Throughout church history, whenever justification by belief alone is proclaimed the charge of “legal fiction” is heard. God cannot declare someone righteous who has nothing righteous within himself. This false theology will take a variety of forms, but the recurring theme is that we are made righteous by what Christ does in us, not declared righteous because of what Christ did for us. Modern proponents of this view take the form of N.T. Wright and NPP or Federal Vision, for example.
The response is to emphasize the priority of what Christ does outside of us as the foundation of the gospel. This often takes the form of giving priority to justification over sanctification, or even saying that justification is the source or cause of sanctification. For example, John Robbins argues:
Our own consciences demand justice and cannot be pacified unless God’s fellowship with us is grounded on justice… Sanctification is living a life of fellowship with God. Justification is its legal basis, and without justification no fellowship with a holy God can exist… There is a direct relationship between the guilt of sin and the power of sin. If the guilt of sin is removed, the power of sin is broken. This is Paul’s point in Romans 6:14…
The way of justification by faith alone is the only way of receiving the Spirit of God. To be justified means to be declared righteous. It means that God not only regards us as righteous, but also can proceed to treat us as righteous. How does he treat the forgiven sinner as righteous? By giving him the gift of the Holy Spirit. Nothing more and nothing less than perfect righteousness is necessary for the outpouring of God’s Spirit. As every believer has this perfect righteousness imputed to him, he may on this one infallible basis have the Holy Spirit imparted to him.
The obvious problem, however, is that we are not justified until we believe, and we do not believe until we have been born again by the Spirit. Therefore our justification cannot be the cause of what God does in us, and in fact, our justification must be, in some way, dependent upon what God does in us.
Active & Passive Justification
This is nothing new. It has been an ongoing dilemma. In his commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, Ursinus explains:
IV. WHAT IS OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS BEFORE GOD?
The righteousness with which we are here justified before God, is not our conformity with the law, nor our good works, nor our faith; but it is the satisfaction which Christ rendered to the law in our stead…
V. HOW DOES THE SATISFACTION OF CHRIST BECOME OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS, SEEING THAT IT IS WITHOUT US?
At first view it seems absurd that we should be justified by any thing without us, or by something that belongs to another. It is necessary, therefore, that we should explain more fully how the satisfaction, or obedience of Christ becomes ours; for unless it be made ours, or be applied unto us, we cannot be justified by it, just as little as a wall can be white, if whiteness be not applied, or fixed upon it. We remark, then, that there are two ways in which the satisfaction of Christ is made over unto us: 1. God himself applies it unto us, that is, he makes the righteousness of Christ over unto us, and accepts of us as righteous on account of it, as if it were ours. 2. We apply it also unto ourselves when we receive the righteousness of Christ through faith, that is, we rest assured that God will grant it unto us, that he will regard us as righteous on account of it, and that he will free us from all guilt. There is, therefore, a double application; one in respect to God, and another in respect to us. The former is the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, when God accepts of that righteousness which Christ wrought out, that it might avail in our behalf, and accounts us as righteous in view of it, as much so as if we had never sinned, or had at least fully satisfied for our sins. The other side of this application which has respect to us, is the act itself of believing, in which we are fully persuaded that it is imputed and given unto us. Both sides of this application must necessarily concur in our justification; for God applies the righteousness of Christ unto us upon the condition, that we also apply the same unto ourselves by faith. For although any one were to offer another a benefit, yet if he to whom it is offered does not accept of it, it is not applied unto him, and so does not become his. Hence without this last application the former is of no account. And yet our application of the righteousness of Christ is from God; for he first imputes it unto us, and then works faith in us, by which we apply unto ourselves that which is imputed; from which it appears that the application of God precedes that which we make, (which is of faith) and is the cause of it, although it is not without ours, as Christ says, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.” (John 15:16)
This became known as the difference between active and passive justification and can be seen in various reformed theologians through history, with Berkhof providing a clear recent example:
This [objective/active justification] is justification in the most fundamental sense of the word. It is basic to what is called subjective justification, and consists in a declaration which God makes respecting the sinner, and this declaration is made in the tribunal of God. This declaration is not a declaration in which God simply acquits the sinner, without taking any account of the claims of justice, but is rather a divine declaration that, in the case of the sinner under consideration, the demands of the law are met. The sinner is declared righteous in view of the fact that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to him. In this transaction God appears, not as an absolute Sovereign who simply sets the law aside, but as a righteous Judge, who acknowledges the infinite merits of Christ as a sufficient basis for justification, and as a gracious Father, who freely forgives and accepts the sinner. This active justification logically precedes faith and passive justification. We believe the forgiveness of sins…
Passive or subjective justification takes place in the heart or conscience of the sinner… When the Bible speaks of justification, it usually refers to what is known as passive justification. It should be borne in mind, however, that the two cannot be separated. The one is based on the other. The distinction is simply made to facilitate the proper understanding of the act of justification. Logically, passive justification follows faith; we are justified by faith.
Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 517
This position lends itself very readily to the idea of eternal justification. Since God “chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Eph 1:4), and active justification occurs in God’s tribunal and precedes our faith, then we must have been justified from all eternity. Our subjective justification is merely our believing/realizing this to be true. Tobias Crisp (17th century) argued:
A man is justified, and that by Christ alone, but it is not known to him, it is an unseen thing. Well, how shall he see this, and know that it is so? The Text saith, Faith is an evidence, Faith gives evidence to this thing, Faith makes it known, by Faith we come to apprehend it… he is first justified before he believes, then he believes that he is justified.*
First generation particular baptist William Kiffin agreed. In a foreword to fellow particular baptist Samuel Richardson’s Justification by Christ Alone (1647; these two men were signatories of the First London Baptist Confession, and likely had a hand in editing it), Kiffin said:
[T]here is an aptness in men to miscarry in the knowledge of this rich grace of God. Some being apt to conceive that there is no Justification of a creature in no sense before and without faith, and so make Faith a joint-partner with Christ in the business of Justification… That the Scripture holds forth justification by faith in a sense is very clear, but yet under no other consideration, but by way of evidence, Heb. 11:1, 2.
In the essay, Richardson argues
[T]he elect were ever in the love of God, and did ever so appear to Him as just and righteous in and by Christ… Justification in the conscience is not justification itself, but only the knowledge of it. It is necessary to our comfort. Justification depends not upon our knowledge of it, nor assurance of it.
18th century particular baptist John Gill republished Tobias’ sermons in 1791 with explanatory notes throughout. Gill adds the following note to the previous quote:
*Justification before faith, though caviled at by many, is certain; since God justifies the ungodly, and since faith is the fruit and effect of justification, and the act which is conversant about it, and the object must be before the act; and besides justification took place at the resurrection of Christ; yea, from all eternity, as soon as he became the surety of his people; and which has been embraced, affirmed, and defended by Divines of the greatest note for orthodoxy and piety, as Twisse, Pembla, Parker, Goodwin, Ames, Witsius, Maccovius, and others. (See my Doctrine of Justification, p. 36-38, 42-47, 50, 54).
Because this was a point of dispute, the 1646 Westminster Confession of Faith addresses it very clearly (with the Savoy and LBCF following it):
God did, from all eternity, decree to justify the elect; and Christ did, in the fullness of time, die for their sins and rise again for their justification; nevertheless they are not justified until the Holy Spirit doth, in due time, actually apply Christ unto them. (XI.4)
(On a personal note, this paragraph in the Confession helped pull me back from embracing eternal justification several years ago.)
Justified at the Cross?
Note Gill’s mention of justification at the cross. The Confession identifies three key points in time: 1) God’s decree 2) Christ’s satisfaction 3) our regeneration and faith. This is typically referred to as decretal union (Eph 1:4), federal/legal union (Romans 6:6), and vital/mystical union (1 Cor 6:17).
Gill’s argument is not easy to refute. Anyone recognizing the biblical truth that Christ’s death was a penal substitutionary atonement limited to the elect has to wrestle with the implication that we were justified at the cross (also here and here), or more specifically, as Gill says, at Christ’s resurrection (which was God’s declaration of Christ’s successful obedience/fulfillment of his covenant). In fact, neonomian Richard Baxter accused Owen, and thus orthodox reformed theology, of necessarily teaching eternal justification because of his doctrine of limited atonement.
Samuel Richardson’s essay was actually arguing that we are justified at the cross.
The time when He washed their sins away, which was then when He shed His blood…
The sum of all is, that Jesus Christ, by once offering the Sacrifice of Himself when He was upon the cross, took away, put to an end, blotted out and utterly destroyed all the sins of His people for ever, and presented them just, righteous and holy, without spot, before God…
All The Elect Were Made This Way Upon the Cross. All the elect were made these by Christ upon the Cross. Therefore, they were then justified. They were justified before they believed…
The material and instrumental cause is Jesus Christ by His death, in dying for us…
We say the same; only the difference betwixt us is, when the time of Justification is. It seems by your discourse that you judge that time to be after we believe. We judge that we were justified by Christ upon the Cross…
Objection: Evermore say the godly learned Schoolmen (we call not the Papists in) put a difference between God’s decree, and the execution of it. Answer: So do we, but not because they say so: if the Scriptures be clear, why call you in any at all, we will not believe men: therefore spare that labor when you write again. We do not say, we were actually justified from all eternity; we say we were in the knowledge and love of God from all eternity: we say we were actually justified in time when Christ upon the Cross presented us holy to God without spot, etc., Eph. 5:27.
How did Owen resolve this extremely knotty issue that has perplexed reformed theologians from the beginning, and continues to today? One of the best things I have read on this issue is a paper written by Matthew W. Mason titled The Significance of the Systematic and Polemical Function of Union with Christ in John Owen’s Contribution to Seventeenth Century Debates Concerning Eternal Justification. I highly recommend reading it to unpack the details of what I will touch on.
Owen affirms these three basic stages of our relationship to Christ, but he nuances them very carefully, arguing that the union is truly the third, mystical union:
The principal foundation [of the imputation of sin to Christ] hereof is, — that Christ and the church, in this design, were one mystical person; which state they do actually coalesce into, through the uniting efficacy of the Holy Spirit. He is the head, and believers are the members of that one person, as the apostle declares, 1 Corinthians 12:12,13. Hence, as what he did is imputed unto them, as if done by them; so what they deserved on the account of sin was charged upon him.
-The Doctrine of Justification (PDF 232)
Note that Gill says “from all eternity, as soon as he became the surety of his people.” In Chapter 8 of The Doctrine of Justification, Owen discuses at length the nature of Christ’s suretyship and how it relates to union, and thus imputation. “This, then, I say, is the foundation of the imputation of the sins of the church unto Christ, — namely, that he and it are one person; the grounds whereof we must inquire into.” (235) He then lists the various ways Scripture refers to this union: husband and wife (Eph 5:25-32), head and members of a natural body (1 Cor 12:12), political head (Eph 4:15; Col 2:19), vine and branches (John 15:1-2), Adam’s federal headship (Romans 5:12). He concludes “And the Holy Ghost, by representing the union that is between Christ and believers by such a variety of resemblances, in things agreeing only in the common or general notion of union, on various grounds, does sufficiently manifest that it is not of, nor can be reduced unto, any one kind of them.” (236)
Owen notes that “The first spring or cause of this union, and of all the other causes of it, lies in that eternal compact that was between the Father and the Son concerning the recovery and salvation of fallen mankind.” Notice he does not call this itself our union with Christ, but rather the first spring or cause of that union. He continues:
[6.] On these foundations he undertook to be the surety of the new covenant, Hebrews 7:22, “Jesus was made a surety of a better testament.” This alone, of all the fundamental considerations of the imputation of our sins unto Christ, I shall insist upon, on purpose to obviate or remove some mistakes about the nature of his suretiship, and the respect of it unto the covenant whereof he was the surety. And I shall borrow what I shall offer hereon from our exposition of this passage of the apostle in the seventh chapter of this epistle, not yet published, with very little variation from what I have discoursed on that occasion, without the least respect unto, or prospect of, any treating on our present subject. (238-39)
Owen analyzes the lexical meaning of surety in both Greek and Hebrew and concludes:
bræ[; originally signifies to mingle, or a mixture of any things or persons; and thence, from the conjunction and mixture is between a surety and him for whom he is a surety, whereby they coalesce into one person, as unto the ends of that suretiship, it is used for a surety, or to give surety. And he that was or did bræ[;, a surety, or become a surety, was to answer for him for whom he was so, whatsoever befell him.
And after analyzing various passages (Proverbs 6:1; 17:18; 20:16; 27:13; Neh 5:3; Gen 43:9; 44:32,33; Job 17:3; Philemon 1:18; Is 36:8; Eph 1:4) he concludes “A surety is an undertaker for another, or others, who thereon is justly and legally to answer what is due to them, or from them; nor is the word otherwise used.” (240)
Note: Owen is here explaining that our mystical union with Christ, whereby we coalesce into one person, is a legal union. In doing so, Owen corrects the distinction we saw above between our decretal, legal, and mystical unions. He says the first is the source of our union, but is not itself our union. Mason explains:
In contrast to Crisp and Saltmarsh, he insists that although prior to the cross the elect are beloved, elected, and ordained to eternal life, their actual condition, which they share with all people, remains unchanged by the decree of election alone… God’s eternal purpose is not the same as the mighty act of his power. God’s decrees guarantee the certain futurition of the events decreed, but they do not accomplish their actual existence. In so distinguishing God’s decrees from his actions, Owen stands in the western catholic mainstream…
Owen offers an exegetical argument. Scripture places all humans, prior to faith, in the same condition: guilty and under God’s wrath (citing Rom. 3:9, 19; Eph. 2:3; Jn. 3:36). Commenting on this, he explicitly addresses the claims of advocates of eternal justification: ‘The condition of all in unregeneracy is really one and the same. Those who think it is a mistaken apprehension in the elect to think so, are certainly too much mistaken in that apprehension.’ (45-46)
Owen then combines the second two unions, arguing that the mystical union is our legal union with Christ. But if this second union (legal/covenant) has been used by others to separate our mystical union from Christ’s satisfaction, and thereby separate our justification in time from his satisfaction, how does Owen avoid this problem?
At the time of Christ’s death, he and the elect are one mystical person, not in the sense that they have already been knit together by the Spirit, but only in the plan and intention of God. As Christ died, God knew for whom he was dying, and so counted their sin to Christ as though they were already one person. Yet, only at the point of faith are the elect actually inserted into Christ’s mystical body; thus, only then is his suffering and obedience imputed to them. In all of this, the integrating factor is the will of God…
Owen, however, acknowledges that full, mystical union occurs at the point of faith. Prior to that, the relationship between Christ and the elect exists in the intention and will of God, but does not exist as an actual union. (48-49)
The imputation of sin unto Christ was antecedent unto any real union between him and sinners, whereon he took their sin on him as he would, and for what ends he would; but the imputation of his righteousness unto believers is consequential in order of nature unto their union with him, whereby it becomes theirs in a peculiar manner; (V, 449)
Owen explains this by distinguishing between the Covenant of Redemption and the Covenant of Grace.
