Old Testament Saints and the Holy Spirit

October 27, 2014 11 comments

From basic dispensational teaching I heard that — per John 7:39 and later references to Christ sending the Holy Spirit (Pentecost) – Old Testament saints were regenerated but did not have the permanent indwelling Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit only came upon them from time to time, for special empowerment, whereas we now have the permanent indwelling.  Yet I wondered about it, as something that didn’t make sense: how could people be regenerated and yet NOT have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit? In daily Bible reading of the Old  Testament, we come across so many descriptions of believers who have “a different spirit” and a relationship to God in so many ways like ours.  John 3 tells us that OT believers were regenerated, as this was something that Nicodemus was expected to already know as a present reality, and Luke 1 and 2 (the birth narrative) include many references to godly people and the Holy Spirit present in their lives, before Christ’s birth.

As I’ve recently learned, the Protestant/Reformed understanding is that OT saints had the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the same salvific relationship to God (their understanding on the hope of what God would accomplish; and Christ’s work on the cross is applied to those who lived before Calvary).

The following posts from David Murray’s blog address this very question, of the difference between the Old and New Testament indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Regarding the original idea above (OT believers regenerated but didn’t have the indwelling Holy Spirit) I especially appreciate his point in the first post, that if Old Testament ‘believers’ believed by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit but kept believing without the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit, then Old Testament believers were not as depraved as we are, as they did not need the ongoing indwelling work of the Holy Spirit. (And in some ways, this debate really is a debate about the nature of human depravity in the Old Testament. Could anything less or other than the indwelling of the Holy Spirit keep a believer believing, repenting, hoping, obeying, etc?)

I also find helpful the analogy of the sponge with a water dropper, versus a sponge with a pressure washer. The difference in the Holy Spirit experience of OT and NT believers is one of degree and extent, not of quality or type. The OT believers had a small amount to sustain them in their personal lives, but after Pentecost the Holy Spirit flows out in excess, giving believers greater joy that overflowed and led to great missionary zeal and desire to share the gospel with unbelievers – and the amazing (humanly speaking) spread of the gospel during the 1st century and beyond.  As shown in the many quotes in the last post linked above, many commentators throughout history, as far back as Augustine and including also the Reformers as well as 19th century preachers including J.C. Ryle, have affirmed this as well, that OT believers did have the indwelling Holy Spirit, and the difference between then and our age post-Pentecost is one of degree and extent.

As a side note here, I find it interesting that this same difference of degree between the OT and NT — of the great spread of the gospel in the NT – is said by amillennialists to be the result of a supposed “binding of Satan” allowing the gospel to spread unhindered. Yet as premillennialists have pointed out, what really hinders or allows the spread of the gospel is the Holy Spirit – as evidenced in the book of Acts, where the Holy Spirit did not allow Paul to travel east to Asia or Bithynia (Acts 16:6-7). Understanding the difference between the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in Old and New Testament times (the water dropper versus the pressure washer) fits the biblical data much better, both in relating to the OT saints continually sustained by God and His presence, as well as the results of the great spread of the gospel that began at Pentecost.

Nathaniel West on Postmillennialism’s Creative History

October 21, 2014 1 comment

An idea which really did not take hold until the early 1700s, which in earlier years was referred to as “Whitbyism” for its originator, post-millennialism – a doctrine of peace-time that departed for awhile after World War I — is again returning to favor among at least some people. The current version includes a new idea of “redeeming culture” by reconstruction and revision of history, as demonstrated in Fred Butler’s recent blog posts; see “Christmas in the hands of reconstructionists.”  It seems also that the 21st century postmillennialists do not know the history of their doctrine and all the earlier ideas suggested to “date” the pre-Second-Coming millennium and/or explain how we are now in that millennium.

Historic premillennialist Nathaniel West, writing at the close of the 19th century, gave sharp and strong critique to the idea itself, both in its various forms and its false hermeneutics. West’s “The Thousand Year Reign of Christ” is a very in-depth work, not for the casual reader, with many chapters and details regarding all of scripture and the thousand year kingdom. The first part of the full “The Thousand Year Reign of Christ,” “The Thousand Years in Both Testaments,” is available in electronic format here, but much of the print book is unfortunately not available in e-book format. One of these later chapters includes an interesting section detailing why the 1000 years mentioned in scripture are not merely symbolic, but are a true measure of real and historic time still future. In West’s day (1899, 15 years before World War I began), postmillennialism was in vogue, and so West primarily interacted with that, as well as the overall idea of the millennium somehow existing during history BEFORE Christ’s return.

