'Membership,' and covenant breaking

Discussion in 'Covenant Theology' started by Panegyric, Sep 21, 2017.

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  1. Panegyric

    Panegyric Puritan Board Freshman

    Especially between Presbyterians & Baptists, the unbreakableness of the New Covenant has been much controverted as a possible way of resolving the debate over subjects of baptism (see this thread for instance). The unbreakableness of the New Covenant is usually deduced from Jeremiah 31:32 (cf. Heb. 8:9). It goes something like this—

    The Mosaic Covenant was made with the fathers, and they broke it, or in some sense made it ineffectual. This is contrasted with the New Covenant, which will not be made ineffectual or broken or fail because…
    Now it is interesting to see that Calvin describes the Old Covenant as inviolable

    Now, as to the new covenant, it is not so called, because it is contrary to the first covenant; for God is never inconsistent with himself, nor is he unlike himself, he then who once made a covenant with his chosen people, had not changed his purpose, as though he had forgotten his faithfulness. It then follows, that the first covenant was inviolable; besides, he had already made his covenant with Abraham, and the Law was a confirmation of that covenant. As then the Law depended on that covenant which God made with his servant Abraham, it follows that God could never have made a new, that is, a contrary or a different covenant. For whence do we derive our hope of salvation, except from that blessed seed promised to Abraham? Further, why are we called the children of Abraham, except on account of the common bond of faith? Why are the faithful said to be gathered into the bosom of Abraham? Why does Christ say, that some will come from the east and the west, and sit down in the kingdom of heaven with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? (Luke 16:22; Matthew 8:11) These things no doubt sufficiently shew that God has never made any other covenant than that which he made formerly with Abraham, and at length confirmed by the hand of Moses. This subject might be more fully handled; but it is enough briefly to shew, that the covenant which God made at first is perpetual.
    How then does Calvin gloss the Fathers breaking the Mosaic Covenant?

    It ought at the same time to be observed, that the fault is here cast on the people, that the Law was weak and not sufficiently valid, as we see that Paul teaches us in Romans 7:12. For as soon as the weakness of the Law is spoken of, the greater part lay hold of something they deem wrong in the Law, and thus the Law is rendered contemptible: hence the Prophet says here that they had made God's covenant void, as though he had said, that the fault was not to be sought in the Law that there was need of a new covenant, for the Law was abundantly sufficient, but that the fault was in the levity and the unfaithfulness of the people. We now then see that nothing is detracted from the Law when it is said to be weak and ineffectual; for it is an accidental fault derived from men who do not observe nor keep their pledged faith. There are still more things to be said; but I now, as I have said, touch but briefly on the words of the Prophet.
    From here, in an attempt to defend the unity of the covenant of grace, many Presbyterians argue that the New Covenant is breakable just like the Old, because they are both the covenant of grace, or so the argument goes. However, I think this is an unnecessary move, and I hope to show why for several reasons. I'll preface with one last quote from Calvin on Jeremiah 31:33—

    He now shews a difference between the Law and the Gospel, for the Gospel brings with it the grace of regeneration: its doctrine, therefore, is not that of the letter, but penetrates into the heart and reforms all the inward faculties, so that obedience is rendered to the righteousness of God.
    The Old Covenant itself was not the source of regeneration and life. It administered these things to the elect, but they came from the New Covenant. Before getting too excited, I want to show that what I am saying is thoroughly Presbyterian, and throughly biblical.

    Firstly, here is the New Covenant according to the Holy Scriptures, Heb. 10:14-22—

    For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before, This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin. Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; And having an high priest over the house of God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.
    This is the apostle interpreting Jeremiah's New Covenant, and saying that by it there is remission of sins. Not by the Old Covenant, which was only the letter and type (cf. Heb. 9:15).

