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Posts Tagged ‘1689 Federalism’

Scripture Interpretation, and Occam’s Razor

April 6, 2020 8 comments

I’m continuing through Zacharias Ursinus’ Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, along with the Westminster Daily calendar readings.  In this first quarter of the calendar year, both of these teach about the person of Christ, the Trinity, and the Mediator, with some excellent material.

Along the way I have also discovered some additional online resources, as I continue to think through the implications of Reformed PaedoBaptism, and understanding its differences from the Particular Baptist/1689 Federalism version of Covenant Theology.  For one thing, though Facebook has a large, active group for 1689 Reformed Baptists, the best online forum for serious discussion of Westminster theology is the Puritan Board.  Though as some people have described, that its ‘heyday’ is past, 10-12 years ago — as Facebook has replaced it in sheer numbers and volume of group conversations — yet it still has good, in-depth discussion on a lot of theology topics.  Over the last several days, I’ve been reading through a recent lengthy thread in the Paedo-Baptism answers forum, learning a lot, and noting additional links to online material mentioned in the conversation.

A few other helpful resources I’ve found, for Paedobaptist articles interacting with and responding to 1689 Federalism:

One overall impression I now have, goes back to Occam’s Razor and the layman term description, that the simplest answer – the answer with the fewest assumptions – is generally the correct one.  Certainly it proved true for Copernican Astronomy (contrasted with Aristotelian), and I’ve seen that principle at work also in understanding Creation Science as contrasted with the complexities and ever-changing theories of old-earth/evolutionary views.

This same principle plays out in comparing the presentation of 1689 Federalism, with standard Reformed Theology.  As observed in the Puritan board comment thread — and I find agreement, from my reading a few years ago of several online articles as well as Denault’s The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology (2013 Kindle edition) – the presentation is very difficult to follow and understand.  During my study of 1689 Federalism I grasped the basic idea, similar to the usage of terms by Charles Spurgeon, that “the Covenant of Grace = the New Covenant,” and that the New Covenant was ‘in promise form’ throughout the Old Testamant era, a separate promise running through yet distinct from the actual historical covenants (Abrahamic, Davidic, etc.).  Beyond that level, though, the explanations become verbose and tedious.  As one comment described, the writers of an RB essay seek to bolster their position from so many sources, and redefine so many terms (Old Testament, Old Covenant, New Testament, New Covenant, Covenant of Grace, Abrahamic Covenant, Mosaic or Sinaitic Covenant)—as does Pascal Denault in his, The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology, that one would almost have to write a book, or at least a lengthy essay in reply. And each of hundreds of points could then be argued and wrangled about! Also, “it is troubling to see the tortuous—one could almost call it labyrinthine—argumentation of their presentation on the covenants and the resultant disallowance of baptism for believers’ infants. Why can’t plain teachings of the Bible be presented simply?”

While granting that some paedobaptist explanations of Reformed Covenant Theology may also be presented in a complex way, overall I have found that online articles about Reformed paedo-CT are presented in a simpler, clearer way along with the scripture evidence.  The continuity and scriptures make sense, and without lengthy explanations to redefine terms. (It is also worth noting that not all Reformed Baptists follow 1689 Federalism; the third view, sometimes called ‘Modern RB,’ keeps the Westminster Standards version of Covenant Theology but with believers’ baptism instead of paedo.)

Further, the 1689 Federalism splitting of the Abrahamic covenant into two parts, to effect two covenants, one spiritual and one carnal/physical only, seems unnecessary complexity.  The attitude toward the Abrahamic land promises, the strong amillennial ‘replacement’ motif is also troubling; during my 1689 RB years, I identified instead with Charles Spurgeon’s beliefs, in the basic 1689 London Baptist Confession while strongly affirming the Old Testament’s prophecies regarding the future regathering of ethnic, national Israel and the land promises for Israel’s future.

As with science theories, and the plain language/normal reading hermeneutic applied to God’s word, the simpler explanation, “the answer with the fewest assumptions – is generally the correct one.”

Baptist Covenant Theology: Coxe and Owen, ‘From Adam to Christ’

August 28, 2017 2 comments

Continuing in the 2017 Challies’ Reading Challenge, I’m now reading another theology book: a second one about Baptist covenant theology.  The first book I read, back in January, was A.W. Pink’s The Divine Covenants  (see previous post); this time, a recent publication and reprint of two 17th century works,  in Covenant Theology: From Adam To Christ.  The first part is Nehemiah Coxe’s views of the first covenants:  the Adamic/covenant of works, plus the Noahic and Abrahamic covenants.  A selection from John Owen’s commentary on certain verses of Hebrews 8 follows. The original language of both Coxe and Owen has been modernized and edited for easier reading; footnotes have been added for words uncommon today, and section headings added to guide the reader.  It has often been said that Owen in particular is hard to follow, but this version of Owen is readable (and quite insightful).

