A Few Thoughts for Consideration in the Modern Republication Debate

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brandonadams

Puritan Board Sophomore
I found this helpful: A Few Thoughts for Consideration in the Modern Republication Debate | Particular Voices
These thoughts are directed primarily at members in the OPC and PCA.

For those contra republication:

  1. The view that the Mosaic covenant was a covenant of works is a view found among Reformed divines in the 17th and 16th centuries.
  2. The Westminster Confession of Faith is not the exclusive expression or boundary of Reformed orthodoxy.
For those pro republication:

  1. The fact that a given divine at the Westminster Assembly held to a given view does not mean that the Confession itself either reflects, includes, or accounts for their view. They debated many things. The conclusion of the debates was a majority vote in one direction, not a unanimous vote.
  2. A covenant of works and a covenant of grace are as different as wood and stone. They are different “substances.” If the Mosaic covenant is a formal covenant of works (not just containing a remembrance of Adam’s covenant) it cannot be the covenant grace. See John Ball, A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace (London: Printed by G. Miller, 1645), 93-95. Ball is discussing John Cameron’s view that the Mosaic covenant (the old covenant) is neither the covenant of works nor the covenant of grace but a legal covenant for the nation of Israel to live life in the land of Canaan. Ball concludes that this view makes the old covenant differ from the new in substance. See also John Owen, A Continuation of the Exposition of the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews (London: Printed for Nathaniel Ponder, 1680), 324-42. Owen considers the majority view as expressed in the WCF and rejects it because he views the Mosaic covenant as a works covenant for life in the land. This is the result of the simple logic of substance as applied to covenant theology.


For both groups:

  1. The Westminster Confession was originally intended to be used as a government-backed, fueled, and promoted public standard of teaching and preaching in England, a standard not to be contradicted. Its limited function means that divines could participate in its making, and even live with its final form, so long as they did not overturn the status quo. In England, the Confession of Faith never got off its feet. The Independent-controlled government edited its proposed form in key ways, and the restoration of Charles II neutered any force the confession would have had. Scotland was another story. See Confessional Subscription and the Westminster Assembly | Particular Voices and The textual history of the Westminster Confession of Faith | Particular Voices
  2. How your church uses the Westminster Confession of Faith may be quite different from its original intent and design. Whereas its original function may have permitted the flavors of Reformed theology to coexist, the function that your church is assigning to it may not. You have to deal with that. If you are another “flavor” than the WCF but your view was found among the Westminster divines or Reformed theology in general, that still does not mean that your church’s use of the WCF permits you within its boundaries.
  3. You’re probably not using the term “administration” correctly or accurately.

  4. vindiciae-veritatis-preface.jpg "It is Verity, not Victory, that is here contended for"
 

Dearly Bought

Puritan Board Junior
The very first point for "those contra republication" really begs the whole question:
"1.The view that the Mosaic covenant was a covenant of works is a view found among Reformed divines in the 17th and 16th centuries."

Any cursory study of the modern republication debate reveals that there are a thousand different interpretations of phrases such as "the Mosaic covenant was a covenant of works." I'm still not convinced that there is even a single distinctly 16th/17th century Reformed theologian who advocates something which closely approximates the modern Klinean view (yes, even Owen).
 

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
The view that the Mosaic covenant was a covenant of works is a view found among Reformed divines in the 17th and 16th centuries.

Cornelius Venema notes in the 2013 Edition of the Confessional Presbyterian Journal (emphasis mine):

First, I fully concur with Fesko’s claim that there were divines at the Westminster Assembly who held different views of the Mosaic covenant, and that these views fell roughly into the following four types: 1) the Mosaic covenant was an admixture of the covenant of works and the covenant of grace; 2) the Mosaic covenant was simply a repetition of the covenant of works; 3) the Mosaic covenant was a “subservient” covenant, and as such neither a covenant of works nor a covenant of grace; and 4) the Mosaic covenant was simply an administration of the covenant of grace. There is no real dispute or argument that, in the history of Reformed theology and among the divines present at the Westminster Assembly, some theologians viewed the Mosaic economy to include a kind of re-introduction or publication of the covenant of works at some level.

