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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.

Psalms and Hymns: Confusing the Covenants and Testaments

October 11, 2012 Leave a comment

Recently a preacher, talking about church hymns, referenced an early hymn writer (perhaps Isaac Watts; or someone else from that time period) who argued for hymns beyond the words of the Psalms–by reasoning that the Psalms were “Old Covenant” and thus were limited in worship, because in singing only the Psalms we could not express the great New Covenant / New Testament truths about Jesus, including His name, and the greater truths we now have in this age.

That statement struck me as a bit off, as a misunderstanding of the definitions of the Old and New Covenants, which are not the same as the Old and New Testament of the canon of scripture.   After all, the New Covenant is mentioned in the Old Testament (Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36), and the Psalms are not the Old Covenant (that is the Mosaic law of the Pentateuch, and not even all of those five books); and the Psalms have a great deal to say concerning New Covenant and New Testament ideas.  Rather than having “old covenant” content, the Psalms specifically include several references to the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, while also referencing the doctrines of the kingdom (the idea of royalty, and the Lord God as King), creation, and many other Christian beliefs and concepts.  A recent Dr. Reluctant post addresses the specific error of conflating the Old/New Covenant with the Old/New Testament.  Here I especially note point 3:

When one reads about the contrasts between the “first covenant” and the “new covenant” in Hebrews it is clear that the former is equated with Moses’ Law (Cf. Heb. 7-10), which is inferior to the “better covenant” (7:22) and is “growing old and is ready to vanish away” (8:13).  This type of language cannot be used of the relation of the Old Testament books to the New Testament books.

Looking further into the Psalms and music issue, though, I found some interesting articles, both from the perspective of Psalms-only and a more moderate view that includes Psalms as well as hymns that strive to reflect scriptural language.  Yet here too, often the references were to “New Covenant” hymns as contrasted with “Old Covenant” Psalms.  I also observe that the Psalms-only advocate, as in this article, a review and criticism of Iain Murray’s work about hymns, shows greater understanding of what the Psalms contain and the problems that come from not using the Psalms as hymns  – along with proper use of the terms:

While the Psalter is not exhaustive in telling us everything in the Old or New Testament, neither are uninspired hymnals. In fact the Book of Psalms is far richer, better and more doctrinally complete, and balanced than any modern hymnal. Hymn writers historically have avoided the judicial aspects of God’s character in favor of love and heavenly bliss. They have avoided the important imprecatory aspects of praise which, contrary to Murray, is not inappropriate in the New Covenant era. Hymns do not contain warnings against trusting in princes (Ps. 146:3-4) and they certainly do not focus on the doctrine of creation in a manner that approaches the Psalter (e.g. see Ps. 146:6). Hymnals do not contain the many antitheses between the righteous and the wicked that are found in the Psalter. Neither do they contain such amazing statements about God’s holy law as found in Psalm 119. Such examples could be multiplied extensively. …  Even if a humanly produced hymnal contained no unorthodox doctrines, it still would be grossly unbalanced theologically by emphasizing popular doctrines while ignoring the less popular teachings.

Another article takes a more moderate position (include Psalms along with newer music, with the emphasis on music that closely agrees with scriptural language), and mentions the importance of progressive revelation.  Yet this work shows a few misunderstandings and misuse of the terms “covenant” and “testament,” as in this paragraph:

In addition to their pre-Christian stance of anticipation, the Psalms frequently reflect the struggle of faith that the OT saints had due to the seeming conflict between the promises of God and the reality of his providence.  On the one hand, God had promised the nation that they would have a king and a land. Yet in reality, they often had ungodly kings and at one point were removed from the inheritance during the exile. Thus the Psalms are full of the cry, “O Lord, how long?”And the cry largely goes unanswered. To sing only the Psalms without updating them with the Christological solution is to say that we are still living under Old Covenant conditions.

Does this author really think that in our New Covenant era believers know nothing of the Psalmist’s experience:  ungodly kings (rulers), and the “seeming conflict between the promises of God and the reality of His providence”? The New Testament writers themselves describe similar conditions of hardship and persecution, submitting to ungodly rulers, and still awaiting Christ’s return to fulfill what was not done at the First Coming (reference Acts 1:6; 3:20-21; 26:6-7; 1 Cor. 15:23-25).  In Revelation 6:9-11 (as explained in Revelation 4:1, this is in the section of things yet to be), the souls who had been slain for the word of God are still crying out, “how long?” and here again, in a New Testament book, in the New Covenant era, we find again the spirit of the imprecatory Psalms: the righteous rejoicing over the judgment done to the wicked.

I find that, ironically, it is the CT non-premillennial view that tends to find more division between the Old and New Testament and more tendency to misuse the terms covenant and testament.  After all (as in the above example), when people think that everything Christ set forth to do was accomplished at His First Coming, and we are now either living in the kingdom (amillennialism) or going to bring the kingdom into the world gradually before Christ’s return (postmillennialism), the result is a much sharper distinction between the “Old Covenant Church” experiencing struggles of faith and conflict between promises and reality, versus our golden, glorious triumphant age of the Church.

Also ironically, it is really the biblical dispensationalists, understanding the importance of the unconditional biblical covenants set forth in God’s word (the Abrahamic, Davidic, and New Covenants), who see the overall unifying theme of scripture: the Kingdom of God as that one uniting theme throughout, God’s Divine Purpose, including the work to be accomplished by Christ at His First AND Second Coming. Such emphasis brings about the understanding of the difference between the terms Old and New Covenant, and Old and New Testament.

