The Mosaic Covenant as a Covenant of Grace

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Stephen L Smith

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I was recently reading a book by Joel Beeke on godly piety. He made this fascinating comment:
"A life of devotion to the God of the covenant is a life of obedience to His moral law. Traditions deprived of these covenantal sensibilities have had much greater difficulty asserting the abiding validity of the Decalogue as the moral law. That inability to move theologically from God’s work on Sinai to Gods work in Zion has injected an instability into their understanding of what constitutes a life of piety. Indeed even within the broader Reformed tradition, those communities that have downplayed the continuity of God’s covenant of grace have had to use agile circumlocutions to retain the Decalogues “principles” while regulating its form to a past era of redemptive history. At its best, however, Reformed theology has articulated a robust covenant theology that keeps the ten commandants squarely within the lives of God’s covenant people as part and parcel of the covenant of grace."
[Reformed Piety: Covenantal and experiential]

Some questions:
  1. Am I correct in assuming the OPC report basically came to the same conclusion as Beeke?
  2. I think this is what Dr Venema argued in his chapter on the Mosaic Covenant in "Christ and Covenant theology".
  3. When Beeke states "That inability to move theologically from God’s work on Sinai to Gods work in Zion has injected an instability into their understanding of what constitutes a life of piety. Indeed even within the broader Reformed tradition, those communities that have downplayed the continuity of God’s covenant of grace have had to use agile circumlocutions to retain the Decalogues “principles” while regulating its form to a past era of redemptive history" it seems to me this is a problem with 1689 Federalism when it argues that the Covenant of Grace was promised in the Old Covenant, but is reluctant to say the covenant of grace was *actually* there.
Thoughts?
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
The OPC Republication report should be understood as a general defense of the WCF's outlook on the essence or substance of the Sinai covenant as part-and-parcel of the Covenant of Grace. It is critical of, and defines as extra-confessional any view of Sinai as a substantively legal covenant. This OPC report does not directly interest itself in the question of whether the moral law (summarily comprehended in the 10C) continues in the present as the rule of life for God's people. Simply as a matter of fact, that is the plain Confessional position, 19:6, also reflected in the exposition of the 10C in the two Catechisms.

Indirectly, I think this report undermines attempts at devaluing the place of the Decalogue as that continuing, valid summary of the moral will or law of God for man. This is the case, whether one is the ungodly man who requires the curb of the law still exhibiting the original works-covenant; or one is under conviction from the law as that which defines sin by transgression; or the godly man for whom the law aids in conforming him to love (of God and neighbor), which is the fulfillment of the law.

I cannot speak to your second point. And as to the third, there is plenty of 1689 defense of the 10C, so I think that arguing "implications" of a certain view of the nature of the Sinai covenant is a bit esoteric. It may make sense to a certain set of critics, but not to the majority of those on the inside. The most obvious targets of Beeke's criticism (in my opinion) are the NewCovenant theologians. :2cents:
 

SeanPatrickCornell

Puritan Board Sophomore
... 1689 Federalism when it argues that the Covenant of Grace was promised in the Old Covenant, but is reluctant to say the covenant of grace was *actually* there.
Thoughts?

Not "promised". "Revealed". It's hard to "reveal" something that isn't there, isn't it?

2 LBCF Ch. 7.3
This covenant is revealed in the gospel; first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman, and afterwards by farther steps, until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament; and it is founded in that eternal covenant transaction that was between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect; and it is alone by the grace of this covenant that all the posterity of fallen Adam that ever were saved did obtain life and blessed immortality, man being now utterly incapable of acceptance with God upon those terms on which Adam stood in his state of innocency.

1689 Federalism takes great pains to clarify that the Covenant of Grace is actually THERE all along, else no one would have been saved.
 

TheInquirer

Puritan Board Freshman
From the 1689Federalism site (worth reading the whole FAQ on this, I didn't want to copy the entire thing):

"1689 Federalism teaches that only the New Covenant is the Covenant of Grace. Neither the Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, nor Davidic covenants were the Covenant of Grace. Neither was the Covenant of Grace established in Genesis 3:15."

