Conditionality in the Davidic Covenant

Discussion in 'Covenant Theology' started by JTB.SDG, Jan 29, 2019.

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  1. JTB.SDG

    JTB.SDG Puritan Board Sophomore

    Psalm 132:12 says: "If your sons will keep My covenant and My testimony which I will teach them, their sons also shall sit upon your throne forever."

    David seems to refer to this in 1 Kings 2:1-4, where he urges his son Solomon to obey the Lord in light of the fact that the Lord had said: "If your sons are careful of their way, to walk before Me in truth with all their heart and with all their soul, you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel." (v4).

    Here it's conditional. But elsewhere, the perpetuity of David's throne is an unconditional promise (2 Samuel 7:16). How are we to understand the difference in requirement between these texts (conditional vs unconditional)?

    And how are we to understand the specific nature of this condition in the Davidic Covenant? And then especially, seeing that this covenant belongs to the Covenant of Grace, what are the inferences and applications for us?
  2. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    The unconditional belongs to the Promised Seed alone. Man strives and fails. Only God Strives (y'Isra-El) and succeeds.

    In effect, the primary kingly line does experience failure, on account of the exile. They failed to keep that covenant. However, as Luke's genealogy shows, David has by then multiple lines of attestable descendants of the blood, in addition to the legitimate royal succession line recorded in Matthew. The continuation of the latter (even outside the presence of an actual throne) and the former, is a consequent necessity of fulfilling the Promise. David still gets his forever-Heir in spite of the apparent failure of the throne to maintain the covenant.

    David's physical sons sit on the throne--both the good ones and the bad--because God in his mercy means to bring a Savior-King into the world by it. In the end, it's all of grace, even for those sons deemed to have "walked in the ways of David, his father." Only the One True Heir fulfills the covenant, and is entitled to the "sure mercies of David."
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  3. brandonadams

    brandonadams Puritan Board Freshman

    In my reading, the Westminster view would see the conditional element as representing the conditional nature of every administration of the Covenant of Grace. It is simply man's required restipulation and everything that involves. For example, Obadiah Sedgewick quotes Ps 89:31-33 to explain the concept of fatherly chastisement in the Covenant of Grace. covenant&pg=PA368#v=onepage&q=rod&f=false (Keep in mind they understood the national aspect to continue today). The unconditional promise is salvation in Christ.

    Personally I don't hold that view. I know you're asking for a Westminster answer, so I don't want to hijack the thread, but if you are interested (in case it may still be of help to you), I see the conditional aspect of the Davidic Covenant related to the typological kingdom of Israel. National Israel's tenure in the land becomes conditioned not merely on the obedience of the entire nation, but upon the obedience of the king as representative of the entire nation. David is promised that he will have a son sit on this typological throne in the land of Canaan forever, upon the condition that they continue to hold fast to and obey Mosaic law. If they do not, they will lose the kingdom. This is precisely what happened. The kingdom was torn in two. Judah was spared, but after a few generations the Davidic throne was lost and never regained. So many of the reiterations of the Davidic promise, like Ps 132, have that part in view. 2 Sam 7:12-15 has this typological kingdom in view, as David understood (1 Chron 28:7). However, v16 goes on to say that even when David's son sins (thus breaking the condition of an ongoing throne in Canaan forever), David's throne will still be established forever. Thus David saw a promise of Christ's anti-typological throne that would be established in spite of his immediate son(s) disobedience (and thus loss of the throne). I unpack the argument for that here if you're interested
  4. Harley

    Harley Puritan Board Sophomore

    For what my thoughts are worth, not as well-studied as others, it looks to me rather similar to the covenant with Abraham--it is established graciously in Genesis 15 upon no conditions at all, then reiterated in Genesis 17 with an injunction to be holy. But even in Genesis 17, it's not in Abraham's power to keep the Law but in God being El-Shaddai, the all-powerful one who can and will deliver all that Abraham needs. I don't think it stops the covenant from being originally gracious.

    Not even the New Covenant avoids conditional language. "If by the Spirit you mortify the deeds of the body you will live." "Pursue holiness without which none will see the Lord." The reason is that the pathway to heaven is a pathway of holiness, not because the New Covenant is only effective if we obey. It's that no man has any right to expect any blessing from God if he will not be holy. Pilgrim was converted, but if he did not walk the appointed way, he was not going to reach heaven, because the New Covenant pathway to heaven was no other path than a way of holiness.

    So even if the conditional language was not used, would it still make sense to say that if David was not a holy man, nor any of his sons (taking Christ out of the picture for a moment), that the line would be established anyway?

