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John Ball on Salvation Prior to Christ’s Death

March 28, 2019 7 comments

My previous post was a response to an ongoing conversation with Michael Beck of the Two-Age Sojourner Podcast. He responded in the comments (give them a read). He was struggling to understand why I/we retain the language of “Covenant of Grace” if we mean something so different from reformed theology by it. My response was that we do not mean something so different from reformed theology by it. We affirm what reformed theologians teach about the “internal” Covenant of Grace: that all men since the fall are saved through covenant union with Christ, their federal head. We disagree with what they teach about the “external” Covenant of Grace.

Internal and External Covenant of Grace

John Ball died in 1640, but his “Treatise of the Covenant of Grace” (published in 1645) had a significant influence on the Westminster Confession’s formulation. He explained

Externally this Covenant is made with every member of the Church, even with the Parents and their children, so many as heare and embrace the Promises of Salvation, and give and dedicate their children unto God according unto his direction: for the Sacraments what are they but seals of the Covenant? But savingly, effectually, and in speciall manner it is made only with them, who are partakers of the benefits promised. And as the Covenant is made outwardly or effectually, so some are the people of God externally, others internally and in truth. For they are the people of God, with whom God hath contracted a Covenant, and who in like manner have sworne to the words of the Covenant, God stipulating, and the people receiving the condition: which is done two wayes: for either the Covenant is made extrinsecally, God by some sensible token gathering the people, and the people embracing the condition in the same manner, and so an externall consociation of God and the people is made: or the Covenant is entered after an invisible manner, by the intervention of the Spirit, and that with so great efficacy, that the condition of the Covenant is received after an invisible manner, and so an internall consociation of God and the people is made up. (24)

See also Berkhof’s survey of The Dual Aspect of the Covenant. We affirm what Ball says about the Covenant of Grace entered after an invisible manner. We deny what he says about being in the Covenant of Grace externally, as we believe it is based on a misunderstanding of the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants (and thus Rom 9:6). So we continue to use the language of the Covenant of Grace because we agree with the heart of it.

The Covenant of Grace Promised & Established

Beck also raised questions over our claim that Abraham was saved by the New Covenant. John Ball has a helpful discussion of the same question: How were men saved prior to Christ’s death?

The Covenant of Grace is either promised or promulgated and established. Promised to the Fathers, first to Adam, and afterwards to the Patriarchs, and lastly to the people of Israel, and before their coming into the land of Canaan, and after their returne from the Babylonish captivity. Promulgated, after the fulnesse of time came. And hence the Covenant of Grace is distributed into the Covenant of Promise, or the New Covenant, so called by way of excellency. For the Foundation and Mediatour of the Covenant of Grace is our Lord Jesus Christ, but either to be incarnate, crucified, and raised from the dead, or as already incarnate, crucified, and raised from the dead, and ascended into Heaven. For there was never sin forgiven but in him alone, who is the same yesterday, and today, and forever. Therefore although before the Incarnation, Christ was only God, he was our Mediatour, yet not simply as God, but as the divine person, who should take our flesh, and in it should finish all the Mysterie of our Redemption, and therefore he is called the Lambe of God slaine from the beginning of the world, and the Father by his grace were saved, even as we. In the acts of Mediation three things may be considered.
[1.] Reconciliation, by which we are accepted of God.
[2.] Patronage, by which we have accesse unto the Father.
[3.] Doctrine, whereby God hath made himselfe knowne unto men by a Mediatour.
This third act might be done before he assumed our flesh, and indeed was done: but the two first did require his coming in the flesh, although the fruit of them was communicated to the Fathers under the Old Testament, by force of the divine Promise, and certainty of the thing to come with God.

(27-28)

(Compare the language used by Ball here with WCF/2LBCF 8.6, and note Ball’s quotation of Heb 13:8 and its reference in 8.6.)

If it be objected that the cause is before the effect, and therefore the incarnation and death of Christ must goe before the communication of the fruit and benefit thereof unto the Fathers.