"when we identify the Covenant of Grace with the New Covenant alone, we do not exclude those who lived before the establishment of the New Covenant – notably Abraham – from “the grace of this covenant.” Nor do we believe that they waited to receive this grace until the death of Christ. In sum, this New Covenant of Grace was extant and effectual under the Old Testament, so as the church was saved by virtue thereof."

http://www.1689federalism.com/faq/did-the-covenant-of-grace-exist-during-the-old-testament/
 

Stephen L Smith

Administrator
Staff member
This OPC report does not directly interest itself in the question of whether the moral law (summarily comprehended in the 10C) continues in the present as the rule of life for God's people. Simply as a matter of fact, that is the plain Confessional position, 19:6, also reflected in the exposition of the 10C in the two Catechisms.
Thanks for the clarification
The most obvious targets of Beeke's criticism (in my opinion) are the New Covenant theologians.
Yes I did wonder that, but earlier in the quote Beeke says "much greater difficulty asserting the abiding validity of the Decalogue as the moral law". I understood that the New Covenant Theologians (and I acknowledge there is variation among them) were more concerned about asserting the validity of the law of Christ, than asserting the abiding validity of the Decalogue. Thus is he challenging 1689 Federalists who do not see the Mosaic covenant as the covenant of grace?

Then Beeke goes on to say "downplayed the continuity of God’s covenant of grace" - 1689 Federalism does not argue the continuity of the covenant of grace as Westminster Federalism. Beeke then links this into a solution - seeing the Mosaic Covenant as the covenant of grace.

I'm just fascinated by Beeke's choice of words.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
Into what covenant were the believers during the time of Moses saved into? And if they are saved into it, how is it not present at that time?
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Beeke says "much greater difficulty asserting the abiding validity of the Decalogue as the moral law". I understood that the New Covenant Theologians (and I acknowledge there is variation among them) were more concerned about asserting the validity of the law of Christ, than asserting the abiding validity of the Decalogue. Thus is he challenging 1689 Federalists who do not see the Mosaic covenant as the covenant of grace?
NCT makes the "law of Christ" pretty much everything now, and is generally dismissive of the 10C. That is why it has "much greater difficulty." Despite the name, NCT isn't covenant theology, in the proper sense of that term. NCT (along with other traditions) does not maintain "covenant sensibilities" forming a consistent pattern across the Testaments.

I can't be completely certain of JB's intention, but since many NCT have a 5-Pt. (calvinistic)--read "Reformed"--soteriology, I suspect they well-fit his descriptive term: "broader Reformed tradition."

Because 1689ers like Barcellos (https://www.amazon.com/Defense-Decalogue-Critique-Covenant-Theology/dp/0965495590/) are typically vigorous defenders of the 10C as a still-valid summary of the moral law, I don't think that JB is likely to have them particularly in mind.

Is there in that camp doubt about the "continuity of the covenant of grace?" Not in the sense that is related to JB's choice of words. 1689ers say that the OT saints were saved by the virtue of the CoG; so however some might parse that out in terms of historical expression, confessionally they don't doubt covenant-continuity in that sense.

If you wish, you may challenge what you see as inconsistency in someone holding two positions, or making two expressions, that seem to be in conflict. However, unless you have a strict 1689er who does not hold "the ten commandants squarely within the lives of God’s covenant people," then I don't see how such are caught in JB's critical commentary.

In other words, it is an inquiry about entailments. You are latching on the language of "continuity" (perhaps it is much on your mind lately), but not following JB's overall thrust. He doesn't start with an observation about continuity. He offers "continuity" as explanation for why some are confused (in his view) about piety.

He begins by observing that some NT believers dismiss the 10C along with the rest of the Mosaic legislation; while at the same time trying (with difficulty at times) to maintain "principles" for guiding NT Christians that are not quite "law" in that sense they mean to leave behind them in the OT. Well, that's not the 1689LBC position (ch.19).
 

RPEphesian

Puritan Board Junior
I was recently reading a book by Joel Beeke on godly piety. He made this fascinating comment:
"A life of devotion to the God of the covenant is a life of obedience to His moral law. Traditions deprived of these covenantal sensibilities have had much greater difficulty asserting the abiding validity of the Decalogue as the moral law. That inability to move theologically from God’s work on Sinai to Gods work in Zion has injected an instability into their understanding of what constitutes a life of piety. Indeed even within the broader Reformed tradition, those communities that have downplayed the continuity of God’s covenant of grace have had to use agile circumlocutions to retain the Decalogues “principles” while regulating its form to a past era of redemptive history. At its best, however, Reformed theology has articulated a robust covenant theology that keeps the ten commandants squarely within the lives of God’s covenant people as part and parcel of the covenant of grace."
[Reformed Piety: Covenantal and experiential]