Past “Dating” Attempts of this Millennium, and a few excerpts from West’s commentary:

  • It Began At The First Advent, and Represents the Whole Church Age

This was the view of Augustine, Euseubius, Jerome and the State-Church after the martyr age, continuing into the Medieval Church.

The absurdity of this view is seen in that it makes the Millennial reign on earth, which begins with our Lord’s return, to be that of His Sojourn in Heaven, a Millennium during which the bodies of God’s saints are still under the empire of death, and the “Times of the Gentiles” are still running on; times of affliction and woe, and God-opposed world-power! … The Apostasy is still deepening, the tares yet ripening among the wheat. Antichrist is still undestroyed, the Nations, as Nations, are still raging, the whole tide of church-corruption, a false philosophy, false science, swelling to its height; a millennium of boundless ambition, avarice, and lust of military conquest in the name of religion and missions … a millennium begun by devoting the Apostles to the axe, Christians to the lions and the flame, and sending John to Patmos, as a prisoner for the truth and testimony of Jesus, to write his great Apocalypse!

  • It Began With Constantine, A.D. 312

It is not necessary to dwell on the fact that post millennialism dates the 1000 years from Pentecost, from the Destruction of Jerusalem A.D. 70, and from the Death of each individual believer! … Plainly, it was too much to be long believed, that 300 years of bloody persecution and pagan torture of God’s saints should belong to the Millennial age of righteousness and peace, and “war no more.” Accordingly, the commencing date, the a quo, of the 1000 years, was advanced 300 years along the line of history, so excluding the martyr period. … It is essentially the Augustinian view, and amenable to the same objection.

  • It Started with Charlemagne, A.D. 800 (the invention of Hengstenberg)

The Beast, or Antichrist, is not the Pope, but God-opposed Heathenism and Barbarism, not to be destroyed under judgment, at the personal appearing of Christ, but gradually converted and peacefully overthrown by the preaching of the gospel. … The 1000 years, therefore, began Christmas, A.D. 800, when Pope Leo III imposed the crown on the head of Charlemagne as the true successor of the Christian Caesars, and revived the “Holy Roman Empire.” That was considered a great piece of work in those days, although it required the lapse of the whole millennial age before Hengstenberg rose to let the world know how great it was! The Nations had never dreamed that Satan was chained! The Turk was not aware of it!.. But nevertheless, the Devil was bound, Christmas A.D. 800, and remained in Pit until A.D. 1789, when loosed from his chain, he came forth and began his old arts in the French Revolution, and the Wars that followed. … modifying this view, Keil, the last great representative of Hengstenberg, goes back to the Constantine date, and holds that “so long as the State-Religion exists, the 1000 years exist,” which, of course, rules out the United States, where Church and State are independent, from all share in the glories of the Millennial age!

  •  “Future Pre-Advent Millennialism” – the common postmillennial view of our day, that “the 1000 years date from somewhere, indefinitely,–in the future, i.e., from some unknown point 1000 years next preceding the Second Advent … which may be either, 500, 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000, or 365,000, according to the uncertainties, or necessities, of the case. This one shows us future pre-advent millennialism.” From the several pages of commentary regarding this idea, a few excerpts.

 Enormous in pretention, as unfathomable in the mystery of its way, it yet, while decking itself with the garments of a world-harlotry, proposes to itself a plan and a purpose which, already, the mouth of God has declared to be false. All the social and moral plague-spots, oppressions, and crimes, national, and international, which 1800 years of advancing Christian endeavor have been powerless to avert, and with all its revivals powerless to extirpate, our “Civilization”; and all the darkness and pollution of the degenerate human heart, ever the same from generation to generation in the birth of every individual, the millions multiplying by an increase that outstrips even the progress of Christianity; and all the vice embedded in our “culture;” and all the wickedness of Heathendom, less wicked than Christendom; it proposes to remove by “a continuous process” of the same Christian and Church development which for 1800 years has shown itself utterly incompetent to achieve the task.

