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John Murray (the Baptist) vs James Bannerman (the Presbyterian) on The Church

December 5, 2016 2 comments

One of the primary foundations of infant baptism is the concept of an external church member, with external church privileges, stemming from an external covenant of grace. While saving faith is a required condition for the invisible church, it is not a condition of the visible church. Therefore the church consists of both true believers and false believers, along with their children.

James Bannerman

James Bannerman, a member of the Free Church of Scotland, published the popular The Church of Christ in 1868. He explains this concept as it relates to the visible/invisible church distinction.

Now, at the outset, it is not unimportant to remark, that when we speak of the Church invisible and the Church visible, we are not to be understood as if we referred in these designations to two separate and distinct Churches, but rather to the same Church under two different characters. We do not assert that Christ has founded two Churches on earth, but only one; and we affirm that that one Church is to be regarded under two distinct aspects. As the Church invisible, it consists of the whole number of the elect, who are vitally united to Christ the Head, and of none other. As the Church visible, it consists of all those who profess the faith of Christ, together with their children…

The Church invisible stands with respect to its members, in an inward and spiritual relationship to Christ, whereas the Church visible stands to Him in an outward relationship only… involving no more than the promise and enjoyment of outward privileges…

This external relationship, in which the members of the visible Church stand to Christ, as having been brought into a Church state from out of the world, has been often spoken of by theologians under the name of an external covenant or federal relationship. Whatever name may be given to it, there is no doubt that there is a real and important relationship into which the members of the visible Church have entered, to be distinguished alike from the state of the world without, and from the state of the invisible Church within…

[T]he formal professor may not possess that faith unfeigned and that vital union to the Saviour which will obtain for him the internal and saving blessing which the real believer will find in the ordinances; but there are external privileges which he may and does obtain in consequence of his mere outward profession and observance; and although he falls short of the saving benefit which the spiritual Christian finds in Christ’s Church, yet the benefits he actually enjoys are both real and important. This relation of the mere formal professor and member of the visible Church to Christ may be called an external covenant and outward federal union, or not. But under whatever name, it is important to bear in mind that there is such a relationship, involving both real responsibilities and real privileges; and that it is this relationship, as contradistinguished from an inward and saving one, that makes the difference between the members of the visible and the members of the invisible Church of Christ.

That is a principle foundation of paedobaptism, and Bannerman knew it. He goes on to explain that this particular view of the distinction between the visible and invisible church is what separates Presbyterianism from Congregationalism and paedobaptism from credobaptism.

The principles now illustrated, in regard to the real distinction and yet the real connection between the Church invisible and the Church visible, bear with them very important consequences. It may be well to indicate, without illustrating in detail, their bearings in four different directions.

In the first place, the doctrine in regard to the visible and invisible Church which we have laid down, if it be a correct and scriptural one, has a most important and decisive bearing upon the principles of Independents in reference to Church communion…

[T]he conclusions to which the principles already laid down, in regard to the Church in its twofold character of visible and invisible, seem to lead on the subject of its membership. Independents in general have rejected this distinction, and denied that there is ground in Scripture for asserting the existence of an outward society of professing Christians standing in an outward relation to Christ, and made up of nominal as well as actual believers…

In the second place, the principles in regard to the visible and invisible Church already indicated have a very important bearing on the question of the lawfulness or unlawfulness of Infant Baptism… [T]he doctrine of the visible Church and its external covenant relationship to Christ, lays the foundation for those views of Church membership which justify us in regarding the infants of professing Christians as entitled to share the communion and privileges of the Church

The Independent view, which insists on the possession of a saving faith in Christ as the only footing on which Church membership can be conceded, and the only title to the enjoyment of Church ordinances, tends very directly, if consistently carried out, to deprive the infants of professing Christians of their right to be regarded as members of the Church, or to claim the benefit of its ordinances.

John Murray

Writing 100 years later, John Murray criticized Bannerman’s (Presbyterianism’s) argument regarding the visible/invisible church distinction. Murray wrote about this issue on multiple occasions. His essay The Church: Its Definition in Terms of ‘Visible’ and ‘Invisible’ Invalid is found in Volume I of his Collected Writings. He also wrote about it in The Theology of the Westminster Confession of Faith, found in Volume IV.

In the former, he argues

It has been common to make a sharp distinction between the church visible and the church invisible and with this distinction to apply definitions by which the differentiation can be maintained. This position calls for examination in the light of Scripture…

The distinction between the church visible and the church invisible is not well-grounded in terms of Scripture, and the abuses to which the distinction has been subjected require correction…

Strictly speaking, it is not proper to speak of the ‘visible church’. According to Scripture we should speak of ‘the church’ and conceive of it as that visible entity that exists and functions in accord with the institution of Christ as Head, the church that is the body of Christ indwelt and directed by the Holy Spirit, consisting of those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be saints, manifested in the congregations of the faithful, and finally the church glorious, holy and without blemish.

Murray’s point is liable to misunderstanding. In fact, Federal Vision proponents have  called upon Murray in defense of their rejection of the invisible church. But that is certainly not what Murray meant. He defines the church in terms typically reserved for the invisible church and says they apply to the visible church as well. He does not reject the invisible church at all.

His third chapter in Christian Baptism titled “The Church” actually brings great clarity to his position. It is excellent. I could honestly quote and endorse the entire chapter (save the last paragraph and 2-3 sentences elsewhere). I will try to be as concise as I can in quoting him here.

The Church as Invisible

The church is therefore circumscribed by the facts of regeneration and faith, facts which in themselves are spiritual and invisible. For this reason no man or organisation of men is able infallibly to determine who are regenerate and who are not, who are true believers and who are not… For these reasons, if for not others, we must recognize that there is an aspect of invisibility that attaches to the concept of the church. *21

*21 In order to avoid the misconstructions and misconceptions frequently associated with the distinction between the church visible and invisible it is more proper to speak of the church as invisible and the church as visible or of the aspects of invisibility and visibility attaching to the church rather than of the visible church and the invisible church. The terms visible and invisible are aspects from which the church may be viewed. James Bannerman states this well: “When we speak of the Church invisible and the Church visible, we are not to be understood as if we referred in these designations to two separate and distinct Churches, but rather to the same Church under two different characters. We do not assert that Christ has founded two Churches on earth, but only one; and we affirm that that one Church is to be regarded under two distinct aspects” (op. cit., Vol. I, p. 29). But Bannerman does not appear to carry out this emphasis consistently in his subsequent discussion. He proceeds to define the visible church and the invisible respectively in terms of distinctions which do not appear to be borne out by the usage of Scripture itself.