Some questions:
  1. Am I correct in assuming the OPC report basically came to the same conclusion as Beeke?
  2. I think this is what Dr Venema argued in his chapter on the Mosaic Covenant in "Christ and Covenant theology".
  3. When Beeke states "That inability to move theologically from God’s work on Sinai to Gods work in Zion has injected an instability into their understanding of what constitutes a life of piety. Indeed even within the broader Reformed tradition, those communities that have downplayed the continuity of God’s covenant of grace have had to use agile circumlocutions to retain the Decalogues “principles” while regulating its form to a past era of redemptive history" it seems to me this is a problem with 1689 Federalism when it argues that the Covenant of Grace was promised in the Old Covenant, but is reluctant to say the covenant of grace was *actually* there.
Thoughts?

I fully agree with Beeke. And I can testify that the Westminster Covenant Theology has been one of the absolute greatest bolsters to my own personal growth in the last few years. And I think someone who comes to see the Mosaic as it really is might find themselves as much in awe of God as Moses was when beholding His glory. And it's no less important to piety to view that covenant as intending to dispense the benefits of the Covenant of Grace to God's elect. Covenant is all about God binding Himself--swearing under oath--to bless His elect. Every Christian since Adam has lived on this--we do too.

I deeply cherish the expositions I have heard of the Ten Commandments from Thomas Watson, and all the duties required and sins forbidden in the Westminster Larger Catechism, and the simple outlines of principles in the Shorter. The proof that they are for the church today is the fact that the church still today treasures them, guards them, loves them.

I remember one Federalist podcast where the speaker said that he is uncomfortable saying that Moses comes to us as a Christian with the Ten Commandments because of the nature of that covenant.

The Sabbath is a perfect example of the consequences of detaching the Decalogue from the Church. I think this is one reason in Baptist circles the Sabbath does not always perpetuate, because it's so strongly regulated by Moses and there's no much reference to it in the NT epistles (though I say clearly there). If Moses doesn't have anything to say to the NT church, then it leaves open the question whether the nature of the Sabbath is really the same in the NT as in the OT, or if it ought to be taken as seriously, or if we have a kind of watered-down, more liberal version of it. The argument is almost always that the NT doesn't say much about it, or that it's expressly done away with.

For a Westminster CT Christian, this just isn't an issue.
 

Stephen L Smith

Administrator
Staff member
Because 1689ers like Barcellos (https://www.amazon.com/Defense-Decalogue-Critique-Covenant-Theology/dp/0965495590/) are typically vigorous defenders of the 10C as a still-valid summary of the moral law, I don't think that JB is likely to have them particularly in mind.
You may be aware, Bruce, that Dr Barcellos has an updated and fuller treatment of this https://www.amazon.com/Getting-Garden-Right-Adams-Christ/dp/1943539081/ref=sr_1_7?qid=1561068109&refinements=p_27:Richard+Barcellos&s=books&sr=1-7&text=Richard+Barcellos

I re read Dr Beeke's comments and thought about them in the light of the comments about Dr Venema I mentioned in my first post. Dr Venema's article on the Mosaic covenant is also available online http://www.midamerica.edu/uploads/files/pdf/journal/venema21.pdf [ the last 10 or so pages are particularly relevant].

Although Dr Venema's comments are made in a slightly different context, he says this: "the tendency to identify the holy law of God with the covenant of works ... creates an instability with respect to the Reformed view of the third use of the law [ and thus it is ] difficult, if not impossible, to affirm the moral law as an abiding rule of righteousness for the conduct of believers within the orbit of the spiritual kingdom of the church.

Firstly I agree with you that 1689 Federalism affirms the unity of the covenant of grace itself and the perpetuity of the mroal law.

But secondly, I was wondering if Beeke's and Venema's argument is a little more nuanced. One of the main differences between Westminster Federalism and 1689 Federalism is the nature of the Old Covenant. It seems to me that the logic of 1689 Federalism is that the Old Covenant logically leads to the Mosaic Covenant being a Covenant of Works.