The answer is, That in naturall causes [i.e. physics] the Proposition holds true, but in morall causes the effect may be before the cause: and so the fruit and vertue of Christ’s death was communicated to the Fathers before his Incarnation. But although the Sonne of God before he was manifested in the flesh, was our Mediatour with God (to whom future things are present) because he should be, and therefore for his sake sinnes were remitted, men did teach and learne by his Spirit, the Church was governed by him: yet the manner and reason of that Mediation was proposed more obscurely, the force and efficacy of it was lesse, and did redound to fewer.

The Covenant of Promise then was that Covenant which God made with Adam, the Fathers and all Israel in Jesus Christ to be incarnate, crucified and raised from the dead: And it may be described the Covenant, whereby God of his meere grace and mercy in Jesus Christ to be exhibited in the fulnesse of time, did promise forgivenesse of sinnes, spirituall adoption and eternall life, unto man in himselfe considered a most wretched and miserable sinner, if he should embrace and accept this mercy promised, and walke before God in sincere obedience. God the Father of his meere and free grace and mercy looking upon man in Jesus Christ, in whom he is reconciled, is the Author and cause of this Covenant (Deut 9:5; Gal 3:18; Luk 1:54, 55). He hath holpen his servant Israel in remembrance of his mercy, as he spake to our Fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed forever. Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, your Fathers dwelt on the other side of the floud in old time, even Terah the Father of Abraham, and the Father of Nahor, and they served other gods. And I took your Father Abraham from the other side of the floud, and led him throughout all the Land of Canaan, and multiplied his seed, and gave him Isaac. (Josh 24:2)

(28-29)

We agree with Ball that the Covenant of Grace can be considered as either promised or established. Prior to its establishment in the death of Christ, Christ was Mediator of it as the one who would become incarnate. After its establishment, Christ was the Mediator of it as already incarnate. Prior to his death, Christ could mediate (“communicate”) salvation to the elect because the promise that he would come to earth and die for them was “certain” and because God operates outside of time.

We disagree with Ball that the Old Covenant is the same thing as the Covenant of Grace prior to Christ’s death. The Covenant of Grace is the New Covenant, and thus we may consider the New Covenant as promised or established. In either consideration it is distinct from the Old Covenant.

And if the Covenant of Promise, and the New Covenant doe thus agree in substance, then it must necessarily follow, That there is but one Church of the Elect, the same Communion of Saints, one Faith, one Salvation, and one way of obtaining the same, viz. by Faith in Christ. (30)

We agree. However, the Covenant of Promise is not the Old Covenant, it is simply the New Covenant promised.

Secondly, that the Word of God was no lesse incorruptible seed to the Fathers and the Israelites then to us: That the Fathers did eat the true flesh of Christ by faith, as well as we in the times of the Gospell: That they and we are partakers of the same Spirit: and that the Sacraments of the Jewes did signifie and seale to them, the same promises of eternal life, which our Sacraments doe to us. The Sacraments of the Old Testament were not types of our Sacraments, as sometimes they are called by Divines: but they typified the same things that ours doe. For as the Covenants under which they and we lived, were one for substance: so are the Sacraments one in their common nature and signification. (30)

We disagree. The Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenant ordinances were not the same as New Covenant ordinances. They did not serve the same purpose or function. They were not covenant signs of the same thing because the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants were not “one for substance” with the New Covenant. Old Covenant ordinances (and the entire Old Covenant itself) typified numerous aspects of the New Covenant as they functioned as types. But as they functioned as covenant signs and ordinances, they had an earthly, temporal function in keeping with the earthly, temporal Old Covenant (blessing and curse in the land of Canaan). See the previous post for more on this (and await a future post for an elaboration on the function of sacrifices in this regard).

Then what were the signs of the New Covenant/Covenant of Grace promised? Recall what Owen says about the meaning of “established” in Heb 8:6.