But yet some will not distinguish between the covenant of the mediator and the covenant of grace, because the promises of the covenant absolutely are said to be made to Christ, Galatians 3:16; and he is the prw~ton dektiko>n, or first subject of all the grace of it. But in the covenant of the mediator, Christ stands alone for himself, and undertakes for himself alone, and not as the representative of the church; but this he is in the covenant of grace. (V, 251)
In dying on the cross, Christ was fulfilling the Covenant of Redemption agreement with the Father (and thereby purchasing his people), but he is not the federal head of the church in the Covenant of Redemption. He is the federal head of the church in the Covenant of Grace. Mason explains:
According to Owen, although God’s will toward the elect was not changed upon the death of Christ, for he is immutable, Christ’s death nevertheless changed the status of the elect. On the basis of Christ’s merit, founded on God’s free engagement in the covenant of redemption with his Son, God is obliged to deliver them from the curse ipso facto. Therefore, because of Christ’s satisfaction, God is able to make out the benefits Christ purchased, without any other conditions needing to be fulfilled. In particular, Christ also purchased the condition of the covenant, faith; hence, from the time of the atonement, the elect have an absolute right to justification. Nevertheless, although they have a right to justification, they do not yet have a present enjoyment of it. To establish this, Owen makes a number of distinctions…
[T]here are two different kinds of right to something: ius in re and ius ad rem. Ius in re is the right a father has to his estate: it is a present possession, of which he cannot justly be deprived. Ius ad rem is the right a son has to his father’s estate; he does not yet possess it, but he will do on his father’s death. Upon the death of Christ, the elect do not yet have a right to justification in re. However, they do have a right to justification ad rem and sub termino. Thus, they have an absolute right, with no further conditions required, Christ having done all that is necessary for their justification. Nevertheless, they are not yet in possession; (49-51)
So on the cross, Christ is acting on our behalf, or with us in mind, but he is not yet legally ours as our covenant head, and therefore we do not yet have the benefits of his death. Owen:
No blessing can be given us for Christ’s sake, unless, in order of nature, Christ be first reckoned unto us… God’s reckoning Christ, in our present sense, is the imputing of Christ unto ungodly, unbelieving sinners for whom he died, so far as to account him theirs, and to bestow faith and grace upon them for his sake. This, then, I say, at the accomplishment of the appointed time, the Lord reckons, and accounts, and makes out his Son Christ, to such and such sinners, and for his sake gives them faith, etc. (X, 626-27)
Thus, Christ is, in some sense, given to sinners before they believe, ‘Else why is faith given [to one sinner] at this instant for Christ’s sake, and not to another, for whom he also died?’ Faith, purchased by Christ, is given to the sinner for Christ’s sake, and so Owen ‘cannot conceive how any thing should be made out to me for Christ, and Christ himself not be given to me, he being “made unto us of God, righteousness”, 1 Corinthians 1:30’. Again, ‘That we should be blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ, and yet Christ not be ours in a peculiar manner before the bestowing of those blessings on us, is somewhat strange. Yea, he must be our Christ before it is given to us for him to believe’. Thus, it seems that for Owen some kind of union with Christ takes place [logically] prior to faith. (52)
Unconditional Covenant of Grace
This view places Owen in a very interesting position. One of Crisp’s arguments for eternal justification was that faith is not a condition of union, but a fruit of it.
faith is not the instrument radically to unite Christ and the Soul together, but rather is the fruit that follows and flows from Christ the root, being united before hand to the person that do believe… Is faith the gift of Christ or no?… Doth Christ beget faith in us by vertue of our being united unto him? and shall this faith beget that union of which it was but a fruit? From whence shall persons that do believe before they are united unto Christ, receive this faith of theirs?
Crisp argues that John 15:4-5 demonstrates that faith is a fruit of union with Christ, the Vine, and thus must follow union with him. If faith came before union, the branch would bear fruit before being in the Vine, which directly contradicts Christ’s words…
Crisp’s point is simple. Owing to the bondage of the will, no-one can exercise faith in and of themselves. At Calvary, Christ effectually merited salvation for the elect, and this necessarily includes the gift of faith. The elect receive every spiritual blessing in Christ, including the blessing of faith, otherwise whence is faith? Thus, it would seem that, on Crisp’s Reformed assumptions about human inability and the receipt of all blessings in Christ, faith must be a gift of God that follows and rests upon union with Christ. (29)
Much of Crisp’s position was based on the nature of the New Covenant.
For Crisp, the New Covenant is different from other biblical covenants because the others all have stipulations, conditions on both sides. However, on humanity’s side, the New Covenant is entirely unconditional. All conditions having been met in Christ, the justified sinner has no part to play in his salvation, and faith is not the condition of the covenant.
Samuel Richardson agreed with Crisp.
That faith or any thing in us is not a cause, means, or condition, required to partake of the Covenant of Grace, justification or salvation, but only fruits and effects of the Covenant…
If faith be a condition required to partake of the Covenant of Grace, then there is a condition required. The Covenant of Grace is not absolute, nor free. If it be said, “God gives what he requires.” I answer, that makes the condition easy to be performed. But still, if faith be as a condition required, there is a condition. But the Covenant of Grace is absolute and free,and unconditional on our part. And that this appears:
Why The Covenant of Grace Is Absolute And Free Is Seen From Psalms 89:20-28.
1. Because the Covenant of Grace is not made with man, but is only between God and Christ: “Thou spakest in a vision to thy holy One, thou saidst, I have laid help upon one that is mighty, I have exalted one chosen out of the people. My faithfulness and my mercy shall be with him: I will make him my first born, higher than the Kings of the earth. My mercy will I keep for him, my Covenant shall stand fast with him,”i Psal. 89:24, 27, 28. So that all the conditions of the covenant did only belong to Christ to perform; seeing Christ had undertaken it, and he only was engaged to it, and he did it to the utmost, which was, that Christ “should be made a sacrifice for sin, and he should see his seed, and prolong his days: and the pleasure of the Lord should prosper in his hands,” Isa. 53:10,11. See also Psal. 89:35-37…
Faith is a fruit of the Covenant, and a branch of the Covenant, but not a condition on our part to perform.
In response to this, many reformed theologians argued that faith was the condition of the covenant of grace (the condition of entering it).
Faith is the necessary antecedent [prior] condition—the causa sine qua non—of the covenant. Many Antinomians denied that faith was an antecedent condition of the covenant, and thus they held to a personal justification either from eternity or from the time of the death of Christ.
Beeke, Joel R.; Jones, Mark (2012-10-14). A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life (Kindle Locations 12208-12210). . Kindle Edition.
One example is found in Obadiah Sedgwick (1599/1600-1658) “one of the most respected and influential of the English Presbyterians of the seventeenth century. He was a leading member of the Westminster Assembly and took a prominent part in its debates.”
That faith which brings us into the covenant is that faith which doth unite us unto Christ, which makes us one with him: And we being thus united to Christ, we are thereupon, and therefore in the Covenant: Faith considered as justifying, doth not bring us into the Covenant; for our justifying follows our being in the Covenant, we must first be in the Covenant before we can have Righteousnesse and forgiveness of sins. Neither doth faith as drawing any grace from Christ bring us into the Covenant; Forasmuch as all the fruits of communion are consequences unto us being first in the Covenant. But it is faith considered only as uniting us unto Christ which brings us into the Covenant…
3. Our interest in the Covenant necessarily follows from this union with Christ. Being brought by faith into Christ, you are now in the Covenant: And that I shall clear unto you thus…
Though Faith be the only condition as to entrance in the Covenant, yet this faith will bring you to holiness as a fruit of the Covenant…
If faith be the condition of the Covenant, If faith be necessary to bring us into the Covenant; Then no unbeliever is yet in the Covenant, for no unbeliever hath faith…
We saw above that Owen sided with Crisp on the question of faith and union: union logically precedes faith. Where did Owen fall on the question of the conditionality of the covenant? Surprisingly, Owen sided with Crisp.
John Owen (1616–1683) argued that berith could refer to a single promise without a condition, as in the Noahic covenant (Gen. 6:18; 9:9). According to Owen, this idea is no doubt present in the New Testament when the writer to the Hebrews calls the covenant a “testament,” and in a “testamentary dispensation there is not in the nature of it any mutual stipulation required, but only a mere single favor and grant or concession.”
Beeke, Joel R.; Jones, Mark (2012-10-14). A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life (Kindle Locations 12158-12161). . Kindle Edition.
In his exposition of Hebrews 8:10, Owen elaborates. First, we see his agreement with Crisp that the New Covenant is different from other biblical covenants. Owen specifically contrasts the Old Covenant with the New Covenant on the question of conditionality. In doing so, he was consciously rejecting “the opinion of most reformed divines” as articulated in the WCF which sees the Old and New as two administrations of the same Covenant of Grace (for which he gives rigorous argument in his comments on Hebrews 8:6-13).
Wherefore these three verses give us a description of that covenant whereof the Lord Christ is the mediator and surety, not absolutely and entirely, but as unto those properties and effects of it wherein it differs from the former, so as infallibly to secure the covenant relation between God and the people. That covenant was broken, but this shall never be so, because provision is made in the covenant itself against any such event… the covenant which God would now make should not be according unto that, like unto it, which was before made and broken.
He then explains that there are no antecedent conditions of the New Covenant on our part.
[I]n the description of the covenant here annexed, there is no mention of any condition on the part of man, of any terms of obedience prescribed unto him, but the whole consists in free, gratuitous promises…
It is evident that there can be no condition previously required, unto our entering into or participation of the benefits of this covenant, antecedent unto the making of it with us. For none think there are any such with respect unto its original constitution; nor can there be so in respect of its making with us, or our entering into it… It is contrary unto the nature, ends, and express properties of this covenant. For there is nothing that can be thought or supposed to be such a condition, but it is comprehended in the promise of the covenant itself; for all that God requireth in us is proposed as that which himself will effect by virtue of this covenant.
Owen finally states his opinion in words very similar to Crisp.
It is evident that the first grace of the covenant, or God’s putting his law in our hearts, can depend on no condition on our part. For whatever is antecedent thereunto, being only a work or act of corrupted nature, can be no condition whereon the dispensation of spiritual grace is superadded. And this is the great ground of them who absolutely deny the covenant of grace to be conditional; namely, that the first grace is absolutely promised, whereon and its exercise the whole of it doth depend.
Unto a full and complete interest in all the promises of the covenant, faith on our part, from which evangelical repentance is inseparable, is required. But whereas these also are wrought in us by virtue of that promise and grace of the covenant which are absolute, it is a mere strife about words to contend whether they may be called conditions or no. Let it be granted on the one hand, that we cannot have an actual participation of the relative grace of this covenant in adoption and justification, without faith or believing; and on the other, that this faith is wrought in us, given unto us, bestowed upon us, by that grace of the covenant which depends on no condition in us as unto its discriminating administration, and I shall not concern myself what men will call it.
The covenant of grace, as reduced into the form of a testament, confirmed by the blood of Christ, doth not depend on any condition or qualification in our persons, but on a free grant and donation of God; and so do all the good things prepared in it.
In short, faith is not the condition of entering the covenant, but is rather a fruit of it.
Crisp argued, from this point, for eternal justification because
this union with Christ is not effected in time; rather the elect are united to him from before creation, for although redemption was accomplished in time, the elect were chosen in Christ before time. Therefore, the elect, being united to Christ from eternity past, are justified from eternity past; actual justification is collapsed into the decree of election, and this on the basis of union with Christ. (Mason, 30)
As we saw above, Owen rejects this view of union with Christ. Owen’s solution is that we are mystically united to Christ when the New Covenant (Covenant of Grace) is made with us. And it is not made with us until the effectual call.
Entering the New Covenant
The covenant may be considered as unto the actual application of the grace, benefits, and privileges of it unto any personal whereby they are made real partakers of them, or are taken into covenant with God; and this alone, in the Scripture, is intended by God’s making a covenant with any… He thereby underwent and performed all that which, in the righteousness and wisdom of God, was required; that the effects, fruits, benefits, and grace, intended, designed, and prepared in the new covenant, might be effectually accomplished and communicated unto sinners. (V, 253)
According to Owen, the New Covenant is not made with anyone who is not a full partaker of its blessings.
The greatest and utmost mercies that God ever intended to communicate unto the church, and to bless it withal, were enclosed in the new covenant. Nor doth the efficacy of the mediation of Christ extend itself beyond the verge and compass thereof; for he is only the mediator and surety of this covenant. (Hebrews 8:6)
Where there is not some degree of saving knowledge, there no interest in the new covenant can be pretended… Persons destitute of this saving knowledge are utter strangers unto the covenant of grace; for this is a principal promise and effect of it, wherever it doth take place. (Hebrews 8:11)
[A]ll with whom this covenant is made are effectually sanctified, justified, and saved… The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ in the new covenant, in its being and existence, in its healing, repairing efficacy, is as large and extensive as sin is in its residence and power to deprave our natures. — This is the difference about the extent of the new covenant, and the grace of it: Some would have it to extend unto all persons, in its tender and conditional proposition; but not unto all things, as unto its efficacy in the reparation of our natures. Others assert it to extend unto all the effects of sin, in the removal of them, and the cure of our natures thereby; but as unto persons, it is really extended unto none but those in whom these effects are produced, whatever be its outward administration, which was also always limited: unto whom I do subscribe. (Hebrews 8:10)
Returning to union with Christ:
The foundation of the imputation asserted is union. Hereof there are many grounds and causes, as has been declared; but that which we have immediate respect unto, as the foundation of this imputation, is that whereby the Lord Christ and believers do actually coalesce into one mystical person. This is by the Holy Spirit inhabiting in him as the head of the church in all fullness, and in all believers according to their measure, whereby they become members of his mystical body. That there is such a union between Christ and believers is the faith of the catholic church, and has been so in all ages. (V, 272)
Union with Christ is the principle and measure of all spiritual enjoyments and expectations… Because it is itself, in the order of nature, the first truly saving spiritual mercy, the first vital grace that we are made partakers of… It is the first and principal grace, in respect of causality and efficacy. It is the cause of all other graces that we are made partakers of; they are all communicated unto us by virtue of our union with Christ…
Our union with him is the ground of the actual imputation of his righteousness unto us; for he covers only the members of his own body with his own garments, nor will cast a skirt over any who is not “bone of his bones, and flesh of his flesh.” And so he is “of God made unto us righteousness,” 1 Corinthians 1:30. Hence also is our sanctification, and that both as to its principle in a new spiritual nature, and as unto its progress in fruitfulness and holiness. The principle of it is the Spirit itself of life, holiness, and power. This God sheds on us through Jesus Christ, Titus 3:6, or on the account of our interest in him, according to his promise, John 7:38,39. And for this cause is he said to be “our life,” Colossians 3:4, because in him lie the springs of our spiritual life, which in and by our regeneration, renovation, and sanctification is communicated unto us. And its progress in fruitfulness is from thence alone (Hebrews 3:14)
Recall Owen’s list of ways in which our union with Christ is described. He listed Romans 5:12ff. Our union with Adam is legal, and so is our mystical union with Christ. We are born under Adam, as our federal head. We do not come under Christ’s federal headship until we are born again, at which point we become part of the mystical body, of which Christ is the head, and we therefore pass from wrath to grace.