    My own thoughts, but I'd like to learn and understand more myself too.
  5. JTB.SDG

    JTB.SDG Puritan Board Sophomore


    I like where you're going with it. I think that's definitely a biblical truth. Obedience is the path that leads to life; it doesn't save you but you can't be saved without it. Genesis 17 I see as a tad bit different, since in the original there's no "If". That particular Scripture doesn't seem to be a condition per se, but just a command: "Abraham, I've saved you; now then, walk in My ways." But there is the "If" language in other Scriptures, like the one you quoted in Romans, that do speak to this truth that the path of obedience is the path of life; godliness holds promise for life.

    I think that's definitely true. Is that what Scripture is getting at though here with David? The Scriptures I can think of that speak to the truth you're referring to are set in the language of "If you, then you." Whereas here with David, it seems a little more nuanced/complicated. "If your SONS do such and such, then I will do what I've promised to YOU" (1 Kings 2:4); or "If your SONS do such and such, then THEIR sons will sit upon your throne."

    Here is my best stab at it; I'd love feedback on this. I think what Bruce said is the overarching principle; the promise is unconditional as it speaks of Christ, the Heir; though it is conditional to a degree as it speaks of David's heirs (lower case), and in this way in particular: If David's sons hold fast to the Lord (this is an evangelical command--faith in Christ as expressed in and through a holy life), then, along with the Lord doing what He had promised unconditionally--namely, causing the Messiah to come forth from David and exalt His singular throne forever (the kernel)--then the Lord will also allow David's more earthly physical kingdom (the husk) to be the platform by which that gospel is administered; IE, the Lord will continue to allow His gospel to be administered on earth in and through David's throne. But if David's sons forsake the Lord, the Lord will abolish David's (earthly) throne at Jerusalem, which is of course exactly what He did in the exile.

    Here's where I think it connects with the new covenant: It's the same principle that we see in Revelation 2-3, where Christ speaks to the churches: If a church continues to remain true to the Lord, He will cause it to flourish and grow; but if it falls into apostasy, He will remove the lampstand (Rev. 2:5) and cast it out of His presence, as He did with Judah at the exile. Tying in with all this, Leviticus 14 talks about what to do when an entire house is infected with leprosy--if the leprosy is chronic it must be torn down and thrown to an unclean place outside the city (vv40-42). The house of David had developed leprosy that wasn't going away--it seemed to just get worse and worse. So that the Lord was forced to tear it down and cast it away to Babylon. But again, the same principle is there for us--this is one of the warnings in seed-form INCLUDED in the Covenant of Grace: that if God would not spare the house of David because of ongoing unrepentance, He will not spare dealing in the same way with any church in the new covenant either.

  6. Harley

    Harley Puritan Board Sophomore

    I like how you explained it here. Hadn't thought of the churches in Revelation 2-3 in that manner either. The church will not fail and so the CG will never fail, and Christ's mediation will never fail, although individuals and congregations may fail. Individuals and churches too per Romans 11. Hebrews needs no mention as confirmation of this idea. The Father has sworn by His own word that the elect will never fall away and that the promise to us in the AC through Christ "to be God to [us]" would not fail.

    So the New Covenant hasn't become conditional--the rule applies here that has applied through all time in all ages: Psalm 5, "Evildoers thou dost hate, liars thou wilt bring to nought." Repentance isn't embedded in the NC as the qualifier for the merits of Christ or the thing which brings the blessings to us, but it's embedded in the nature of God that He must eventually fully deal with impenitence. If God cannot spare it in the wicked, much less can He spare it in His children, and an exhortation in every single covenant---Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, New--- is all the more applicable for us being His children. God let the Amorites get by for 400 years before destroying them; chastisement came to Israel almost immediately when they left Egypt, and the NC church in Corinth was getting dangerously close to a more severe chastisement than what they already had, namely people dying from unworthily partaking of the Supper. So, if God cannot bless the wicked, He cannot and will not bless us in a way of wickedness. As Gary Hendrix from Mebane NC had said in a sermon, there is no covenant protection anywhere for a man who chooses to continue to live in sin.

    Concerning Abraham's covenant, if I asserted that there was a conditional aspect, it's not from there being an "if... then" clause, but that funny little vav that gets translated "that I may establish my covenant with you." So, conditional is meant here in a very loose sense. As much as fire can't abide in the rain, God's blessing can't abide where there is sin. Though I think Genesis 15, by all that's promised an all that happens makes it so plain that this is a gracious unconditional covenant. Even the name El Shaddai, meaning it would be by not the power of Abraham but the power of God that all things in the covenant would come to pass. It would be all the power of God; but conditional or unconditional there was no way Abraham's line would be established if he refused to obey God's command to sacrifice Isaac.