    Here comes the Presbyterian argument. I present to you, Robert Shaw

    In entering upon the exposition of this section, it is proper to remark, that, at the period when our Confession was framed, it was generally held by the most eminent divines, that there are two covenants connected with the salvation of men, which they called the covenant of redemption, and the covenant of grace; the former made with Christ from everlasting, the latter made with sinners in time; the righteousness of Christ being the condition of the former, and faith the condition of the latter covenant. This distinction, we conceive, has no foundation in the Sacred Scriptures, and it has long since been abandoned by all evangelical divines.… In like manner, one covenant includes Christ and his spiritual seed. The Scriptures, accordingly, everywhere speak of it as one covenant, and the blood of Christ is repeatedly called "the blood of the covenant," not of the covenants, as we may presume it would have been called, if it had been the condition of a covenant of redemption and the foundation of a covenant of grace (Heb. 10:29; 13:20). By the blood of the same covenant Christ made satisfaction, and we obtain deliverance (Zech. 9:11). We hold, therefore, that there is only one covenant for the salvation of fallen men, and that this covenant was made with Christ before the foundation of the world. The Scriptures, indeed, frequently speak of God making a covenant with believers, but this language admits of an easy explication, in consistency with the unity of the covenant. "The covenant of grace," says a judicious writer, "was made with Christ in a strict and proper sense, as he was the party-contractor in it, and undertook to fulfil the condition of it. It is made with believers in an improper sense, when they are taken into the bond of it, and come actually to enjoy the benefit of it. How it is made with them may be learned from the words of the apostle, "I will give you the sure mercies of David" (Acts 13:34), which is a kind of paraphrase upon that passage, "I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David" (Isaiah 55:3). God makes the covenant with them, not by requiring anything of them in order to entitle them or lay a foundation for their claim to the blessings of it, but by making these over to them as a free gift, and putting them in possession of them, as far as their present state will admit, by a faith of his own operation."

    If, therefore, there be a covenant made with sinners, different from the covenant made with Christ, it must have a condition which they themselves must perform. But though our old divines called faith the condition of the covenant made with sinners, they did not assign any merit to faith, but simply precedence. "The truth is," as Dr Dick has remarked, "that what these divines call the covenant of grace, is merely the administration of what they call the covenant of redemption, for the purpose of communicating its blessings to those for whom they were intended; and cannot be properly considered as a covenant, because it is not suspended upon a proper condition." The Westminster Assembly, in this section, appear to describe what was then usually designated the covenant of grace, as distinguished from the covenant of redemption. But, though they viewed the covenant under a twofold consideration, as made with the Surety from everlasting, and as made with sinners in time, they certainly regarded it as one and the same covenant. "The covenant of grace," say they, "was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed."
    He cites as divines who hold his view, "Boston, R., and E. Erskine, Adam Gib, Hill of London, Brown of Haddington, Dick, Belfrage, and, indeed, by all modern evangelical divines." This is an antidistestablishmentarian-seccession-church minister. It doesn't get any more Presbyterian. And yet, I think it is fair to say that he has just laid out a doctrine of an unbreakable Covenant of Grace made only with Christ, and, consequently, in him with the elect alone.

    Given all the above, is it helpful or edifying to refer to hypocrites as 'covenant-breakers' and especially as members of the covenant? They certainly are visibly partaking of the benefits of Christ's covenant. Furthermore, they in a purely carnal way are surrounded by his ordinances and have free access to the things he has instituted to minister the grace of his covenant to the elect. But should being caught up in the administration really be called 'membership.' This seems like theological imprecision, and has made our debates over baptism less clear by blurring the real distinctions. Does Shaw's view above require us to hold to a subservient covenant view of the Mosaic? Or would we relegate the language of covenant breaking to the weakness of sinful man (Jer. 31:32, cf. Rom. 7:6ff)? Please share your thoughts!