. . .

Alas! It is a deep falsehood; a beguiling “lie.” It is that “finer form of Chiliasm” which lauds the “Star-Spangled Banner, long may it wave!” and has taken possession, bodily, of what it calls our “American Christianity,” so unlike the Apostolic sort! It is the ordinary Millennialism of the spiritualizers, and of the pulpit, press, and platform, the millennialism ventilated in Church-Courts, Conventions, General Assemblies, Alliances and Associations, and framed in special sermons, addresses, reports, and resolutions, published for the health of the soul. Discussion of it, there is hardly any, for “prudential reasons.” It is that “fine Chiliasm,” false as fine, which, in common with the “coarse,” or “Jewish,” holds to a Millennium *before* the Advent and the Resurrection of the just; … a millennium sprung from Origen, a Universalist, perpetuated by Rome all Arminian, fathered by Whitby, a Socinian, and adopted by many godly and scholarly Protestants, who, mistaking error for exegesis, spiritualize all the prophecies concerning Israel, or end them in Maccabean, or early Roman times; a millennium without Christ to introduce it by judgment and deliverance; a millennium of saints in the flesh, and of the holy still in the grave … Not a solitary text of scripture is produced in its support, though challenged a hundred times, except “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world!” It rests on a mistaken view of the purpose of God, and of the promise of the Spirit, violates every principle of exegesis, depends for its success upon the ignorance of its hearers, and the daring of its preachers, and is one of the chief stimuli in mass-meetings for prayer, where the leader, watch in one hand, gavel in the other, times the action of God’s Spirit, calling for petitions “two minutes prompt,” “short and to the point,” “next meeting this evening seven sharp!”

Horatius Bonar: God’s Way of Peace and Way of Holiness

October 16, 2014 3 comments

In my studies of the classic premillennialists, I continue to read the covenantal premillennial authors, including their many works on other doctrinal topics. Lately I have been reading several of Horatius Bonar’s books, available online as well as in audio book format (available through sermon audio). Bonar’s “God’s Way of Peace” and “God’s Way of Holiness” are interesting, fairly easy to read and in a conversational, question and answer style, with evangelistic zeal to seekers interested in the Christian faith.

God’s Way of Peace addresses salvation and justification, and here Bonar addresses more subtle errors of thought, such as focusing on the “thought” of our salvation and faith rather than the faith itself; and the error that we must love God purely for who He is rather than the “lower” selfish motive of what He has done for us.

It is not wrong to love God for what He has done for us. Not to do so, would be the very baseness of ingratitude. To love God purely for what He is, is by some spoken of as the highest kind of love, into which enters no element of self. It is not so. For in that case, you are actuated by the pleasure of loving; and this pleasure of loving an infinitely lovable and glorious Being, of necessity introduces self. Besides, to say that we are to love God solely for what He is, and not for what he Has done, is to make ingratitude an essential element of pure love. David’s love showed itself in not forgetting God’s benefits. But this ‘pure love’ soars beyond David’s and finds it a duty to be unthankful, lest perchance some selfish element mingle itself with its superhuman, super-angelic purity.

Here I also see a response to an attitude that Bonar’s contemporary, Charles Spurgeon, also noted (see this previous post): the idea that our coming to God requires some level of “fitness,” some level of repentance and feeling.

I find that the apostles shut up their hearers to immediate faith and repentance, bringing them face to face with the great object of faith, and commanding them in the name of the living God to believe, just as Jesus commanded the man with the withered arm to stretch out his hand. … The Lord did not give him any directions as to a preliminary work, or preparatory efforts, and struggles, and using of means. These are man’s attempts to bridge over the great gulf by human appliances; man’s ways of evading the awful question of his own utter impotence; man’s unscriptural devices for sliding out of inability into ability, out of unbelief into faith; man’s plan for helping God to save him; man’s self-made ladder for climbing up a little way out of the horrible pit, in the hope that God will so commiserate his earnest struggles as to do all the rest that is needed. Now God has commanded all men everywhere to repent; but he has nowhere given us any directions for obtaining repentance. God has commanded sinners to believe, but has not prescribed for them any preparatory steps or process by means of which he may be induced to give them something which he is not from the first most willing to do.