Note Beeke uses similar language to Dr Venema "Indeed even within the broader Reformed tradition, those communities that have downplayed the continuity of God’s covenant of grace have had to use agile circumlocutions to retain the Decalogue's “principles” while regulating its form to a past era of redemptive history." Thus, if you take a 1689 Federalist view of the Old Covenant and the Mosaic Covenant are you not creating a theological instability [the words of both Beeke and Venema] into your system. After all if you are putting the Decalogue into the fleeting types and shadows of the old covenant, it is more difficult [I did not say impossible] to argue for the perpetuity of the Decalogue.

Beeke then goes on to be very specific: "Reformed theology has articulated a robust covenant theology that keeps the ten commandants squarely within the lives of God’s covenant people as "part and parcel of the covenant of grace."

I am trying not to give a dogmatic interpretation here. I am just trying to thing through the theological implications of the 1689 Federalist view of the Old Covenant and the Mosaic Covenant.


 

Stephen L Smith

Administrator
Staff member
Into what covenant were the believers during the time of Moses saved into? And if they are saved into it, how is it not present at that time?
I think you are framing your question in terms of Westminster Federalism and not 1689 Federalism? If so Beeke would agree with you.
 

Stephen L Smith

Administrator
Staff member
I deeply cherish the expositions I have heard of the Ten Commandments from Thomas Watson, and all the duties required and sins forbidden in the Westminster Larger Catechism, and the simple outlines of principles in the Shorter. The proof that they are for the church today is the fact that the church still today treasures them, guards them, loves them.
Appreciated your warm comments Jake. Yes the full work by Watson is a gem. It goes nicely with Vos' commentary of the WLC.
I remember one Federalist podcast where the speaker said that he is uncomfortable saying that Moses comes to us as a Christian with the Ten Commandments because of the nature of that covenant.
In fairness to the 1689 Federalists in general, I think they would be very reluctant to go down that path. But I think they have opened a door to that path. I would be interested in what you think of my comments in that regard in post 13.
For a Westminster CT Christian, this just isn't an issue.
Agreed.
 

RPEphesian

Puritan Board Junior
You may be aware, Bruce, that Dr Barcellos has an updated and fuller treatment of this https://www.amazon.com/Getting-Garden-Right-Adams-Christ/dp/1943539081/ref=sr_1_7?qid=1561068109&refinements=p_27:Richard+Barcellos&s=books&sr=1-7&text=Richard+Barcellos

I re read Dr Beeke's comments and thought about them in the light of the comments about Dr Venema I mentioned in my first post. Dr Venema's article on the Mosaic covenant is also available online http://www.midamerica.edu/uploads/files/pdf/journal/venema21.pdf [ the last 10 or so pages are particularly relevant].

Although Dr Venema's comments are made in a slightly different context, he says this: "the tendency to identify the holy law of God with the covenant of works ... creates an instability with respect to the Reformed view of the third use of the law [ and thus it is ] difficult, if not impossible, to affirm the moral law as an abiding rule of righteousness for the conduct of believers within the orbit of the spiritual kingdom of the church.

Firstly I agree with you that 1689 Federalism affirms the unity of the covenant of grace itself and the perpetuity of the mroal law.

But secondly, I was wondering if Beeke's and Venema's argument is a little more nuanced. One of the main differences between Westminster Federalism and 1689 Federalism is the nature of the Old Covenant. It seems to me that the logic of 1689 Federalism is that the Old Covenant logically leads to the Mosaic Covenant being a Covenant of Works.

Note Beeke uses similar language to Dr Venema "Indeed even within the broader Reformed tradition, those communities that have downplayed the continuity of God’s covenant of grace have had to use agile circumlocutions to retain the Decalogue's “principles” while regulating its form to a past era of redemptive history." Thus, if you take a 1689 Federalist view of the Old Covenant and the Mosaic Covenant are you not creating a theological instability [the words of both Beeke and Venema] into your system. After all if you are putting the Decalogue into the fleeting types and shadows of the old covenant, it is more difficult [I did not say impossible] to argue for the perpetuity of the Decalogue.

Beeke then goes on to be very specific: "Reformed theology has articulated a robust covenant theology that keeps the ten commandants squarely within the lives of God’s covenant people as "part and parcel of the covenant of grace."

I am trying not to give a dogmatic interpretation here. I am just trying to thing through the theological implications of the 1689 Federalist view of the Old Covenant and the Mosaic Covenant.


You said you're trying to figure out the practical ramifications, so I think I'll run there. And you did ask in another post my thoughts on the one I've quoted. But the big issue, as quoted by Beeke, and as you've said in your post, you are never quite sure what in the OC belongs to the Christian and what doesn't, and it impacts how you view the NC as well.