Our approach to this question of the church must take account of the fact that every one who has a place in the organization which is visible and known to men is not by that mere token necessarily united to Christ by regeneration and faith. It is the distinction between that which is visible to men and what is known and viewed only perfectly by God that is guarded by saying that there is to the church and aspect of invisibility

The Church as Visible

[T]hose united to Christ form the communion of the saints and the congregation of the faithful… We cannot think of the church invisible as anything that exists in abstraction or apart from the overt expression which the spiritual and invisible facts of union and communion with Christ demand…

[H]uman agency and responsibility are operative in the church… [H]ow does this administration on the part of men relate itself to those spiritual and invisible facts by which the church is constituted? Men are n o t omniscient. and they, are fallible… What we find in the New Testament is that the constituting bond of communion w a s common faith in Christ and that the condition of admission to the fellowship was this same common faith (cf. Acts 2:38‐42: 8:13. 35~38: 10:34-38; 16:14, 15, 31‐ 33). This faith. however. did not have any automatic way of evidencing itself and, consequently. could become effective in gaining admission to the fellowship of the saints only by confession or profession. This means that faith was registered by confession, and the criterion by which the church exercised its administrative responsibility in the admission of members was confession…

This profession, though it is a profession that only a true believer can honestly and truly make, is, nevertheless, of such a nature that those who do not have true faith may make it to the satisfaction of those responsible for that administration whereby admission is secured into the fellowship of the church (cf. Acts 8:13, 20-23). We are here faced with the anomaly that the visible entity which is called the church may comprise within its membership those who do not really and truly belong to the body of Christ… This is an anomaly which must be fully appreciated and we must not make attempts to eliminate it. There are two dangers we must avoid and into which we are too liable to fall. *24

The first danger is to construe the confession as not a confession of true and saving faith but simply of intellectual and historical faith. In this way it might appear that the discrepancy between the fact that the church consists of those who are members of the body of Christ and the fact that many may be admitted into the fellowship of the visible church who are not truly members of the body of Christ is removed. It is a false solution. There is no warrant whatsoever for supposing that the confession which we find in the New Testament, by which members were admitted into the fellowship of the church, was a profession of mere intellectual or historical belief. It was the confession of like nature with that which Peter made at Caesarea Philippi, a confession which elicited from our Lord the benediction, “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 16:17). It is most instructive in this regard that the confession of Peter provided the occasion for the most significant disclosure made by our Lord respecting the church: “Upon this rock I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18). However we may interpret the word “rock” in this utterance there can be no question but that the church confession is the kind of confession made by Peter. And this means that the confession requisite for membership in the church is the confession of Jesus as the Christ, as the Son of God, as Savior, and as Lord. It is a profession of true and saving faith.

It is not by any means the prerogative of those who administer the government and disicpline of the church to determine whether the professino made is a true and sincere profession of such faith. A judgment of this kind would exceed the warrant of men. But it is the prerogative and duty of those who rule in the church of God to make plain, both in the instruction and examination of candidates for admission, what the meaning of the profession is and to insist that only the regenerate, only those united to Christ by faith, can truly make the profession required. There is thus the fullest scope for the examination of candidates in ascertaining the intelligence and consistency of the profession made, in instructing candidates respecting the nature of the Christian confession, in dissuading those who do not have true faith from making the profession which they cannot sincerely and honestly make, and in maintaining the purity of the church against the entrance of the ignorant and profane. But this examination, it must be remembered, is not conducted on the premise that to the officers of the church or to the church as a communion is given the prerogative to determine who are regenerate and who are not. It is conducted, rather, on the basis that to the ministry of the church belongs the obligation to insure as far as possible by instruction and warning that only those united to Christ will make the confession which only. such can truly make. It is the function of the church to demand an intelligent, credible, and uncontradicted confession that Jesus isthe Christ, the Son of the living God.

Murray the Congregationalist

To clarify, Murray is here rejecting the Presbyterian view of profession and adopting the Congregational view (his footnote 24 recommends Williston Walker’s The Creeds and Platforms of Congregationalism, Chapter XI “For a history of thought and debate on this question” – see also Visible Saints: The History of a Puritan Idea). Recall what Bannerman said above. Mere formal profession devoid of saving faith (what is known as “historical faith”) is all that is required for membership in the visible church.

[T]he formal professor may not possess that faith unfeigned and that vital union to the Saviour which will obtain for him the internal and saving blessing which the real believer will find in the ordinances; but there are external privileges which he may and does obtain in consequence of his mere outward profession and observance; and although he falls short of the saving benefit which the spiritual Christian finds in Christ’s Church, yet the benefits he actually enjoys are both real and important. This relation of the mere formal professor and member of the visible Church to Christ may be called an external covenant and outward federal union, or not. But under whatever name, it is important to bear in mind that there is such a relationship, involving both real responsibilities and real privileges; and that it is this relationship, as contradistinguished from an inward and saving one, that makes the difference between the members of the visible and the members of the invisible Church of Christ.

This is what Murray is explicitly rejecting. What is required is saving faith, not historical faith. Bannerman identified this as the Independent (Congregationalist) view. “The Independent view, which insists on the possession of a saving faith in Christ as the only footing on which Church membership can be conceded…”

Samuel Rutherford, one of the leading members of the Westminster Assembly (Dr. Guy Richard says “Rutherford had a huge impact upon the Assembly” and Chad Van Dixhoorn says Rutherford was the second-most prominent speaker on the floor of the Assembly), faced this argument in his day. He responded to the Congregationalists thus:

Therefore these words must import that nothing is more required for the church to confer the seal of the covenant without sin, but that the children be descended of parents professing the truth and faith, though the parents (indeed, as concerning any real union of faith) be plain strangers to the covenant [inwardly], and are members of the church only as an arm of wood is a member of the body.  Which being true, as it must be said, the assumption [of the Separatists] is weak and sick.

For the question is: what is it to be externally within the covenant? 

It is not to see all known sins, to be a chosen people, a people taught of God [inwardly], as this argument would say.

1. For then God would not have commanded Joshua (Josh. 5) to circumcise all Israel because their fathers were externally within the covenant.

2. For their fathers were a generation of unbelievers who knew not God, who tempted Him, grieved his holy Spirit in the wilderness, and professed themselves by their murmuring never to be truly within the covenant [inwardly].

Then to profess the doctrine of the covenant is but to be born Jews, avow the Lord in external profession and swear a covenant with Him (Deut. 29), [even] when the heart is blinded and hardened (Deut. 29:4).  And so by this it is clear that Joshua had commandment of God to give the seal of the covenant to their children, who [the parents] were as openly wicked against the Lord, as murderers, drunkards, swearers, etc.

3. This argument [of the Separatists] will prove that circumcision could lawfully be given to none but the children of parents within the covenant, that is, professedly known to be faithful, holy, and separated from the profane world in the judgment of charity. This has no warrant of the Word.  For:

1. The children of the most wicked were circumcised (Josh. 5:2 [see also verses 6-7]). We desire to know whom God forbade to be circumcised that were carnally descended of Abraham?  Or show us example or precept thereof in the Word.

2. What God required in the parents, whose infants the church might lawfully and without sin circumcise, was that they were born Jews. O, says Mr. Best, they were behooved [required] to be members of the church, whose infants might lawfully be circumcised.  I answer: that is ignotum per ignotius [unknown per the unknown].  Show me one person being a born Jew whose child the Lord forbid to circumcise?