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 unto the church. That which before lay hid in promises, in many things obscure, the principal mysteries of it being a secret hid in God himself, was now brought to light; and that covenant which had invisibly, in the way of a promise, put forth its efficacy under types and shadows, was now solemnly sealed, ratified, and confirmed, in the death and resurrection of Christ. It had before the confirmation of a promise, which is an oath; it had now the confirmation of a covenant, which is blood. That which before had no visible, outward worship, proper and peculiar unto it, is now made the only rule and instrument of worship unto the whole church, nothing being to be admitted therein but what belongs unto it, and is appointed by it. This the apostle intends by, the “legal establishment” of the new covenant, with all the ordinances of its worship. Hereon the other covenant was disannulled and removed; and not only the covenant itself, but all that system of sacred worship whereby it was administered. This was not done by the making of the covenant at first; yea, all this was superinduced into the covenant as given out in a promise, and was consistent therewith. When the new covenant was given out only in the way of a promise, it did not introduce a worship and privileges expressive of it. Wherefore it was consistent with a form of worship, rites and ceremonies, and those composed into a yoke of bondage which belonged not unto it. And as these, being added after its giving, did not overthrow its nature as a promise, so they were inconsistent with it when it was completed as a covenant; for then all the worship of the church was to proceed from it, and to be conformed unto it. Then it was established. Hence it follows, in answer unto the second difficulty, that as a promise, it was opposed unto the covenant of works; as a covenant, it was opposed unto that of Sinai. This legalizing or authoritative establishment of the new covenant, and the worship thereunto belonging, did effect this alteration. (Exposition of Hebrews 8:6)

The first solemn promulgation of this new covenant, so made, ratified, and established, was on the day of Pentecost, seven weeks after the resurrection of Christ. And it answered the promulgation of the law on mount Sinai, the same space of time after the delivery of the people out of Egypt. From this day forward the ordinances of worship, and all the institutions of the new covenant, became obligatory unto all believers. (Exposition Hebrews 8:10)

The signs of the Covenant of Grace are not necessary for salvation. They are not means of saving grace. The elect prior to Christ could be, and were, saved without them. All they needed to be saved was a proclamation of the gospel responded to in faith.

Horton’s Retroactive New Covenant

December 22, 2018 4 comments

H/T Nathan White.

There are clear passages indicating that ‘the forgiveness of sins’ is unique to the New Covenant (“remember their sins no more”; Jer 31:34). This is not because OT saints were under God’s wrath but because God overlooked their sins; he covered them over through the sacrificial system. This I take to be Paul’s point in Romans 3:25 (ESV), referring to Christ “whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” They were forgiven truly but only by anticipation and were not yet propitiated in history. The old covenant was successful only to the extent that it directed faith and hope toward Christ, but it could not in itself bring this reality into history. These sacrifices could never “take away sins” once and for all. They had to be offered repeatedly, reminding the worshiper’s conscience of transgressions (Heb 10:1-4). “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (vv. 12-14). From there, the writer quotes Jeremiah 31:33, which I have cited above, linking forgiveness and the gift of the Spirit.

If this is accurate, then Old Testament believers were forgiven and justified through faith in the one to whom the sacrifices pointed (continuity); however, the sacrifices could not themselves provide this experiential assurance to the conscience (discontinuity). On the contrary, the Mosaic covenant by itself could only keep the covenant people under supervision until they reached their maturity and could inherit the estate by promise (Gal 3:24-25). Kuyper seems to confirm this conclusion. He argued that the energies of the Spirit at Pentecost worked retroactively in the lives of OT saints.

-Horton, Rediscovering the Holy Spirit, p152ff.

John Frame’s Retroactive New Covenant

February 7, 2017 2 comments

Without endorsing Frame or his covenant theology as a whole (see here for example regarding his “universal covenant”), note Frame’s comments about the New Covenant.