    I hope I've been of some help, but I think this is all so say I agree with the outlook, so maybe something in here will help you develop your ideas further.
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2019
  7. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    This is a very important truth. It is illustrated to the people of God way back in Genesis 27-28. Jacob sought the spiritual, covenant blessing of his father; and stooped to carnal, wicked means--deceit and thievery--to obtain it. Of course, it was God's intent that he should be the one blessed, and not Esau.

    But Jacob did not wait on the Lord (as later, see the example of David vs. Saul). I suppose at that moment he was yet a man of little or no true faith in the God of his father Abraham, the Fear of his father Isaac. And for his spiritual chastisement and development, he was sent into Exile, away from the Promised Land, until he should learn that spiritual blessings are not to be sought, and they will surely not be given, when the means chosen to get them are sinful.

    Jacob's exile was filled with all kinds of carnal abuses he suffered. At the same time, it was also filled with the grace and the hand of God, who turned all his adversity into blessing. Jacob grew in his understanding of waiting on the Lord and listening to his Spirit. Jacob's amateur deceit was more than matched by his ruthless uncle. Laban only understood Jacob's blessing in carnal terms, and he interpreted Jacob's God in terms of his idol gods. By dominating Jacob, the blessings would roll to him. And so it seemed to go for a while.

    But the Lord is nothing like Laban's idols (ironically stolen out of his house). Jacob prospered in spite of his uncle, by relying on the wisdom of God. Jacob escaped with his family and property--not a hoof left behind (Ex.10:26), departing from there when the Lord told him it was high time, a presage of Israel escaping Egypt. Jacob returned to the Land a very different man--not just in very different circumstances (Gen.32:10).

    Jacob's story would be very different, if God had simply overlooked the elect son's self-chosen path. Jacob twice proved he was the stronger brother, pursuing a "theology of glory" (Luther). When he met Esau again, he presented himself only in the humility of a "theology of the cross."

    Esau got him his own kingdom, a "successful" pursuit of earthly glory. He got it without either the blessing or the birthright, by the strength of his own arm (and whatever part of his brother's inheritance he used while it was wholly under his management). He broke off his brother's yoke, the bonds of the covenant. He gained the whole world, and lost his soul.

    Jacob continued a pilgrim, as were his fathers, looking for a better city. He obtained what could only be gained by grace through patience and godly hope.
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  8. Stephen L Smith

    Stephen L Smith Moderator Staff Member

    I have been reflecting on these comments here as someone who has been in Reformed Baptist churches at various times. The Reformed Baptist argument is that the New Covenant cannot fail (Christ is mediator of the NC). Hence we baptise only believers. But I see a problem. We are still the yet/not yet. We don't know infallibly who is in the New Covenant. Thus the paedobaptist position is better here. Just like there is conditionality in the Davidic Covenant, s there is conditionality in the external aspect of the New Covenant. Did I get that right?
  9. SeanPatrickCornell

    SeanPatrickCornell Puritan Board Freshman

    No, not quite, sad to say.

    Reformed Baptists are well aware that we cannot know infallibly who is in the New Covenant. We are well aware that there are false professors who are among us but are not of us, and shall one day go out from us. We do not "baptize only believers". That's impossible.

    Rather, we baptize those who make a profession of faith, because we believe that this is the rule given by Christ in scripture to determine who is to be baptized.

    Being baptized upon a profession of faith and joining the visible church as a member is not the same thing to us as being a member of the New Covenant. Only actual, repentant, regenerated members of God's elect are in the New Covenant. Those who walk among us as professing Christians who will nevertheless wind up in hell may be "visible saints", but they are no more "members" of the New Covenant than an illegal alien with a fake birth certificate is a citizen of the United States. They are liars and frauds.
  10. Stephen L Smith

    Stephen L Smith Moderator Staff Member

    Yes. I did a week long school of theology based on the 1689 Baptist confession a few years ago, so I am well aware of this issue.
    Our Lord had Judas as a disciple. Was our Lord not telling us about the yet/not yet aspect of eschatology?

    Agreed. But does this not mean the Reformed Baptist position on the New Covenant does not have an 'advantage' over the paedobaptist position?
  11. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    The analogy works... up to a point. But what you end up saying is that 1) every citizen--every last one--is a formal-oath-taking naturalized citizen who first owns a foreign registry before repudiating it; and 2) every single one of those, who ends up departing the fellowship--voluntarily, involuntarily, under discipline; anything less than his death--came in lying to deceive, with willful malicious intent.