3. What is it to be a member of the Jewish Church? Is it to be a visible saint and taught of God [inwardly]?  I [admit this to be] true: that was required indeed to make men acceptable before God.  But to make one a visible member of the visible Jewish church, nothing was required but to be a born Jew, profess God’s truth, and keep from external ceremonial pollutions.  I mean: to be a member of the visible church, [is] to keep external and church communion with the rest of God’s people.

On the Baptism of the Children of Adherents

John Murray the Baptist

Murray continues:

The second danger that must be avoided is the tendency to define the church in such a way as would seem to eliminate or at least tone down the discrepancy or anomaly with which we are dealing. This again is a mistake. Our definition of the church must not be framed in terms of an accommodation by which we make provision, within our definition, for the inclusion of hypocrites, that is to say, of those who profess to be Christ’s but are not really his. Our definition of the church must be framed in terms of the constitutive principle, to wit, that the church consists of those who are united to Christ and are members of his body. It is the communion of saints. And it is precisely that body of believers in fellowship with Christ and with one another, associated together in the world in accordance with Christ’s institution, which is called in the New Testament “the church” and is what we often call the visible church. We may not abandon this constitutive principle, we may not accommodate our definition in order to make allowance for the fact that some make the profession who do not have the faith and who enter into the fellowship without the bond that constitutes it.*26

*26 It is very easy to fall into this kind of accommodation when we begin to apply the distinction between the church as invisible and the church as visible. And, indeed, it may appear to be necessary in order to avoid other pitfalls of the Romish doctrine of the church. In the esteem of the present writer this appears rather conspicuously in James Bannerman’s excellent work, The Church of Christ. His definition of the visible church is framed in terms that do not appear to be supported by New Testament usage (cf. op. cit. Vol. I, pp. 29ff). The terms in which Bannerman develops the distinction between visible and invisible and frames his definition of the visible church seem to provide us with a very simple and effective polemic against Rome. The controversy with Rome must, of course, be unabated, but it does not appear to be sound to conduct this controversy on the basis of a definition which does not find its counterpart in the Biblical usage with reference to the church.

I Cor. 1:1, 2… provides us with Paul’s concept of the church at Corinth, namely, those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be saints, and he does not conceive of the church in broader terms so as to distinguish between the church and those sanctified and called…

Paul recognised that there was old leaven in the church at Corinth, leaven which needed to be purged out. But when he addresses the church he does not address it as a community to be defined in terms of old leaven and new unleavened bread. He does not define the church in terms which would make allowance for both elements. No, he addresses the church as those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, and who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ…

It is true that hypocrites may secure admission to the church. As we have seen, the very administration which Christ has instituted for the admission of members allows for that. There are disciples who are not truly disciples, and there are branches in the vine which are not vitally and abidingly in the vine. But while we fully recognise this fact we must at the same time distinguish between the constitutive principle in terms of which the church is defined, on the one hand, and the de facto situation arising from the way in which Christ has chosen to administer the affairs of his church in the world, on the other. The inclusion and exclusion are in the hands of fallible men. This administration is of divine institution. Hence those who are not Christ’s gain admission.*27 Here is the anomaly. We have to recognise and contain it. It persists in its sharpness because we refuse to define the church in lower terms than the body of Christ and the communion of the saints. It is that definition that creates the anomaly and we may not revise the definition in order to relieve the tension…

*27 Cf. Calvin: Inst. IV, i, 7 and 8.
In refraining from the attempt to define the church in terms of an accommodation that will make allowance for the inclusion of hypocrites we are following the same lines as would have to be followed in defining the kingdom of God. We are not forgetful of the parables of the tares and the wheat and of the drag net. There is a mixture in the kingdom, and Christ will at the end gather out of his kingdom all things that offend and them which do iniquity. But we may not define the kingdom of God in terms of accommodation to this de facto situation. We must define it in terms of the rule and realm of righteousness, life, and peace.

What we have here from Murray is the exact argument I have made previously regarding the church (See Church Membership: De Jure or De Facto?). False believers who are not united to Christ are part of the visible church de facto only because their “inclusion and exclusion are in the hands of fallible men.” But according to God, who sees rightly, they are not part of the church, the body of Christ. The visible/invisible church distinction is the distinction between man’s fallible perspective and God’s infallible perspective. Murray’s student Edmund P. Clowny (the first president of Westminster Theological Seminary) noted “The confusion about the relation of the aspects of visibility and invisibility of the church can only grow until it is again recognized that the church as invisible is not some abstract ideal, but simply the church as God sees it, in contrast with the church as we see it.” (“Distinctive Emphases in Presbyterian Church Polity,” in Pressing Toward the Mark)

This same point was made by James Ussher.

But are none to be accounted members of this [visible] Church, but such as are true believers, and so inseparably united unto Christ their head? Truly and properly none other. (1 John 2.19)… [they are] in humane judgement accounted members of the true Church, and Saints by calling, (1 Cor 1.1) until the Lord (who only knoweth his) do make known the contrary.

Cited in Church Membership: De Jure or De Facto?

And by the Second Helvetic Confession:

Whence the Church of God may be termed invisible; not because the men from whom the Church is gathered are invisible, but because, being hidden from our eyes and known only to God, it often secretly escapes human judgment… not all that are reckoned in the number of the Church are saints, and living and true members of the Church. For there are many hypocrites… But eventually the character of these men, for the most part, will be disclosed. For the apostle John says: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would indeed have continued with us” (I John 2:19). And although while they simulate piety they are not of the Church, yet they are considered to be in the Church, just as traitors in a state are numbered among its citizens before they are discovered…

Chapter XVII

And Wilhelmus à Brakel:

As one person cannot be divided into an invisible and a visible person, one may not divide the church into a visible and invisible church, for then it would seem as if there were two churches, each being a different church. One may also not divide the church into a visible and invisible church as far as the members themselves are concerned, as if the one had different members from the other… This is, in our opinion, an erroneous view, generating many confusing thoughts and expressions concerning the church… If one understands the differentiation between the external and internal church to be but a twofold view and perspective of one and the same church, and does not hold to a twofold membership relationship, all is well and our proposition is confirmed: The differentiation between an external and internal church on the basis of membership and relationship is not good. One and the same church, consisting of true believers only, can either be viewed in reference to her internal spiritual condition, or in reference to her external manifestation in the world. This is what we have stated…

The church is a congregation of true believers. The unconverted, even though they have made confession of faith, have been accepted into the fellowship of the church, live without offense, and have been admitted to the use of the sacraments, the unconverted, I repeat, are not true members of the church. This is so whether the church is viewed in her internal, spiritual condition or in her public gatherings whereby she manifests herself externally to the world. The unconverted are not members of the external, visible church. Believers only constitute the true church. They alone are members of the church, regardless of how one views them.

Cited in Church Membership: De Jure or De Facto?

Murray applies this to the question of baptism.