Second, I also agree with Fesko’s acknowledgment that the “more common position” among the Westminster divines was “a twofold scheme.” The bi-covenantalism of the WCF represents, accordingly, the majority opinion of the divines, who clearly distinguished between the pre-fall covenant of works and the post-fall covenant of grace. In chapters 7 and 19 of the WCF, the twofold scheme is classically represented, and the Mosaic administration is thoroughly enveloped within the boundaries of God’s redemptive intentions to save his people through the work of the last Adam, the Lord Jesus Christ. Whatever else may be said about the republication view in all of its forms, it is certainly not the majority opinion in the history of Reformed theology.

Third, though I concur with these historical aspects of Fesko’s treatment of the Westminster Assembly, I do not concur with his presumption that, because a view is not expressly rejected, it must be a permissible view within the boundaries set by the WCF itself. Not all forms of error are expressly rejected in the Reformed confessions, and this is certainly true of the WCF, when it codifies the official view of the Reformed churches on the doctrine of the covenants of works and of grace. Among the three views of the Mosaic covenant that represent it as in some sense a republication of the covenant of works, surely the second and third views are provided no cover by the positive affirmations of chapters 7 and 19 of the WCF. To say that the Mosaic covenant was neither a covenant of works nor a covenant of grace, but a sort of “subservient,” quasi-legal covenant, is to take a position contrary to that articulated in the WCF. Likewise, and with an even greater degree of certainty, it is impossible to subscribe to the confessional position on the covenants, and yet view the Mosaic covenant as essentially a covenant of works.

The Westminster Confession of Faith is not the exclusive expression or boundary of Reformed orthodoxy.

And this demonstrates what, precisely? If I stand on the floor of Presbytery in my own Church (the PCA) and argue for a position based on the 1689 LBCF as being "...an expression of Reformed orthodoxy..." I think an interlocutor might rightfully point out that we are not Reformed Baptists. When the Westminster standards are received as the Constitution for a Church it is that which makes the Church confessional. Let those who have debates in other Churches who do not subscribe to the WCF use whatever confession they desire to mark them out as a Church but it is the function of a Confession for it to be confessed by the Church and not merely the individuals. A person who subscribes to a peculiar Confession of the 16th and 17th century all by himself is not a Church and confessions are not designed to individuate us as collectors of Reformed writings but are intended to define what a Church confesses together. Insofar as the debate is within the OPC or PCA it really isn't relevant to the discussion that there are other boundaries of Reformed orthodoxy.
 

brandonadams

Puritan Board Sophomore
And this demonstrates what, precisely?...When the Westminster standards are received as the Constitution for a Church it is that which makes the Church confessional.

Wow, you guys are jumpy. Did you bother to read the rest before commenting? Like this portion:
How your church uses the Westminster Confession of Faith may be quite different from its original intent and design. Whereas its original function may have permitted the flavors of Reformed theology to coexist, the function that your church is assigning to it may not. You have to deal with that. If you are another “flavor” than the WCF but your view was found among the Westminster divines or Reformed theology in general, that still does not mean that your church’s use of the WCF permits you within its boundaries.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
I'm going to guess the original author is our own "Petty France" (since that seems to be the original blog owner).
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis

The two posts referenced above indicate the author is at sea when it comes to Presbyterian church history. Concerning confessional subscription, the doctrine of the church was adhered to via personal subscription to the covenant. After the Revolution Settlement the covenant was not renewed so a formula was devised to take its place. Concerning the text of the Confession, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland approved the full text of the confession as it has come down to us. The Parliament's approval affected the English churches, not the Scottish.

What is said about the doctrine of republication and the place of the Confession within the Presbyterian tradition is just as misinformed as the remarks contained in the two referenced posts. Covenant theology is a structural principle within the Confession. It is a part of the system of doctrine. Revision or exceptions would affect numerous points of faith and life.
 