[T]he work of Christ is the source of all human salvation from sin: the salvation of Adam and Eve, of Noah, of Abraham, of Moses, of David, and of all of God‒s people in every age, past, present, or future. Everyone who has ever been saved has been saved through the new covenant in Christ. Everyone who is saved receives a new heart, a heart of obedience, through the new covenant work of Christ. So though it is a new covenant, it is also the oldest, the temporal expression of the pactum salutis

Of the covenants we have discussed, most are time-specific. The Noachic Covenant begins at a specific time, when Noah builds an altar to the Lord after the flood (Gen. 8:20-9:17). Before that there was no Noachic Covenant, though we all benefit from its provisions until the final judgment. Similarly for the Covenant of Grace (Gen. 3:14-19), the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen. 12:1-3, 15:1-21, 17:1-21), the Mosaic Covenant (Ex. 19:1-9, 20:21), and the Davidic Covenant (2 Sam. 7:4-17).

But three of the covenants I have described above are not time-specific in this way: the Eternal Covenant of Redemption (the pactum salutis), the Universal Covenant, and the New Covenant. All believers partake equally in the benefits of these three covenants, regardless of when in time they live.

The Eternal Covenant of Redemption is entirely supra-temporal, so it has no beginning in time, no datable ratification ceremony. Its benefits come to all of those of all times who are elect in Christ. The Universal Covenant also has no temporal restriction. God is always creator and lord, so this covenant is always in effect.

The New Covenant does have a temporal inauguration. Covenants are typically inaugurated by the shedding of blood, and that is certainly the case with the New Covenant, by the blood of Christ, the blood that fulfills all the blood of bulls and goats in the other covenants.

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Heb 9:11-14)

This passage follows the writer’s quotation from the New Covenant passage in Jeremiah (Heb. 8:8-12). So the shedding of Jesus’ blood, a datable historical event, is the substance of the New Covenant, the Covenant that purifies, not only the flesh, but the conscience, the heart.

Nevertheless, as we saw earlier, the efficacy of the New Covenant, unlike that of previous covenants, extends to God’s elect prior to Jesus’ atonement. When believers in the Old Testament experienced “circumcision of the heart,” or when they were Jews “inwardly,” they were partaking of the power of the New Covenant.

Systematic Theology, p. 79-81

Compare with Calvin “There is yet no reason why God should not have extended the grace of the new covenant to the fathers. This is the true solution of the question.”

Calvin’s Retroactive New COvenant

April 9, 2015 7 comments
There is yet no reason why God should not have extended the grace of the new covenant to the fathers. This is the true solution of the question.

Calvin taught that the Old Covenant and the New Covenant were both equally the eternal Covenant of Grace.

1. From what has been said above, it must now be clear, that all whom, from the beginning of the world, God adopted as his peculiar people, were taken into covenant with him on the same conditions, and under the same bond of doctrine, as ourselves; but as it is of no small importance to establish this point, I will here add it by way of appendix, and show, since the Fathers were partakers with us in the same inheritance, and hoped for a common salvation through the grace of the same Mediator, how far their condition in this respect was different from our own… The covenant made with all the fathers is so far from differing from ours in reality and substance, that it is altogether one and the same: still the administration differs.

(2.10.1-2)

The administration differs with regards to outward appearance, rather than to true substance.

the comparison made by the Apostle refers to the form rather than to the substance; for though God promised to them the same salvation which he at this day promises to us, yet neither the manner nor the character of the revelation is the same or equal to what we enjoy.

(Commentary on Hebrews 8:6)

Here we may see in what respect the legal is compared with the evangelical covenant, the ministry of Christ with that of Moses. If the comparison referred to the substance of the promises, there would be a great repugnance between the two covenants; but since the nature of the case leads to a different view, we must follow it in order to discover the truth. Let us, therefore bring forward the covenant which God once ratified as eternal and unending. Its completion, whereby it is fixed and ratified, is Christ. Till such completion takes place, the Lord, by Moses, prescribes ceremonies which are, as it were formal symbols of confirmation. The point brought under discussion was, Whether or not the ceremonies ordained in the Law behaved to give way to Christ. Although these were merely accidents of the covenant, or at least additions and appendages, and, as they are commonly called, accessories, yet because they were the means of administering it, the name of covenant is applied to them, just as is done in the case of other sacraments. Hence, in general, the Old Testament is the name given to the solemn method of confirming the covenant comprehended under ceremonies and sacrifices. Since there is nothing substantial in it, until we look beyond it, the Apostle contends that it behaved to be annulled and become antiquated (Heb. 7:22), to make room for Christ, the surety and mediator of a better covenant, by whom the eternal sanctification of the elect was once purchased, and the transgressions which remained under the Law wiped away. But if you prefer it, take it thus: the covenant of the Lord was old, because veiled by the shadowy and ineffectual observance of ceremonies; and it was therefore temporary, being, as it were in suspense until it received a firm and substantial confirmation. Then only did it become new and eternal when it was consecrated and established in the blood of Christ. Hence the Saviour, in giving the cup to his disciples in the last supper, calls it the cup of the new testament in his blood; intimating, that the covenant of God was truly realised, made new, and eternal, when it was sealed with his blood.