The resolution of the anomaly, that there are some who, from the standpoint of administration, rightly receive the sign and seal of that which in reality they do not possess, is not to be sought along the line of the distinction between an external covenant relationship and the internal spiritual relationship but rather in the consideration that there is a discrepancy between the secret operations and purposes of God in his saving grace, on the one hand, and the divinely instituted method of administering the covenant in the world, on the other. In other words, the administration of the rite that is the sign and seal of the covenant has to be conducted not in accordance with God’s secret operations and infallible purposes of grace but in accordance with certain requirements which fallible men may execute and apply. The divine method of administering the covenant in the world is that God commits to fallible men the ordinances of administration. These ordinances have to be dispensed in accordance with requirements which fallible men may apply. But the requirements that may be applied by men are not the measure of God’s secret and efficacious operations of grace. To be very specific, baptism is not administered by revelation of God’s secret will. It is properly administered when certain conditions of divine prescription, conditions with reference to which fallible men are in a position to judge, have been fulfilled. This is the divine institution. (52)

Of course, as Bannerman warned, Murray’s view of the church, “if consistently carried out… deprive[s] the infants of professing Christians of their right to be regarded as members of the Church.” But Bannerman’s warning here comes in the same section where he addresses the Romish view of the church. Thus we may paraphrase Murray’s rebuke of Bannerman’s polemic accommodation.

 It is very easy to fall into this kind of accommodation when we begin to apply the distinction between the church as invisible and the church as visible. And, indeed, it may appear to be necessary in order to avoid other pitfalls of the Baptist doctrine of the church. In the esteem of the present writer this appears rather conspicuously in James Bannerman’s excellent work, The Church of Christ. His definition of the visible church is framed in terms that do not appear to be supported by New Testament usage (cf. op. cit. Vol. I, pp. 29ff). The terms in which Bannerman develops the distinction between visible and invisible and frames his definition of the visible church seem to provide us with a very simple and effective polemic against the Baptists. The controversy with Baptists must, of course, be unabated, but it does not appear to be sound to conduct this controversy on the basis of a definition which does not find its counterpart in the Biblical usage with reference to the church.

What About Abraham?

Of course Murray goes on to argue for infant baptism on the basis of the Abrahamic Covenant. But so did the Congregationalists. And, as older Presbyterians warned, their argument ultimately failed (both theoretically and practically) because of their definition of the church.

Murray argues:

The basic premise of the argument for infant baptism is that the New Testament economy is the unfolding and fulfillment of the covenant made with Abraham and that the necessary implication is the unity and continuity of the church…

With reference to circumcision it must be fully appreciated that it was not essentially or primarily the sign of family, racial, or national identity. Any significance which circumcision possessed along the line of national identity or privilege was secondary and derived. Its primary and essential significance was that it was a sign and seal of the highest and richest spiritual blessing which God bestows upon men… [W]e have no authority whatsoever to say that circumcision was simply the sign of an external relationship…

What was the Abrahamic covenant in the highest reaches of its meaning?  Undeniably and simply: “I will be your God, and ye shall be my people” (cf. Gen. 17:7; Exod 19:5, 6; Deut 7:6; 14:2; Jer 31:33). In a word it is union and communion with Jehovah, the God of Israel… Baptism, which is the sign of the covenant under the new economy as circumcision was under the old, bears essentially the same import as did circumcision.

Congregationalists made this argument in the 17th century. Here is how Presbyterian Samuel Rutherford responded:

[T]here was no more required of the circumcised but that they were Abraham’s seed according to the flesh, and by that same reason, there is no more required of infants that they may be baptized but that they be born in the Christian church.  For the Christian baptism, and the Jewish circumcision in substance are all one (Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:11; Jer. 9:26; Jer. 4:4; 1 Pet. 3:21,22)…

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

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

If external profession be sufficient (without a longer examination) to baptize the aged by the apostolic practice (as we see in Simon Magus, Acts 8:13, and in Ananias and Saphira, Acts 2:38-39,44-45, compared with Acts 5:1-2): then the profession of faith in the forefathers is enough for us to judge their forefathers within the covenant and consenters to the covenant.  For when many thousands at once are said to enter into covenant with God (as is clear, Deut. 29:10-13; Josh. 24:24,25; 2 Chron. 15:9-12), they could not give any larger proofs or evidences of their faith of the covenant than a solemn assembling together and a verbal oath (or saying, ‘Amen’, or ‘So be it,’ as Deut. 27:14,17), after which they were reputed to be in the covenant, and so their seed also [were reputed to be] in the covenant…

The proposition he [the Congregationalist] proves from Gen. 17:10, ‘This is my covenant… and every man-child amongst you shall be circumcised,’ and Rom. 4:11, ‘He received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of faith.’  The assumption, he and others, prove [this way]: because murderers, drunkards, swearers, and whose children we baptize, declare themselves not to be Christians (nor faithful, nor saints by their wicked life) and so not within the covenant.  This argument also the Separatists use.

Answer:

…If the former be said it will follow that God speaks (Gen. 17) only to Abraham and his sons by faith (according to the promise) and only to believers.

But God speaks to all Abraham’s sons according to the flesh:

Because [otherwise] God should speak an untruth: that He were a God by real union of faith to all that are commanded to be circumcised.  For He commanded thousands to be circumcised to whom He was not a God by real union of faith. 

Therefore these words must import that nothing is more required for the church to confer the seal of the covenant without sin, but that the children be descended of parents professing the truth and faith, though the parents (indeed, as concerning any real union of faith) be plain strangers to the covenant [inwardly], and are members of the church only as an arm of wood is a member of the body.  Which being true, as it must be said, the assumption [of the Separatists] is weak and sick.

For the question is: what is it to be externally within the covenant?

It is not to see all known sins, to be a chosen people, a people taught of God [inwardly], as this argument would say.

1. For then God would not have commanded Joshua (Josh. 5) to circumcise all Israel because their fathers were externally within the covenant.

2. For their fathers were a generation of unbelievers who knew not God, who tempted Him, grieved his holy Spirit in the wilderness, and professed themselves by their murmuring never to be truly within the covenant [inwardly].

Then to profess the doctrine of the covenant is but to be born Jews, avow the Lord in external profession and swear a covenant with Him (Deut. 29), [even] when the heart is blinded and hardened (Deut. 29:4).  And so by this it is clear that Joshua had commandment of God to give the seal of the covenant to their children, who [the parents] were as openly wicked against the Lord, as murderers, drunkards, swearers, etc.

3. This argument [of the Separatists] will prove that circumcision could lawfully be given to none but the children of parents within the covenant, that is, professedly known to be faithful, holy, and separated from the profane world in the judgment of charity. This has no warrant of the Word.  For:

1. The children of the most wicked were circumcised (Josh. 5:2 [see also verses 6-7]). We desire to know whom God forbade to be circumcised that were carnally descended of Abraham?  Or show us example or precept thereof in the Word.

2. What God required in the parents, whose infants the church might lawfully and without sin circumcise, was that they were born Jews. O, says Mr. Best, they were behooved [required] to be members of the church, whose infants might lawfully be circumcised.  I answer: that is ignotum per ignotius [unknown per the unknown].  Show me one person being a born Jew whose child the Lord forbid to circumcise?

3. What is it to be a member of the Jewish Church? Is it to be a visible saint and taught of God [inwardly]?  I [admit this to be] true: that was required indeed to make men acceptable before God.  But to make one a visible member of the visible Jewish church, nothing was required but to be a born Jew, profess God’s truth, and keep from external ceremonial pollutions.  I mean: to be a member of the visible church, [is] to keep external and church communion with the rest of God’s people...