Notwithstanding this full, plenary satisfaction once made for the sins of the world that shall be saved, yet all men continue equal to be born by nature “children of wrath;” and whilst they believe not, “the wrath of God abides on them,” John 3:36; — that is, they are obnoxious unto and under the curse of the law. Wherefore, on the only making of that satisfaction, no one for whom it was made in the design of God can be said to have suffered in Christ, nor to have an interest in his satisfaction, nor by any way or means be made partaker of it antecedently unto another act of God in its imputation unto him. (V, 281)
Finally, this mystical union is accomplished by the Spirit, but this work of the Spirit is a blessing of the New Covenant, and therefore it logically depends upon our legal union with Christ as head of the New Covenant.
God communicates nothing in a way of grace unto any but in and by the person of Christ, as the mediator and head of the church…. Whatever is wrought in believers by the Spirit of Christ, it is in their union to the person of Christ, and by virtue thereof. (III, 626)
In the words of the Holy Spirit:
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws into their minds,
and write them on their hearts,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
(Hebrews 8:10 ESV)
This finds confirmation in John Murray’s understanding of the effectual call as establishing our union with Christ, from which all the blessings flow.
It is calling that is represented in Scripture as that act of God by which we are actually united to Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 1:9). And surely union with Christ is that which unites us to the inwardly operative grace of God…
[T]here is good warrant for the conclusion that the application of redemption begins with the sovereign and efficacious summons by which the people of God are ushered into the fellowship of Christ and union with him to the end that they may become partakers of all the grace and virtue which reside in him as Redeemer, Saviour, and Lord…
[I]n the teaching of Scripture it is calling that is given distinct emphasis and prominence as that act of God whereby sinners are translated from darkness to light and ushered into the fellowship of Christ. This feature of New Testament teaching creates the distinct impression that salvation in actual possession takes its start from an efficacious summons on the part of God and that this summons, since it is God’s summons, carries in its bosom all of the operative efficacy by which it is made effective. It is calling and not regeneration that possesses that character. Hence there is more to be said for the priority of calling…
Sanctification is a process that begins, we might say, in regeneration, finds its basis in justification, and derives its energizing grace from the union with Christ which is effected in effectual calling…
It is by calling that we are united to Christ, and it is this union with Christ which binds the people of God to the efficacy and virtue by which they are sanctified.
- John Murray. Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Kindle Locations 963-967). Kindle Edition.
And in WLC 66
Q. 66. What is that union which the elect have with Christ?
A. The union which the elect have with Christ is the work of God’s grace, whereby they are spiritually and mystically, yet really and inseparably, joined to Christ as their head and husband; which is done in their effectual calling.
Therefore Richardson and others err when they argue “All the elect were ever in this Covenant, for they were ever in Christ” and thus their argument for eternal justification fails while their argument for an absolute unconditional covenant stands.
Imputation vs Declaration
In what we have seen above, Owen makes a very careful distinction between the imputation of Christ as ours and our subsequent declaration as righteous (justification). George Hunsinger has a very helpful chapter in The Ashgate Research Companion to John Owen’s Theology titled Justification and Mystical Union with Christ: Where Does Owen Stand? He notes
A good case that Calvin based his idea of imputation on union with Christ has been made recently by Richard B. Gaffin Jr*. Gaffin distinguished between the “imputation of righteousness” and the “reckoning of righteousness.” lmputation arose from the “underlying and controlling” idea of union. Imputation was therefore antecedent to being reckoned righteous by God [justified]. The believer was reckoned [declared] as righteous, because of already being righteous through mystical union. Imputation involved what Gaffin called a ”juridical transfer” of Christ’s righteousness to the believer, and declaration took place on that basis.
*Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., “Justification and Union with Christ,” in A Theological Guide to Calvin’s Institutes: Essays and Analysis 248-69
[According to Owen] To be “reputed” righteous, he said, was not the same as having Christ’s righteousness be “imputed” to us. “To be reputed righteous and to have righteousness imputed, differ,” explained Owen, “as cause and effect.” Imputation was set forth as something prior to being declared or reckoned righteous. The view that Gaffin found in Calvin, as previously mentioned, would seem to have been Owen’s view as well. Being imputed righteous and being reckoned righteous were not the same. Imputation was the cause, of which being reckoned righteous was the effect. Owen continued:
For that any may be reputed righteous ‐ that is, be judged or esteemed to be so ‐ there must be a real foundation of that reputation, or it is a mistake, and not a right judgment; as any man may be reputed to be wise who is a fool, or be reputed to be rich who is a beggar. Wherefore, he that is reputed righteous must either have a righteousness of his own, or another antecedently imputed unto him, as the foundation of that reputation. Wherefore, to impute righteousness unto one that hath none of his own, is not to repute him to be righteous who is indeed unrighteous; but it is to communicate a righteousness unto him, that he may rightly and justly be esteemed, judged, or reputed righteous.
A clearer statement of how imputation and declaration were related would be hard to imagine. Declaration was clearly a consequence of imputation, and imputation was clearly the foundation of declaration. One could not be reputed as righteous unless one really were righteous. Imputed righteousness was logically antecedent to being reckoned as righteous before the divine tribunal. Only as one was indeed righteous, because righteousness had already been communicated, could one then, on that basis, “rightly and justly be esteemed, judged, or reputed righteous” before the judgment seat of God.
A few pages later this interpretation is confirmed. lmputation was “not a naked pronunciation or declaration of any one to be righteous,” insisted Owen, “without a just and sufficient foundation, for the judgment of God declared therein. God declares no man to be righteous but him who is so; the whole question is how he comes to be!” Declaration without a prior imputation would be meaningless. Only imputation as a prior transaction could provide declaration with a “sufficient foundation.”…
Imputation through mystical union was the prior basis of justification. Along with Calvin and the mainstream of the Reformed tradition, Owen espoused the moderate view of forensic justification.
I highly recommend reading the whole chapter wherein Hunsinger distinguishes between the “moderate view of forensic justification” wherein “declaration of acquittal was not the cause but the consequence of imputation” and the “thoroughgoing forensic doctrine.” He notes “Let this typically Lutheran view of imputation by declaration be called the unqualified or thoroughgoing forensic doctrine. It was thoroughgoing, because every phase of it could be set forth in terms of a courtroom setting.”
Hunsinger’s one great error is that he does not adequately understand Owen’s doctrine of mysitcal union as legal covenant union. Thus he draws some incorrect conclusions. He says
Just as participatio Christi counteracted the notion that imputation was merely a legal fiction, so imputation counteracted the notion that saving righteousness depended on regeneration. Mystical union was the precondition for the grace of imputation, and imputation was the precondition of acquittal. Calvin’s doctrine of justification was not forensic in the thoroughgoing sense, because Calvin understood imputation to depend on participation, not merely on pronouncement.
This is correct so far as it goes, but it must be kept in mind that Owen defined participation as being in the New Covenant. That is, participation is legal, not something in distinction from legal (as Hunsinger suggests).
Returning to our original comments regarding “legal fiction,” we can see that when people identify our legal union with Christ as effective at the time of his satisfaction (“historia salutis”) then they often wind up viewing that legal union as insufficient grounds for our justification. What is necessary, they will say, is the participatory. Without our participation in Christ, his work outside of us is legal fiction. However, if we recognize the truth of Owen’s account of Scripture, we are in no position to claim the legal union is insufficient. We are legally united to Christ in the effectual call and that union is sufficient to provide us with everything we have in Christ.
Mason does not draw out the full implications of Owen’s view of the New Covenant, as we have above, but he notes “Owen seems to conceive of some kind of forensic union with Christ prior to faith, perhaps better described as an imputation of Christ.” (53) This use of “forensic” as equivalent to “legal” is common in discussions about union with Christ and the ordo salutis. Because of this, “justification” is often used synonymously with “legal.” But this is inaccurate. Forensic is a sub-category of legal that has to do with court-room verdicts. Something may be legal while not being forensic. The forensic (court room) is grounded in the legal. Covenants are, by definition, legal. They are not forensic. In an effort to emphasize the legal foundation of our salvation in Christ’s work outside of us, many argue for the logical priority of our justification. But this introduces a labyrinth of logical contradiction into the ordo. However, this difficulty is resolved when we recognize that our mystical union is our covenant union and thus our legal union. The charge of legal fiction is not answered by appeal to our inherent participation via the Spirit, but by appeal to the legal union that is established between us and Christ in the effectual call. It is therefore not a legal fiction because Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us on the basis of a legal union, and we are declared righteous (justified) on the basis of that imputed righteousness, apart from all our works.
The Baptists believed that no covenant preceding the New Covenant was the Covenant of Grace. Before the arrival of the New Covenant, the Covenant of Grace was at the stage of promise…
If we are talking about a promise, this implies that it was not yet accomplished and was not yet in the form of a testament or a covenant. The Baptists believed that the New Covenant was the accomplishment of the promise, or in other words, the accomplishment of the Covenant of Grace. This doctrine is expressed in the following way in the 1689: “This covenant is revealed in the gospel; first of all to Adam […] and afterwards by farther steps, until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament.” The New Testament brings the full revelation of the Covenant of Grace since the New Covenant is its accomplishment. The Baptists considered that the New Covenant and it alone was the Covenant of Grace.
If the New Covenant did not exist before Jesus Christ, while the Covenant of Grace existed before the coming of the Messiah, does this not mean that both covenants are distinct? The New Covenant did not exist as a covenant before Jesus Christ; however it did exist as a promise (cf. Jr 31.31). The Covenant of Grace revealed to Adam, then to Abraham, was the New Covenant promised. Therefore, before Jesus Christ, the New Covenant did not exist, but the Covenant of Grace, did not exist as a formal covenant either. John Spilsbury affirmed this notion: “Again, it’s called the promise, and not the Covenant; and we know that every promise is not a covenant: there being a large difference between a promise and a covenant. Spilsbury speaks of the Covenant of Grace that God revealed to Abraham and he declares that at this stage, it was not yet a formal covenant, but a promise. This distinction: (revealed/ concluded) summarized the difference between the Covenant of Grace in the Old Testament and the Covenant of Grace in the New Testament. In the Old, it was revealed, in the New, it was concluded [established] (fully revealed according to the expression of the 1689)…
The Abrahamic Covenant, the Sinaitic Covenant and the Davidic Covenant were not the Covenant of Grace, nor administrations of it; however, the Covenant of Grace was revealed under these various covenants.
Denault, Pascal (2014-12-13). The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology: A Comparison Between Seventeenth-Century Particular Baptist and Paedobaptist Federalism (Kindle Locations 1195-1196). . Kindle Edition.
According to 1689 Federalism, Adam, Abraham, and Moses were all saved through their membership in the New Covenant. The typical response from paedobaptists is that we have simply manufactured this artificial distinction between the covenant of grace promised and the covenant of grace established in order to defend our view of baptism. They argue that we do not understand the relationship of a promise to a covenant.
However, note what Louis Berkhof says about the covenant of grace in Genesis 3:
1. The first revelation of the covenant. The first revelation of the covenant is found in the protevangel, Gen. 3:15. Some deny that this has any reference to the covenant; and it certainly does not refer to any formal establishment of a covenant. The revelation of such an establishment could only follow after the covenant idea had been developed in history. At the same time Gen. 3:15 certainly contains a revelation of the essence of the covenant…
Up to the time of Abraham there was no formal establishment of the covenant of grace. While Gen. 3:15 already contains the elements of this covenant, it does not record a formal transaction by which the covenant was established. It does not even speak explicitly of a covenant. The establishment of the covenant with Abraham marked the beginning of an institutional Church.
Excerpt From: Louis Berkhof. “Systematic Theology.” iBooks.
Gen 3:15 was not the formal establishment of the covenant of grace. Its formal establishment was to come later. However, it revealed the covenant of grace, and this revelation of the covenant of grace (the promise) was sufficient to save believers prior to its formal establishment.
The Westminster Confession (7.5) and Catechism (WLC 34) also teach that the promise was sufficient to save:
Q. 34. How was the covenant of grace administered under the Old Testament?
A. The covenant of grace was administered under the Old Testament by promises… [that] were sufficient for that time to build up the faith of the elect in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of their sins and eternal salvation.
So there is no legitimate objection to 1689 Federalism’s understanding of the New Covenant (Covenant of Grace) as promised/established.
Furthermore, note that Berkhof says that the formal establishment of the covenant of grace marked the beginning of an institutional Church. We agree. We simply believe he was mistaken as to when the covenant of grace was formally established. Scripture is clear that it was established at the death of its mediator, Jesus Christ.
Note also LBCF 20.1
1._____ The covenant of works being broken by sin, and made unprofitable unto life, God was pleased to give forth the promise of Christ, the seed of the woman, as the means of calling the elect, and begetting in them faith and repentance; in this promise the gospel, as to the substance of it, was revealed, and [is] therein effectual for the conversion and salvation of sinners.
( Genesis 3:15; Revelation 13:8 )
Saved by the New Covenant
“When we speak of the “new covenant,” we do not intend the covenant of grace absolutely, as though it were not before in existence and effect… But for two reasons, it is not expressly called a covenant, without respect to any other things, nor was it called a covenant under the old testament. When God renewed the promise of it to Abraham, he is said to make a covenant with him; and he did so, but this covenant with Abraham was with respect to other things, especially the proceeding of the promised Seed from his loins. But absolutely, under the old testament, the covenant of grace consisted only in a promise; and as such only is proposed in the Scripture…
The greatest and utmost mercies that God ever intended to communicate unto the church, and to bless it withal, were enclosed in the new covenant. Nor doth the efficacy of the mediation of Christ extend itself beyond the verge and compass thereof; for he is only the mediator and surety of this covenant.”
-Owen (Commentary, Hebrews 8:6)
“There is yet no reason why God should not have extended the grace of the new covenant to the fathers. This is the true solution of the question.”
-Calvin (Commentary Hebrews 8:10)
“And so it finally came to the most perfect promise of all, that of the new testament, in which, with plain words, life and salvation are freely promised, and actually granted to those who believe the promise. And he distinguishes this testament from the old one by a particular mark when he calls it the “new testament” [Luke 22:20; I Cor. 11:25]. For the old testament given through Moses was not a promise of forgiveness of sins or of eternal things, but of temporal things, namely, of the land of Canaan, by which no man was renewed in spirit to lay hold on the heavenly inheritance.”
-Luther (The Babylonian Captivity of the Church)
“As then the law of works, which was written on the tables of stone, and its reward, the land of promise, which the house of the carnal Israel after their liberation from Egypt received, belonged to the old testament [covenant], so the law of faith, written on the heart, and its reward, the beatific vision which the house of the spiritual Israel, when delivered from the present world, shall perceive, belong to the new testament [covenant]… I beg of you, however, carefully to observe, as far as you can, what I am endeavouring to prove with so much effort. When the prophet promised a new covenant, not according to the covenant which had been formerly made with the people of Israel when liberated from Egypt, he said nothing about a change in the sacrifices or any sacred ordinances, although such change, too, was without doubt to follow, as we see in fact that it did follow, even as the same prophetic scripture testifies in many other passages; but he simply called attention to this difference, that God would impress His laws on the mind of those who belonged to this covenant, and would write them in their hearts, (Jer 31:32-33)… These pertain to the new testament [covenant], are the children of promise, and are regenerated by God the Father and a free mother. Of this kind were all the righteous men of old, and Moses himself, the minister of the old testament, the heir of the new,—because of the faith whereby we live, of one and the same they lived, believing the incarnation, passion, and resurrection of Christ as future, which we believe as already accomplished”
-Augustine (Treatise on the Spirit and the Letter, c. 41, 42; A Treatise Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, b.3 c. 11)
There is yet no reason why God should not have extended the grace of the new covenant to the fathers. This is the true solution of the question.