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
Wow, you guys are jumpy. Did you bother to read the rest before commenting?
I'm not jumpy. I'm making an observation that it is a throw away point. I noticed that second point aimed at "both groups". I might have pointed out that his own stated audience made the point immaterial because he states:
These thoughts are directed primarily at members in the OPC and PCA.
If directed at members primarily in the OPC and the PCA then it is immaterial to the debate within the OPC and the PCA. The debate is not whether or not the WCF is the exclusive boundary of Reformed orthodoxy within the OPC and the PCA. Actually, the WSC and the WLC also bear on the issue but that's picking nits. The point is that, within our respective Churches, the Westminster Standards are the only relevant Confessional boundaries.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
Thanks Bruce; if I don't see a name under contact/author at a blog etc. I don't have the time to hunt further. How about we just make it easy on the moderators and follow the rules.
I'm going to guess the original author is our own "Petty France" (since that seems to be the original blog owner).
 

Justified

Puritan Board Sophomore
The very first point for "those contra republication" really begs the whole question:
"1.The view that the Mosaic covenant was a covenant of works is a view found among Reformed divines in the 17th and 16th centuries."

Any cursory study of the modern republication debate reveals that there are a thousand different interpretations of phrases such as "the Mosaic covenant was a covenant of works." I'm still not convinced that there is even a single distinctly 16th/17th century Reformed theologian who advocates something which closely approximates the modern Klinean view (yes, even Owen).
I second this. It is my understanding that traditional republication is not modern republication. I believe republication as laid out in the Marrow of Modern Divinity, but I reject the modern conception of it.
 

Petty France

Puritan Board Freshman
I'm the author.

The post is intended simply to get people to stop and think about the situation. Specifically, it's intended to make people think about things like:

1. I shouldn't say that the only "Reformed" view is that the Mosaic covenant is the covenant of grace. (Yes there are many complex views; that's part of the point)
2. I shouldn't assume that the WCF and the Reformed tradition are coextensive.
3. I shouldn't assume that the confession accommodates my view simply because one of its divines believed what I believe.
4. I should think carefully about the nature of my denomination's confessional subscription and how that relates to the original intent and use of the confession. The two may differ in important ways.
5. I shouldn't say that the Mosaic covenant is the covenant of grace, if I say that it's a formal covenant of works.

etc.

Point taken that, if directed at the OPC or PCA, reminding them that the WCF is not the sole boundary of Reformed orthodoxy is a moot point, practically speaking. Nevertheless, the reason for keeping this point in mind is to cool some of the tensions by basically saying, "Don't forget that some among your confessional and historical cousins and family have held that the Mosaic covenant is a formal covenant of works."

If Mitchell is wrong by asserting that the original intent of the Assembly was not to require personal subscription in its national use, then by all means fix the record. Please note, however, that both posts point out that Scotland was another case. But the point still stands that one should think carefully about their church's subscriptional standard/method and realize it may be quite different from the original.
 

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
Samuel,

Thank you for weighing in. It's been some time since you participated here. Points taken.

I suppose my issue may stem from those who take your points as a guide for the intra-OPC debate as an example. If they subscribe to the standards, as the OPC received it, then points 1 and 2 and the tidbit about subscription are not germane to the debate itself. In other words, if I'm debating with a person, along strictly historical lines, it wouldn't be appropriate to say that every single person who called themselves Reformed taught that the Mosaic was within the CoG. Also, if I was interacting with another Reformed denomination who had differing clauses on other points I couldn't necessarily state that my own Confessional standards were the only Reformed standards. The point is, however, not germane to the debate within the Church itself which has received the Westminster standards as its Constitution. Do you see what I'm driving at? What relevance do the points have for those within the PCA or OPC who are debating the issue within the PCA and the OPC?

As to the point about whether the original intent was for personal subscription it's another interesting historical fact but it's just that. I think Matthew's point is that it may have had that intent when they got the ministers together but it's not germane to how it was received by the Churches that received it. It's rather like pointing out that in some creedal formulation like Nicea, Constantine had some other purpose in getting the Church together that differed from how the Church eventually received the creed that was produced (along with its later additions). All of the history is interesting but why is it relevant to the debaters?