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

By this our divines lose their best argument against Anabaptists: namely, that children of Christians are to be baptized by that same warrant that infants under the Law were circumcised.  But none was circumcised but a member of the visible church under the Law.  Now this you gainsay, who would have all clean and unclean baptized; and so you leave your pattern.

Answer:

We leave our pattern in no sort.  For all were circumcised that were born of circumcised parents within the church of the Jews.  So all are to be baptized that are born of Christians and baptized parents professing the faith.

But, say they: drunkards, murderers, sorcerers, swearers, and ignorant atheists, both fathers and mothers, whose children you baptize, do not profess the faith, for in works they deny and bely their profession.

Answer:

1. Then you will have the children of none to be baptized but those whose parents are sound and sincere professors in the judgment of charity. But so Joshua failed who circumcised the children of all professing themselves to be Abraham’s sons carnally, though Joshua knew and was an eye witness that their fathers did deny and bely their profession.  And John baptized the seed of all (Matt 3) that professed the faith of the Messiah, although he knew them to be a generation of vipers.

They often require that one of the parents be a believer or else the child cannot be clean, nor lawfully baptized.  They repose on that place (1 Cor. 7:14):

‘For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; else’ (that is, if both were unbelievers) ‘were your children unclean’ (that is not within the covenant) ‘but now are they holy.’

And they allege Theodore Beza and David Pareus for this.

Answer:  But they mistake the word ‘unbelieving.’  For by ‘unbelieving’ in that place (as the Professors of Leyden do well observe[15]) is meant infidel gentiles that are without the church and profess not Christ [not unbelievers within the visible chuch], as is clear from the text

On the Baptism of the Children of Adherents

In other words, Rutherford explains that Scripture is clear the “Jewish church” was not “the communion of the saints and the congregation of the faithful.” Rather, the “Jewish church” was made by the promise of God to Abraham’s sons according to the flesh establishing an external covenant.  To be part of the “Jewish church” was “[T]o be born Jews, avow the Lord in external profession and swear a covenant with Him (Deut. 29), [even] when the heart is blinded and hardened (Deut. 29:4).” Therefore, if Murray correctly recognizes that the New Testament defines the church as “the communion of the saints and the congregation of the faithful” then “By this our divine loses his argument against Anabaptists: namely, that children of Christians are to be baptized by that same warrant that infants under the Law were circumcised.”

In sum, Murray is correct that paedobaptism’s “definition of the visible church is framed in terms that do not appear to be supported by New Testament usage.” Therefore it cannot “justify us in regarding the infants of professing Christians as entitled to share the communion and privileges of the Church.”

Meredith Kline: Baptist Criticism of WCF is Correct

September 2, 2016 4 comments

 

 

Source: Lecture 31

See also A Presbyterian (Finally) Gets Acts 2:39 Right

To understand how paedobaptists have misunderstood Romans 9:6ff, see They are not all Israel, who are of Israel

Make sure to read Jamin Hubner’s two chapters in Recovering a Covenantal Heritage titled “Acts 2:39 in its Context: An Exegetical Summary of Acts 2:39 and Paedobaptism”

http://www.1689federalism.com

Paedobaptism and Forks

October 8, 2014 4 comments

Patrick Ramsey recently wrote:

One argument for the basic unity of the covenants is that they all share the same redemptive goal of union and communion with God.  Although Adam originally had fellowship with God in Eden, he lost it for himself and the rest of humanity when he was cast out of the garden due to his sin.  God, however, purposed to repair the broken bond because he still desires that we dwell in his presence and enjoy him forever.  To that end, he established the various redemptive covenants in Scripture, which contain this goal: I will be your God and you shall be my people (Gen. 17:7; Lev. 26:12; Jer. 31:33; Heb. 8:10; Rev. 21:3-4, 7).  The covenantal goal of union and communion with God, therefore, is the scarlet thread that runs through the various covenants.

One Argument for The Unity of the Covenants

Abraham Booth recognized that “I will be your God” has more than one meaning in Scripture:

Very different then, is the kingdom, of Christ from the ancient Israelitish Theocracy. For, of that Theocracy, all Abraham’s natural descendants were true subjects, and properly qualified members of the Jewish church; such only excepted, as had not been circumcised according to the order of God, or were guilty of some capital crime. To be an obedient subject of their civil government, and a complete member in their ecclesiastical state, were manifestly the same thing : because, by treating Jehovah as their political sovereign, they avowed him as the true God, and were entitled to all the emoluments of their National Covenant. Under that Economy, Jehovah acknowledged all those for his people, and himself as their God, who performed an external obedience to his commands, even though in their hearts disaffected to him.* These prerogatives were enjoyed, independent of sanctifying grace, and of any pretension to it, either in themselves, or in their parents.

The state of things, however, under the New Economy, is extremely different. For the great Proprietor and Lord of the Christian church having absolutely disclaimed a kingdom that is “of this world” cannot acknowledge any as the subjects of his government, who do not know and revere him — who do not confide in him, and sincerely love him. Having entirely laid aside those ensigns of political sovereignty, and those marks of external grandeur, which made such a splendid appearance in the Jewish Theocracy ; he disdains to be called the King of the God, of any person who does not obey and “worship him in spirit and in truth.”

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

But that National relation between Jehovah and Israel being long since dissolved and the Jew having no prerogative above the Gentile ; the nature of the Gospel Economy, and of the Messiah’s kingdom, absolutely forbids our supposing, that either Jews or Gentiles are warranted to call the Universal Sovereign their Lord) or their God, if they do not yield willing obedience to him, and perform spiritual worship. It is, therefore, either for want of understanding, or of considering the nature, aspect, and influence of the Sinai Constitution, that many persons dream of the New Covenant, in great numbers of places where Moses and the Prophets had no thought of it, but had the Convention at Horeb directly in view. It is owing to the same ignorance, or inadvertency, that others argue from various passages in the Old Testament, for justification before God by their own obedience, and against the final perseverance of real saints. Because, to be entitled to national happiness, by performing the conditions of the Sinai Covenant, and to lose that right by backsliding into profligacy of manners, are very different things, from obtaining justification before God, and forfeiting an interest in the great Redeemer — so different, that there is no arguing from the one to the other.

Again : As none but real Christians are the subjects of our Lord’s kingdom, neither adults nor infants can be members of the gospel Church, in virtue of an external covenant, or of a relative holiness. A striking disparity this, between the Jewish and the Christian Church. Of this difference we may be assured by considering, that a barely relative sanctity, supposes its possessors to be the people of God in a merely external sense; that such an external people, supposes an external covenant, or one that relates to exterior conduct and temporal blessings : and an external covenant supposes an external king. Now an external king, is a political sovereign : but such is not our Lord Jesus Christ, nor yet the divine Father. Once, indeed, it was otherwise : for, concerning the Israelitish nation, it is written : ” I,” Jehovah, ” will be thy king. Gideon said unto them, I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: Jehovah shall rule over you. Jehovah your God, was your king.”* It was the peculiar honour and happiness of Israel, to have a sovereign who was the only object of their worship. For thus the Psalmist sings ;
“Blessed is the nation, whose (king) “Jehovah is their God !”‘* Hence Jehovah’s complaint ; ” They have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.