(2.11.4)

He contends that Hebrews 8 is dealing only with the ceremonies (“the comparison made by the Apostle refers to the form rather than to the substance.”) However, he arrives at some difficulty at v10 where he begins listing what Scripture says the New Covenant consists of – it consists of things that cannot be regarded as accidents but as the substance.

10 For this is the covenant that I will make, etc. There are two main parts in this covenant; the first regards the gratuitous remission of sins; and the other, the inward renovation of the heart; there is a third which depends on the second, and that is the illumination of the mind as to the knowledge of God. There are here many things most deserving of notice.

The first is, that God calls us to himself without effect as long as he speaks to us in no other way than by the voice of man. He indeed teaches us and commands what is right but he speaks to the deaf; for when we seem to hear anything, our ears are only struck by an empty sound; and the heart, full of depravity and perverseness, rejects every wholesome doctrine. In short, the word of God never penetrates into our hearts, for they are iron and stone until they are softened by him; nay, they have engraven on them a contrary law, for perverse passions rule within, which lead us to rebellion. In vain then does God proclaim his Law by the voice of man, unless he writes it by his Spirit on our hearts, that is, unless he forms and prepares us for obedience. It hence appears of what avail is freewill and the uprightness of nature before God regenerates us. We will indeed and choose freely; but our will is carried away by a sort of insane impulse to resist God. Thus it comes that the Law is ruinous and fatal to us as long as it remains written only on tables of stone, as Paul also teaches us. (2 Corinthians 3:3.) In short, we then only obediently embrace what God commands, when by his Spirit he changes and corrects the natural pravity of our hearts; otherwise he finds nothing in us but corrupt affections and a heart wholly given up to evil. The declaration indeed is clear, that a new covenant is made according to which God engraves his laws on our hearts, for otherwise it would be in vain and of no effect.

The second particular refers to the gratuitous pardon of sins. Though they have sinned, saith the Lord, yet I will pardon them. This part is also most necessary; for God never so forms us for obedience to his righteousness, but that many corrupt affections of the flesh still remain; nay, it is only in part that the viciousness of our nature is corrected; so that evil lusts break out now and then. And hence is that contest of which Paul complains, when the godly do not obey God as they ought, but in various ways offend. (Romans 7:13.) Whatever desire then there may be in us to live righteously, we are still guilty of eternal death before God, because our life is ever very far from the perfection which the Law requires. There would then be no stability in the covenant, except God gratuitously forgave our sins. But it is the peculiar privilege of the faithful who have once embraced the covenant offered to them in Christ, that they feel assured that God is propitious to them; nor is the sin to which they are liable, a hindrance to them, for they have the promise of pardon.

And it must be observed that this pardon is promised to them, not for one day only, but to the very end of life, so that they have a daily reconciliation with God. For this favor is extended to the whole of Christ’s kingdom, as Paul abundantly proves in the fifth chapter of his second Epistle to the Corinthians. And doubtless this is the only true asylum of our faith, to which if we flee not, constant despair must be our lot. For we are all of us guilty; nor can we be otherwise released then by fleeing to God’s mercy, which alone can pardon us.