    I realize that some parents tell their children: they may be their blood, but spiritually they are something like street urchins living under their roof, until they show a desire to follow from the heart the path the parents earlier chose (each for him/herself). Obviously, you can't tell your child inclusively, "WE are Christians," when ecclesially the little ones are certainly NOT (under this rule). Not like you can say to them, "We are Americans."

    But then too, not every American who turns a traitor began (self-consciously) to lie about his allegiance. You may blame a deep-founded fault, buried under the crust for his eventual denial of his first-claimed identity, but you surely can't say that in reality he began as a foreign agent. Nor can you say he was a man without a country, before he chose once and chose again.

    So, does every man who proves him a false-professor have his fingers knowingly crossed behind his back? The objective difference between Jim and Bob on day one of their professions may be indiscernible to anyone, including themselves. So then, one is toting false naturalization papers, a forged new-birth certificate? Who gives him that token?

    Again, if the Holy Spirit is the sole Agent of administration of the New Covenant, then nothing the church says or does is technically "official," in any meaningful sense. If they gave him a baptismal certificate, but he isn't really a child of God, then WHO is responsible for his carrying around false papers? Note, I'm not saying that he isn't a traitor--he IS. Or that he isn't an interloper taking advantage of the trust others accord the tokens he bears. But whence the tokens?

    Calling him an "illegal alien," and his passport a forgery, makes the church that issued such a notice hardly different from the forger, or a one-hour copier shop doing a print job, or a newspaper just broadcasting the latest statistics. Baptismal notices are like a press-release; definitely not an official identification. And if the argument follows: Well, it IS official, when the man really means it, then what's really being said is that the arbiter of official activity is the individual.

    But that's tantamount to saying" My paperwork is legit, if I say it is. Right? Because the database with the ultimate facts is only accessible to the Holy Spirit. And because the man can invalidate the paperwork by ripping it up, or owning it as worthless. It can't be just one way, can it? It can't be that he has authority to invalidate his claim, but lacks the authority to validate it. That's incoherent.

    I guess, you might be right to say I'm being pedantic, to find more disanalogy than analogy in the comparison. What I'm asking for is a tightening of the language of the comparison. It seems to break down as soon as you find the source of his documents isn't a back-street peddler, or the office copying machine after hours.
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  12. SeanPatrickCornell

    SeanPatrickCornell Puritan Board Freshman

    Then I am unsure why you said the things you said if you already knew this.

    If I am missing something or misunderstood you, please accept my apology.

    What is there about Judas being a disciple of Jesus that you think is so damaging to the RB view of the nature of the New Covenant, vis a vis the "already / not yet" distinction?

    The position that is correct and accurately reflects the truths of scripture has an advantage over the position that is incorrect and does not accurately reflect the truths of scripture.

    Since I am a Reformed Baptist, I suppose it should come as no shock that I think the RB position is correct and the PB position is not.
  13. SeanPatrickCornell

    SeanPatrickCornell Puritan Board Freshman

    That's the nature of all analogies. Mine is certainly no special case.

    Here's my favorite meta-analogy: "Analogies are like rubber bands. They break if you stretch them too far."

    The relationship between a believer (or an unbeliever) and the New Covenant is kinda like the relationship between a true citizen (or an illegal alien) and a country, but it's not exactly like it, and I never wanted to suggest otherwise. Mainly because there is no other thing like the New Covenant than the New Covenant.

    Nevertheless, please forgive me for not responding to the rest of your post in detail, brother. I certainly mean no slight or disrespect to you (or the amount of effort you put into typing it), but I do believe that most of what you said is a byproduct of stretching the analogy until it breaks.
  14. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    I accept your letting-it-go, without any of that attendance I'd like to see. And no slight or disrespect to you, either. Each of us has a valuable store of time.

    On the other hand, it is because I think the citizenship analogy is actually helpful, whether we're talking about naturalized or confirmed citizens--one or the other or both--that I think it's worth using the best language, no matter what stance we take on what is proper.

    The Kingdom of God is Jesus' terminology. It has roots in the national concept of Israel, the chosen people. Citizen of heaven is Pauline language, Php.3:20; cf. Eph.2:19. So, I imagine we'd expect a robust analogy stretching forth, and not (I think) a weak, thin rubber band type. Why not scrounge for a more precise expression in the same vein, and strengthen the biblically rooted analogy?