For example, are the warning passges in the OC for us today? How about the warning passages in the NC? In the Old Covenant all the conditional language makes the covenants to be conditional and merit-based, and all the gracious elements/aspects are just "types and shadows of the things to come but not the realities themselves," or just a foreshadowing of the NC/CG. But then you get to the New Testament the exact opposite happens: the gracious elements become the overarching principle of interpretation, and then all the conditional language gets explained in light of the NC's gracious nature.

- For example, Genesis 17:1 "walk before me and be thou blameless." Conditional, merit-based. But then Romans 8:13, "If by the Spirit you mortify the deeds of the body you will live." Qualified to make it consistent with the covenant of grace. Yet I don't think any Christian will take Romans 8:13 seriously without considering how drastically God dealt with sin in Israel, and then saying to himself, "I had better be at least as serious."
- God rejects the Israelites from the Promised Land, or destroys them out of Israel in Ad 70? They failed in the covenant of works given to them. Christ comes and warns the churches to repent upon threat of removing their candlesticks? We instantly qualify these statements to make sure that we understand that the converted elect are the true church and this can't happen to them and that the New Covenant is unbreakable. However, Hebrews is clear that the ban from Canaan is for us to take seriously.
- David fulfills the conditions of obedience imposed on him? He merited God's covenant favor in the Davidic Covenant. Revelation 2-3, those who endure receive a crown of life? We know that it's all of grace and not of works, and God causes His people to persevere.
- OT excommunicative threats vs. Hebrews warning passages. Enough said.

A few things can happen from this.
- You don't take conditional warnings in the NC all that seriously. After all, they are evidence that the older covenants are conditional, so they just need to be explained in an NC light. And in the midst of trying to do this reconciliation we blunt the sharp edge of those warnings. So we try to defend the NC from itself by trying to soften the conditional NT language, because otherwise it sounds like the OC. Yet the author of Hebrews is not afraid to throw Psalm 95, the just retribution of transgressors under Moses, or the expulsion from Canaan at the NC Christian and say, "God is speaking to you. Pay attention."
- You end up with conditionals that man can actually fulfill since men like Abraham, David, all the godly men of the OT are effectively covenant-keepers, so it leaves a Christian open to confidence in himself. So you end up with a conditional law that is neither entirely like the Covenant of Works but neither like the Covenant of Grace but rather represents this awkward semi-Pelagian amalgamy. Or, OT Israel becomes like the Roman Catholic Church. So here, OC Israel is hardly a prize for the NC Christian.
- You suspect that the New Covenant is not really all that gracious. After all, despite all the gracious overtones of the OC, the covenants were still conditional. So, might it be that in spite of Romans and Galatians, that the New Covenant is conditional too? And from here, you suspect whether God is really gracious. What NC Christian wants this?

Removing a conditional view of the AC was critical to having enough of a view of God's goodness so that I could really be assured that salvation really was all of free grace from even the earliest points of human history. That view dropped, I saw grace alone being preached loudly in Genesis 15, and the doubt dispelled that God had ALWAYS operated by free grace. I believed it, but couldn't make it work out Scripturally.

There's another danger in the attitude of just relegating all the gracious elements to "types and shadows and not the realities themselves," as though we should be suspicious of the idea that God may have instituted those things to convey grace to the elect just like preaching and baptism etc today. It makes the Old Testament to be quite weird. God spending so much time and energy nursing a whole nation of people on symbols and physical pictures which somehow pantomime the New Covenant/Covenant of Grace yet without it even formally being an administration of the CG. Somehow in the same breath you have to affirm that they don't administrate the CG yet were used to draw the elect in that time and place to salvation. That can't work both ways. Such a thing is going to put a thick cloud over the Old Testament. Then you entertain a suspicion of typology. "These sacrifices and ordinances are just keeping them in earthly favor with God so they can stay in the land. Am I just being creative or stretching the true bounds of their significance trying to apply them to the work of Christ? How can I find Christ and His gracious work typified in these ordinances if the ordinances themselves are to their immediate participants conditional, and merely to keep them in good standing so they can stay in Canaan?"