  2. Afterthought

    Afterthought Puritan Board Junior

    No. Shaw (and Thomas Boston) is dealing with whether the CoR is a distinct covenant from the CoG. He is saying that they are the same covenant under different considerations. The Mosaic Covenant--and all the other covenants, including the "new covenant" (more strictly speaking, "new testament" is the administration)--can still be viewed as an administration of the one CoG. One may view the laws of the Mosaic adminsitration of the CoG as published in subservience to the CoG (but this is true of the NT administration of the CoG too: the moral law is published in subservience to the CoG by driving sinners to repentance and revealing their unrighteousness), but one need not view the entirety of the covenant as "subservient" with no other connection to the CoG. The grace of the CoG was administered by means of types and shadows, per the WCF. Basically, subservience is a different issue from whether the CoG and CoR are the same covenant under different considerations.

    However, note that these are dogmatic categories. One will need to be careful when then looking at the matter from an exegetical perspective (one needs to answer: does "covenant" in the Bible refer to the administration or to the CoG or CoW?) and how the administrations of the CoG unfold in time (I would recommend reading more developed covenant theologians than Calvin; I think they make things clearer), but if one keeps in mind that it is not the covenant that has changed, but the testament (and that a testament is a covenant), one can helpfully sort things out. See some old threads on "testamentary" language if you haven't already. Thomas Boston deals with this too.

    With regards to the breakability of the CoG, being able to speak of it may be somewhat scheme dependent. Those who hold the CoR is a distinct covenant from the CoG (the CoG being the adminstration of the CoR in time) may be able to speak of a broken covenant. (See Travis Fentiman's website Reformed Books Online on this subject to see examples of this). Those who deny they are distinct covenants can only speak of "covenant breaking" in the sense of renouncing what one had externally and by profession obligated oneself to do.
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2017
  3. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Professor

    This seems to be reduced down to just how really new was/is the New Covenant?
  4. Panegyric

    Panegyric Puritan Board Freshman

    Thanks for the helpful reply Rámon, that clarified some of the issues for me. The note about exegetical & dogmatic categories is helpful. The Two Covenant group would then refer to the exegetical covenants as Testaments (which are covenants), but distinguish them from the dogmatic covenant of grace. These testaments, specifically the Old Testament, may be said to be breakable then, without saying the Covenant of Grace/Redemption is breakable. In a sense one could say these Testaments as administrations of the Covenant of Grace are subservient to it without being it, but really this would just be confusing dogmatic & exegetical categories, especially when there is a whole other dogmatic category of Subservient Covenant.

    I have a few questions, if you don't mind taking a crack at them. Where do we exegetically distinguish the New Testament from the New Covenant, if that question makes sense? I believe the qualities ascribed to the New Covenant in the Hebrews 10 quote I provided earlier would make it the equivalent to the Covenant of Grace/Redemption. Am I miss-reading that text, or are their other texts that allow us to distinguish between a New Covenant that is the Covenant of Grace, and a New Testament which is an administration?

    You mentioned that their are links going beyond mere subservience, and the link you suggested was the instrumental use of the types and shadows of the Old Covenant to communicate grace to the elect, as contrasted to the law which was subservient to the Covenant of Grace in driving men to the Mediator. Is subservience best used to describe things that serve the ends of the covenant of grace, but which do not themselves directly distribute grace? Whereas the term subservience is perhaps better not used to describe things which directly administer grace to people instrumentally? Just trying to get the hang of how people are using this language.

    The last paragraph is kind of where I am heading with this whole thing. If the covenant of grace is really the covenant of redemption with Christ, and all the elect are in it only as beneficiaries and not as contracting parties, then the covenant of grace can't be broken. And this actually I think closes one of the points of contention between Baptists (specifically 1689 Federalists) and Presbyterians. Rather than all of us arguing over whether the New Covenant is unbreakable, we can move the argument to regulative principle and questions of what has God commanded in regards to administration of the Covenant of Grace.

    I really need to do more reading, but I'm trying to stick to plan and read through a Brakel before doing anything else. Is there anything short that would do a good job of outlining the old two covenant view? Anything over 150 pages is going to take me too far off course right now. I plan to read Boston and the rest eventually.