God’s Way of Holiness  looks at sanctification, including emphasis on studying God’s word and recognizing the difference between morality and the way to Christ:

 Is it the case that the sinner cannot be trusted with the gospel? In one sense this is true. He cannot be trusted with anything. He abuses everything. He turns everything to bad account. He makes everything the minister of sin. But if he cannot be trusted with the gospel, can he be trusted with the Law’? If he cannot be trusted with grace, can he be trusted with righteousness? He cannot be trusted with an immediate pardon; can he be trusted with a tardy one? He cannot be trusted with faith; can he be trusted with doubt? He cannot be trusted with peace; can he be trusted with gloom and trouble? He cannot be trusted with assurance; can he be trusted with suspense, and will uncertainty do for him what certainty cannot? That which he can, after all, best be trusted with, is the gospel. He has abused it, he may abuse it, but he is less likely to abuse it than anything else.

Bonar’s view is Reformed/Covenantal regarding the Moral Law, emphasizing the unity of the law in the Old and New Testament, and the difference between love and law, complete with many quotes from Calvin, Luther and others. Here Bonar appears to be addressing some type of antinomianism (it’s not clear exactly from where this teaching was coming), yet showing again the timelessness of Christian truth and that in every age the issues of sanctification, grace, and law must be explained.

 We do not undervalue love because we say a man is not justified by love, but by faith. We do not discourage prayer, because we preach that a man is not justified by prayer, but by faith. When we say that believing is not working, but a ceasing from work, we do not mean that the believing man is not to work; but that he is not to work for pardon, but to take it freely; and that he is to believe before he works, for works done before believing are not pleasing to God.

 

These are the commandments of the Holy Ghost, and they are law just as truly as that which was proclaimed in Horeb amid fire and darkness. And the true question with us (as we have seen) is not whether we are to obey this law or that law, but any law at all. If obedience to apostolic law be not legalism, then neither is obedience to the moral law; and if our oneness with Christ exempts or disjoins us from the moral law, it exempts and disjoins us from all law whatsoever, for everything in the shape of law, or precept, or commandment, contained in Scripture, is from the one Spirit of God, whether in the book of Exodus or the epistle to the Romans. …

 

Of angels this is said to be the highest felicity, that ‘they do His commandments, hearkening unto the voice of His word’ (Psa 103:20); just as of those from whom the Lord has removed transgression as far as the east is from the west, it is said that ‘they remember His commandments to do them’ (Psa 103:12,18). But if this theory of the total disjunction of the law from believers be true, then angels must be in bondage, and they also to whom Paul refers as specimens of the blessed men whose transgressions are forgiven by the imputation of “righteousness without works” (Rom 4:6).

Church History: The 17th Century Baptists

October 7, 2014 3 comments

Occasionally I listen to church history series (see this previous post), and lately I have appreciated some more in-depth church history messages focused on a particular time period: the beginnings of the Baptists in England, early 17th century. One such series is available on Sermon Audio, four parts on the “17th century Baptists”.

Among the highlights, some history that was new to me:

The “General Baptists” (Arminian) and “Particular Baptists” (Calvinists, with “particular redemption”) began at about the same time (the General Baptists a generation earlier), but arose from different groups and continued in separate paths through this time period. The General Baptists apparently never crossed paths with, or “converted to” the next generation’s “particular baptists.”

The Church of England’s 39 Articles (1563) were Calvinistic, expressing the Sovereignty of God; it was this Anglican history that J.C. Ryle later appealed to, the 39 Articles, in referring to his church (Anglican) as Reformed. William Laud (appointed Archbishop by Charles I in 1633) put forth his “aggressive Arminianism,” telling English preachers that they could not preach anything of Calvinism – that which the country’s own articles clearly affirmed.