Calvin taught that the Old Covenant and the New Covenant were both equally the eternal Covenant of Grace.
1. From what has been said above, it must now be clear, that all whom, from the beginning of the world, God adopted as his peculiar people, were taken into covenant with him on the same conditions, and under the same bond of doctrine, as ourselves; but as it is of no small importance to establish this point, I will here add it by way of appendix, and show, since the Fathers were partakers with us in the same inheritance, and hoped for a common salvation through the grace of the same Mediator, how far their condition in this respect was different from our own… The covenant made with all the fathers is so far from differing from ours in reality and substance, that it is altogether one and the same: still the administration differs.
The administration differs with regards to outward appearance, rather than to true substance.
the comparison made by the Apostle refers to the form rather than to the substance; for though God promised to them the same salvation which he at this day promises to us, yet neither the manner nor the character of the revelation is the same or equal to what we enjoy.
(Commentary on Hebrews 8:6)
Here we may see in what respect the legal is compared with the evangelical covenant, the ministry of Christ with that of Moses. If the comparison referred to the substance of the promises, there would be a great repugnance between the two covenants; but since the nature of the case leads to a different view, we must follow it in order to discover the truth. Let us, therefore bring forward the covenant which God once ratified as eternal and unending. Its completion, whereby it is fixed and ratified, is Christ. Till such completion takes place, the Lord, by Moses, prescribes ceremonies which are, as it were formal symbols of confirmation. The point brought under discussion was, Whether or not the ceremonies ordained in the Law behaved to give way to Christ. Although these were merely accidents of the covenant, or at least additions and appendages, and, as they are commonly called, accessories, yet because they were the means of administering it, the name of covenant is applied to them, just as is done in the case of other sacraments. Hence, in general, the Old Testament is the name given to the solemn method of confirming the covenant comprehended under ceremonies and sacrifices. Since there is nothing substantial in it, until we look beyond it, the Apostle contends that it behaved to be annulled and become antiquated (Heb. 7:22), to make room for Christ, the surety and mediator of a better covenant, by whom the eternal sanctification of the elect was once purchased, and the transgressions which remained under the Law wiped away. But if you prefer it, take it thus: the covenant of the Lord was old, because veiled by the shadowy and ineffectual observance of ceremonies; and it was therefore temporary, being, as it were in suspense until it received a firm and substantial confirmation. Then only did it become new and eternal when it was consecrated and established in the blood of Christ. Hence the Saviour, in giving the cup to his disciples in the last supper, calls it the cup of the new testament in his blood; intimating, that the covenant of God was truly realised, made new, and eternal, when it was sealed with his blood.
He contends that Hebrews 8 is dealing only with the ceremonies (“the comparison made by the Apostle refers to the form rather than to the substance.”) However, he arrives at some difficulty at v10 where he begins listing what Scripture says the New Covenant consists of – it consists of things that cannot be regarded as accidents but as the substance.
10 For this is the covenant that I will make, etc. There are two main parts in this covenant; the first regards the gratuitous remission of sins; and the other, the inward renovation of the heart; there is a third which depends on the second, and that is the illumination of the mind as to the knowledge of God. There are here many things most deserving of notice.
The first is, that God calls us to himself without effect as long as he speaks to us in no other way than by the voice of man. He indeed teaches us and commands what is right but he speaks to the deaf; for when we seem to hear anything, our ears are only struck by an empty sound; and the heart, full of depravity and perverseness, rejects every wholesome doctrine. In short, the word of God never penetrates into our hearts, for they are iron and stone until they are softened by him; nay, they have engraven on them a contrary law, for perverse passions rule within, which lead us to rebellion. In vain then does God proclaim his Law by the voice of man, unless he writes it by his Spirit on our hearts, that is, unless he forms and prepares us for obedience. It hence appears of what avail is freewill and the uprightness of nature before God regenerates us. We will indeed and choose freely; but our will is carried away by a sort of insane impulse to resist God. Thus it comes that the Law is ruinous and fatal to us as long as it remains written only on tables of stone, as Paul also teaches us. (2 Corinthians 3:3.) In short, we then only obediently embrace what God commands, when by his Spirit he changes and corrects the natural pravity of our hearts; otherwise he finds nothing in us but corrupt affections and a heart wholly given up to evil. The declaration indeed is clear, that a new covenant is made according to which God engraves his laws on our hearts, for otherwise it would be in vain and of no effect.
The second particular refers to the gratuitous pardon of sins. Though they have sinned, saith the Lord, yet I will pardon them. This part is also most necessary; for God never so forms us for obedience to his righteousness, but that many corrupt affections of the flesh still remain; nay, it is only in part that the viciousness of our nature is corrected; so that evil lusts break out now and then. And hence is that contest of which Paul complains, when the godly do not obey God as they ought, but in various ways offend. (Romans 7:13.) Whatever desire then there may be in us to live righteously, we are still guilty of eternal death before God, because our life is ever very far from the perfection which the Law requires. There would then be no stability in the covenant, except God gratuitously forgave our sins. But it is the peculiar privilege of the faithful who have once embraced the covenant offered to them in Christ, that they feel assured that God is propitious to them; nor is the sin to which they are liable, a hindrance to them, for they have the promise of pardon.
And it must be observed that this pardon is promised to them, not for one day only, but to the very end of life, so that they have a daily reconciliation with God. For this favor is extended to the whole of Christ’s kingdom, as Paul abundantly proves in the fifth chapter of his second Epistle to the Corinthians. And doubtless this is the only true asylum of our faith, to which if we flee not, constant despair must be our lot. For we are all of us guilty; nor can we be otherwise released then by fleeing to God’s mercy, which alone can pardon us.
And they shall be to me, etc. It is the fruit of the covenant, that God chooses us for his people, and assures us that he will be the guardian of our salvation. This is indeed the meaning of these words, And I will be to them a God; for he is not the God of the dead, nor does he take us under his protection, but that he may make us partakers of righteousness and of life, so that David justly exclaims, “Blessed are the people to whom the Lord is God (Psalm 144:15.) There is further no doubt but that this truth belongs also to us; for though the Israelites had the first place, and are the proper and legitimate heirs of the covenant, yet their prerogative does not hinder us from having also a title to it. In short, however far and wide the kingdom of Christ extends, this covenant of salvation is of the same extent.
But it may be asked, whether there was under the Law a sure and certain promise of salvation, whether the fathers had the gift of the Spirit, whether they enjoyed God’s paternal favor through the remission of sins? Yes, it is evident that they worshipped God with a sincere heart and a pure conscience, and that they walked in his commandments, and this could not have been the case except they had been inwardly taught by the Spirit; and it is also evident, that whenever they thought of their sins, they were raised up by the assurance of a gratuitous pardon. And yet the Apostle, by referring the prophecy of Jeremiah to the coming of Christ, seems to rob them of these blessings. To this I reply, that he does not expressly deny that God formerly wrote his Law on their hearts and pardoned their sins, but he makes a comparison between the less and the greater. As then the Father has put forth more fully the power of his Spirit under the kingdom of Christ, and has poured forth more abundantly his mercy on mankind, this exuberance renders insignificant the small portion of grace which he had been pleased to bestow on the fathers. We also see that the promises were then obscure and intricate, so that they shone only like the moon and stars in comparison with the clear light of the Gospel which shines brightly on us.
If it be objected and said, that the faith and obedience of Abraham so excelled, that hardly any such an example can at this day be found in the whole world; my answer is this, that the question here is not about persons, but that reference is made to the economical condition of the Church. Besides, whatever spiritual gifts the fathers obtained, they were accidental as it were to their age; for it was necessary for them to direct their eyes to Christ in order to become possessed of them. Hence it was not without reason that the Apostle, in comparing the Gospel with the Law, took away from the latter what is peculiar to the former. There is yet no reason why God should not have extended the grace of the new covenant to the fathers. This is the true solution of the question.
(Commentary on Hebrews 8:10)
Calvin’s argument in Hebrews 8 is that the only difference is accidental – in outward appearance, manner of revelation, emphasis, etc. Yet Scripture says the newness of the New Covenant is regeneration and forgiveness of sins. Calvin reasons that it only means that under the New Covenant “the Father has put forth more fully the power of his Spirit under the kingdom of Christ, and has poured forth more abundantly his mercy on mankind.” And yet, Abraham’s faith excelled ours and is the model of our faith. Calvin concludes that the real solution is to admit there is no reason to say God did not “extend the grace of the new covenant” to Abraham.
He was comfortable saying so because he had read Augustine, and that is precisely what Augustine taught.
10. The three last contrasts to which we have adverted (sec. 4, 7, 9), are between the Law and the Gospel, and hence in these the Law is designated by the name of the Old, and the Gospel by that of the New Testament. The first is of wider extent (sec. 1), comprehending under it the promises which were given even before the Law. When Augustine maintained that these were not to be included under the name of the Old Testament (August. ad Bonifac. lib. 3 c. 14), he took a most correct view, and meant nothing different from what we have now taught; for he had in view those passages of Jeremiah and Paul in which the Old Testament is distinguished from the word of grace and mercy. In the same passage, Augustine, with great shrewdness remarks, that from the beginning of the world the sons of promise, the divinely regenerated, who, through faith working by love, obeyed the commandments, belonged to the New Testament [Covenant]; entertaining the hope not of carnal, earthly, temporal, but spiritual, heavenly, and eternal blessings, believing especially in a Mediator, by whom they doubted not both that the Spirit was administered to them, enabling them to do good, and pardon imparted as often as they sinned. The thing which he thus intended to assert was, that all the saints mentioned in Scripture, from the beginning of the world, as having been specially selected by God, were equally with us partakers of the blessing of eternal salvation. The only difference between our division and that of Augustine is, that ours (in accordance with the words of our Saviour, “All the prophets and the law prophesied until John,” Mt. 11:13) distinguishes between the gospel light and that more obscure dispensation of the word which preceded it, while the other division simply distinguishes between the weakness of the Law and the strength of the Gospel. And here also, with regard to the holy fathers, it is to be observed, that though they lived under the Old Testament, they did not stop there, but always aspired to the New, and so entered into sure fellowship with it. Those who, contented with existing shadows, did not carry their thoughts to Christ, the Apostle charges with blindness and malediction. To say nothing of other matters, what greater blindness can be imagined, than to hope for the expiation of sin from the sacrifice of a beast, or to seek mental purification in external washing with water, or to attempt to appease God with cold ceremonies, as if he were greatly delighted with them? Such are the absurdities into which those fall who cling to legal observances, without respect to Christ.
Despite appealing to Augustine to demonstrate that all the saints from the beginning of the world belonged to the New Covenant, notice that Calvin acknowledges a difference between Augustine’s view and his own. He says his view makes the distinction between the Old and New Covenants a matter of obscurity and clarity, while Augustine makes it a matter of Law and Gospel. That is no small difference!
The reality is, Augustine did not agree with Calvin’s main point: that the Old and the New are the same covenant. He rejected it in very strong terms. Calvin found recourse in Augustine when he had to reconcile Scripture’s teaching regarding regeneration as a grace of the New Covenant, but that is because Augustine was much more biblical in his understanding of the differences between the Old and the New.
At all events, in those ancient Scriptures it is most distinctly written: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will consummate a new testament with the house of Israel and with the house of Jacob; not according to the testament that I made with their fathers, in the day that I took them by the hand, to lead them out of the land of Egypt.” (Jer 31:31, 32) This was done on Mount Sinai. But then there had not yet risen the prophet Daniel to say: “The saints shall receive the kingdom of the Most High.” (Dan 7:18) For by these words he foretold the merit not of the Old, but of the New Testament. In the same manner did the same prophets foretell that Christ Himself would come, in whose blood the New Testament was consecrated. Of this Testament also the apostles became the ministers, as the most blessed Paul declares: “He hath made us able ministers of the New Testament; not in its letter, but in spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” (2 Cor 3:6) In that testament [covenant], however, which is properly called the Old, and was given on Mount Sinai, only earthly happiness is expressly promised. Accordingly that land, into which the nation, after being led through the wilderness, was conducted, is called the land of promise, wherein peace and royal power, and the gaining of victories over enemies, and an abundance of children and of fruits of the ground, and gifts of a similar kind are the promises of the Old Testament. And these, indeed, are figures of the spiritual blessings which appertain to the New Testament; but yet the man who lives under God’s law with those earthly blessings for his sanction, is precisely the heir of the Old Testament, for just such rewards are promised and given to him, according to the terms of the Old Testament, as are the objects of his desire according to the condition of the old man. But whatever blessings are there figuratively set forth as appertaining to the New Testament require the new man to give them effect. And no doubt the great apostle understood perfectly well what he was saying, when he described the two testaments as capable of the allegorical distinction of the bond-woman and the free,—attributing the children of the flesh to the Old, and to the New the children of the promise: “They,” says he, “which are the children of the flesh, are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.” (Rom 9:8) The children of the flesh, then, belong to the earthly Jerusalem, which is in bondage with her children; whereas the children of the promise belong to the Jerusalem above, the free, the mother of us all, eternal in the heavens. (Gal 4:25, 26) Whence we can easily see who they are that appertain to the earthly, and who to the heavenly kingdom. But then the happy persons, who even in that early age were by the grace of God taught to understand the distinction now set forth, were thereby made the children of promise, and were accounted in the secret purpose of God as heirs of the New Testament; although they continued with perfect fitness to administer the Old Testament to the ancient people of God, because it was divinely appropriated to that people in God’s distribution of the times and seasons.
Owen on Hebrews 8:10-12
The design of the apostle, or what is the general argument which he is in pursuit of, must still be borne in mind throughout the consideration of the testimonies he produceth in the confirmation of it. And this is, to prove that the Lord Christ is the mediator and surety of a better covenant than that wherein the service of God was managed by the high priests according unto the law. For hence it follows that his priesthood is greater and far more excellent than theirs. To this end he doth not only prove that God promised to make such a covenant, but also declares the nature and properties of it, in the words of the prophet. And so, by comparing it with the former covenant, he manifests its excellency above it. In particular, in this testimony the imperfection of that covenant is demonstrated from its issue. For it did not effectually continue peace and mutual love between God and the people; but being broken by them, they were thereon rejected of God. This rendered all the other benefits and advantages of it useless. Wherefore the apostle insists from the prophet on those properties of this other covenant which infallibly prevent the like issue, securing the people’s obedience for ever, and so the love and relation of God unto them as their God.
Wherefore these three verses give us a description of that covenant whereof the Lord Christ is the mediator and surety, not absolutely and entirely, but as unto those properties and effects of it wherein it differs from the former, so as infallibly to secure the covenant relation between God and the people. That covenant was broken, but this shall never be so, because provision is made in the covenant itself against any such event.
And we may consider in the words, —
- The particle of introduction, o[ti, answering the Hebrew yKi.