    I think the Presbyterian view deserves a good challenge, a clearly stated alternative, perhaps even a rebuttal to his contention. Peace.
  15. Stephen L Smith

    Stephen L Smith Moderator Staff Member

    Just rethinking my position.
    I am not sure you got the nuance of my argument. This thread is about the conditionality in the Davidic covenant. My argument was it seems to me paedobaptists better understand the yet/not yet argument. I have read James White's article "the newness of the New Covenant" where I think he misses the yet/not yet tension. For White to be consistent he has say all who are baptized are in the New Covenant to make the "newness" aspect of the New Covenant to work. But he cannot say that. Thee is a 'not yet' aspect.

    I am simply saying the argument is simply more nuanced than the argument I often hear from Baptists.
  16. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Professor

    God promise to David to have one of His own always setting upon the throne of Israel was unconditional, as that final and Ultimate fulfillment was King Jesus, but until Him, the Kings would be dependent upon how they obeyed the Lord and His revealed ways...
  17. Harley

    Harley Puritan Board Sophomore

    I hope Stephen won't mind me replying concerning Judas. I have many thoughts on it because the mediation of Christ in the NC was probably the very strongest argument for credobaptism in my mind and the one I struggled with the most, and it's not an argument to take lightly either. The salvific mediation of Christ must be very strictly guarded to prevent the preaching of a false Gospel. And FYI I'm in the busy season of my work, so if I reply little or at all please take it as no disrespect brother. This may be worth splitting into another thread.

    Judas is an interesting case because if there could have been any case where Jesus could have made it clear that the NT church on earth is for the regenerate only, and false believers have no part in the visible church regardless their temporary outward conformity, it would have been in the expulsion of Judas from the apostleship. After all his baptism was invalid because there was no real faith mixed with it. This was the place to demonstrate that Christ gives absolutely no New Covenant mediation or blessing at all--spiritual or outward--to the unconverted.

    However, it's entirely the opposite: not only does Jesus take Judas at his word despite knowing Judas' heart and knowing he was a son of destruction, Jesus even trains him for the very highest office in the New Testament church. Christ as the head of the church and mediator of the New Covenant gives to Judas a degree of discipleship and teaching that none of us will ever have in this life. Christ in His mediation prophesies to Judas through teaching, and as Mediator He acts as king over Judas putting him under His own governance and training him as a governor. I fully grant that there is no priestly mediation to Judas or he would have been saved, though I also hold that any deliverance of the will of God and governance of professors of faith in the visible church is managed, mediated, directed by Christ--ie. He directs all the New Testament ordinances (and Old, but that's another discussion), spiritually and outwardly, in true churches including how and to whom they will be delivered.

    So is Judas not really a member of the visible church because he's false? If so, that's not how Jesus is treating him. Judas teaches, preaches, heals just like any of the other 12, all which power came from Jesus. Are only the regenerate disciples? Then It's a mystery why he is called a disciple. Was he not really part of the church? Ps 109:8, "Let another take his office." The remaining disciples perceived an office vacancy after his suicide.

    Now when I was a Baptist I held that the unregenerate must be rebaptized if they've been baptized before (I was baptized three times, second one was by a person not called to eldership and I wonder if I was still unconverted then). I said that the church is only for the regenerate, but since we don't know who are truly regenerate we go based upon profession. Christ does not have that problem and knew Judas was a devil. So if the unregenerate need to be rebaptized, why doesn't Jesus call Judas to repent, believe, and be rebaptized, rather than let Judas be part of the professing church until the last 24 hours of his life? But Christ in establishing the governance of the visible NT church does not do it.

    So for the visible/invisible distinction, if none exists in the NT church, why did Christ treat Judas as a church citizen under its governance? It can't be in virtue of Judas being an Israelite if the church is not the continuation of Israel (don't know if this is your view). But if they weren't in the NT church until the outpouring of the Spirit, then what's this in-between transitional organization, and why wouldn't it be setup the way that the NT church would be? It'd be very strange to say Christ wasn't doing it as head of the church; but if not, I'm not sure in what other capacity Christ would disciple Judas.

    I do hope none of this comes off as combative, forums can be too impersonal for discussions, but I sincerely do want to know your response too. And again it's my busy season, so don't be surprised if my participation is minimal. God bless brother.
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  18. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Professor

    Baptists assume that there shall be both wheat and tares in the pews on every Sunday in any local church, but the belief is just that those who have received Jesus as Lord through faith are included under the NC proper.
  19. Stephen L Smith

    Stephen L Smith Moderator Staff Member

    Thank you Harley. You have actually been a big help and I do appreciate your gracious approach.