    Well David, one of my goals as you might see in my comments earlier in this post is to try to help us move past some of the gridlock in Baptist vs. Presbyterian theological debates. I hope to A) demonstrate that the Covenant of Grace is inviolable, and B) that this is a premise of both Baptist and Presbyterian federalism. From there we can shift the debate to questions of how the grace of the New Covenant is administered to the elect in different eras.
  5. Afterthought

    Afterthought Puritan Board Junior

    I'll take a stab at the rest later. I'm hoping that by bringing the thread back up, others with more knowledge than myself can provide helpful responses.
    Yes, I agree that with whom the covenant of grace is made (or what ends up being the same: whether the covenant is breakable) is not the real issue among Baptists and Presbyterians (so long as elect infants dying in infancy are acknowledged to be saved by means of the covenant of grace). The real issues have to do with (a) whether there is an external administration of the covenant of grace under gospel times (and its nature: e.g., whethere there are conditional elements), (b) what is included in that external administration, (c) the relation between the church and the covenant, and (d) the relation between the sacraments and the church (and occasionally the nature of the regulative principle). However, as Rev. Buchanan is fond of saying, the differences are deeper still, having to do with how we read the Bible. I'm not sure I entirely see that, but he has had much more time than I to think about these things, so perhaps it's just a matter of me not seeing it yet.

    It should be noted that holding to the CoR as distinct from the CoG also is an old view. See the Sum of Saving knowledge, for example. As for a work shorter than 150 pages outlining the view that they are not distinct covenants (Matthew McMahon's works on Covenant Theology holds to the CoR as distinct from the CoG as a theological convenience and has some helpful stuff in regards to testamentary language), I will need to think about it and get back to you (if someone else does not). I'm not sure whether Thomas Boston's A View on the Covenant of Grace is shorter than 150 pages, and I'm not sure if that view point is as clearly expressed as it is by other authors (maybe the Marrow works? Or maybe try Fisher's catechism?). I suppose for now, I can give you a post of Rev. Winzer that basically outlines the position in short form with regards to covenant membership: https://www.puritanboard.com/threads/covenant-of-redemption-resource-available.92207/#post-1126615
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2017
  6. Panegyric

    Panegyric Puritan Board Freshman

    Thanks Rámon, I remember reading some of Fisher's Catechism and encountering the doctrine of the 'testament' pretty early, I'll go back and review. I would really like to read the Marrow, perhaps Brown of Haddington's section on the covenant is not too long in his systematic. Boston is coming in at 232-pages, not too bad.

    I have read McMahon's shorter work, and a decent portion of his longer one, and did find it rather helpful, and you are quite right about the old view being old— I read Flavel's debate with Cary on the issue. I don't want to be overbearing on our Reformed brethren, but I do see a lot of benefit to the two-covenant language. I think it is more precise and thus helps in our discussions with other traditions. Embarrassingly, I have not read the Sum of Saving Knowledge yet. I suppose I should drop everything and do that first.

    Winzer is always helpful. I think this would be a helpful avenue to pursue as to discussions of federalism in the future—

    Since faith is the condition of the covenant, there cannot be two categories of people in the covenant of grace. The elect are virtually and representatively in the covenant by means of their Head, Christ, and will be personally instated in the covenant when they are brought to faith. The non-elect are never in the covenant of grace. They are in the administration of the covenant by virtue of the fact that faith itself is not essential to administration. Profession of faith is required for the administration of the covenant, which means the external administration of the covenant accidentally includes both elect and non-elect, though the administration itself is intended purposefully for the elect alone.
    The requirements for the administration of the covenant are the real contention here. Not the nature of the covenant itself.
  7. Afterthought

    Afterthought Puritan Board Junior

    Firstly, we need to define what we mean by "new covenant" and "old covenant." Turretin notes,

    XXXIII. The old covenant is taken in two ways: either for the covenant of works or the legal covenant strictly understood, made with our first parents before their fall and afterwards renewed in the desert; or for the second covenant, of grace, made with our first parents after the fall and confirmed in the Mosaic economy. The new is taken either in general for the covenant of grace or for the covenant of grace illustrated in the New Testament. Hence a double opposition of the Old and New covenants must be accurately distinguished: the one by reason of substance, if they are taken in the first sense; the other as to the accidents or accidental mode of dispensation, if taken with teh second meaning.... (Vol II. Q V. Twelfth Topic.)