I guess what I'm saying is that if you're trying to help out the debaters to clarify their debate, bringing in interesting historical information that does not pertain to their debate only clouds the issue. I could imagine that a person reading your article who is engaged in the debate might argue point 2 on the floor of the Presbytery and say exactly what you said in point 2. It might even persuade some men who are not thinking clearly. By adding a point not relevant to the debate, that was intended to aid the debate, you've given confusing guidance to those who are involved in the debate. There are really good points about intent and how it matters what a Church confesses and not what individual men wrote or thought but the article sort of flows like:

To those contra:
1. Interesting historical point.
2. Interesting historical point.

To those for
1. Germane to the present debate
2. Germane to the present debate.

To both:
1. Interesting historical point.
2. Germane.
3. Germane.
4. Germane.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
If Mitchell is wrong by asserting that the original intent of the Assembly was not to require personal subscription in its national use, then by all means fix the record.

Prof. Mitchell only went so far as to say that "probably" this was all the "English" divines were disposed to insist on. He does not say this was the actual state of affairs which resulted. The Directory for the Ordination of Ministers required the candidate to "bring with him a testimonial of his taking the Covenant of the three kingdoms." This Covenant required the swearer to endeavour to bring the churches of God in the three kingdoms to the nearest conjunction and uniformity in religion, including "confession of faith." The Confession of Faith, once completed, was part of the covenanted uniformity in religion to which the minister swore when he took the Covenant.

The reality is, the Church of Scotland did not require its ministers to literally subscribe the Confession, as Prof. Mitchell well knew. They signed a formula which articulated their relationship to the Confession.
 

Petty France

Puritan Board Freshman
If Mitchell is wrong by asserting that the original intent of the Assembly was not to require personal subscription in its national use, then by all means fix the record.

Prof. Mitchell only went so far as to say that "probably" this was all the "English" divines were disposed to insist on. He does not say this was the actual state of affairs which resulted. The Directory for the Ordination of Ministers required the candidate to "bring with him a testimonial of his taking the Covenant of the three kingdoms." This Covenant required the swearer to endeavour to bring the churches of God in the three kingdoms to the nearest conjunction and uniformity in religion, including "confession of faith." The Confession of Faith, once completed, was part of the covenanted uniformity in religion to which the minister swore when he took the Covenant.

The reality is, the Church of Scotland did not require its ministers to literally subscribe the Confession, as Prof. Mitchell well knew. They signed a formula which articulated their relationship to the Confession.

Brother,

Would you agree/disagree with saying that what happened, i.e. the agreement to and imposition of the covenant, was in a way the practical result of the English need for Scottish help in the war? I understand that this is an oversimplification. But the point I'm driving at is that if so at least to an extent, would you consider it unfair or misguided to maintain that the intent of the confession's use, originally, was a national standard--not to be contradicted? Because ultimately, it's that intent that I was driving at in my assertions that the original intent of the confession may have created a larger umbrella for dissent than the subscriptional methods/standards of the modern Presbyterian churches.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Would you agree/disagree with saying that what happened, i.e. the agreement to and imposition of the covenant, was in a way the practical result of the English need for Scottish help in the war? I understand that this is an oversimplification. But the point I'm driving at is that if so at least to an extent, would you consider it unfair or misguided to maintain that the intent of the confession's use, originally, was a national standard--not to be contradicted? Because ultimately, it's that intent that I was driving at in my assertions that the original intent of the confession may have created a larger umbrella for dissent than the subscriptional methods/standards of the modern Presbyterian churches.

You are picking up on a snippet of information relating to the international negotiations over the Covenant and missing the bigger picture which places that snippet in context. The Puritans desired reform. The Puritans sought closer relations with the Scottish Church before the Covenant was taken. The Puritans themselves had a well defined view of covenanting and vow-making before God. The Puritans had initiated the fast days well before the Assembly met. I could go on. The negotiations over the Covenant contained a political element, to be sure, but it also contained a deeply-seated religious element which the Puritans shared. This will be seen in the fervour with which they took the Covenant and recommended it to others.

You ask if what you maintain is to be considered unfair or misguided. I consider it misinformed. That is the kindest way of putting it.

The original intent of the Confession was uniformity. When dissent emerged in the second half of the 40s, it was as a result of external influence and it created a sharp division between those who continued to maintain their covenant obligations and those who revised or reinterpreted them.
 
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