The book was not quite what I expected – a discourse regarding each of the historical covenants in sequence from Adam through the Davidic and New Covenants, the approach taken by Pink’s book.  Instead, Coxe starts with the Covenant of Works with Adam, followed by the Noahic covenant, and lastly discourses at great length on the Abrahamic covenant, which he actually divides into two separate covenants:  the covenant of promise with the spiritual blessings, and a separate “covenant of circumcision” linked to the later law added by Moses and specifically for the Jewish economy.  So the discussion on the Abrahamic “covenant of circumcision” relates to the later Mosaic covenant.  Coxe ends at this point, without comment on the Davidic or New Covenant; the history notes that he agreed with John Owen’s exposition of Hebrews, and thus never completed his own exposition of the New Covenant.  Thus the next section is John Owen’s treatment of Hebrews 8.

Whereas A.W. Pink’s The Divine Covenants includes responses to classic dispensationalism and antinomianism, Coxe’s primary focus is the dominant view of his day – paedobaptism and the related construction of the covenant of grace as including the children of believing parents.  At times he speaks against the view of unbelieving Jews, switching his hermeneutic approach to the general spiritualized amillennial view – missing the point of the Jews’ belief of a future millennial age by seeing it as “their view” as something that pertains to carnal unbelieving Jews; of course the true premillennial view fully affirms a future millennial age, as a both/and that includes believing Jews.

As a book explaining Baptist covenant theology, and especially in response to the paedobaptist idea – a parallel between circumcision as a sign of the covenant of grace and thus infant baptism in our age – Coxe’s work is very helpful.  One problem with the idea of circumcision=infant baptism:  the pre-Israel saints, God’s people going back to Enoch and Noah, as well as other believers in the same time period as Abraham’s family, were not under the covenant of circumcision.  Melchizedek and others, even Lot, were believers and yet not included in the promises to Abraham and not bound to the covenant of circumcision.  (He does not mention Job or his friends, but the point includes them as well.)

Melchizedek was alive about this time. … it was  he who was the priest of the most high God and King of Salem.  In both respects he was the most eminent type of Jesus Christ that ever was in the world; a person greater than Abraham, for Abraham paid tithes to him and was blessed by him.  Now considering that he was both king and priest, there is no doubt that there was a society of men that were ruled by  him and for whom he ministered.  For a priest is ordained for men in things pertaining to God.  This society was as much a church of God as Abraham’s family was and as truly interested in the covenant of grace as any in it.  Yet they were not involved as parties in this covenant of circumcision nor to be signed by it.  And so it is manifest that circumcision was not at first applied as a seal of the covenant of grace, nor did an interest in it presently render a man the proper subject of it.

… there was a positive command which made it necessary to circumcise many that never had interest in the covenant of grace.  So, on the other hand, from the first date of circumcision there were many truly interested in the covenant of grace who were under no obligation to be circumcised.  This is how far from truth it is that a new covenant interest and right to circumcision may be inferred the one from the other.

Another consideration is Paul’s debate with the Judaizers, as explained in the book of Galatians.

There the apostle tells them if he still preached circumcision, then the offence of the cross was ceased and he might have lived free from the persecutions he now suffered from the unbelieving Jews.  … For if the controversy has been about the mode of administering the same covenant, and the change only of an external rite by bringing baptism into the place of circumcision to serve for the same use and end now as that had done before, the heat of their contests might soon have allayed.  … But he will certainly find himself engaged in a very difficult task who will seriously endeavor to reconcile the apostle’s discourse of circumcision with such a notion of it.  Circumcision was an ordinance of the old covenant and pertained to the law and therefore directly bound its subjects to a legal obedience.  But baptism is an ordinance of the gospel and directly obliges its subjects to gospel obedience.

Covenant Theology: From Adam to Christ is quite informative and helpful for its response to the more well-known paedobaptist covenant theology.  The reprinting with modernized language makes Baptist covenant theology more accessible to the readers of our day, and helpful for discussing with today’s “Calvinist Baptists” who reject Covenant Theology by only interacting with the paedobaptist form of it and thus coming up with their own new teaching while yet ignoring the historical Christian teaching, that believers’ baptism and covenant theology do go together.

2017 Challies’ Reading Challenge: Theology, A.W. Pink’s “Divine Covenants”

January 10, 2017 1 comment

I’m still listening to James White’s “Holiness Code for Today” series, but have now begun the 2017 Challies Reading Challenge for electronic (non-audio) books. I prefer to skip around in book order, and so the first book I’m reading is one about theology:  A.W. Pink’s “The Divine Covenants.”

awpinkIn the past I’ve read Pink’s well-known The Sovereignty of God, a short but helpful one on that topic, but generally have avoided him, instead reading other authors on topics I was more interested in.  Also, what I knew of him –particularly his life story of one who isolated himself, ending up as a  recluse, not participating in any local church, including what is well summarized in Dan Phillips’ post a few years ago  — was another reason to “return the favor” since he had no interest in the church.  The premillennialist part of me also has avoided one who had switched from classic dispensationalism, to amillennialism, and who is known for  some excesses of over-allegorization.