    I have been thinking in much the same lines so you have helped my thinking on the relationship between Christ's mediation and Judas.

    Agreed - especially if others want to continue the discussion.

    Again I agree I used to argue that ch 7 of the 1689 Confession had some real strengths from a confessional Reformed position. 7:1 agrees with the WCF. But 7:2 and 7:3 are very unique. The 1689 confession seems to give better development than the WCF re the pactum salutis, the historia salutis and the ordo salutis. This logically leads to believers baptism. Further the Historic-Redemptive approach of 7:2 and 7:3 suggests the 1689 Confession was Vossian before Vos arrived. Lane @greenbaggins would be astonished I would use such an argument :)

    But when I thought more deeply I realised Reformed Baptists do not baptise believers. They baptise professing believers. The argument unravels that point. What if they baptised Judas? Was he a disciple or a professing disciple? This is where my thinking ties in wth yours I think.

    From my part I am still thinking through the implications of this. Some of the 1689 Federalist arguments are quite robust. Eg,
  20. Stephen L Smith

    Stephen L Smith Moderator Staff Member

    I must have skimmed over these comments before. You make some important points. More for me to reflect on :)
  21. Harley

    Harley Puritan Board Sophomore

    Quick thought, and I appreciate your words, I could see it being argued that this was an unique time in redemptive history, and Jesus was modeling what He would have us to do, and in my points we are talking about things which only Jesus Himself would be able to do. But even so, Jesus still treats Judas as a member of the church, and even as a potential officer of the NT church, and gives gifts accordingly. That's merciful and frightening all at once, that the kindness and longsuffering of Christ should have led Judas to repentance but did not.

    I think I owe a debt to Dr. James White too for his arguments on the mediation of Christ. He did send a clear message in his debate with Strawbridge that whatever our covenant theology, whatever our view of the church, the nature of the work of Christ for His elect and the comfort of Christ's intercession must be zealously guarded. So though I might disagree with him on outward administration, his arguments have guarded me against conflating the visible with the invisible, Christ's administration of outward ordinances with administration of inward realities, and thus commiting the Roman Catholic error.
  22. greenbaggins

    greenbaggins Administrator Staff Member

    I realize that you are trying to be a bit light-hearted here, but I do think some clarification is needed. Seeing redemptive-historical progression in Scripture is indeed something Vos is famous for expounding. However, when it comes to covenant theology, Vos plainly sees the development as coming in an overall context of the continuity of the covenants of grace, which can also be described as iterations of the same covenant of grace from the promise to Adam onwards. If you have the collection of essays Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, read his article on the history of covenant theology (worth the price of admission, in my opinion).
  23. Stephen L Smith

    Stephen L Smith Moderator Staff Member


    But I think James White helped me to 'weaken' my RB convictions. He brought it back to the New Covenant. However, if Reformed Baptists do not infallably baptise those in the New Covenant as I noted earlier, I cannot see the advantage of his argument.

    Where I still battle is looking at the clear statements of the New Testament. The WCF states that "Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament". Every statement in the New Testament tells us to believe and be baptised. It seems that repentance and faith come before Batism. Still thinking it through. Any thoughts appreciated.
  24. Stephen L Smith

    Stephen L Smith Moderator Staff Member

    Yes I have this work and have read this essay with great profit. If you have the new biography on Vos, you may note that the biography argues that his essay on the Priesthood of Christ contains Vos most mature thoughts on the Covenant.

    I noted earlier these important aspects of the covenant:

    It seems to me that the way Vos argues for this in his essay creates some common ground for Reformed Paedobaptists and Reformed Baptists.
  25. greenbaggins

    greenbaggins Administrator Staff Member

    Interesting. I agree with you about James White. The problem here is the idea of the continuity of the covenants, and the overly-realized eschatology of all Baptist positions. No Baptist I have ever read argues that the New Covenant is of a piece with the Old Testament covenants with regard to administration, and this is the fundamental issue, from the perspective of the paedo-baptist. Is there only progression to the point of discontinuity, or is there continuity of covenants? I see 1689's argue that salvation occurs in the same way from OT to NT. But that really isn't the issue under discussion here. I don't see how Galatians 3 and Romans 4 can be understood in any other way than that there is a continuity of covenant between the Abraham iteration of the covenant of grace and the New Covenant.

    So, for instance, although the WCF does indeed say that baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, this does not preclude OT antecedents in the way of types and foreshadowings. A couple of obvious examples: 1 Corinthians 10, which says that all the forefathers were baptized into Moses (by the way, a CLEAR example of baptizo being used of people, many of whom were infants at the time). 1 Peter 3 speaks of Noah's flood as a type of baptism. If there are types and foreshadowings of baptism, then this points to a continuity of covenant, not discontinuity.