The interesting history and development of the “JLJ” church, a London congregation founded and first led by pastor Henry Jacob, in the early 17th century during the reign of King James I, and continuing through the 1640s with two subsequent pastors, John Lathrop, and Henry Jessey. The church began as an “illegal” church, not officially registered with the King James’ Anglican church, yet for custom and citizenship sake the church members would take their infants to Anglican churches for the “proper” English baptism. Under the persecution of Charles I and archbishop Laud in the 1630s, the congregation considered the question: was it acceptable to have your child baptized in the Anglican church? A first group split-off from the JLJ church in 1633, determining that they could not do so. Another group split-off in 1638, with church member John Spilsbury, this time over the question of whether infants should be baptized at all, determining that baptism was instead for adult believers. It is important to note as well that the church “splits” during this time were not ugly events such as are familiar in our day, but were done harmoniously with agreement and appreciation of conscience, that some members believed differently about an issue, and so the group would split off with the goodwill and blessing of the main church.

Up to this point, apparently believers baptism was done by sprinkling or pouring. Indeed, Christians in England had never seen baptism by immersion. In the late 1630s to 1640, the men at the JLJ church had regular weekly meetings to consider the mode of baptism, and even sent one member to Holland to observe the practice of baptism by immersion being done there by the Mennonites. Then, the JLJ church held the first English baptismal by immersion service, in January 1642: 53 members were baptized in the Thames river, at a time of year that was quite cold and with little sunlight.

The first London confession followed in 1644, and by 1649 the Particular Baptist churches in England were sending forth church plants to Wales.  The years 1649 to 1660 were peaceful, the interregnum and Cromwell’s rule, followed by great persecution resuming under Charles II beginning in 1660.  It was during this later time that many preachers, not “state licensed”, were imprisoned for years (including John Bunyan’s imprisonment for 12 years) and some died in prison.

The “17th century baptists” audio series includes this overall history, as well as biographical sketches of several key Baptists (including John Spilsbury and William Kiffin) and details about some of the early baptist churches.  . This series plus articles, such as listed below, tell of many interesting events from English and American baptist history.

Additional resources for 17th century Baptist history:

 

The Baptist ‘Covenant of Grace’: The New Covenant

September 25, 2014 5 comments

Something that was previously unclear to me, that I had wondered about especially in reference to my Spurgeon sermon reading: what is meant by the term ‘covenant of grace’? The common idea, in reference to Presbyterian-type infant baptism, is of one continuous covenant throughout the Old and New Testament, “under two administrations” such that the Old (Mosaic) covenant was also part of the “covenant of grace.”  This idea blends and confuses Old Testament Israel and the New Testament church, to come up with a “new testament” equivalent of circumcision, namely, infant baptism.  Yet this Westminster-style Covenant Theology is better known, and commonly presented as the only type of CT — such as at the local church several years ago, which briefly presented this form, followed by the (only other choice) favorable presentation of “New Covenant Theology” such that NCT “must” be the correct choice.

Yet whenever Spurgeon mentioned the “covenant of grace,” in context he appeared to really be talking about the New Covenant and what Christ has done for us. Spurgeon even described the Old, Sinaitic covenant, as the “covenant of works” to be contrasted with the “everlasting covenant” also called the “covenant of grace.” Now, after studying the matter, with reading including several articles, online group discussions, and the descriptions of the covenants in the Westminster and 1689 confessions, I realize that Spurgeon was referencing the now lesser known definition. A comparison of the Westminster and the London confessions will show that, indeed, the Westminster confession includes several additional paragraphs defining the “covenant of grace,” where the 1689 London confession is much shorter, with this basic paragraph:

This covenant is revealed through the Gospel; first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman, and afterwards by further steps until the full revelation of it became complete in the New Testament. The covenant of salvation rests upon an eternal covenant transaction between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect. It is solely by the grace of this covenant that all the descendants of fallen Adam who have ever been saved have obtained life and blessed immortality, because man is now utterly incapable of gaining acceptance with God on the terms by which Adam stood in his state of innocency.

Though some “Reformed Baptists” use the Westminster Confession construction of one covenant with two administrations – and only change the part relating to baptism, to believers instead of infants – another group (including Pascal Denault and Richard Barcellos) have returned to their apparently previously forgotten heritage, with the recent publication of books that explain the difference between the Westminster and 1689 versions of covenant theology. An excerpt from Pascal Denault:

By rejecting the notion of a Covenant of Grace under two administrations, the Baptists were in fact rejecting only half of this concept: they accepted, as we have previously seen, the notion of one single Covenant of Grace in both testaments, but they refused the idea of two administrations. For the Baptists, there was only one Covenant of Grace which was revealed from the Fall in a progressive way until its full revelation and conclusion in the New Covenant… If the Westminster federalism can be summarized in “one covenant under two administrations,” that of the 1689 would be “one covenant revealed progressively and concluded formally under the New Covenant.”