    V. The new covenant is...taken in a twofold manner either broadly, inasmuch as it stands for the covenant of grace in general made with sinners, which existed under the Old Testament as well before Christ appeared as under the New after he had been manifested; or strictly, for the covenant of grace promulgated after the manifestation of Christ in the flesh, which should continue to the end of the world. (Vol II. Q VIII. Twelfth Topic.)

    One will notice that the Shorter Catechism 92 seems to take the "new covenant" broadly. This seems to me to be an extension of the "new covenant" strictly taken, i.e., I am only aware of "new covenant" in the Bible being used to refer to the NT administration of the CoG. But other Presbyterians may differ in how they understand Hebrews 8. Furthermore, one may understand the use of "covenant" in Hebrews 8 and 10 according to its matter (the substance) or to all its ordinances (its form). Depending on how one understands these things, one may end up with an exegetically derived category for "new covenant" broadly taken.

    However, my understanding of Hebrews 8-10 is that it is focused on the objective change of priesthood and the new testmentary arrangement (a testament is an arrangement; covenant an agreement). I understand the quotations of Jeremiah in Hebrews 8 and 10 to be referring to the change in mode of the promise being administered from human priestly mediation and types to the mediation of Christ the high priest and realities. Of course, by referring to a change of mode, the substance is also referenced (as the thing administered by the mode), and sometimes, "covenant" can be taken to mean the promissory part of it (as noted by various authors). So I suppose this could be where the extension of the term "new covenant" could be derived.

    Turretin helpfully notes,

    XIX. Although the Sinaitic and the legal covenants are opposed in Jer. 31 to the new covenant, it is not necessary that this opposition should be as to essence, but it can be as to accidents or diversity of economy (as a man is opposed to himself, as standing and sitting.) If remission is promised under the new covenant, it does not follow that the fathers under the old were without it, no more than from the fact that God promises to be the God of future believers under the New Testament, it can lawfully be inferred that he was not the God of the fathers.... (Vol II. Q. XII. Twelfth Topic.)

    Secondly, it should be noted that those who hold to a distinct CoR may still hold to a CoG that has both external and internal aspects. They would also say that none are internally in the CoG except those who are in by faith; and that profession of faith allows for being within its external aspect. So while I agree there are benefits to holding the CoG to be the same as the CoR, I'm not sure it necessarily helps here, although it certainly helps in terms of presentation for showing the unconditionality of the CoG (which ends up being the same as saying it is unbreakable).

    Thirdly, I should clarify what I meant by exegetical and dogmatic categories with respect to this issue. Exegetically, we are required to think in terms of two different covenants in Hebrews: a new and an old, where the old goes away and the new comes in its room. It is clear that the old covenant referes to that under Moses. In Galatians, we find that in the process of time, this new covenant comes as a fulfillment to the promises of Abraham and in Hebrews, that the death of Christ secured the forgiveness of sins that they under the old covenant received by means of the typical sacrifices (which in themselves could not provide forgiveness but only by the power of Christ's blood). We also find that this new covenant has a testamentary disposition and that this is opposed to a "first testament" (Hebrews 9:18; verse 17 shows "testament" is a proper insertion). We thus see that the old covenant also has a testamentary disposition when looked at in light of the testamentary disposition of the new covenant, which the blood of bulls and goats ratified typifying the ratification of the new testament by the blood of Christ.