Yes, Jehovah, as a temporal monarch, stood related to the ancient Israelites, and entered into a federal transaction with them at Sinai, not only as the Object of their worship, but as their King. Their judicial and civil institutes, their laws of war and of peace, various orders respecting the land they occupied, and the annual acknowledgments to the great Proprietor of it, were all from God, as their political sovereign. Hence all the natural posterity of Jacob were Jehovah’s people, on the ground of an external covenant made with the whole nation…

Hence all the natural posterity of Jacob were Jehovah’s people, on the ground of an external covenant made with the whole nation…

By the latter [God’s divine presence among them], they had a kind of local nearness to God, which conferred a relative sanctity; as appears by various instances. When, for example, Moses with astonishment beheld the burning bush, the ground on which he stood was pronounced holy, because of Jehovah’s peculiar presence there.

…And why was part of the ancient sanctuary called “the most holy place,” but because Jehovah, in a singular manner, and under a visible emblem dwelt there. Hence it is manifest, that the Divine Presence, whether under the form of an august personage, as in the cafe of Joshua ; or under the emblem of devouring fire, as in the bush, and upon mount Sinai ; or under the milder appearance of a luminous cloud as over the mercy-seat, and at our Lord’s transfiguration, confers a relative holiness. It is also equally plain, that this miraculous presence of God being withdrawn, from the several places to which we have just adverted, they have now no more holiness than any other part of the earth.

So the Israelites, being separated from all other nations for the worship of Jehovah as their God, to the exclusion of all idolatry ; avowing subjection to him as their King, in contradistinction to all other sovereigns ; and he residing among them in the sanctuary, as in his royal palace ; there was a relative holiness attending their persons, and almost every thing pertaining to them. For not only Jehovah’s royal pavilion, with all its utensils and services ; the ministers of that sanctuary, and their several vestments ; but the people in general, the metropolis of their country, the houses of individuals, the land cultivated by them, and the produce of that land, were all styled holy (see Exod 28: 2,4; 29:1; Lev 19:23, 24; 20:26; 25:2, 4; 27:14, 30; Num 16:3, 38; 35:34; Deut 7:6)

Thus the holiness of the people, equally as that of places, was derived from the external presence of God.” Now, as the Divine Presence had a local, visible residence over the mercy-seat, which was the throne of Jehovah ; as that Presence among the Israelites had such an extensive operation upon their state, both in respect of privilege and of duty ; as the whole nation was a typical people, and a great part of their worship of a shadowy nature ; we need not wonder, that in such an ecclesiastico-political kingdom almost every thing should be esteemed, in a relative sense, holy. Under the Gospel Dispensation, how ever, these peculiarities have no existence. For Christ has not made an external covenant with any people. He is not the king of any particular nation. He dwells not in a palace made with hands. His throne is in the heavenly sanctuary ; nor does he afford his visible Presence in any place upon earth…

The Covenant made at Horeb having long been obsolete, all its peculiarities are vanished away – among which, relative sanctity made a conspicuous figure. That National Constitution being abolished, Jehovah’s political sovereignty is at an end…

Since, by its commencement, the whole Sinai Constitution became obsolete ; the partition wall was broken down ; the special relation between God and Abraham’s natural seed ceased, and left no difference of a religious kind between Jews and Gentiles — no difference, in respect of nearness to God and communion with him, except that which regeneration and faith in Christ produce. For, under the present Dispensation, “Christ is all and in all.” We may therefore safely conclude, that were the Jews converted and resettled in Palestine, both they and their infant offspring would be as entirely destitute of the ancient relative holiness, as those Mohammedans are who now reside in that country.

But did an external holiness now exist, we should be obliged to consider it as very different from that of the ancient Israelites : for it appears, by what has been said, that the grounds of their exterior sanctity make no part of the Christian Economy. Besides, their holiness extended to the whole nation : but in what Utopia shall we find all the inhabitants possessed of this relative purity? Theirs continued as long as they lived; except they committed some enormous crime, by which they forfeited their lives, or were cast out of the congregation; for it did not wear out by age, nor was it lost merely by continuing in a state of unregeneracy. Whereas, that external holiness for which so many plead, is not generally considered by them as extending beyond the time of infancy. But why should any contend for the relative holiness of infants, who deny a sanctity of that kind to places of worship, to clerical habits, and to various other things? For it is plain that the Jewish external purity, whether of persons, of places, or of things, originated in the same National Covenant, and in the same relation of God to Israel; and, consequently, must have the same duration in one case, as in another. We may therefore justly conclude, that the federal and relative holiness of which so many speak, agrees neither with the laws of Judaism, nor with the nature of Christianity ; and if so, it cannot belong to the kingdom of Christ.

-The Kingdom of Christ, 1788

Question: Was the kingdom of Israel “of this world”?

Petto: Conditional New Covenant?

November 13, 2010 8 comments

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. 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…
  2. 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…
  3. 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?

Ans. 1.

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.

Answer. 2.

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.

The Transtestamental (Retroactive) New Covenant

July 29, 2010 4 comments

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

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

Regarding the nature of the New Covenant, Crampton argues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This covenant [Sinai] thus made, with these ends and promises, did never save nor condemn any man eternally. All that lived under the administration of it did attain eternal life, or perished for ever, but not by virtue of this covenant as formally such. It did, indeed, revive the commanding power and sanction of the first covenant of works; and therein, as the apostle speaks, was “the ministry of condemnation,” 2 Cor. iii. 9; for “by the deeds of the law can no flesh be justified.” And on the other hand, it directed also unto the promise, which was the instrument of life and salvation unto all that did believe. But as unto what it had of its own, it was confined unto things temporal. Believers were saved under it, but not by virtue of it. Sinners perished eternally under it, but by the curse of the original law of works. (comments on Hebrews 8:6-13)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Addendum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Systematic Theology p. 267 (Banner of Truth)

Commenting on Heb 8, Owen puts it this way:

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

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

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

Hodge on the Visibility of the Church

January 26, 2010 4 comments

I ran across a quote from Hodge a while ago and have been trying to track down the article ever since. I finally found it and wanted to share some snippets from it. [Update: I finally found it online as well in Hodge’s book “Church Polity“] Hodge’s essay in the Princeton Review, Oct 1853 was his response to threat from the Papists. I wish I had a bit more of the historical background, but here is how Thomas Curtis prefaces it: “The Old School Presbyterians began to be attacked by the Episcopalians, who plead the analogy of circumcision and of the ancient Jewish church in favor of admitting good and bad into Christian churches” (Thomas Fenner Curtis)

Hodge refutes the arguments by clarifying what it means for the NT church to be a church of believers, and in so doing raises some interesting consequences.

The Visibility of the Church

Our view of the attributes of the Church is of necessity determined by our view of its nature.