The Baptists believed that no covenant preceding the New Covenant was the Covenant of Grace. Before the arrival of the New Covenant, the Covenant of Grace was at the stage of promise.

This makes sense and agrees with Charles H. Spurgeon’s usage of the term. A few selections from other early writers: “Sermons by Samuel Rutherford, with a preface by A.A. Bonar”

The use of this is, to show us the misery of all those who are not within this covenant, for they are in another covenant, even in a covenant which may be broken. Jer. xxxi. 31, 82; there are two covenants mentioned there ; the one whereof is broken, that covenant that He made with them when He brought them out of the land of Egypt ; and then there is the covenant of grace called the new covenant that cannot be broken.

Also, reference selections from Benjamin Keach regarding the covenant of grace.

In closing, a selection from Spurgeon, “The Blood of the Everlasting Covenant”  (Oct. 1859)

ALL God’s dealings with men have had a Covenant character. It has so pleased Him to arrange it that He will not deal with us except through a Covenant, nor can we deal with Him except in the same manner. Adam in the Garden was under a Covenant with God and God was in Covenant with him. That Covenant Adam speedily broke. There is a Covenant still existing in all its terrible power—terrible I say, because it has been broken on man’s part and, therefore, God will most surely fulfill its solemn threats and sanctions! That is the Covenant of Works. By this He dealt with Moses and in this does He deal with the whole race of men as represented in the first Adam.

Afterwards, when God would deal with Noah, it was by a Covenant, and when in succeeding ages He dealt with Abraham, He was still pleased to bind himself to him by a Covenant. That Covenant He preserved and kept and it was renewed continually to many of his seed. God dealt not even with David, the man after His own heart, except with a Covenant. He made a Covenant with His anointed. And, Beloved, He deals with you and me this day still by Covenant! When He shall come in all His terrors to condemn, He shall smite by Covenant—namely, by the sword of the Covenant of Sinai—and if He comes in the splendors of His Grace to save, He still comes to us by Covenant—namely, the Covenant of Zion; the Covenant which He has made with the Lord Jesus Christ, the Head and Representative of His people. And mark, whenever we come into close and intimate dealings with God, it is sure to be, on our part, also by Covenant.

Hermeneutics and Old-New Testament Revelation

September 22, 2014 Leave a comment

In my recent studies — different aspects of covenant theology, NCT, the law and types of antinomianism — I have noted one interesting aspect of hermeneutics and continuity/discontinuity between the Old and New Testament, a common element in two unrelated teachings that challenge the clarity and sufficiency of the Old Testament for OT saints: 1) full “replacement theology” and amillennialism with the NT revelation changing the meaning of the Old Testament land and literal kingdom promises; and 2) “doctrinal antinomianism” that teaches that Christ gave new law in the Sermon on the Mount, law that was unknown to Old Testament saints and that “expanded” the original meaning beyond a supposed “legalistic and ceremonial-only understanding”.

Premillennialists have rightly pointed out this hermeneutical problem with the spiritualized re-interpretation of what the Old Testament described regarding a future literal kingdom of God upon the earth, in which Israel as a nation would play a role (along with a few other nations specifically mentioned, ref. Isaiah 19:23-25), and a literal future restoration of the people of Israel to the land promised to Abraham in Genesis. As Paul Henebury has observed, “this maxim would mean that Christians without the NT – and there were many of them in the First Century – could not comprehend the scripture they had – the OT.”

Interestingly enough, a similar issue comes up in articles discussing antinomianism as contrasted with the Reformed/covenantal view of the moral law (that Christ came to fulfill the law, and that meant restoring it to its original high level, from the lower level that the Pharisees had reduced it to). Note that here I am specifically addressing the “full” teaching of “New Covenant Theology” in its extreme view that places a sharp division between the Old and New Testaments, rejecting any understanding of true moral law pre-Christ, such that very few people pre-Christ were saved (the prophets and the few godly kings), and whose adherents even declare (as seen recently in an online discussion group for NCT) how unimportant the Old Testament is and that for evangelism they are now only using the New Testament. (Really?! But how did the apostles evangelize, per the book of Acts?  They used the only Bible they had, the Old Testament. They proclaimed Christ from the Old Testament scriptures, proving that the promised Messiah was Jesus of Nazareth.)