- The subject spoken of, which is diaqh>kh; with the way of making it, hn[ diaqhs> omai, — “which I will make.”
- The author of it, the Lord Jehovah; “I will …… saith the Lord.”
- Those with whom it was to be made, “the house of Israel.”
- The time of making it, “after those days.”
- The properties, privileges, and benefits of this covenant, which are of two sorts:
- Of sanctifying, inherent grace; described by a double consequent:
- Of God’s relation unto them, and theirs to him; “I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people,” verse 10.
- Of their advantage thereby, without the use of such other aids as formerly they stood in need of, verse 11.
- Of relative grace, in the pardon of their sins, verse 12. And sundry things of great. weight will fall into consideration under these several heads.
- Of sanctifying, inherent grace; described by a double consequent:
Ver. 10. —For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will give my laws into their mind, and write them upon their hearts: and I will be unto them a God, and they shall be to me a people.
- The introduction of the declaration of the new covenant is by the particle o[ti. The Hebrew yKi, which is rendered by it, is variously used, and is sometimes redundant. In the prophet, some translate it by an exceptive, “sed;” some by an illative, “quoniam.” And in this place o[ti, is rendered by some quamobrem, “wherefore; and by others “nam,” or enim, as we do it by “for.” And it doth intimate a reason of what was spoken before, namely, that the covenant which God would now make should not be according unto that, like unto it, which was before made and broken.
- The thing promised is a “covenant:” in the prophet tyriB], here diaqh>kh. And the way of making it, in the prophet trOk]a,; which is the usual word whereby the making of a covenant is expressed. For signifying to “cut,” to “strike,” to “divide,” respect is had in it unto the sacrifices wherewith covenants were confirmed. Thence also were “foedus percutere,” and “foedus ferire.” See <011509>Genesis 15:9, 10, 18. Ta,, or μ[‘, that is, “cure,” which is joined in construction with it, Genesis 15:18, Deuteronomy 5:2. The apostle renders it by diaqhs> omai, and that with a dative case without a preposition, tw~| oi]kw,| “I will make” or “confirm unto.” He had used before suntele>sw to the same purpose. We render the words tyriB] and diaqh>kh in this place by a “covenant,’’ though afterward the same word is translated by a “testament.’’
A covenant properly is a compact or agreement on certain terms mutually stipulated by two or more parties. As promises are the foundation and rise of it, as it is between God and man, so it compriseth also precepts, or laws of obedience, which are prescribed unto man on his part to be observed. But in the description of the covenant here annexed, there is no mention of any condition on the part of man, of any terms of obedience prescribed unto him, but the whole consists in free, gratuitous promises, as we shall see in the explication of it. Some hence conclude that it is only one part of the covenant that is here described. Others observe from hence that the whole covenant of grace as a covenant is absolute, without any conditions on our part; which sense Estius on this place contends for. But these things must be further inquired into: —
- The word tyriB], used by the prophet, doth not only signify a “covenant” or compact properly so called, but a free, gratuitous promise also. Yea, sometimes it is used for such a free purpose of God with respect unto other things, which in their own nature are incapable of being obliged by any moral condition. Such is God’s covenant with day and night, <243320>Jeremiah 33:20, 25. And so he says that he “made his covenant,” not to destroy the world by water any more, “with every living creature,” Genesis 9:10, 11. Nothing, therefore, can be argued for the necessity of conditions to belong unto this covenant from the name or term whereby it is expressed in the prophet. A covenant properly is sunqh>kh, but there is no word in the whole Hebrew language of that precise signification.
The making of this covenant is declared by yTir’K;. But yet neither doth this require a mutual stipulation, upon terms and conditions prescribed, unto an entrance into covenant. For it refers unto the sacrifices wherewith covenants were confirmed; and it is applied unto a mere gratuitous promise, Genesis15:18,“In that day did the LORD make a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed will I give this land.”
As unto the word diaqh>kh, it signifies a “covenant” improperly; properly it is a “testamentary disposition.” And this may be without any conditions on the part of them unto whom any thing is bequeathed.
- The whole of the covenant intended is expressed in the ensuing description of it. For if it were otherwise, it could not be proved from thence that this covenant was more excellent than the former, especially as to security that the covenant relation between God and the people should not be broken or disannulled. For this is the principal thing which the apostle designs to prove in this place; and the want of an observation thereof hath led many out of the way in their exposition of it. If, therefore, this be not an entire description of the covenant, there might yet be something reserved essentially belonging thereunto which might frustrate this end. For some such conditions might yet be required in it as we are not able to observe, or could have no security that we should abide in the observation of them: and thereon this covenant might be frustrated of its end, as well as the former; which is directly contrary unto God’s declaration of his design in it.
- It is evident that there can be no condition previously required, unto our entering into or participation of the benefits of this covenant, antecedent unto the making of it with us. For none think there are any such with respect unto its original constitution; nor can there be so in respect of its making with us, or our entering into it. For, —
- This would render the covenant inferior in a way of grace unto that which God made with the people at Horeb. For he declares that there was not any thing in them that moved him either to make that covenant, or to take them into it with himself. Everywhere he asserts this to be an act of his mere grace and favor. Yea, he frequently declares, that he took them into covenant, not only without respect unto any thing of good in them, but although they were evil and stubborn. See Deuteronomy 7:7,8, 9:4, 5.
- It is contrary unto the nature, ends, and express properties of this covenant. For there is nothing that can be thought or supposed to be such a condition, but it is comprehended in the promise of the covenant itself; for all that God requireth in us is proposed as that which himself will effect by virtue of this covenant.
- It is certain, that in the outward dispensation of the covenant, wherein the grace, mercy, and terms of it are proposed unto us, many things are required of us in order unto a participation of the benefits of it; for God hath ordained, that all the mercy and grace that is prepared in it shall be communicated unto us ordinarily in the use of outward means, wherewith a compliance is required of us in a way of duty. To this end hath he appointed all the ordinances of the gospel, the word and sacraments, with all those duties, public and private, which are needful to render them effectual unto us. For he will take us ordinarily into this covenant in and by the rational faculties of our natures, that he may be glorified in them and by them. Wherefore these things are required of us in order unto the participation of the benefits of this covenant. And if, therefore, any one will call our attendance unto such duties the condition of the covenant, it is not to be contended about, though properly it is not so. For, —
- God doth work the grace of the covenant, and communicate the mercy of it, antecedently unto all ability for the performance of any such duty; as it is with elect infants.
- Amongst those who are equally diligent in the performance of the duties intended he makes a discrimination, preferring one before another. “Many are called, but few are chosen;” and what hath any one that he hath not received?
- He actually takes some into the grace of the covenant whilst they are engaged in an opposition unto the outward dispensation of it. An example of this grace he gave in Paul.
- It is evident that the first grace of the covenant, or God’s putting his law in our hearts, can depend on no condition on our part. For whatever is antecedent thereunto, being only a work or act of corrupted nature, can be no condition whereon the dispensation of spiritual grace is superadded. And this is the great ground of them who absolutely deny the covenant of grace to be conditional; namely, that the first grace is absolutely promised, whereon and its exercise the whole of it doth depend.
- Unto a full and complete interest in all the promises of the covenant, faith on our part, from which evangelical repentance is inseparable, is required. But whereas these also are wrought in us by virtue of that promise and grace of the covenant which are absolute, it is a mere strife about words to contend whether they may be called conditions or no. Let it be granted on the one hand, that we cannot have an actual participation of the relative grace of this covenant in adoption and justification, without faith or believing; and on the other, that this faith is wrought in us, given unto us, bestowed upon us, by that grace of the covenant which depends on no condition in us as unto its discriminating administration, and I shall not concern myself what men will call it.
- Though there are no conditions properly so called of the whole grace of the covenant, yet there are conditions in the covenant, taking that term, in a large sense, for that which by the order of divine constitution precedeth some other things, and hath an influence into their existence; for God requireth many things of them whom he actually takes into covenant, and makes partakers of the promises and benefits of it. Of this nature is that whole obedience which is prescribed unto us in the gospel, in our walking before God in uprightness; and there being an order in the things that belong hereunto, some acts, duties, and parts of our gracious obedience, being appointed to be means of the further additional supplies of the grace and mercies of the covenant, they may be called conditions required of us in the covenant, as well as duties prescribed unto us.
- The benefits of the covenant are of two sorts:
- The grace and mercy which it doth collate.
- The future reward of glory which it doth promise.
Those of the former sort are all of them means appointed of God, which we are to use and improve unto the obtaining of the latter, and so may be called conditions required on our part. They are only collated on us, but conditions as used and improved by us.
- Although diaqh>kh, the word here used, may signify and be rightly rendered a “covenant,” in the same manner as tyriB] doth, yet that which is intended is properly a “testament,” or a “testamentary disposition” of good things. It is the will of God in and by Jesus Christ, his death and bloodshedding, to give freely unto us the whole inheritance of grace and glory. And under this notion the covenant hath no condition, nor are any such either expressed or intimated in this place.
- The word tyriB], used by the prophet, doth not only signify a “covenant” or compact properly so called, but a free, gratuitous promise also. Yea, sometimes it is used for such a free purpose of God with respect unto other things, which in their own nature are incapable of being obliged by any moral condition. Such is God’s covenant with day and night, <243320>Jeremiah 33:20, 25. And so he says that he “made his covenant,” not to destroy the world by water any more, “with every living creature,” Genesis 9:10, 11. Nothing, therefore, can be argued for the necessity of conditions to belong unto this covenant from the name or term whereby it is expressed in the prophet. A covenant properly is sunqh>kh, but there is no word in the whole Hebrew language of that precise signification.
Obs. I. The covenant of grace, as reduced into the form of a testament, confirmed by the blood of Christ, doth not depend on any condition or qualification in our persons, but on a free grant and donation of God; and so do all the good things prepared in it.
Obs. II. The precepts of the old covenant are turned all of them into promises under the new. —Their preceptive, commanding power is not taken away, but grace is promised for the performance of them. So the apostle having declared that the people brake the old covenant, adds that grace shall be supplied in the new for all the duties of obedience that are required of us.
Obs. III. All things in the new covenant being proposed unto us by the way of promise, it is faith alone whereby we may attain a participation of them. —For faith only is the grace we ought to exercise, the duty we ought to perform, to render the promises of God effectual to us, Hebrews 4:1,2.
Obs. IV. Sense of the loss of an interest in and participation of the benefits of the old covenant, is the best preparation for receiving the mercies of the new.
3. The author of this covenant is God himself: “I will make it, saith the\parLORD .” This is the third time that this expression, “Saith the Lord,” is repeated in this testimony. The work expressed, in both the parts of it, the disannulling of the old covenant and the establishment of the new, is such as calls for this solemn interposition of the authority, veracity, and grace of God. “I will do it, saith the Lord.” And the mention hereof is thus frequently inculcated, to beget a reverence in us of the work which he so emphatically assumes unto himself. And it teacheth us that, —
Obs. V. God himself, in and by his own sovereign wisdom, grace, goodness, all-sufficiency, and power, is to be considered as the only cause and author of the new covenant; or, the abolishing of the old covenant, with the introduction and establishment of the new, is an act of the mere sovereign wisdom, grace, and authority of God. It is his gracious disposal of us, and of his own grace; —that whereof we had no contrivance, nor indeed the least desire.
In Petto’s The Great Mystery of the Covenant of Grace, he spends several pages discussing whether or not the covenant of grace is conditional or unconditional. He does so in his chapter “Of the Differences between the Old and the New Covenant; and the Excellency of the latter above the former.” which notes the following:
- 1. The new covenant presupposes obedience unto life to be performed already by Jesus Christ, and so is better than the Old (Sinai), which requires an after performance of it… Hence in opposition to that Sinai law, which ran upon those terms, do and live, under the dispensation of the new, we hear so often of Believe and be saved, and he which believeth hath everlasting life, Mark xvi. 16. John iii. 16, 36…
- The new covenant represents the Lord as dealing with his people universally in a way of promise; and so is better than the old, which represents him as treating them in a way of threatening…
- The new covenant consists of absolute promises, and therefore is better than the old Sinai covenant, which ran upon conditional promises, indeed, had works as its condition… The apostle, in the text (Heb vii. 10-13), is purposely putting a difference between these; and, seeing the old covenant was unquestionably conditional, and the new here in opposition to it, or distinction from it, is as undoubtedly absolute; must it not needs be concluded, that herein stand much of the excellence of the new above the old?…
…And whereas some argue for conditions from the nature of a covenant, against that it is asserted to be a last will or testament, which may bequeath legacies without any condition.
There is a vast difference between the way of Jesus Christ his acting in the work of his mediation before and since his incarnation, and the latter is much more glorious than the former. Before, he might plead, Father, thou hast promised me, upon my obedience, hereafter to be performed, that those souls with I have undertaken for, should enjoy such blessings: There was a mutual trust between them, and so he might plead it in point of faithfulness. But now, he hath actually performed the condition of the covenant, and may plead it in point of justice. Christ being actually exhibited as a propitiation, upon that, God is said, Rom iii. 25, 26, to declare at this time his righteousness, &c.: in opposition to the time of the old testament, he says, at this time; that is, at the time of the new testament, wherein the blood of Jesus Christ is truly shed: Now God declares his righteousness in the justifying him that believes in Jesus. It is an act of grace to those who attain the remission of sin, but an act of righteousness to Jesus Christ. He may plead, Father, I have made satisfaction to the full for the sin of these souls, now declare your righteousness in pardoning of them: it is that which I have purchased for them, I have finished the work thou gavest me to do, John xvii. 4. I have paid the full price of their redemption, now let them have what I have procured for them. Thus he appears in heaven in our nature, not as a mere intercessor, but as an advocate, 1 John ii. 1: to plead that, in law, in right we are to be discharged. And this puts a great excellence upon the new covenant, that it is in itself, and to Jesus Christ, thus absolute.
And note, if some privileges of the covenant were dispensed out properly in a conditional way (as suppose justification were afforded upon faith as a condition, or temporal mercies upon obedience), yet this would be far from proving any thing to be the condition of the promise, or of the covenant itself. Indeed even faith is a particular blessing of it, and therefore cannot be the condition of the whole covenant; for what shall be the condition of faith? And there is no such special covenant now extant, as the old was, for temporal mercies; they are indefinitely promised, and sovereign grace is the determining rule of dispensing out these to the saints when they are wanted, for time and measure, as it is most for the glory of God and their good, Mat. vi. 32, 33. Nothing performed by us, then, is conditio faederis, the condition of the covenant itself; Jesus Christ has performed all required that way.
But whether any thing be conditio faederatorum is now to be considered.
Object. Is the new covenant absolute to us, or conditional?
Are there not conditional promises therein to us, as there were in the old unto Israel? Can we expect any mercy, but upon our performing some condition it is promised to?