The Romanists argued that the church is the same in nature as an earthly kingdom. Hodge argued it is a spiritual kingdom. He said:

…if the Church is the coetus sanctorum, the company of believers; if it is the body of Christ, and if his body consists of those, and of those only, in whom he dwells by his Spirit, then the Church is visible only in the sense in which believers are visible.

He says the Church is visible in so much as:
(1) “it consists of men and women, in distinction from disembodied spirits or angels.”
(2) “Its members manifest their faith by good works. The fact they are members of Christ’s body becomes notorious… Wherever there are true believers, there is the true Church; and wherever such believers confess their faith, and illustrate it by a holy life, there the Church is visible.”
(3) “…believers are, by their “effectual calling,” separated from the world… The true Church is visible throughout the world, not as an organization, not as an external society [ie a “church” of believers and unbelievers], but as the living body of Christ; as a set of men distinguished from others as true Christians… The Church, in this sense, is a city set on a hill… How unfounded, then, is the objection that the Church, the body of Christ, is a chimera, a Platonic idea, unless it is, in its essential nature, a visible society, like the kingdom of England or Republic of Switzerland!
(4) “The true Church is visible in the external Church, just as the soul is visible in the body… So the external Church, as embracing all who profess the true religion – with their various organizations, their confessions of the truth, their temples, and their Christian worship – make it apparent that the true Church, the body of Christ, exists, and where it is. These are not the Church, any more than the body is the soul; but they are its manifestations, and its residence.”

If all those in every age who professed belief were true believers, then there would be no need of the visible/invisible distinction. However,

We know that in every subsequent [to the apostolic] age, the great majority of those who have been baptized in the name of Christ, and who call themselves Christians, and who are included in the external organization of his followers, are not true Christians. This external society, therefore, is not a company of believers; it is not the Church which is Christ’s body; the attributes and promises of the Church do not belong to it. It is not that living temple built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets as an habitation of God, through the Spirit. It is not the bride of Christ, for which he died, and which he cleanses with the washing of regeneration… In short, the external society is not the Church. The two are not identical, commensurate, and conterminous, so that he who is a member of the one is a member of the other, and he who is excommunicated from the one is cut off from the other…

If, then, the Church is the body of Christ; if a man becomes a member of that body by faith; if multitudes of those who profess in baptism the true religion, are not believers, then it is just as certain that the external body consisting of the baptized is not the Church, as that a man’s calling himself a Christian does not make him a Christian.

Hodge then appeals to Protestants to steer clear of Rome’s logic:

If that is so [the Church is an external organization], then such organization is the Church; then, as the Church is holy, the body and bride of Christ, the temple and family of God, all members of that organization are holy, members of Christ’s body, and partakers of his life… Then, moreover, as Christ saves all the members of his body and none other, he saves all included in this external organization, and consigns to eternal death all out of it… It becomes those who call themselves Protestants, to look these consequences in the face, before they join the Papists and Puseyites in ridiculing the idea of a Church composed exclusively of believers, and insist that the body to which the attributes and promises of the Church belong, is the visible organization of professing Christians.

Finally, Hodge addres “the most plausible argument of Romanists: the analogy of the old dispensation.”

That the Church is a visible society, consisting of the professors of the true religion, as distinguished from the body of true believers, known only to God, is plain, they say, because under the old dispensation it was such a society, embracing all the descendants of Abraham who professed the true religion, and received the sign of circumcision… The Church exists as an external society now as it did then; what once belonged to the commonwealth of Israel, now belongs to the visible Church. As union with the commonwealth of Israel was necessary to salvation then, so union with the visible Church was necessary to salvation now. And as subjection to the priesthood, and especially to the high-priest, was necessary to union with Israel then, so submission to the regular ministry, and especially to the Pope, is necessary to union with the Church now. Such is the favourite argument of Romanists; and such, (striking out illogically the last clause, which requires subjection to prelates, or the Pope) we are sorry to say is the argument of some Protestants, and even of some Presbyterians.

The fallacy of this whole argument lies in the false assumption, that the external Israel was the true Church… The attributes, promises, prerogatives of the one, were not those of the other. [If this is true] we must admit that the true Church rejected and crucified Christ; for he was rejected by the external Israel, by the Sanhedrin… Paul avoids this fatal conclusion by denying that the external Church is, as such, the true Church, or that the promises made to the latter were made to the former.

It is to be remembered that there were two covenants made with Abraham. By the one, his natural descendants through Isaac were constituted a commonwealth, an external, visible community. By the other, his spiritual descendants were constituted a Church. The parties to the former covenant were God and the nation; to the other, God and his true people. The promises of the national covenant were national blessings; the promises of the spiritual covenant, (i.e. of the covenant of grace) were spiritual blessings, reconciliation, holiness, and eternal life. The conditions of the one covenant were circumcision and obedience to the law; the condition of the latter was, is, and ever has been, faith in the Messiah as the seed of the woman, the Son of God, and the Savior of the world. There cannot be a greater mistake than to confound the national covenant with the covenant of grace, and the commonwealth founded on the one with the Church founded on the other.

When Christ came “the commonwealth” was abolished, and there was nothing put in its place. The Church remained. There was no external covenant, nor promises of external blessings, on condition of external rites and subjection. There was a spiritual society with spiritual promises, on the condition of faith in Christ. In no part of the New Testament is any other condition of membership in the Church prescribed than that contained in the answer of Philip to the eunuch who desired baptism: “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” (Acts viii. 37)

So much for the unity of the covenants. And so much for paedobaptism founded upon circumcision.

Pink on Circumcision

January 25, 2010 2 comments

In my attempt to better understand and work through covenant theology, I have been reading A. W. Pink’s “The Divine Covenants.” I highly recommend giving it a read. I especially recommend that paedobaptists read his section on the Abrahamic Covenant if for no other reason than to simply be educated and informed as to why one of the top Calvinist thinkers of the 20th century rejected paedobaptism as unbiblical (a belief that denied him numerous pastoral positions and eventually left him without a church to minister to).

In short, read Pink’s thoughts below. I would appreciate someone demonstrating where they believe Pink is in error:

A. W. Pink  :  Circumcision

The next thing we would observe is that circumcision was “a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had.” Again we would say, Let us be on our guard against adding to God’s Word, for nowhere does Scripture say that circumcision was a seal to anyone but to Abraham himself; and even in his case, so far was it from communicating any spiritual blessing, it simply confirmed what was already promised to him. As a seal from God, circumcision was a divine pledge or guaranty that from him should issue that seed which would bring blessing to all nations, and that, on the same terms as justifying righteousness had become his—by faith alone. It was not a seal of his faith, but of that righteousness which, in due time, was to be wrought out by the Messiah and Mediator. Circumcision was not a memorial of anything which had already been actualized, but an earnest of that which was yet future—namely, of that justifying righteousness which was to be brought in by Christ (note: Pink is here referring to historia salutis, not ordo).

But did not God enjoin that all the males of Abraham’s household, and in those of his descendants, should also be circumcised? He did, and in that very fact we find definite confirmation of what has just been said above. What did circumcision seal to Abraham’s servants and slaves? Nothing.

