel as a people we must take note of the actual engagements which we find He entered into with them as a nation. This is quite obvious, yet few theologians have followed it out consistently when dealing with what is now before us.

Running parallel with God’s suffering all nations (the Gentiles) to walk in their own ways, was another experiment (speaking from the human side of things, for from the divine side “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world”: Acts 15:18), conducted on a smaller scale, yet quite as decisive in its outcome. The Jews were placed under a covenant of law to supply an answer to this further question, “Can fallen man, when placed in most favorable circumstances, win eternal life by any doings of his own? Can he, even when separated from the heathen, taken into outward covenant with God, supplied with a complete divine code for the regulation of his conduct, conquer indwelling sin and act so as to secure his acceptance with the thrice holy God?” The answer furnished by the history of Israel is an emphatic negative. The lesson supplied thereby for all succeeding generations of the human race is written in unmistakable language: If Israel failed under the national covenant of outward and general obedience, how impossible it is for any member of Adam’s depraved offspring to render spiritual and perfect obedience!

In the spirit of it, the Sinaitic covenant contained the same moral law as the law of nature under which Adam was created and placed in Eden—the tenth commandment giving warning that something more than outward things were required by God. Yet only those who were divinely illumined could perceive this—it was not until the Holy Spirit applied that tenth commandment in power to the conscience of Saul of Tarsus that he first realized that he was an inward transgressor of the law (Rom. 7:7, etc.). The great bulk of the nation, blinded by their self-sufficiency and self-righteousness, turned the Sinaitic compact into the covenant of works, elevating the handmaid into the position of the married wife—as Abraham did with Hagar. Galatians 4 reveals that, while the Sinaitic covenant was regarded as subservient to the covenant of grace, it served important practical ends; but when Israel perversely elevated it to the place which the better covenant was designed to hold, it became a hindrance and the fruitful mother of bondage.

http://www.pbministries.org/books/pink/Divine_Covenants/divine_covenants_05.htm

The Decalogue written in stone contained the most extreme outward violations of the law of God, which is a spiritual law written on the hearts of all men from the beginning of creation.  As a national covenant, Israelites were required to refrain from these most extreme outward violations of the Decalogue.

Israelites and Image Bearers

However, it’s important to understand that Israelites, under a national covenant with God, were also still descendants of Adam. Thus God did not only relate to them as Israelites, but also as image bearers. As such, they were all by birth under the Adamic Covenant. As Israelites, their required obedience to the Decalogue was outward. But as image bearers, their required obedience was inward. One obedience determined their temporal blessing and cursing as part of the Mosaic covenant, the other obedience determined their eternal blessing or cursing as part of the Adamic Covenant.

This best fits Jesus’ discourse in Matthew 5.  There Jesus contrasts not just the outward and inward obedience to the law, but also the temporal and eternal cursings of the law.  “Liable to judgment” at the hands of the courts of Israel, vs “liable to the hell of fire.” This also makes the best sense of 5:38-42. The contrast here is between a legitimate use of the law by a national ruler and the illegitimate application of that law to the individual.

Christ came to fulfill, not abolish, the law as an individual. And yet He also corrected and seemed to have changed that law for individuals. Properly understanding the Mosaic covenant helps us to clearly see that Jesus was correcting their misunderstanding of both the Mosaic covenant and the Adamic covenant.

A proper understanding of the Mosaic covenant, as Jesus shows, is crucial!

Abraham Booth

Writing “The Kingdom of Christ” in 1788 against the idea of National Churches, Abraham Booth notes:

Now, as the immunities, grants, and honours, bestowed by the King Messiah, are all of a spiritual nature, his faithful subjects have no reason to wonder, or to be discouraged, at any persecutions, afflictions, or poverty which may befall them. Were his empire “of this world” then indeed it might be expected, from the goodness of his heart and the power of his arm, that those who are submissive to his authority, zealous for his honour, and eon- formed to his image, would commonly find themselves easy and prosperous in their temporal circumstances. Yes, were his dominion of a secular kind, it might be supposed that an habitually conscientious regard to his laws would secure from the oppression of ungodly men, and from the distresses of temporal want. Thus it was with Israel under their Theocracy. When the rulers and the people in general were punctual in observing Jehovah’s appointments, the stipulations of the Sinai Covenant secured them from being op pressed by their enemies, and from any re markable affliction by the immediate hand of God. Performing the conditions of their National Confederation, they were, as a people, warranted to expect every species of temporal prosperity. Health and long life, riches, honours, and victory over their enemies, were prom ised by Jehovah to their external obedience. (Ex 25:25,26; 28:25-28; Lev 26:3-14; Deut 7:12-24; 8:7-9; 11:13-17; 28:3-13) The punishments also, that were denounced against flagrant breaches of the Covenant made at Horeb, were of a temporal kind.*

In this respect, however, as well as in other tilings, there is a vast difference between the Jewish and the Christian Economy. This disparity was plainly in timated, if I mistake not, by the opposite modes of divine proceeding, in establishing Jehovah’s kingdom among the Jews, and in founding the empire of Jesus Christ.

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

p. 98

Note specifically Booth’s reference to Dr. Erskine’s Theological Dissertation “External obedience”. That is precisely the paper that New Covenant Theology (I think maybe John Reisinger) has referenced to demonstrate there was an external obedience even for the 10th commandment.