    With regard to the overly-realized eschatology, Pratt's article on Jeremiah 31 shows us that the New Covenant promises are already and not yet. We are not at the point where no one needs a teacher. We all still need teachers. So Jeremiah 31:34 shows us that there is a telescoping of the benefits of the New Covenant. So, going back to the problem with James White, this is the nub of the issue, and what you are feeling as to the lack of conviction with regard to his arguments. You feel that he has overly-realized the benefits of the New Covenant. Most Baptists actually do know this in some form. After all, they tend to realize that we can't have "regeneration goggles" so as to know who is saved, and that there are false professors within the visible church. All the same, from the paedo perspective, there is a certain inconsistency here, since (again, from the paedo perspective) Baptists tend to argue that only the regenerated can be baptized, but there is no way of knowing that for sure. This results in saying that a baptism is genuine until it isn't. It's genuine as long as the person baptized continues to act like a Christian, but then becomes illegitimate as soon as the person apostatizes. And so, the legitimacy of the baptism depends on the person baptized, and not on the Baptizer (who, from the paedo perspective, is God himself). From the paedo perspective (and read John Fesko's book for these insights), baptism has two sides. It is blessing and grace when received by faith, and brings covenant curses when rejected out of unbelief. Either way, it is still a genuine baptism, because the genuineness of baptism doesn't depend on human beings at all.

    One last point that bears mentioning here and is often a turning point for Baptists when they realize it. One of the main sticking points for Baptists is that they fear paedos are closet Roman Catholics in supposedly holding to a form of baptismal regeneration. The Federal Vision controversy did not help matters in this regard. The classical paedo position, however, is that baptism marks inclusion in the visible church, not the invisible church. Therefore, the grace associated with baptism points to salvation, as do all the ordinances of the visible church (prayer, preaching, the Lord's Supper). But that grace does not come automatically at all. Only when faith is present is the sacrament complete.

    From the paedo position, Baptists are inconsistent on the matter of the visible/invisible church. Baptists either tend to collapse the distinction (which is, oddly enough, something that Rome also does), or try to ignore it theoretically, while still understanding that it is a practical necessity, if they are to understand apostasy. But if there is a legitimate distinction between visible/invisible church (and the apostasy passage in Hebrews 6 make MUCH more sense with this idea in view), then the New Covenant has this in common with all the OT iterations of the covenant of grace. Not all Israel are of Israel.
  26. Stephen L Smith

    Stephen L Smith Moderator Staff Member

    Lane, thank you again for the helpfulness and clarity of the argument. It is helping me to think things through with more clarity.
    So it it depends on the act of the person; is that closet Armianism?

    I was thinking of getting Fesko. Do you think he is one of the best on the subject?

    Yes, I was recently reading Nettles fine biography of CH Spurgeon where Spurgeon claimed Paedobaptists need Baptists to keep tabs on them to stop them going Roman Catholic :) Spurgeon, no doubt, confused the invisible church and the visible church.
  27. Von

    Von Puritan Board Freshman

    This thread is displaying the PB at its finest: Edifying and Informative. Thanks guys!
  28. greenbaggins

    greenbaggins Administrator Staff Member

    You're welcome.

    As to the act of the person, I am not sure it would be closet Arminianism. More like a weird version of Donatism, maybe. Donatism said that the validity of the baptism depended on the personal holiness of the one administering it. Maybe we could say that if the validity of the baptism depends on the one receiving it, then it is a sort of reverse Donatism?

    Fesko's book is not primarily a controversial book, but a constructive book laying out the theology of baptism. He does have good arguments in favor of paedo-baptism, but I would not say that is his primary aim. The book is fantastic at what it does. I would highly recommend it. And if you read it, you might find a familiar name in the credits at the beginning. If you're looking for the best paedo books that directly address the recipients of baptism, then I would point you to Pierre Marcel's The Biblical Doctrine of Infant Baptism, and the collection of essays edited by Gregg Strawbridge entitled The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism.