If the “law of Moses” was really a more primitive type, strictly legalistic, ceremonial and civil, with no true moral intent — and Christ actually gave “new law” that was not known in the OT — then how does one explain the true faith and spirituality of OT saints, such as the psalmists, including their descriptions of delighting in God’s law and desiring to do His law (Psalm 119 and elsewhere)? Further, to suggest that people before Christ did not have the full revelation of God’s law, also contradicts the many Old Testament passages that make it clear that all along, even then, God delighted more in their obedience and their heart attitude, than in sacrifices; sometimes even God declared that He hated their ceremonial feasts and sacrifices, because they were not done from a sincere heart motivation. Reference Hosea 6:6, “For I desire steadfast love (mercy) and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings,” also Samuel’s words to Saul in 1 Samuel 15:22, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” But if Christ somehow added to the law, that which was not known before He came, that also means that the Old Testament believers had a different method of salvation and did not have the same basic belief in the same God as we New Testament believers. Also according to this idea, the Old Testament saints were inferior in quality; and we could call them hypocrites for their appearance of showing great love for God and His law and their great devotion to God: since the OT law did not really require that of them and it had not even yet been revealed to them.

Some closing words from J.C. Ryle regarding the Old Testament and its importance (from his commentary on Matthew 5):

Jesus came to fulfill the predictions of the prophets, who had long foretold that a Savior would one day appear. He came to fulfill the ceremonial law, by becoming the great sacrifice for sin, to which all the Old Testament offerings had ever pointed. He came to fulfill the moral law, by yielding to it a perfect obedience, which we could never have yielded – and by paying the penalty for our breaking of it with His atoning blood, which we could never have paid.

Do not despise the Old Testament under any pretense whatsoever. Let us never listen to those who bid us throw it aside as an obsolete, antiquated, useless book. The religion of the Old Testament is the embryo of Christianity. The Old Testament is the gospel in the bud. The New Testament is the gospel in full flower. The saints in the Old Testament saw many things through a glass darkly. But they all looked by faith to the same Savior and were led by the same Spirit as ourselves.

Also, beware of despising the law of the Ten Commandments. Let us not suppose for a moment that it is set aside by the gospel or that Christians have nothing to do with it. The coming of Christ did not alter the position of the Ten Commandments in the least. If anything, it exalted and raised their authority (Romans 3:31). The law of the Ten Commandments is God’s eternal measure of right and wrong. By it, is the knowledge of sin. By it, the Spirit shows men their need of Christ and drives them to Him. To it, Christ refers His people as their rule and guide for holy living. In its right place it is just as important as “the glorious gospel.” It cannot save us. We cannot be justified by it. But never, never let us despise it. It is a symptom of an ignorant and unhealthy state of religion when the law is lightly esteemed. The true Christian “delights in God’s law” (Romans 7:16-20).

Terms and Distinctions: Reformed/Covenant Theology, NCT, and Covenantal Premillennialism

September 16, 2014 7 comments

Among some Christian circles today, especially Calvinists and dispensationalists, a more superficial understanding of theology persists, and the tendency to think that:

  • anyone who is not “dispensational” adheres to covenant theology
  • anyone who holds to amillennialism believes Covenant theology, and vice versa, AND
  • covenant theology equals “church replacement theology” (amillennial/preterist ideas)

Accordingly, some will use the terms “Calvinist” and “Reformed” interchangeably, though in discussion it becomes clear that what is actually meant is Calvinist soteriology aka the “doctrines of grace.” Yet as I’ve recently come to understand more clearly, 5-point baptistic Calvinism, as popularly seen in the “Sovereign Grace” movement characterized by smaller, non-denominational churches with informal affiliation — and often associated with amillennial or postmillennial eschatology — is but one component of what is included within overall “Reformed/Covenant  Theology.”   Covenant Theology aka Reformed Theology includes not only Calvinist soteriology, but also understanding and adherence to the 16th and 17th century Reformed confessions. The confessions include the teaching of the theological covenants (covenant of works, covenant of grace, and covenant of redemption), and understanding of the Old Testament law as having three parts (moral, civil, ceremonial) and a “third use” of the law (the moral law, the ten commandments), as a guide in sanctification (not salvation) for the believer.

