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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?

Revelation 5, the Christology of Heaven (S. Lewis Johnson)

September 10, 2014 3 comments

From S. Lewis Johnson’s Revelation series, a few observations concerning the great throne room scene of Revelation 5 – the Christology of Heaven.

The three-fold praise in heaven gives a natural three-point sermon:

  • The Song of the creatures and the elders (Rev. 5:8-10)
  • The Shout of the angelic host (Rev. 5:11-12)
  • The Saying of “the whole creation” (Rev. 5:13-14)

Revelation 5 references the atonement and that satisfaction that Christ has rendered in His death on the cross.

this expression that, “the lamb of God was slain and has purchased”, is a reference to his penal death, that is he died under the penalty of the sins of men, further that it is a substitutionary death that we should have died, but he died instead of us. He died as our representative. He died as our covenantal head. Incidentally, Bach makes that point over and over in the St. John Passion, of how He was bound that we might not be bound and so on. And then also it is a satisfaction that is the Lord Jesus Christ in His sacrifice in His blood has satisfied the claims of a holy and righteous God against us. And as Anselm pointed out, it was something we must do — but we did not have the power to do and someone else, our Lord Jesus Christ, is the one who has done it for us. … It is good news that men who cannot save themselves do have a Savior to whom they may appeal and expect to find full, free forgiveness and justification of life. So it is a penal substitutionary satisfaction, and I would like a minor emphasis this morning, we don’t have time to deal in detail with this, to say that also it was a particular redemption.

The ninth verse: “For Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed to God by Thy blood.” (ESV: for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God):

Most of the translators supply the words either “men” or “some”. Luther supplied the German word Menchen, which means something like mankind, but it’s a supply because of the partitive construction in the original text. Take my word for it. It’s true. After forty years of teaching New Testament Greek exegesis. Jesus, I assure you there is no doubt about it whatsoever, it is a partitive construction. That is, a reference is to some out of the whole, a part out of the whole. So he does not say he has redeemed to God by Thy blood, every kindred tongue and people and nation, but “out of every people tongue and nation.” In other words, there is a selection, a part of the whole that is the object of the redeeming work.

That verse 9 means more than simply talking about the fact that some should be lost, is seen in the very next verse: “And hast made them unto our God kings and priests.”

In other words, everyone who is the object of the purchase is also effectually made a king and a priest, and surely you’re not going to be universalists are you? No, you know that that is not true. So everyone who has been purchased has also been made a priest and a king, and I won’t say anything more about it. I don’t want your blood to rise, become hot and angry because there are other things that are very important in this great passage, but I want you to think about it. It’s evident then, I think that what John says is harmonious with a particular redemption.

Another observation: the angelic hosts know where to put the crown: they don’t put it on man, but on the Son of Man, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Ask those angelic hosts how men are saved, and from their own language that they would say, “The glories that men who are saved have are not due to the individuals. They are due to the lamb who was slain,” or if you were to say to the elders and the living creatures, “Where did the faith come from by which this vast multitude was saved? Did it come from them?” they would say, “No a faith did not come from them. It was the gift of God.” For after all the apostle wrote, “No man can call Jesus Lord, but by the Holy Spirit.”

Creation Apologetics: The Creation Ordinance Sabbath

September 2, 2014 3 comments

In studying the idea of a creation ordinance sabbath – the significance of the seven day week and setting aside one of those seven days as different from the others – I recall the value of extra-biblical historical records, for apologetics related to other events of Genesis 1-11, in support of biblical “young earth” creation, the flood of Noah, dinosaurs (dragons) coexisting with humans, and the “Table of Nations” genealogies.  Reference this post (After the Fall), related to the study of the nations listed in Genesis 10.

It is not the purpose of this post to consider all the issues related to the Christian Sabbath. One very good resource is Robert L. Dabney’s “Systematic Theology,” of which nearly a full chapter (25 pages) is devoted to the issue of the 4th commandment, available online here, and includes the historical background of the two main views throughout Christian history as well as all the pertinent scripture passages.

The issue (for this post) is related to creation, and evidences available, including early historical records.  It is often asserted by non-sabbath believers, that the Pentateuch makes no mention of Sabbath observance after Genesis 2, until Exodus 16, and thus we have no evidence of any Sabbath observance before the law of Moses.  In response: first, the seven day week itself is an unusual phenomenon, as it does not fit with any calendar system of timekeeping — a strong evidence for the biblical record itself in contrast to evolutionary ideas; see this article from the Institute for Creation Research.  (As a side note: observance of a Christian Sabbath is not a “Covenant Theology vs. Dispensationalism” issue. As acknowledged in online discussions, even some dispensationalists believe and practice it; ICR is one such example, 4-point Calvinist-Dispensational with Christian Sabbath.)  Aside from the fact that the Sabbath is mentioned in the Exodus wilderness before the giving of the law on Sinai, it is true that the references in Genesis (after chapter 2) only mention the seven day week cycle and do not explicitly mention anything of people observing a rest for one day out of each seven.  Yet consider: if the seventh-day sabbath precept did originate at creation, we should expect to find some indication of it in early pagan civilization and their written records – similar to what is found regarding the flood of Noah, dragons, and the “Table of Nations” genealogies. Interestingly enough, we do find such evidence that the sabbath (a rest day for one out of seven days) goes back to creation itself.