Yet in my studies over the last few years, confessional Baptist theology (1689 London Baptist Confession), Pink’s name has come up as one who held to 1689 Federalism.  The recommended book list from the online Reformed Baptist group includes a few recent ones, as well as Pink’s “Divine Covenants,” which is available free online here. The book is organized in chronological sequence of the theological/biblical covenants: the everlasting covenant (often called the “covenant of redemption”), then the Adamic, Noahic, Abrahamic, Sinaitic, Davidic, and Messianic (New Covenant), followed by a concluding section called “The Covenant Allegory.”  I’m now about halfway through, in part 5, the Sinaitic covenant, and find the book very instructive.  A few parts I disagree with, particularly his hermeneutic and treatment of the land promises, a few chapters in the Abrahamic covenant part.  Here I agree with covenantal premillennialists such as Horatius Bonar, whose “Prophetic Landmarks” book responded with sharp criticism to the spiritualizers of his day, and particularly Patrick Fairbairn; and Fairbairn is one of the scholars frequently quoted by Pink.

Of note, each section includes good background material regarding the individuals and the setting (Adam, Noah, Abraham), along with excerpts from previous commentators and Pink’s own views at particular points; as one example, Pink believed that Adam remained lost, an unregenerate person, contrary to the more common view about Adam.

Pink goes beyond the usual more superficial look at the covenants as “unilateral, unconditional,” to emphasize three important parts of each covenant, which reveal both God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility.  Each covenant features 1) divine calling, grace, election;  2) obedience; and 3) the reward / God fulfilling His promises.  In the Noahic covenant:

God maintained the claims of His righteousness by what He required from the responsible agents with whom He dealt. It was not until after Noah “did according to all that God commanded him” (Gen. 6:22) by preparing an ark “to the saving of his house” (Heb. 11:7), that God confirmed His “with thee will I establish my covenant” (Gen. 6:18) by “I establish my covenant” (9:9). Noah having fulfilled the divine stipulations, God was now prepared to fulfill His promises.

Similarly in the Abrahamic covenant:

The order there is unmistakably plain. First, God acted in grace, sovereign grace, by singling out Abraham from his idolatrous neighbors, and by calling him to something far better. Second, God made known the requirements of His righteousness and enforced Abraham’s responsibility by the demand there made upon him.  Third, the promised reward was to follow Abraham’s response to God’s call. These three things are conjoined in Heb. 11:8: “By faith Abraham, when he was called [by divine grace] to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance [the reward], obeyed [the discharge of his responsibility]; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.” . . .

Many scriptures indeed indicate Abraham’s obedience, and show the moral law and obedience to God present in and required by the patriarchs, long before the Mosaic/Sinaitic covenant.  Here I also think of a similar text (not specifically mentioned yet relevant)—Ezekiel 33:24-26, which marks a contrast between Abraham and the idolatrous Israelites of Ezekiel’s day, and the moral difference:

 “Son of man, the inhabitants of these waste places in the land of Israel keep saying, ‘Abraham was only one man, yet he got possession of the land; but we are many; the land is surely given us to possess.’ Therefore say to them, Thus says the Lord God: You eat flesh with the blood and lift up your eyes to your idols and shed blood; shall you then possess the land?  You rely on the sword, you commit abominations, and each of you defiles his neighbor’s wife; shall you then possess the land?

Pink well summarized these features of the later covenants, as “nothing new” but true throughout God’s covenants, including the everlasting covenant (Covenant of Redemption):

The above elements just as truly shadowed forth another fundamental aspect of the everlasting covenant as did the different features singled out from the Adamic and the Noahic. In the everlasting covenant, God promised a certain reward unto Christ upon His fulfilling certain conditions—executing the appointed work. The inseparable principles of law and gospel, grace and reward, faith and works, were most expressly conjoined in that compact which God entered into with the Mediator before the foundation of the world. Therein we may behold the “manifold wisdom of God” in combining such apparent opposites; and instead of carping at their seeming hostility, we should admire the omniscience which has made the one the handmaid of the other. Only then are we prepared to discern and recognize the exercise of this dual principle in each of the subordinate covenants.

“The Divine Covenants” is well-written, looking at the different views of commentators and responding to various errors that have been taught, noting the scriptures that do not  agree with those ideas.  Throughout, too, are great quotes affirming the importance of scripture and refuting wrong attitudes that some have toward God’s word; the following excerpt I appreciate, in response to an idea still popular with many evangelicals today:

There is a certain class of people, posing as ultraorthodox, who imagine they have a reverence and respect for Holy Writ as the final court of appeal which surpasses that of their fellows. They say, ‘Show me a passage which expressly states God made a covenant with Adam, and that will settle the matter; but until you can produce a verse with the exact term “Adamic covenant” in it, I shall believe no such thing.’ Our reason for referring to this paltry quibble is because it illustrates a very superficial approach to God’s Word which is becoming more and more prevalent in certain quarters, and which stands badly in need of being corrected. Words are only counters or signs after all (different writers use them with varying latitude, as is sometimes the case in Scripture itself); and to be unduly occupied with the shell often results in a failure to obtain the kernel within.