Hebrews 8 and the New Covenant

November 10, 2011 Leave a comment

From S. Lewis Johnson’s Hebrews series, a look at Hebrews 8 and the New Covenant.  Here, the text has four questions we must answer.

1.  What is this “better covenant?”
It is the New Covenant, which is an expansion of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants.  The Bible has many covenants, including individual covenants (such as the one between David and Jonathan), as well as the great unconditional, unilateral covenants, that God initiated:  the Abrahamic covenant, and the Davidic covenant which expands on that.  The New Covenant is given in the Old Testament (Jeremiah 31, also in Ezekiel), the last of Israel’s covenants, the one that provides the redemptive basis for the previous Abrahamic and Davidic covenants.

2.  “What are the better promises?” Hebrews 8:8-12.
The text answers it, in verses 8 through 12, including the words “‘I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts.’”  The New Covenant provides the forgiveness of sins and Divine Enablement.  It could also be described as, “A new inner control center in the individuals who are the inheritors of this covenant.”

3.  “With whom was the New Covenant made?”
The Old Testament says that covenant was made with Israel and with Judah.  Again in verse 10, “with the house of Israel.”  The New Covenant was made with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.

We do not err to the side of amillennialists who blur distinctions and say that Israel and the Church are one.  Paul does say in Romans 9 that “not all Israel” is Israel — thus narrowing the field to only those Israelites who believe.  But Paul is not talking about Gentiles at all in that text, and he is not widening the scope to include Genties among that group of “For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel.”

On the other hand, we do not say, as some earlier dispensationalists, that the Church is completely separate from Jeremiah’s New Covenant, so that we Gentiles have our own New Covenant.  Scripture speaks of only one New Covenant, that one in Jeremiah 31, made with Israel and Judah.  Thus comes the fourth question.

4.  How then is the Church of Jesus Christ, or believing Gentiles, related to the New Covenant?
Gentiles are related to it, through the provision in the Abrahamic covenant, that all the families of the earth would be blessed through him.  Romans 11 also describes it in the figure of the olive tree which we are grafted into.

A great summary from S. Lewis Johnson:  if you will look at the fundamental Abrahamic Covenant and the Davidic Covenant and the New Covenant together, as a covenantal program, you will know, you will surely know that in the Abrahamic Covenant provision was made for Gentile believers.  

Biblical Covenants: The Davidic Covenant

July 8, 2010 Leave a comment

Through an interesting providence, both of my current MP3 sermon studies — one going through the life of David in 1st and 2nd Samuel, the other a doctrinal series “The Divine Purpose” — came to the same subject last week: the Davidic covenant. The “Lessons from the Life of David,” upon reaching 2 Samuel 7, begins a mini-series of four messages on the topic. The “Divine Purpose” series is in a section looking at the biblical covenants and commits two sessions specifically to the Davidic covenant, as an expansion of the Abrahamic covenant.

Some of the important points:
The Davidic covenant expands on the Abrahamic covenant, and the primary feature here is the kingdom — a king and a realm (subjects). The New Covenant, another outworking of the Abrahamic covenant, treats the matter of the seed. The Davidic covenant also promises the everlasting reign of David’s seed, and here the term seed is meant in the collective sense: David’s descendants on the throne, but ultimately the line ends as it comes into the Messiah.

In 2 Samuel 7:8, God promises that David “should be prince over my people Israel.” God reserves the title of King to Himself alone. Here I add an interesting note from recent reading through 1 Samuel 25 (list 6), that Abigail does indeed appear to know something about the future Davidic promises, with her words “a sure house” and, verse 30, that the Lord would appoint David prince over Israel: ” And when the Lord has done to my lord according to all the good that he has spoken concerning you and has appointed you prince over Israel”. Also from recent readings I noticed Psalm 145, and in verses 10-13 David also recognizes that it is God’s kingdom:

All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord, and all your saints shall bless you!
They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom and tell of your power, to make known to the children of man your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations.

The word “covenant” does not actually appear in 2 Samuel 7, but in 2 Samuel 23:5, David makes reference to the covenant: “For he has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure.”

The three key passages for the Davidic covenant are 2 Samuel 7, 1 Chronicles 17, and Psalm 89.  Johnson describes these passages as different types of lights that show different emphases:

  • 2 Samuel 7 — a floodlight, an overview
  • 1 Chronicles 17 — a spotlight
  • Psalm 89 — a searchlight

Psalm 89 has two key words: mercy (or “loving kindness”) and faithfulness. Psalm 89 was written by Ethan, whose name means perpetuity. SLJ made a passing reference without further explanation, that this psalm was written at the time when Rehoboam had been unfaithful. I don’t see this detail in the text, so this is one for further study, to look up in commentaries.

These two Davidic covenant series contain a great deal of overlap, though the David series spends more time (four sessions instead of two). Yet in both of these series SLJ uses the illustrations of different types of light — the floodlight, spotlight, and searchlight — and cites the same passages in reference to the Davidic covenant in prophecy, including Isaiah 7, 9 and 11. Both series also discuss the New Testament references to the Davidic covenant.

In closing, here are the references to the Davidic covenant in Isaiah. Both of these series are available, in transcript and audio files, at www.sljinstitute.net

Isaiah 7:13-14 — “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Isaiah 9:7 – Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.

Isaiah 11:1- 10, in which verses 1 and 10 mention “the stump of Jesse” and “the root of Jesse,” with descriptions of the kingdom age in between:

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.

and

In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples-of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.