Here I observe that some churches that affirm the “Doctrines of Grace” aka Calvinism and reference the term “sovereign grace,” may also hold to covenant theology.  But more often they actually hold to a “dispensational” understanding of the law, particularly with NCT, New Covenant Theology (which has developed within the last 30 years, about as old as progressive dispensationalism, both of which are more recent than classic or even revised dispensationalism). To add to the name confusion, some churches with “Reformed Baptist” in their name actually teach NCT instead of Reformed Baptist theology. The difference shows up while visiting church websites, that some reformed churches will specifically state their adherence to the 1689 London Baptist Confession (or another of the 17th century confessions, such as the 1644 Baptist one or, for paedo-baptists, the Westminster Confession); some of these will state qualified agreement “generally” or “in large part” while others state full agreement; whereas NCT “Sovereign Grace” churches usually will not explicitly mention their “NCT” belief (which is not one single, confessional belief and likely includes several variations).  With specific churches (as true for all doctrinal views) one must look carefully at the stated versus actual beliefs; in recent church-site searching I came across a few church websites stating agreement with the 1689 London Baptist confession but with sermon content of traditional dispensationalism.  Further: though NCT “Sovereign Grace” churches are also predominantly amillennial/ postmillennial, a few are historic premillennial (for instance Fred Zaspel and a few others), and a few that self-describe as “Sovereign Grace” are of the Calvinist-Dispensational variety.

Another important point regarding Covenant Theology and millennial views: though many who hold to “Covenant Theology” also are amillennial or postmillennial – with variations among themselves on the futurist-idealist-preterist line, CT itself does not at all require an anti-premillennial view, or even an anti-future Israel view.  Though the true history has been largely forgotten by many of today’s CT advocates… ironically enough, as noted in Nathaniel West’s “History of the Premillennial Doctrine” and in my recent “Premillennialism in Church History” series, many if not most of the Westminster Divines were in fact premillennial: a truth that returned soon after the Reformation and held sway throughout the early Protestant years.  Many great theologians of the CT tradition, down through the 18th and 19th centuries, were premillennial, and many of these also affirmed a literal future for regathered ethnic, national Israel.

Covenant theologians (such as Horatius Bonar, also J.C. Ryle and Charles Spurgeon) can well articulate BOTH the tenets of covenant theology and the reformed view of the law (see Horatius Bonar’s God’s Way of Holiness, especially chapter 6), AND affirm historic/classic premillennialism, including future restoration of ethnic, national Israel.

Here I note an example of modern-day CT writing which conflates teaching on the Reformed/Covenantal view of the Law, with eschatology and Israel, in this passing statement near the end of this otherwise helpful article about the third use of the law; but such is the author’s own confusion. The article’s statement – This is one eternally important reason why Israel received the Law in the Mosaic Covenant, with the associated typological promise of blessing and cursing. Christ, the antitype of Israel, takes the antitypical curse for the Covenant people and fulfills the righteous requirement of the Law to give them the antitypical (eternal) blessings by faith in Him. – actually has nothing to do with covenant theology itself, and only shows the author’s own confusion and mixing of unrelated issues with excessive spiritualizing. Perhaps, too, this statement could be taken as an illustration or analogy, yet the primary truth and primary meaning (of literal Israel still experiencing literal curses in this age, to be followed by literal blessings in the future) still remains.

To conclude, a selection from Covenant premillennialist Horatius Bonar:

It seems often taken for granted that those who assert the literal interpretation of the blessings promised to Israel, thereby exclude the spiritual. They do not. They assert the literal blessing, because they believe that God has promised it; but they maintain the superiority and necessity of the spiritual as firmly as do the others. They believe that Israel will be converted, and they rejoice in this as the glorious issue towards which the prophets point. But they believe more; they believe not only that they will be converted, but they will be restored to their own land. But does their literal restoration take from them one single spiritual blessing? Or does it prevent the Gentile nations from enjoying one of those innumerable blessings which are given to them for an inheritance?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 422 other followers