If condition be taken improperly, for that which is only a connex action, or, medium fruitionis, a necessary duty, way, or means, in order to the enjoyment of promised mercies. In this sense, I acknowledge, there are some promises belonging to the new covenant which are conditional; and thus are many scriptures to be taken which are urged this way. That this might not be a strife of words, I could wish men would state the question thus, Whether some evangelical duties be required of, and graces wrought by Jesus Christ in, all the persons that are actually interested in the new covenant? I should answer yes; for, in the very covenant itself, it is promised that he will write his laws on their hearts, Heb viii. 10., and that implies faith, repentance, and every gracious frame; and those that have the Lord for their God are his people. If the accusation be, that there is a want of interest in Jesus Christ, they need not plead that they have fulfilled the condition of the covenant; but, that the covenant itself, in some promise of it, (which uses to be distinct from its condition,) has its accomplishment upon them therein. And those that are altogether without those precious graces, are stranger to the covenant, Eph. ii. 12.; they cannot lay claim to the blessings of it. It is our duty earnestly to be seeking after what is promised, and one blessing may be sought as a means to another; as, the spirit as a means of faith, and faith as a means to obedience, Gal. v. 6. Believing is a great duty in connexion with, and a means of, salvation; he that believes shall be saved, Mark xvi. 16. John ii. 36. Eph ii. 8. 1 Pet. i. 5, 9. There is an order in giving forth these blessings to us, and that by divine appointment; so as the neglecting to seek them therein, is highly displeasing to God. This is our privilege that divine promises are so conjoined and twisted together, for the encouragement of souls in seeking after them, that if one be taken, many more go along with it; like many links in a chain that are closed into each other. The means and the end must not be severed.
Where there is such a connexion of duties, graces, and blessings the matters may be sometimes expressed in a conditional form, with an if, as, Rom. x. 9. If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thy heart, thou shalt be saved, Such ifs note the verity of such propositions in their connexion; they affirm this or that to be a certain truth, as that, he which believes shall undoubtedly be saved, yet that grace is not properly the condition of salvation; for, even believing is absolutely promised, so as nothing shall intervene to hinder it, Isa. liii. 10, 11. Heb vii. 10. In that improper sense, some scriptures seem to speak of conditions, viz. they intimate a connexion between covenant blessings; some are conjoined as means and end, yet the promises are really absolute for their performance.
There is a vast difference between the way of the Lord in the dispensation of covenant blessings, and the tenor of the covenant. Or, between the new covenant itself, and the means which the Lord uses for its execution and accomplishment.
The covenant itself is an absolute grant, not only to Jesus Christ, but in him to the house of Israel and Judah, Heb. viii. Yet what the Lord has absolutely promised, and is determined and resolved upon to guarantee to them, may be conditionally propounded as a quickening means to souls seeking a participation of it. As, it was absolutely determined, yea, and declared by the Lord, that those very persons which were in the ship should be preserved, Acts xxvii. 22. There shall not be a loss of any man’s life, and verse 25. I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me. Yet, as a means to their preservation, he speaks to them conditionally, verse 31. Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved. So although the salvation of all the elect, and also the causing them to believe, is absolutely intended; yet, as a means that he may urge the duty upon souls with greater vehemence and earnestness, the Lord may speak in a conditional way, if ye believe ye shall be saved, when it is certain they shall believe.
There is no such condition of the new covenant to us, as there was in the old to Israel. For, the apostle comparing them together; and, in opposition to the old, he gives the new altogether in absolute promises, and that to Israel, Heb. viii.; and, showing that the new is not according to the old, he discovers wherein the difference lay, verse 9. Because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not; saith the Lord; and, Jer. xxxi. 32. which covenant they broke, &c.
This argues that the condition of the old was such as the performance of it did give them assurance of the temporal mercies promised, and a right to them, and such as failed in, left them at uncertainties whether they should enjoy them or not; so as it was not only in itself and its own nature uncertain, but even as to the event, I regarded them not, saith the Lord.
If their performing the condition had been as absolutely promised, as the blessings of the new covenant are, then Israel would have continued in it (which they did not), and could not have forfeited what was promised thereupon, as diverse times they did, and were excluded out of Canaan upon that account. – Jurists say, a condition is a rate, manner, or law, annexed to men’s acts, staying or suspending the same, and making them uncertain, whether they shall take effect or not. And thus condition is opposed to absolute.
That there is no such condition in the new covenant to be performed by us, giving right and title to the blessings of it, and leaving at uncertainties and liability to missing of them, as there was in the old to be fulfilled by Israel, may appear,
1._ If there be any, it must either be an antecedent or a subsequent condition; but neither. There can be no such antecedent condition, by the performance of which we get and gain entrance or admittance into covenant; for, till we be in it, no act put forth by us can find any acception with God, Heb. xi. 6. Without faith, it is impossible to please God. And our being, in covenant is, in order of nature, (though not of time,) before faith; because it is a privilege or benefit of the covenant, a part of the new heart, a fruit of the spirit; and so the spirit (which is the worker of it, and another blessing of the covenant,) is given first in order before it. Jesus Christ is the first saving gift, Rom vii. 32., and with him he freely giveth all things. Men ought to be in the use of means; but it is the act of God that gives admission into the covenant, Ezek. xvi. 8. I entered into covenant with thee, saith the Lord God, and thou becamest mine. Immediately before, they were polluted in their blood, verse 6.; in an utter incapacity for acting in any pleasing way, so as to get into covenant. Neither is there any subsequent condition to be fulfilled by us: the use of that is, for the continuation of a right, and upon failing thereof, all is forfeited, as in the case of Adam. – Whereas there is no act of ours whereby our right to covenant blessings is continued unto us, upon failing whereof they may be forfeited. Our right, and the ground of our, claim, is upon a higher account than any act of our own; it is even the purchase of Jesus Christ; and they are the sure mercies of David, Isa. lv. 3. Sure to all the seed, Rom. iv. 16. And when they are become believers, eternal life is absolutely promised, John iii. 16, 36. 1 John v. 10, 11, 12., but conditionally, promised to them.
2._ The Lord has given assurance that there shall never be an utter violation of the new covenant, and therefore it has no such condition as was annexed to the old; for, the Lord declares that they had broken his covenant, Jer xi. 3, 4, 10. Jer xxxi. 32. But the new covenant is secured from such a violation: it cannot be disannulled so as the persons interested in it should be deprived of the great blessings promised therein, Jer. xxxii. 40. I will make an everlasting covenant with them. But may there not be such a condition of it as they may come short of all its blessings? No: I will not turn away from them to do them good, but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me. If there were any danger of forfeiting and losing these, it must be either on God’s part, by his leaving of them, or on their part, by their departing from him; and here the Lord has undertaken to secure against both these, and so the matter is out of question; it was not thus in the old covenant.
Indeed what the Lord hath absolutely promised, yet he has appointed means in order to the attaining of it, internal as faith, and external as ordinances; and commands utmost attendance upon him ordinarily in the use thereof; this is necessary as a duty, and sin arises upon neglect of it. Thus the Lord is unalterably determined to guarantee a frame of obedience, Ezek. xxxvi. 25-30. Yet obedience is to be performed by us; we are to be the agents, and we may sin about the means in the way to the enjoyment of such mercy, as is laid up in absolute promises – Faith is to be exercised in these, (else what use are they of?) and we may be faulty in not attending to it.
3._ If there be any such condition of the new covenant, it were most like to be precious faith; but that is not…
4._ Our obedience, though evangelical, is no such condition of the new covenant, as there was of the old unto Israel.
Summary and Comparison
Petto goes on to argue several other points at length and list other differences between the new and old covenants besides their conditionality. To summarize his point, we can say that the new covenant is not like the old covenant because the old covenant could be broken, but the new cannot. Everything required of us in the new covenant is also a blessing of the new covenant. Apostasy from the new covenant is impossible.
Compare Petto’s view with standard Reformed thinking today, such as the PCA Book of Order:
By virtue of being children of believing parents they are, because of God’s covenant ordinance, made members of the Church, but this is not sufficient to make them continue members of the Church. When they have reached the age of discretion, they become subject to obligations of the covenant: faith, repentance and obedience. They then make public confession of their faith in Christ, or become covenant breakers, and subject to the discipline of the Church.
PCA Book of Order 56-4.j
Paedobaptism (or at least the reasoning of 98% of Reformed paedobaptists) is founded upon a faulty understanding of the New Covenant. It is not possible for someone to be a new covenant breaker.
This difference between Petto and the majority Reformed position is precisely why I find Mark Jones’ comments in the forward to Petto’s book so unhelpful.
The history of Reformed covenant theology has not always been well understood. Richard Greaves refers to Petto, as well as Owen, Goodwin, and Ussher, as “strict Calvinists” who belong to one of three different groups in the covenant tradition. Greaves mistakenly posits a tension between the Calvin-Perkins-Ames tradition, which supposedly distinguished itself by promulgating an unconditional character to the covenant of grace, and the Zwingli-Bullinger-Tyndale tradition, which is characterized by the conditional nature of the covenant of grace. Graves is wrong to place these two groups in tension with one another. The truth is that both ‘groups’ understood the covenant of grace as having conditions; namely, faith and obedience. However, because the faith and obedience that is required in the covenant of grace is the “gift of God” it may also be said that the covenant of grace is some sense unconditional. These nuances have often been missing in the twentieth-century historiography.
Per my reading, Jones attempts to obliterate the distinction Petto labors to carefully establish between his view and the view of those who believe one can break the new covenant by arguing there really is no difference.
I was reading the article in Christianity Today about Al Mohler tonight and saw an advertisement that kept popping up on the right side:
It’s from the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. IFCJ was founded by a Rabbi in 1983 who makes roughly $1/2 million a year running the organization.
My interest here is to briefly look at the claims in the ads. The ads are found in Christianity Today, and they obviously work, otherwise IFCJ wouldn’t be wasting their money on Christianity Today ads. That means Christians believe the ads and act upon that belief by supporting the organization financially. But is there anything remotely biblical in these ads?
“Of course there is! Can’t you see all the quotations of Scripture in the ads?” Simply quoting Scripture is not the same thing as truthfully representing Scripture. Satan loves the words of Scripture (Gen 3:1, Matt 4:5, etc) – he just hates them in their proper context and meaning. So do the ads above accurately represent the teaching of the Word of God concerning the modern nation state Israel?
First of all, before we even get to the quoted verses, let’s just step back and look at the organization. It’s purpose is:
“to promote understanding between Jews and Christians and build broad support for Israel and other shared concerns. Our ministry’s vision is that Jews and Christians will reverse their 2,000-year history of discord and replace it with a relationship marked by dialogue, respect and cooperation.”
The purpose is first and foremost to financially support the modern nation state Israel. One of the projects of IFCJ is called Stand for Israel:
Stand for Israel aims to engage people both spiritually and politically on behalf of Israel and the Jewish people by encouraging them to pray for Israel and teaching them to advocate for the Jewish state.
Secondarily it is to promote cooperation and understanding between Jews and Christians. But ask yourself, is one of these common, shared concerns Jesus Christ? No. Jews like Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein (founder) deny that Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah. They still await their Messiah. Of course, they also deny that Jesus is God. Interestingly, IFCJ has been rejected by many Jewish Rabbis who forbid their people to accept IFCJ funds because it promotes idolatry:
Groups that take money from the fund are flouting the Torah’s prohibition of idolatry, Rabbi Elyashiv said, and they even aid future [Christian] missionary activities and grant them legitimacy…Taking money from this fund is an “unclean” act
So make no mistake, this organization is not an alliance of faith. It is an organization that seeks to establish fellowship between the body of Christ and the antichrist (1 John 2:22). God has warned us of such efforts: “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Cor 6:14). And if anyone objects “But they believe in the same God”, please go back and read the 1 John 2 reference. Verse 23 states “No one who denies the Son has the Father.” Meditate upon John 5:30-47 as well, specifically v38;42;46. Jews are as equally idolatrous, rebellious, and damned as the Muslims they hate. We are to have no fellowship with them. Our relationship to them must be as ambassadors of the gospel, ministers of reconciliation.
Who is Israel?
All of these ads prominently proclaim “Israel Needs Your Support“. But we must ask ourselves, who is Israel? Or rather, who does the Bible say is the true Israel?
Romans 9:6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.
Romans 2:28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.
Paul seems to be saying that there is a deeper meaning to the name Israel than simply the nation of Abraham’s physical descendants. Where is he getting this idea from? He clarifies in Galatians 3:
7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham…28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
Throughout the Old Testament, Israel was identified as the physical descendants of Abraham who received the physical promise of the land of Canaan. But now with the fuller revelation of Jesus Christ, Paul is able to explain that the physical promise of land was only a shadow of the true promise made to Abraham: Christ. Therefore, Paul says that Israel, Abraham’s offspring, is actually Jesus Christ and His body. Christians are the Israel of God (Gal 6:16).
Now let’s take a look at the verses these ads quote.
The IFCJ ad quotes this verse apparently because they believe the creation of the modern state of Israel in 1948 is the fulfillment of Isaiah 11:12. God will “assemble the banished ones of Israel” or as the ad translates it “Gathering the Jewish exiles from the four corners of the earth”. Financial contributions to IFCJ directly support this interpretation of Isaiah 11:12
Is it true that Freedom Flights are provided at no cost to Jews wishing to immigrate to Israel?
The airlines contracted by the Israeli government to provide these flights are commercial businesses that are paid for their services by the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) and the Israeli government. JAFI, in turn, depends on organizations like The Fellowship to cover the cost of these flights, as well as other costs included in the aliyah (immigration) and klitah (resettlement) process. These include the cost of obtaining passports and travel documents, language and job training at absorption centers in Israel, and housing subsidies.
But is that what Isaiah 11:12 is talking about? Go read the whole chapter (please, actually go read it – I’ll wait).
First of all, who is the shoot who will spring from the stem of Jesse (11:1)? The New Testament is abundantly clear it is Jesus Christ (Acts 13:23; Rev 5:5; 22:16; Rom 15:12).
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein cannot claim the modern state of Israel is a fulfillment of Isaiah 11:12 unless he can identify someone in 1948 as the promised shoot of Jesse because verse 11 says that these Jewish exiles will be gathered “on that day” when the shoot springs up from the stem of Jesse.
Eckstein denies 11:1 refers to Jesus, so his interpretation is already wrong – but he can’t even identify any modern leader as the fulfillment of 11:1.
So if the IFCJ ad’s interpretation of 11:12 is wrong, what is the right interpretation? Is it prophesying Christ’s return when He will supposedly re-establish the nation of Israel and rebuild a temple and gather the banished ethnic Jews from around the world? No. Paul makes it clear that Isaiah was prophesying about the body of Christ, about the gospel age, when all of God’s elect, Jew and Gentile, will be gathered from throughout the world (through the proclamation of the gospel, Rom 10) into one body: the Israel of God.
Romans 9:23 And He did so to make known (AS)the riches of His glory upon (AT)vessels of mercy, which He (AU)prepared beforehand for glory, 24even us, whom He also (AV)called, (AW)not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. 25As He says also in Hosea,
“(AX)I WILL CALL THOSE WHO WERE NOT MY PEOPLE, ‘MY PEOPLE,’
AND HER WHO WAS NOT BELOVED, ‘BELOVED.'”
26“(AY)AND IT SHALL BE THAT IN THE PLACE WHERE IT WAS SAID TO THEM, ‘YOU ARE NOT MY PEOPLE,’
THERE THEY SHALL BE CALLED SONS OF (AZ)THE LIVING GOD.”