And they shall be to me, etc. It is the fruit of the covenant, that God chooses us for his people, and assures us that he will be the guardian of our salvation. This is indeed the meaning of these words, And I will be to them a God; for he is not the God of the dead, nor does he take us under his protection, but that he may make us partakers of righteousness and of life, so that David justly exclaims, “Blessed are the people to whom the Lord is God (Psalm 144:15.) There is further no doubt but that this truth belongs also to us; for though the Israelites had the first place, and are the proper and legitimate heirs of the covenant, yet their prerogative does not hinder us from having also a title to it. In short, however far and wide the kingdom of Christ extends, this covenant of salvation is of the same extent.

But it may be asked, whether there was under the Law a sure and certain promise of salvation, whether the fathers had the gift of the Spirit, whether they enjoyed God’s paternal favor through the remission of sins? Yes, it is evident that they worshipped God with a sincere heart and a pure conscience, and that they walked in his commandments, and this could not have been the case except they had been inwardly taught by the Spirit; and it is also evident, that whenever they thought of their sins, they were raised up by the assurance of a gratuitous pardon. And yet the Apostle, by referring the prophecy of Jeremiah to the coming of Christ, seems to rob them of these blessings. To this I reply, that he does not expressly deny that God formerly wrote his Law on their hearts and pardoned their sins, but he makes a comparison between the less and the greater. As then the Father has put forth more fully the power of his Spirit under the kingdom of Christ, and has poured forth more abundantly his mercy on mankind, this exuberance renders insignificant the small portion of grace which he had been pleased to bestow on the fathers. We also see that the promises were then obscure and intricate, so that they shone only like the moon and stars in comparison with the clear light of the Gospel which shines brightly on us.

If it be objected and said, that the faith and obedience of Abraham so excelled, that hardly any such an example can at this day be found in the whole world; my answer is this, that the question here is not about persons, but that reference is made to the economical condition of the Church. Besides, whatever spiritual gifts the fathers obtained, they were accidental as it were to their age; for it was necessary for them to direct their eyes to Christ in order to become possessed of them. Hence it was not without reason that the Apostle, in comparing the Gospel with the Law, took away from the latter what is peculiar to the former. There is yet no reason why God should not have extended the grace of the new covenant to the fathers. This is the true solution of the question.

(Commentary on Hebrews 8:10)

Calvin’s argument in Hebrews 8 is that the only difference is accidental – in outward appearance, manner of revelation, emphasis, etc. Yet Scripture says the newness of the New Covenant is regeneration and forgiveness of sins. Calvin reasons that it only means that under the New Covenant “the Father has put forth more fully the power of his Spirit under the kingdom of Christ, and has poured forth more abundantly his mercy on mankind.” And yet, Abraham’s faith excelled ours and is the model of our faith. Calvin concludes that the real solution is to admit there is no reason to say God did not “extend the grace of the new covenant” to Abraham.

Augustine

He was comfortable saying so because he had read Augustine, and that is precisely what Augustine taught.

10. The three last contrasts to which we have adverted (sec. 4, 7, 9), are between the Law and the Gospel, and hence in these the Law is designated by the name of the Old, and the Gospel by that of the New Testament. The first is of wider extent (sec. 1), comprehending under it the promises which were given even before the Law. When Augustine maintained that these were not to be included under the name of the Old Testament (August. ad Bonifac. lib. 3 c. 14), he took a most correct view, and meant nothing different from what we have now taught; for he had in view those passages of Jeremiah and Paul in which the Old Testament is distinguished from the word of grace and mercy. In the same passage, Augustine, with great shrewdness remarks, that from the beginning of the world the sons of promise, the divinely regenerated, who, through faith working by love, obeyed the commandments, belonged to the New Testament [Covenant]; entertaining the hope not of carnal, earthly, temporal, but spiritual, heavenly, and eternal blessings, believing especially in a Mediator, by whom they doubted not both that the Spirit was administered to them, enabling them to do good, and pardon imparted as often as they sinned. The thing which he thus intended to assert was, that all the saints mentioned in Scripture, from the beginning of the world, as having been specially selected by God, were equally with us partakers of the blessing of eternal salvation. The only difference between our division and that of Augustine is, that ours (in accordance with the words of our Saviour, “All the prophets and the law prophesied until John,” Mt. 11:13) distinguishes between the gospel light and that more obscure dispensation of the word which preceded it, while the other division simply distinguishes between the weakness of the Law and the strength of the Gospel. And here also, with regard to the holy fathers, it is to be observed, that though they lived under the Old Testament, they did not stop there, but always aspired to the New, and so entered into sure fellowship with it. Those who, contented with existing shadows, did not carry their thoughts to Christ, the Apostle charges with blindness and malediction. To say nothing of other matters, what greater blindness can be imagined, than to hope for the expiation of sin from the sacrifice of a beast, or to seek mental purification in external washing with water, or to attempt to appease God with cold ceremonies, as if he were greatly delighted with them? Such are the absurdities into which those fall who cling to legal observances, without respect to Christ.