    As to Spurgeon's quotation, I would not agree, naturally. It implies that there is a sort of naturally-occurring slippery slope from paedo-baptism to Romanism. I would deny the existence of said slippery slope, with great respect given, however, to the great Spurgeon.
  29. Stephen L Smith

    Stephen L Smith Moderator Staff Member

    I don't have it on me at present, but Fred Malones book "Baptism of Disciples alone" (revised ed) reviews both books in his book. He argues that when you separate baptism and repentance (he defines this in Baptist terms), you open the door to the Federal Vision. (He also has a discussion of the Federal Vision in his book). I did note the misnomer in the title that he baptises disciples alone :)

    Anyway, I woul be keen to see a review or response from a Paedobaptist on the Puritan board (or perhaps a OPC review) to Sam Renihans book "From Shadow to Substance: The Federal Theology of the English Particular Baptists (1642-1704)". It is a substantial work and I have been told it would be good enough to kee me a Reformed Baptist :) He also has a Baptist essay here where he seeks to ground his Baptist covenant theology in the Covenant of Redemption etc.
  30. greenbaggins

    greenbaggins Administrator Staff Member

    Stephen, I would answer Fred Malones's arguments with this reply: a Presbyterian theology of baptism NEVER separates baptism and repentance. On Baptist principles, we do separate them, because we distinguish different times at which they can occur. However, on Presbyterian principles, they are never separated. Here is the theology as I would lay it out.

    1. A sacrament can be defined more broadly and more narrowly. The broader definition (which is the rarer definition) includes the physical sign (water), the thing to which it points (salvation), and the sacramental union between the sign and thing signified (Spirit-given faith). On this broader definition, only when a baptized person has God-given faith does he have the complete sacrament. It must be noted here that the mere possession of the sign ]by no means guarantees possession of the thing signified. Only when the sacramental union is also present does the person have the whole thing. This is what prevents the true Presbyterian doctrine from EVER being RCC or FV. Both RCC and FV leave out or minimize the sacramental union, and, in effect, argue that the sacrament works ex opere operato. An analogy I use is a road sign that says "Chicago 30 miles." Only a stupid person would equate seeing the sign with being in Chicago. You have to travel the road (the sacramental union) believing that the sign is telling you the truth. Once you have travelled the road to Chicago, then you have what the sign pointed you towards: a location in Chicago. Similarly, baptism has three parts. The water, the blood of Christ to which the water points, and the Spirit-given faith that connects the water to the blood. Once a person has all three, they are fully connected. But it is the Spirit-given faith that makes a person possessor of the blood of Christ. The person who does not believe is the person who stops at the road sign "Chicago 30 miles," and goes no further, or goes in a different direction. What happens? They don't get to Chicago! The sign turns into a curse, because it told them where to go, but they refused to go. The unbeliever is the one who separates repentance from the sign! The result is spiritual suicide.

    2. The more narrow and more common definition of a sacrament is simply the sign-act all by itself. Much confusion results from imprecise use of the term "baptism," without specifying what is included and what is left out. I think this is why so many Baptists accuse Presbyterians of being crypto-Catholic. They don't understand how we see the sacrament in paragraph 1.

    3. From the foregoing, it becomes evident that Presbyterians have no slippery slope at all, either going towards RCC or towards the FV. The only thing we are saying is that it does not matter what the order of events is. If a person has the sign first, and the sacramental union of God-given faith comes after, then faith is what connects the sign to the thing signified. The person who comes to faith before they receive the sign have the thing signified already, and they have the sacramental union. They just don't have the sign yet. So when they have the sign, then they have the complete sacrament.

    4. The problem with the Baptism version of this, which claims that the faith and repentance must come before the sign, is that, again as I said before, if a person claims to have faith, but deceived himself, was baptized, but then later found out he wasn't in fact saved, then he has to be baptized again, because his previous baptism wasn't valid, even though the church said it was valid before. When it happens the first time, the Baptist churches never, to my knowledge, claim that this is a baptism pending confirmation of the fruit in a person's life. They just say it is a a baptism. So the Baptist churches are constantly in this tension with regard to the validity of a given baptism. And, its validity is therefore made to depend on the one baptized. In effect, the person baptizes himself in terms of efficacy. This falls foul of the grammar of baptism in the NT, because NOWHERE does a person baptize himself. It is always a passive verb if the baptized person is the subject of the sentence. If the verb is active, then the person baptized is the direct object of the verb. In both cases, no baptized person ever baptizes himself. Not even Jesus baptized himself. John, and more ultimately, God Himself, pronounced the effective word of pleasure in Jesus. So also, it is God who baptizes through the minister. Paul says that there is only one baptism. The Apostles Creed says we believe in only one baptism. This means that the efficacy is still in place even if the person does not have faith. If a baptized person has no faith, then the efficacy of baptism is exercised in judgment on that person as long as they have no faith. As soon as they have faith, however, that judgment turns to blessing, and they have the whole package deal.
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