The remnant are the elect (both Jew and Gentile) and the salvation spoken of in Isaiah is not physical salvation from physical exile from the physical land of Canaan/Palestine. The salvation spoken of is eternal spiritual salvation from spiritual exile from heaven and slavery to Satan. To claim Isaiah 11:12 was fulfilled in 1948 in the creation of the modern state of Israel is to deny the Gospel. Why are Christians giving this organization money?
Next up is Genesis 12:3
1Now (A)the LORD said to Abram,
“Go forth from your country,
And from your relatives
And from your father’s house,
To the land which I will show you;
2And (B)I will make you a great nation,
And (C)I will bless you,
And make your name great;
And so (D)you shall be a blessing;
3And (E)I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse
(F)And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.“
IFCJ quotes the verse as “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Apparently they believe verse 3 means that we should financially support the modern state of Israel because we, and everyone, will be blessed by them. The modern state of Israel is a blessing to the world, and so we should support it, according to IFCJ.
But what does God say verse 3 means?
In his second sermon in the book of Acts, Peter said:
Acts 3:23 Moses said, ‘(AI)THE LORD GOD WILL RAISE UP FOR YOU A PROPHET LIKE ME FROM YOUR BRETHREN; TO HIM YOU SHALL GIVE HEED to everything He says to you. 23‘(AJ)And it will be that every (AK)soul that does not heed that prophet (AL)shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.’ 24“And likewise, (AM)all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and his successors onward, also announced these days. 25“It is you who are (AN)the sons of the prophets and of the (AO)covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘(AP)AND IN YOUR SEED ALL THE FAMILIES OF THE EARTH SHALL BE BLESSED.’ 26“For you (AQ)first, God (AR)raised up His Servant and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.”
Peter, moved by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:19-21), explained that the fulfillment of Genesis 12:3 was the gospel of Jesus Christ. All peoples of the earth will be blessed through Abraham because God will raise up His Servant, descended from Abraham, and will send Him to bless all peoples by commanding repentance and offering forgiveness.
Paul made this even more explicit in his letter to the Galatians:
Galatians 3:7 Therefore, be sure that (J)it is those who are of faith who are (K)sons of Abraham.8The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “(L)ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU.” 9So then (M)those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer. 10For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “(N)CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO DOES NOT ABIDE BY ALL THINGS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF THE LAW, TO PERFORM THEM.”
11Now that (O)no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “(P)THE RIGHTEOUS MAN SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.” 12However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, “(Q)HE WHO PRACTICES THEM SHALL LIVE BY THEM.” 13Christ (R)redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us–for it is written, “(S)CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON (T)A TREE”– 14in order that (U)in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we (V)would receive (W)the promise of the Spirit through faith.
It could not be any more clear. God said that the blessing of Genesis 12:3 is the gospel and that it is accomplished in Christ Jesus – not in the modern state of Israel. Why is a Christian magazine promoting a Jewish Rabbi’s denial of the gospel?
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May they prosper who love you.
Just as we had to ask who Israel is, so now we must as where Jerusalem is. When there was a famine in Jerusalem during the first years of the church, did the Apostles instruct Christians to pray for the earthly city of Jerusalem? No, they were to pray for and financially support the saints (Christians) in Jerusalem. (How many of those who support IFCJ financially stop to consider that the modern state of Israel persecutes Palenstinian saints?!)
Are we to continue to pray for the earthly city of Jerusalem? Again, let us hear the definitive answer from the Word of God:
Galatians 4:21 Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not (AA)listen to the law? 22For it is written that Abraham had two sons, (AB)one by the bondwoman and (AC)one by the free woman. 23But (AD)the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and (AE)the son by the free woman through the promise.24(AF)This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from (AG)Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be (AH)slaves; she is Hagar. 25Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26But (AI)the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother.
27For it is written,
“(AJ)REJOICE, BARREN WOMAN WHO DOES NOT BEAR;
BREAK FORTH AND SHOUT, YOU WHO ARE NOT IN LABOR;
FOR MORE NUMEROUS ARE THE CHILDREN OF THE DESOLATE
THAN OF THE ONE WHO HAS A HUSBAND.”
28And you brethren, (AK)like Isaac, are (AL)children of promise. 29But as at that time (AM)he who was born according to the flesh (AN)persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, (AO)so it is now also.
31So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman.
God the Holy Spirit explains that there were two Jerusalems: One stemming from the Mosaic Covenant – the earthly city of the earthly descendants of Abraham; the other stemming from the New Covenant – the heavenly city of the spiritual descendants of Abraham. God even goes so far as to explain that the earthly Jerusalem and her people have been “cast out”! To agree with IFCJ’s interpretation of Psalm 122:6 by financially supporting the organization and the modern state of Israel is to deny the explicit teaching of the Holy Spirit.
Revelation 21:1Then I saw(A) a new heaven and a new earth, for(B) the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2And I saw(C) the holy city,(D) new Jerusalem,(E) coming down out of heaven from God,(F) prepared(G) as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold,(H) the dwelling place[a] of God is with man. He will(I) dwell with them, and they will be his people,[b] and God himself will be with them as their God.[c]4(J) He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and(K) death shall be no more,(L) neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
5And(M) he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I(N) am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for(O) these words are trustworthy and true.” 6And he said to me,(P) “It is done!(Q) I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.(R) To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. 7(S) The one who conquers will have this heritage, and(T) I will be his God and(U) he will be my son. 8(V) But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars,(W) their portion will be in(X) the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is(Y) the second death.”
…22And(AQ) I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23And the city(AR) has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for(AS) the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24By its light(AT) will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth(AU) will bring their glory into it, 25and(AV) its gates will never be shut by day—and(AW) there will be no night there. 26They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27But(AX) nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s(AY) book of life.
Does that sound like the Jerusalem you hear about in the news today? The Jerusalem we are to pray for is the Jerusalem from above – the kingdom of God.
Breaking Down the Hostility Between Jew and Gentile
The stated purpose of IFCJ is to break down the 2,000 year wall of hostility between Jews and Christians – and yet the wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles was already broken down 2,000 years ago.
Ephesians 2:11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.
Jesus Christ is the only means of reconciliation. Fellowship is found in Christ alone. If Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein seeks peace with Christians, the only way to accomplish it is through Jesus Christ. Yet Eckstein refuses to repent of his idolatry. He refuses to acknowledge his guilt before God and cast himself upon the mercy of the Messiah. Instead, he promotes a false gospel of earthly hope and eternal torment.
Support of Christian Leaders
In light of this, I urge you to call Christians and Christian leaders who support IFCJ to repentance. James Dobson of Focus on the Family is an incredibly influential voice (who also appeared in my recent post about Mormons – not a good sign for his ability to discern truth from error). Here is what he has to say about IFCJ:
I’m aware of your own efforts to defend righteousness… it’s heartening to know that you and other members of the Jewish community are standing with us [Christians] in striving to defend biblical truths.
Dr. James C. Dobson
Founder and Chairman, Focus on the Family
How can Dr. Dobson applaud Eckstein’s denial of the gospel as “biblical truth”??
Finally, you can see in the ad above a picture of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. It is located at the foot of the western side of the Temple Mount.
According to the Tanakh, Solomon’s Temple was built atop the Temple Mount in the 10th century BCE and destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. The Second Temple was completed and dedicated in 516 BCE. In around 19 BCE Herod the Great began a massive expansion project on the Temple Mount. He artificially expanded the area which resulted in an enlarged platform. Today’s Western Wall formed part of the retaining perimeter wall of this platform. Herod’s Temple was destroyed by the Roman Empire, along with the rest of Jerusalem, in 70 CE during the First Jewish-Roman War.
The destruction of the temple in AD70 was God’s judgment upon the nation of Israel. We read in Galatians 3 that the Jerusalem below, the son of the slave woman, was to be cast off – and she was. The Mosaic Covenant was a conditional covenant. Israel would remain in the land of Canaan only if they obeyed God’s statutes and ordinances. They did not, and as a result, they were cut off. God spoke of this:
Jeremiah 11:1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Hear the words of this covenant, and speak to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 3 You shall say to them, Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Cursed be the man who does not hear the words of this covenant 4 that I commanded your fathers when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace, saying, Listen to my voice, and do all that I command you. So shall you be my people, and I will be your God, 5 that I may confirm the oath that I swore to your fathers, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey, as at this day.” Then I answered, “So be it, Lord.”
6 And the Lord said to me, “Proclaim all these words in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem: Hear the words of this covenant and do them. 7 For I solemnly warned your fathers when I brought them up out of the land of Egypt, warning them persistently, even to this day, saying, Obey my voice. 8 Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but everyone walked in the stubbornness of his evil heart. Therefore I brought upon them all the words of this covenant, which I commanded them to do, but they did not.”
9 Again the Lord said to me, “A conspiracy exists among the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 10 They have turned back to the iniquities of their forefathers, who refused to hear my words. They have gone after other gods to serve them. The house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken my covenant that I made with their fathers. 11 Therefore, thus says the Lord, Behold, I am bringing disaster upon them that they cannot escape. Though they cry to me, I will not listen to them. 12 Then the cities of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem will go and cry to the gods to whom they make offerings, but they cannot save them in the time of their trouble. 13 For your gods have become as many as your cities, O Judah, and as many as the streets of Jerusalem are the altars you have set up to shame, altars to make offerings to Baal.
14 “Therefore do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer on their behalf, for I will not listen when they call to me in the time of their trouble. 15 What right has my beloved in my house, when she has done many vile deeds? Can even sacrificial flesh avert your doom? Can you then exult? 16 The Lord once called you ‘a green olive tree, beautiful with good fruit.’ But with the roar of a great tempest he will set fire to it, and its branches will be consumed. 17 The Lord of hosts, who planted you, has decreed disaster against you, because of the evil that the house of Israel and the house of Judah have done, provoking me to anger by making offerings to Baal.”
Though the earthly Jerusalem was destroyed because of a broken covenant, hope remains because of an unbreakable covenant:
Hebrews 8:1 Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, 2 a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. 3 For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. 4 Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. 5 They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” 6 But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.
8 For he finds fault with them when he says:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord,
when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel
and with the house of Judah,
9 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers
on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.
For they did not continue in my covenant,
and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord.
10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws into their minds,
and write them on their hearts,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor
and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
for they shall all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest.
12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,
and I will remember their sins no more.”
13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.
Though he doesn’t mention us by name, the article is an attempted rebuke of Covenantal Baptists (note that the article is filed under his “baptism” category even though nothing in the article mentions anything about baptism) who have stated their affinity for John Owen’s covenant theology, specifically his view of the New Covenant. McMahon states:
It is often the case through church history that people want to “own” the foremost theologians of the church in their system of theology; our day is no different… Owen, though he is dead, still needs to be rescued from those who obscure his theological views surrounding Covenant Theology… There is a wave of theological error purporting that the New Covenant, or Covenant of Grace fully expressed in the New Testament, was a “brand new,” or as some parrot Hebrews, “better” covenant, but translate this theologically as “wholly different.”…consideration should taken to rightly exemplify Owen’s position in any theological writing on the covenants.
McMahon explains Owen taught that the Covenant of Redemption was a covenant of works between the Father and the Son. Quoting Owen:
“The will of the Father appointing and designing the Son to be the head, husband, deliverer, and redeemer of his elect, his church, his people, whom he did foreknow, with the will of the Son voluntarily, freely undertaking that work and all that was required thereunto, is that compact (for in that form it is proposed in the Scripture) that we treat of.” (12:496)
McMahon explains that this supports all of God’s work in time with the elect. “It is the foundation for everything that God will do in time in redeeming His bride for Himself.” God applies the benefits of the Covenant of Redemption to the elect by means of the Covenant of Grace. He elaborates:
It would be correct, in Owen’s mind, to say that salvation is coextensive for the elect in the Covenant of Grace by the blessings imparted by the Covenant of Redemption. But, it would also be correct, in Owen’s mind, to say that salvation is not coextensive in the Covenant of Grace for those who are not elect, that is why Owen had no problem admitting infants in the Covenant of Grace in any administration of it.
McMahon chastises baptists by explaining that Owen simply held the standard reformed formulation of the Covenant of Grace as consisting of numerous administrations, of which the New Covenant was only the most recent. According to McMahon, Owen taught that the New Covenant was merely a renewal of the previous administrations of the Covenant of Grace. McMahon states:
“By the new covenant, not the new covenant absolutely and originally, as given in the first promise, is intended; but in its complete gospel administration, when it was actually established by the death of Christ, as administered in and by the ordinances of the new testament. This, with the covenant of Sinai, were, as most say, but different administrations of the same covenant.” (6:70, Emphasis mine.) Owen then spends another page outlining why it is different administrations of the same covenant. (cf. 6:71ff)
He sums this up in saying, “The judgment of most reformed divines is, that the church under the old testament had the same promise of Christ, the same interest in him by faith, remission of sins, reconciliation with God, justification and salvation by the same way and means, that believers have under the new. And whereas the essence and the substance of the covenant consists in these things, they are not to be said to be under another covenant, but only a different administration of it. But this was so different from that which is established in the gospel after the coming of Christ, that it hath the appearance and name of another covenant.” (6:71)
The problem with McMahon’s essay is two-fold:
- McMahon jumps all over the prolific work of Owen. He quotes from numerous different writings as it fits his argument. The problem is that McMahon fails to account for growth/change in Owen’s thought over the 40 years that he wrote. Therefore what Owen may have said in one place is not necessarily consistent with what he may have said later or earlier in his life. Jeffrey D. Johnson in his recent book The Fatal Flaw in the Theology Behind Infant Baptism notes this change when specifically comparing Owen’s work “Biblical Theology” with his Hebrews commentary.
- McMahon very blatantly and inexcusably misreads Owen’s commentary on Hebrews, his most mature stating of his views on the subject.
Two Covenants or One?
The previous quotation from McMahon (and Owen) suggests that in his commentary on Hebrews 8:6-13, Owen said the new covenant is simply a different administration of the same covenant as Sinai. The egregious error is that the section McMahon quotes from Owen is actually the section where Owen is summarizing the view he disagrees with! (See Brenton Ferry’s criticism of Jeong Koo Jeon for making the exact same error in Ferry’s chapter of The Law is Not of Faith)
Here is what Owen states:
On this consideration it is said by some, that the two covenants mentioned, the new and the old, were not indeed two distinct covenants, in their essence and substance, but only different administrations of the same covenant, called two covenants from some different outward solemnities and duties of worship attending them. To clearly discuss this with the minimum of unnecessary difficulty the following clarifications should be observed and noted, —
1. That by the old covenant, the original covenant of works, made with Adam and all mankind in him, is not intended; for this is undoubtedly a covenant different in its essence and substance from the new.
[[[2. By the new covenant, not the new covenant absolutely and originally, as given in the first promise, is intended; but in its complete gospel administration, when it was actually established by the death of Christ, as administered in and by the ordinances of the new testament. This, with the covenant of Sinai, were, as most say, but different administrations of the same covenant.]]] This latter being the point to be examined.
As on the other hand, there is such express mention made, not only in this, but in several other places in the Scriptures, of two distinct covenants, or testaments, and such different natures, properties, and effects, ascribed to them, as seem to constitute two distinct covenants. This, therefore, we must inquire into;
So Owen states that the precise point of this part of his commentary is to decide if the old and the new are two different covenants, or just two different administrations of the same covenant. He starts by summarizing the One Covenant View. This summary is what McMahon erroneously claims is Owen stating his own view.