(2.11.10)

Despite appealing to Augustine to demonstrate that all the saints from the beginning of the world belonged to the New Covenant, notice that Calvin acknowledges a difference between Augustine’s view and his own. He says his view makes the distinction between the Old and New Covenants a matter of obscurity and clarity, while Augustine makes it a matter of Law and Gospel. That is no small difference!

The reality is, Augustine did not agree with Calvin’s main point: that the Old and the New are the same covenant. He rejected it in very strong terms. Calvin found recourse in Augustine when he had to reconcile Scripture’s teaching regarding regeneration as a grace of the New Covenant, but that is because Augustine was much more biblical in his understanding of the differences between the Old and the New.

At all events, in those ancient Scriptures it is most distinctly written: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will consummate a new testament with the house of Israel and with the house of Jacob; not according to the testament that I made with their fathers, in the day that I took them by the hand, to lead them out of the land of Egypt.” (Jer 31:31, 32) This was done on Mount Sinai. But then there had not yet risen the prophet Daniel to say: “The saints shall receive the kingdom of the Most High.” (Dan 7:18) For by these words he foretold the merit not of the Old, but of the New Testament. In the same manner did the same prophets foretell that Christ Himself would come, in whose blood the New Testament was consecrated. Of this Testament also the apostles became the ministers, as the most blessed Paul declares: “He hath made us able ministers of the New Testament; not in its letter, but in spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” (2 Cor 3:6) In that testament [covenant], however, which is properly called the Old, and was given on Mount Sinai, only earthly happiness is expressly promised. Accordingly that land, into which the nation, after being led through the wilderness, was conducted, is called the land of promise, wherein peace and royal power, and the gaining of victories over enemies, and an abundance of children and of fruits of the ground, and gifts of a similar kind are the promises of the Old Testament. And these, indeed, are figures of the spiritual blessings which appertain to the New Testament; but yet the man who lives under God’s law with those earthly blessings for his sanction, is precisely the heir of the Old Testament, for just such rewards are promised and given to him, according to the terms of the Old Testament, as are the objects of his desire according to the condition of the old man. But whatever blessings are there figuratively set forth as appertaining to the New Testament require the new man to give them effect. And no doubt the great apostle understood perfectly well what he was saying, when he described the two testaments as capable of the allegorical distinction of the bond-woman and the free,—attributing the children of the flesh to the Old, and to the New the children of the promise: “They,” says he, “which are the children of the flesh, are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.” (Rom 9:8) The children of the flesh, then, belong to the earthly Jerusalem, which is in bondage with her children; whereas the children of the promise belong to the Jerusalem above, the free, the mother of us all, eternal in the heavens. (Gal 4:25, 26) Whence we can easily see who they are that appertain to the earthly, and who to the heavenly kingdom. But then the happy persons, who even in that early age were by the grace of God taught to understand the distinction now set forth, were thereby made the children of promise, and were accounted in the secret purpose of God as heirs of the New Testament; although they continued with perfect fitness to administer the Old Testament to the ancient people of God, because it was divinely appropriated to that people in God’s distribution of the times and seasons.

Augustine: Proto-1689 Federalist