    However, in building a systematic understanding, we also notice that the promises of the new covenant (for substance) are not really different than the old. The saints back then had remission of sins and the law written in their heart, and they did know the Lord. We also take into consideration the two Adam structure, references to an "everlasting covenant," and references to each new covenant really being a fulfillment of promises made in a previous covenant. We then conclude that all these covenants for substance are really the same covenant. But how do they differ? Places like Hebrews 8-10 show that it is things circumstantial to the covenant (the administration) are what has changed. Furthermore, there was a change in the administration before Christ from the administration after Christ, as shadow to reality and promise to fulfillment from sacrifices needing to be offered that bring a remembrance of sin to a sacrifice once for all offered so that no more need to be made (so sins are remembered no more). Hebrews 8-10 shows that it is the testament (the arrangement) of the covenant that has changed; the testaments are ratified by different blood. So we gather that post-fall, all these covenants are administrations of the CoG; that there is an OT and NT administration of the CoG; and that the CoG was adminstered differently between the OT and the NT.

    There is more that could be said, but I hope that helps clarify some of what I meant by how the two approaches differ (and how they intermingle and support each other: we dogmatically refer to one CoG with two adminstrations of the OT and the NT).

    I think this might work. I'm not sure "directly distribute" is quite right. Perhaps "means of grace" might be better. I think the way to describe "subservience" is that it is used to describe something, that in and of itself is contrary grace, being used to further the purposes of grace. Law in and of itself cannot administer grace because it can only command and never promise, but it can be used to show a person one's need of grace and drive one to seek it, thus furthering the ends of grace (as well as showing one saved by grace how to live blessedly and warn against living otherwise). Types, shadows, various ordinances, etc., are not in themselves contrary to grace, so they can be used to administer the grace of the covenant. Putting this last point another way, one can ask, How is this grace to be obtained? It cannot be obtained from the law, as they are absolutely opposed. But by saving faith it can be obtained by things that point to the Messiah as the deliverer and by institutions God has given as means of grace. That's the way I would explain it, unless someone else here has a better way to put it.
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2017
  8. Panegyric

    Panegyric Puritan Board Freshman

    Rámon, thank you for the entire post above. It was very concise, and very helpful for pushing my understanding along, especially the summary of how the Reformed do their dogmatic and exegetical work on the covenants. I have a lot to reflect on. I also wanted to apologize for my delay in responding— I have been quite busy this last week. To move the thread topic along a little bit…

    This is law strictly taken correct? I think I need to revisit this category, and put it into dialogue with the double opposition of the covenants you mentioned above. These distinctions would provide me some help making sense of some of the exegetical challenges I am currently facing as I prepare to read through Galatians 3 with my wife. Are we to take Galatians 3:10-12 as quotations of the law strictly taken? And as believers are freed from the law as a covenant of works, then should the quotations be understood to be 'as read by unbelievers,' and not the true nature of the Mosaic law?

    Thanks again for your helpful explanations.
  9. Afterthought

    Afterthought Puritan Board Junior

    Yes, and yes, I would understand Gal.3:10-12 as the law strictly taken. If by "Mosaic law," you are now referring to it broadly as an administration of the covenant of grace, or referring to it in its intention and purpse, then yes, I agree that it was not the true nature of the Mosaic law, since it is an administration of the covenant of grace, so yes, it can be understood to be 'as read by unbelievers' in the sense that they are still under the condemnation of the covenant of works.

    "XVII. ...[T]he apostle shows that the law (given four hundred and thirty years after the promise was given to Abraham, Gal. 3:17) could not make it of none effect. It was added only on account of transgressions, until the seed should come to whom the promise was made (v. 19). This proves that the law pointed away to Christ as the end to which it looked; if not by itself and in its own nature, at least in the intention and design of the lawgiver...." (Turretin. Institutes. Vol 2. Topic 12. Question 12.)

    Incidentally, I read through the relevant sections of Christian's Reasonable Service on these issues, and it is another very helpful work that you are reading.
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2017
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