Ancient Pagan Religious Practices

Secular sources note that the ancient Babylonians, like the Jews, also observed a seven day week (somewhat modified for their lunar monthly calendar), and their pagan observance included “holy days” every 7th day. Such evolutionary sources, such as Wikipedia, of course try to “find” another explanation for the 7 day calendar, apart from its origin in Genesis, yet still note the following about early Babylonian practice:

The origin of the seven-day week is the religious significance that was placed on the seventh day by ancient cultures. The earliest ancient sources record a seven-day week in ancient Babylon prior to 600 BCE.[1] Babylonians celebrated a holy day every seven days, starting from the new moon, then the first visible crescent of the Moon, but adjusted the number of days of the final “week” in each month so that months would continue to commence on the new moon … Counting from the new moon, the Babylonians celebrated the 7th, 14th, 21st, and 28th as “holy-days”, also called “evil days” (meaning “unsuitable” for prohibited activities). On these days officials were prohibited from various activities and common men were forbidden to “make a wish”, and at least the 28th was known as a “rest-day”.[4] On each of them, offerings were made to a different god and goddess.

And from this online article:

In their normal seven day week, the Babylonians held the seventh day of each week as holy, much like the Jews did and still do.  However, the Babylonians also held the day to be unlucky.  Thus, similar to the Jews (but for a different reason- the unluckiness of the day), the seventh day had restrictions on certain activities to avoid dire consequences from the inherit unluckiness of the day.

Early Pagan Literature

This idea can also be found in ancient extra-biblical literature. Cited in Dabney’s “Systematic Theology”, the following evidence from early pagan literature:

The assertion that the Sabbath was coexisting with the human race, and was intended for the observation of all, receives collateral confirmation also from the early traditions concerning it, which pervade the first Pagan literature. It can hardly be supposed that Homer and Hesiod borrowed from the books of Moses, sabbatical allusions which would have been to their hearers unintelligible. They must be the remnants of those primeval traditions of patriarchal religion, which had been transferred by the descendants of Japheth, to the isles of Chittim. The early allusions to a sacred seventh day may be sufficiently exhibited by citing a collection of them from Eusebius’ Preparation Evangelica(50. 13., Sect. 13), which he quotes from the Stromata of Clement of Alexandria. The latter father is represented as saying: “That the seventh day is sacred, not the Hebrews only, but the Gentiles also acknowledge, according to which the whole universe of animals and vegetables revolves.” Hesiod, for instance, thus says concerning it:

“The first, the fourth also, and the seventh is a sacred day.” (Ieron `Hmar .) Dierum, line 6.

And again: “The seventh day once more, the splendid dawn of the sun.”

And Homer: “The seventh day then arrived, the sacred day.”

Again: “The seventh was sacred.”

“The seventh dawn was at hand, and with this all the series is completed.”

And once more: “On the seventh day, we left the stream of Acheron.”

And thus also writes Callimachus the poet: “It was now the Sabbath day: and with this all was accomplished.”

Again: “The seventh day is among the fortunate; yea, the seventh is the parent day.”

Again: “The seventh day is first, and the seventh day is the complement.”

And: “All things in the starry sky are found in sevens; and shine in their ordained cycles.”

“And this day, the elegies of Solon also proclaim as more sacred, in a wonderful mode.” Thus far Clement and Eusebius. Josephus, in his last book against Apion, affirms that “there could be found no city, either of the Grecians or Barbarians, who owned not a seventh day’s rest from labor.” This of course is exaggerated. Philo, cotemporary with Josephus, calls the Sabbath eorth pandhmo”.

These references from ancient history clearly support the biblical data for a seven day week and its associated creation sabbath ordinance: a creation precept set in place in Genesis 2, an ordinance and precept unlike the later ceremonial Sabbath set forth in the law section of the Pentateuch (which was given AFTER the events of Exodus 16 and AFTER the giving of the Ten Commandments). Like other knowledge from the antediluvian era, this was passed down to the post-flood world by Noah and his sons.  As with other knowledge from that time, though, this original understanding of the true God was soon distorted among the Gentile peoples who spread out from Babel (Genesis 11), along with all other distortions of yet true accounts in their literature (i.e., the creation story and the flood), and finally forgotten by our world which looks to godless evolution and millions of years, suppressing the truth (Romans 1) that was known by our distant ancestors.