“Circumcision neither signed nor sealed the blessings of the covenant of Abraham to the individuals to whom it was by Divine appointment administered. It did not imply that they who were circumcised were accounted the heirs of the promises, either temporal or spiritual. It was not applied to mark them individually as heirs of the promises. It did not imply this even to Isaac and Jacob, who are by name designated heirs with Abraham. Their interest in the promises was secured to them by God’s expressly giving them the covenant, but was not represented in their circumcision. Circumcision marked no character, and had an individual application to no man but Abraham himself. It was the token of this covenant; and as a token or sign, no doubt applied to every promise in the covenant, but it did not designate the individual circumcised as having a personal interest in these promises. The covenant promised a numerous seed to Abraham; circumcision, as the token of that covenant, must have been a sign of this; but it did not sign this to any other. Any other circumcised individual, except Isaac and Jacob, to whom the covenant was given by name, might have been childless.

“Circumcision did not import to any individual that any portion of the numerous seed of Abraham should descend through him. The covenant promised that all nations should be blessed in Abraham—that the Messiah should be his descendant. But circumcision was no sign to any other that the Messiah should descend from him,—even to Isaac and Jacob this promise was peculiarly given, and not implied in their circumcision. From some of Abraham’s race, the Messiah, according to the covenant, must descend, and circumcision was a sign of this: but this was not signed by circumcision to any one of all his race. Much less could circumcision ‘sign’ this to the strangers and slaves who were not of Abraham’s posterity. To such, even the temporal promises were not either ‘signed’ or sealed by circumcision. The covenant promised Canaan to Abraham’s descendants, but circumcision could be no sign of this to the strangers and slaves who enjoyed no inheritance in it” (Alexander Carson, 1860).

That circumcision did not seal anything to anyone but to Abraham himself is established beyond shadow of doubt by the fact that circumcision was applied to those who had no personal interest in the covenant to which it was attached. Not only was circumcision administered by Abraham to the servants and slaves of his household, but in Genesis 17:23 we read that he circumcised Ishmael, who was expressly excluded from that covenant! (note: Ishmael was expressly excluded from that covenant before he was circumcised). There is no evading the force of that, and it is impossible to reconcile it with the views so widely pervading upon the Abrahamic covenant. Furthermore, circumcision was not submitted to voluntarily, nor given with reference to faith, it was compulsory, and that in every instance: “He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money must needs be circumcised” (Gen. 17:13)—those refusing, being “cut off from his people” (v. 14). How vastly different was that from Christian baptism!

It maybe asked, If, then, circumcision sealed nothing to those who received it, except in the one case of Abraham himself, then why did God ordain it to be administered to all his male descendants? First, because it was the mark He selected to distinguish from all other nations that people from whom the Messiah was to issue. Second, because it served as a continual reminder that from the Abrahamic stock the promised Seed would spring—hence, soon after He appeared, circumcision was set aside by God. Third, because of what it typically foreshadowed. To be born naturally of the Abrahamic stock gave a title to circumcision and the earthly inheritance, which was a figure of their title to the heavenly inheritance of those born of the Spirit. The servants and slaves in Abraham’s household “bought with money” beautifully adumbrated the truth that those who enter the kingdom of Christ are “bought” by His blood.

It is a mistake to suppose that baptism has come in the place of circumcision. As that which supplanted the Old Testament sacrifices was the one offering of the Savior, as that which superseded the Aaronic priesthood was the high priesthood of Christ, so that which has succeeded circumcision is the spiritual circumcision which believers have in and by Christ: “In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in, putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ” (Col. 2:11)—how simple! how satisfying! “Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him” (v. 12) is something additional: it is only wresting Scripture to say these two verses mean “Being buried with him in baptism, ye are circumcised.” No, no; verse 11 declares the Christian circumcision is “made without hands,” and baptism is administered by hands! The circumcision “made without hands in putting off [judicially, before God] the body of the sins of the flesh” has taken the place of the circumcision made with hands. The circumcision of Christ has come in the place of the circumcision of the law. Never once in the New Testament is baptism spoken of as the seal of the new covenant; rather is the Holy Spirit the seal: see Ephesians 1:13; 4:30.

To sum up. The grand design of God’s covenant with Abraham was to make known that through him should come the One who would bring blessing to all the families of the earth. The promises made to him were to receive a lower and a higher fulfillment, according as he was to have both natural and spiritual children—for “kings shall come out of thee” (Gen. 17:6) compare Revelation 1:6; for “thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies” (Gen. 22:17) compare Colossians 2:15; Romans 8:37; I John 5:4. Abraham is called a “father” neither in a federal nor in a spiritual sense, but because he is the head of the faith clan the prototype to which all believers are conformed. Christians are not under the Abrahamic covenant, though they are “blessed with him” by having their faith counted unto righteousness. Though New Testament believers are not under the Abrahamic covenant, they are, because of their union with Christ, heirs of its spiritual inheritance.

It only remains for us now to point out wherein the Abrahamic covenant adumbrated (foreshadowed)a the everlasting covenant. First, it proclaimed the international scope of the divine mercy: some out of all nations were included in the election of grace. Second, it made known the ordained stock from which the Messiah and Mediator was to issue. Third, it announced that faith alone secured an interest in all the good God had promised. Fourth, in Abraham’s being the father of all believers was shadowed forth the truth that Christ is the Father of His own spiritual seed (Isa. 53:10, 11). Fifth, in Abraham’s call from God to leave his own country and become a sojourner in a strange land, was typed out Christ’s leaving heaven and tabernacling upon earth. Sixth, as the “heir of the world” (Rom. 4:13), Abraham foreshadowed Christ as “the heir of all things” (Heb. 1 :2). Seventh, in the promise of Canaan to his seed we have a figure of the heavenly inheritance which Christ has procured for His people.

(It seems a sad tragedy that the people of God are so divided on the subject of baptism. Though we have strong convictions on the subject we have refrained from pressing—or even presenting—them in this study. But it seemed impossible to deal faithfully with the Abrahamic covenant without making some slight reference thereto. We have sought to write temperately in the above chapter, avoiding harsh expressions and needless reflections. We trust the reader will kindly receive it in the spirit in which it is written).

-A. W. Pink  :  The Abrahamic Covenant

Always Reforming

I would also highly recommend that everyone read Henri Blocher’s chapter in “Always Reforming.” He interacts with some of these arguments as they are addressed in David Kingdon’s “The Children of Abraham” and he suggests “a revised doctrine of the covenants and their economies.” One of the crucial tensions he seeks to resolve is the conditionality or unconditionality of the covenant of grace.

Closely related is the issue of the two sides of the covenant. It has been a thorn in the flesh of many covenant theologians. Leaving aside the monopleuric/diplueric polarity (although it is not foreign to that debate), the delicate question has been, Who, exactly, belongs to the covenant?

I found his interaction with the attempts in Reformed covenant theology to answer this and several other important questions to be very helpful. It addresses some very important points that I have not been able to get answers to.

http://www.amazon.com/Always-Reforming-Explorations-Systematic-Theology/dp/083082829X