The Plausibility of the One Covenant View
…[[[The judgment of most reformed divines is, that the church under the old testament had the same promise of Christ, the same interest in him by faith, remission of sins, reconciliation with God, justification and salvation by the same way and means, that believers have under the new. And whereas the essence and the substance of the covenant consists in these things, they are not to be said to be under another covenant, but only a different administration of it. But this was so different from that which is established in the gospel after the coming of Christ, that it has the appearance and name of another covenant.]]]
After summarizing and explaining the One Covenant View under the heading “The Plausibility of the One Covenant View” Owen goes on to describe the alternative view:
The Lutheran Insistence on Two Distinct Covenants
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.
Their arguments are
1. Because in the Scripture they are often so called (separate covenants), and compared with one another, and sometimes opposed to one another; the first and the last, the new and the old.
2. Because the covenant of grace in Christ is eternal, immutable, always the same, subject to no alteration, no change or abrogation; neither can these things be said of it with respect to any administration of it as they are of the old covenant.
So then which view does Owen side with?
THE TWO COVENANTS ARE DISTINCT COVENANTS
…5. 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:
Could Owen be any clearer? I don’t think so. McMahon misunderstands every quotation he supplies from Owen’s commentary on Hebrews 8. I honestly do not know how McMahon could so severely blunder his reading of Owen. It seems the only options are he intentionally misrepresents Owen, or he read Owen’s commentary so quickly as to not read what Owen actually said. I know he is a very busy person, and I don’t want to charge McMahon with the former, so it must have been the latter. Either way, it makes him an unreliable guide on this matter. This error alone renders McMahon’s entire essay faulty.
The Newness of the New Covenant
In keeping with this error, McMahon says “After stating that the new is not ‘brand new’, Owen describes how the new is different than the old” and then goes on to list 5 points of difference. The problem is that McMahon is once again quoting Owen’s summary of the reformed view! He is listing the 5 ways in which the reformed divines say there is a difference.
Owen saves his view of the differences for later when he lists 17 particular differences!
“Do This And Live” Foundation for All Covenants?
Central to his thesis is McMahon’s attempt to make Owen say that every covenant, including the Covenant of Grace is founded upon the principle “Do this and live.” McMahon states:
What is a covenant? According to Owen, the Covenant of Works subsists in the foundation or template for all covenants. He says, “The whole entire nature of the covenant of works consisted in this, — that upon our personal obedience, according unto the law and rule of it, we should be accepted with God, and rewarded with him. Herein the essence of it did consist; and whatever covenant proceeds on these terms, or has the nature of them in it, however it may be varied with additions or alterations, is the same covenant still, and not another. As in the renovation of the promise wherein the essence of the covenant of grace was contained, God did ofttimes make other additions unto it (as unto Abraham and David), yet was it still the same covenant for the substance of it, and not another; so whatever variations may be made in, or additions unto, the dispensation of the first covenant, so long as this rule is retained, “Do this, and live,” it is still the same covenant for the substance and essence of it.” (5:275, Emphasis Mine) This is striking in that Owen templates the structure of “covenant” in “do this and live.”
This is a very serious misreading of Owen. (The same misreading is found in this essay by Anglican Priest Steve Griffith http://www.johnowen.org/media/griffiths_owen_federal_theology.pdf. It appears that the misreading of both of these authors may have its roots in Sinclair Ferguson, but I don’t have a copy of his book to compare.) McMahon argues that Owen is teaching that the Covenant of Grace is the same covenant for substance and essence as the Covenant of Works! McMahon claims that the substance of the Covenant of Grace is “Do this, and live.” But is that what Owen actually said?
XIII. The nature of justification proved from the difference of the covenants
The difference between the two covenants stated–Argument from thence
That which we plead in the third place unto our purpose is, the difference between the two covenants. And herein it may be observed,- –
1. That by the two covenants I understand those which were absolutely given unto the whole church, and were all to bring it “eis teleioteta”,–unto a complete and perfect state; that is, the covenant of works, or the law of our creation as it was given unto us, with promises and threatening, or rewards and punishments, annexed unto it; and the covenant of grace, revealed and proposed in the first promise. As unto the covenant of Sinai, and the new testament as actually confirmed in the death of Christ, with all the spiritual privileges thence emerging, and the differences between them, they belong not unto our present argument.
2. The whole entire nature of the covenant of works consisted in this,–that upon our personal obedience, according unto the law and rule of it, we should be accepted with God, and rewarded with him. Herein the essence of it did consist; and whatever covenant proceeds on these terms, or has the nature of them in it, however it may be varied with additions or alterations, is the same covenant still, and not another. As in the renovation of the promise wherein the essence of the covenant of grace was contained, God did ofttimes make other additions unto it (as unto Abraham and David), yet was it still the same covenant for the substance of it, and not another; so whatever variations may be made in, or additions unto, the dispensation of the first covenant, so long as this rule is retained, “Do this, and live,” it is still the same covenant for the substance and essence of it.
3. Hence two things belonged unto this covenant:–First, That all things were transacted immediately between God and man. There was no mediator in it, no one to undertake any thing, either on the part of God or man, between them; for the whole depending on every one’s personal obedience, there was no place for a mediator. Secondly, That nothing but perfect, sinless obedience would be accepted with God, or preserve the covenant in its primitive state and condition. There was nothing in it as to pardon of sin, no provision for any defect in personal obedience.
4. Wherefore, this covenant being once established between God and man, there could be no new covenant made, unless the essential form of it were of another nature,–namely, that our own personal obedience be not the rule and cause of our acceptation and justification before God; for whilst this is so, as was before observed, the covenant is still the same, however the dispensation of it may be reformed or reduced to suit unto our present state and condition. What grace soever might be introduced into it, that could not be so which excluded all works from being the cause of our justification. But if a new covenant be made, such grace must be provided as is absolutely inconsistent with any works of ours, as unto the first ends of the covenant; as the apostle declares, Rom.11:6.
5. Wherefore, the covenant of grace, supposing it a new, real, absolute covenant, and not a reformation of the dispensation of the old, or a reduction of it unto the use of our present condition (as some imagine it to be), must differ, in the essence, substance, and nature of it, from that first covenant of works. And this it cannot do if we are to be justified before God on our personal obedience; wherein the essence of the first covenant consisted. If, then, the righteousness wherewith we are justified before God be our own, our own personal righteousness, we are yet under the first covenant, and no other.
6. But things in the new covenant are indeed quite otherwise; for,- -First, It is of grace, which wholly excludes works; that is, so of grace, as that our own works are not the means of justification before God; as in the places before alleged. Secondly, It has a mediator and surety; which is built alone on this supposition, that what we cannot do in ourselves which was originally required of us, and what the law of the first covenant cannot enable us to perform, that should be performed for us by our mediator and surety. And if this be not included in the very first notion of a mediator and surety, yet it is in that of a mediator or surety that does voluntarily interpose himself, upon an open acknowledgment that those for whom he undertakes were utterly insufficient to perform
It is quite inexplicable how McMahon could misread Owen so severely yet again. The very title of this section makes it clear that Owen is articulating a contrast, a difference between the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace, not their similarity!
Is the New Covenant Conditional?
The entire thrust of McMahon’s essay is to demonstrate that Owen taught that the New Covenant/Covenant of Grace had conditions that could be broken by its members. He desires to show that Owen taught both elect and non-elect individuals are members of the Covenant of Grace, but only the elect have the power/grace to fulfill the conditions of it by means of the Covenant of Redemption. McMahon states:
Owen has absolutely no problem in stating that in every covenant made, there are conditions to be met. In the external administration of the Covenant of Grace, that which pertains to the New Covenant in the New Testament as well as its expression in the Old Testament, men must meet specific requirements in order to be saved. But they cannot. God must then “take up both sides.” This is why the Covenant of Redemption is so important in Owen’s overall view of Covenant Theology. Jesus Christ, as Mediator, places all the responsibility, in time, under the law, on Himself, for all those for whom He will live and die. Men, then, by virtue of Christ’s work, are graciously saved and regenerated. That does not mean that only the regenerate live and move in the Covenant of Grace. Abraham and his seed are covenanted with God. But it certainly means, by Owen’s own definition, that only the elect participate in the fruits of the Covenant of Redemption.
…The Covenant of Grace is the sphere in which God works, handling both believers and unbelievers in that context upon condition of their obedience.
The quotations McMahon provides in this section of his essay are all from Volume XI of Owen’s Works: “The Doctrine of the Saints’ Perseverance Explained and Confirmed” which was written in 1654. I have not read the work so I cannot comment on the accuracy of his quotes.
However, here are the words of Owen 26 years later, speaking of the New Covenant in Hebrews 8:10
A covenant properly is a compact or agreement on certain terms mutually stipulated by two or more parties. As promises are the foundation and rise of it, as it is between God and man, so it compriseth also precepts, or laws of obedience, which are prescribed unto man on his part to be observed. But in the description of the covenant here annexed, there is no mention of any condition on the part of man, of any terms of obedience prescribed unto him, but the whole consists in free, gratuitous promises, as we shall see in the explication of it…
…(3.) It is evident that there can be no condition previously required, unto our entering into or participation of the benefits of this covenant, antecedent unto the making of it with us. For none think there are any such with respect unto its original constitution; nor can there be so in respect of its making with us, or our entering into it. For, — [1.] This would render the covenant inferior in a way of grace unto that which God made with the people at Horeb. For he declares that there was not any thing in them that moved him either to make that covenant, or to take them into it with himself. Everywhere he asserts this to be an act of his mere grace and favor. Yea, he frequently declares, that he took them into covenant, not only without respect unto any thing of good in them, but although they were evil and stubborn. See Deuteronomy 7:7,8, 9:4, 5. [2.] It is contrary unto the nature, ends, and express properties of this covenant. For there is nothing that can be thought or supposed to be such a condition, but it is comprehended in the promise of the covenant itself; for all that God requireth in us is proposed as that which himself will effect by virtue of this covenant.
…(5.) It is evident that the first grace of the covenant, or God’s putting his law in our hearts, can depend on no condition on our part. For whatever is antecedent thereunto, being only a work or act of corrupted nature, can be no condition whereon the dispensation of spiritual grace is superadded. And this is the great ground of them who absolutely deny the covenant of grace to be conditional; namely, that the first grace is absolutely promised, whereon and its exercise the whole of it doth depend.
(6.) Unto a full and complete interest in all the promises of the covenant, faith on our part, from which evangelical repentance is inseparable, is required. But whereas these also are wrought in us by virtue of that promise and grace of the covenant which are absolute, it is a mere strife about words to contend whether they may be called conditions or no. Let it be granted on the one hand, that we cannot have an actual participation of the relative grace of this covenant in adoption and justification, without faith or believing; and on the other, that this faith is wrought in us, given unto us, bestowed upon us, by that grace of the covenant which depends on no condition in us as unto its discriminating administration, and I shall not concern myself what men will call it.
…(9.) Although diaqh>kh, the word here used, may signify and be rightly rendered a “covenant,” in the same manner as tyriB] doth, yet that which is intended is properly a “testament,” or a “testamentary disposition” of good things. It is the will of God in and by Jesus Christ, his death and bloodshedding, to give freely unto us the whole inheritance of grace and glory. And under this notion the covenant hath no condition, nor are any such either expressed or intimated in this place.
And so we see once again that Owen argues at length against the position McMahon attributes to him. This is the foundation of McMahon’s thesis, and it is shown to be faulty as well.
Covenant of Grace Made with Non-Elect?
In line with the previous point is McMahon’s contention that Owen taught the Covenant of Grace is made with both the elect and non-elect.
The Covenant of Grace, for the elect, cannot be broken because it logically flows from the Covenant of Redemption. However, those “covenanted” with God, who are not regenerate, something Owen contends for, will always break the covenant and enact the threatenings held in the sign placed upon them. (16:258ff)
This is seen to be false according to the previous quote from Owen regarding conditions in the New Covenant.
…Part of the confusion here is due to the fact that many make the Covenant of Grace too restrictive. They do not allow for Owen’s “covenant” definition, and therefore concluded that the Covenant of Grace is something brand “new”, not a renewal of anything former, and made internally, without any external portions, only with the elect.
…This is where Owen emphatically disagrees, even if only on the basis of the Covenant of Redemption, with those who would “simply” equate the Covenant of Grace with salvation; i.e. that the Covenant of Grace only contains inward and no outward expressions, or it only provides a context for the regenerate and not unbelievers.
First, we already demonstrated that what McMahon claims is “Owen’s ‘covenant’ definition” is in fact not. Second, compare McMahon’s summary of Owen with Owen’s own words:
The covenant of grace in Christ is made only with the Israel of God, the church of the elect. For by the making of this covenant with any, the effectual communication of the grace of it to them is principally intended. Nor can that covenant be said to be made absolutely with any but those whose sins are pardoned by virtue of it, and in whose hearts the law of God is written; which are the express promises of it. And it was with respect to those of this sort among that people that the covenant was promised to be made with them. See Rom 9:27-33; 11:7. But in respect of the outward dispensation of the covenant, it is extended beyond the effectual communication of the grace of it. And in respect to that did the privilege of the carnal seed of Abraham lie.
(By outward dispensation of the covenant of grace, Owen has in mind the preaching of the Word, etc – this is not the same thing as the “external administration/membership” that you hear other reformed writers, like McMahon, talk about)
Abrahamic and New Covenant the Same?
One final note needs to be made regarding the relationship of the Abrahamic Covenant to the New Covenant in Owen’s mind. McMahon states:
with Owen, the Abrahamic and New Covenant are the same
And yet, if we once again allow Owen to speak for himself, we will hear just the opposite:
When we speak of the “new covenant,” we do not intend the covenant of grace absolutely, as though it were not before in existence and effect, before the introduction of that which is promised here. For it was always the same, substantially, from the beginning. It passed through the whole dispensation of times before the law, and under the law, of the same nature and effectiveness, unalterable, “everlasting, ordered in all things, and sure.” All who contend about these things, the Socinians only excepted, grant that the covenant of grace, considered absolutely, — that is, the promise of grace in and by Jesus Christ, —was the only way and means of salvation to the church, from the first entrance of sin.
But for two reasons, it is not expressly called a covenant, without respect to any other things, nor was it called a covenant under the old testament. When God renewed the promise of it to Abraham, he is said to make a covenant with him; and he did so, but this covenant with Abraham was with respect to other things, especially the proceeding of the promised Seed from his loins. But absolutely, under the old testament, the covenant of grace consisted only in a promise; and as such only is proposed in the Scripture,
McMahon labored over this essay to warn Christians not to misread and therefore misrepresent Owen’s view of God’s covenants, and yet he has egregiously misread Owen himself. The irony would be quite humorous if the arrogant disdain from men like McMahon for baptists was not so aggravating. In conclusion, do not be intimidated and misled. Read the sources yourself.
It is often the case through church history that people want to “own” the foremost theologians of the church in their system of theology; our day is no different… Owen, though he is dead, still needs to be rescued from those who obscure his theological views surrounding Covenant Theology… consideration should be taken to rightly exemplify Owen’s position in any theological writing on the covenants.