Other things... this gets into heated waters, but I think it takes away the intended sting of the judicial/ceremonial laws of the OC. Today we almost blush in embarrassment when someone brings up the fact that adulterers and Sabbath-breakers were stoned. If you look at the OC as being a conditional covenant meant to just teach the severity of the Law you'll probably just read the OC and say, "Whew, glad I'm not there!" But if you see these as a gift to the church, you look at the stoning laws, restitution laws, the examination of lepers, and you see how God wants to impress upon you the seriousness of all sin. It's against that backdrop that Christ's healing of the leper in Matthew 8 is so wonderful, the forgiveness of the adulteress in John 8 so magnificent, and the fact that God forgives any Sabbath-breaker today so marvelous. But this won't be the effect if you relegate it all as belonging to a conditional covenant that has no organic connection to the church today. The connection to us will inevitably short-circuit. The Old Testament has an unbelievably great array of things to say to the New Covenant Christian, but many won't catch it because "that's for a covenant not meant for us."

Exodus is a marvelous, wonderful book. Pondered closely, meditated upon, you may almost feel like you've gone up Mt. Sinai and heard the Lord audibly pronounce that wondrous name: "The Lord, the Lord, merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness." That's the story of all Israel--God being faithful, having a covenant loyalty under oath, being the God who saves sinful wretches. It's all there. God hearing their cries because of the covenant inaugurated with circumcision and a split bull 400 years before, deliverance from a domineering tyrant preaching deliverance from sin, the blood over the door, the destruction of those not covered by it, the Christophany of the pillar of cloud-fire the same as Gen 15, the baptism in the sea, the ordination of sacrifices, the sprinkling of the people in blood, the priestly system, the sacrifices day in and day out, year after year, preaching imputation of sin, shedding of blood, forgiveness. It's not just "types and shadows of the things to come but not the realities." The Pentateuch cries out with the Gospel of Christ. And if it cries out the Gospel, then it's an administration. If it's an administration, then bringing the elect to Christ in the Covenant of Grace at that time and place is the intended effect.

And where does Hebrews culminate the application of all the Old Covenant ordinances, arguing from the lesser to the greater? What do we learn at Mt Sinai, then learn all the more at Mt Zion, not a different thing, but the same lesson amplified? We are to worship God with reverance and fear, "for our God is a consuming fire." How necessary then to our worship that the NC church see OC Israel as its heritage.

If I don't write back it's because I'm on vacation. Needed break in Kentucky :). God bless your studies!
 
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Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
I think you are framing your question in terms of Westminster Federalism and not 1689 Federalism? If so Beeke would agree with you.
I'm just framing the question as I see it from Scripture. I am still a baptist and not a pedobaptist, and I even see this problem with 1689 Federalism as a baptist.

Anyone who is saved is saved into the Covenant of Grace, and therefore, this Covenant is active in the OT, building and coming to its full fruition in the New Covenant.

In fact, since Reformed Baptists have been beating this drum of 1689 Federalism, which denies what I just said in the last paragraph, I've looked into pedobaptism again because I've been told that to be a consistent Reformed Baptist I need to adopt 1689 Federalism, and if that is so...I simply can't buy it.
 
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Relztrah

Puritan Board Freshman
those communities that have downplayed the continuity of God’s covenant of grace have had to use agile circumlocutions to retain the Decalogues “principles” while regulating its form to a past era of redemptive history.
In the broadly evangelical sphere, how would I respond to someone who believes that the Christian is "no longer under the Law"? For example, there has been some discussion of late about a popular preacher who said that we need to "unhitch" the church from the Ten Commandments, or words to that effect. (Or was it the entire OT? I didn't read the actual quote.)

Before I became aware of the Reformed tradition and literature, I also held to the "principles" view of the Ten Commandments. And I had never heard of, much less ready anything by, Thomas Watson. I'm not trying to win an argument here, simply show brothers how this view is deficient.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
You may be aware, Bruce, that Dr Barcellos has an updated and fuller treatment
Good to know, thank you.
I re read Dr Beeke's comments and thought about them in the light of the comments [of] Dr Venema I mentioned ....
Although Dr Venema's comments are made in a slightly different context, he says this: "the tendency to identify the holy law of God with the covenant of works ... creates an instability with respect to the Reformed view of the third use of the law [ and thus it is ] difficult, if not impossible, to affirm the moral law as an abiding rule of righteousness for the conduct of believers within the orbit of the spiritual kingdom of the church.
I tend to agree with Venema, to the extent that the identification he speaks of re 10C and CoW is that which is regarded as 1:1 and convertible. Now, since the moral law is encapsulated as the CoW (WCF19.2, "This law [given to Adam as a covenant of works, para.1], after his fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness; and, as such, was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments," we have to describe both the connection and the distinction. The moral law and the CoW are the same, and they are different, depending on the sense.

To regard Sinai and the holy law given there as strictly a works-covenant, essentially and fundamentally a merit-system accord, would (I suspect) tend to reduce the utility of its moral element, particularly after the introduction of a new-and-replacement covenant regarded as a radical departure. Just as we presently do not mine the Edenic covenant for its trove of vital moral directives, under exclusively-NT-relevant conditions it is doubtful we should have any high regard for the 10C as such. We would confine us to the NT for ALL authoritative moral, ethical, and positive guidance.

I agree with you that 1689 Federalism affirms the unity of the covenant of grace itself and the perpetuity of the mroal law.

But..., I was wondering if Beeke's and Venema's argument is a little more nuanced.
You may be correct, that when the two statements are woven together as you have done, they become "an" argument. But to begin with they are not "an" argument. And that is where I joined the conversation, because before us there was the one statement from JB.

I start by reading him, "Traditions deprived of these covenantal sensibilities...." Your observations re. 1689ers are drawn from later in the para. But my first response was, "Wait, would 1689ers begin by agreeing that they do not enjoy these covenantal sensibilities?" Would they begin by questioning the opening assertion: "A life of devotion to the God of the covenant is a life of obedience to His moral law?" No, not if they consent to their own confessional statement in ch.1; but they would agree with it, and feel they had (some at least) of the requisite covenant sensibilities JB refers to.

OK, but is it possible to extend JB's criticism, so that it may be read in harmony with a broader critique as that put forward by Venema? I think this where your work has taken you. To some extent I can see your points, and could agree with them; provided we recognize where we are stretching. JB's purpose (if I can discern it) was not a direct criticism of folks on the faculty of his seminary who confess LBC1689, or alleged implications of the views of a subset of those who identify with it.

One of the main differences between Westminster Federalism and 1689 Federalism is the nature of the Old Covenant. It seems to me that the logic of 1689 Federalism is that the Old Covenant logically leads to the Mosaic Covenant being a Covenant of Works.
If the aim is to critique the consistency of 1689-Federalism, marshaling JB's statement critiquing deniers of what 1689-Federalism affirms is not effective. Just because different parties share a certain characteristic, does not make the same criticism of the one suitable to the other.

We may well agree as to our opinion of where some pursuits of consistency could lead an investigator. But given that just about every system has (or endures accusations of) inconsistency--and yet they continue, due to robust defenses or work-arounds--those also must be accounted for. We often think Lutherans are "inconsistent" when it comes to nearly everything after the "T" in TULIP, wherein we largely agree (I did hear one L. theologian say Calvinists follow Augustin at this point more sedulously than his tribe). But, we stop well short of asserting that they must therefore soon adopt the Pelagian paradigm.
 

JTB.SDG

Puritan Board Junior
I was recently reading a book by Joel Beeke on godly piety. He made this fascinating comment:
"A life of devotion to the God of the covenant is a life of obedience to His moral law. Traditions deprived of these covenantal sensibilities have had much greater difficulty asserting the abiding validity of the Decalogue as the moral law. That inability to move theologically from God’s work on Sinai to Gods work in Zion has injected an instability into their understanding of what constitutes a life of piety. Indeed even within the broader Reformed tradition, those communities that have downplayed the continuity of God’s covenant of grace have had to use agile circumlocutions to retain the Decalogues “principles” while regulating its form to a past era of redemptive history. At its best, however, Reformed theology has articulated a robust covenant theology that keeps the ten commandants squarely within the lives of God’s covenant people as part and parcel of the covenant of grace."
[Reformed Piety: Covenantal and experiential]

Some questions:
  1. Am I correct in assuming the OPC report basically came to the same conclusion as Beeke?
  2. I think this is what Dr Venema argued in his chapter on the Mosaic Covenant in "Christ and Covenant theology".
  3. When Beeke states "That inability to move theologically from God’s work on Sinai to Gods work in Zion has injected an instability into their understanding of what constitutes a life of piety. Indeed even within the broader Reformed tradition, those communities that have downplayed the continuity of God’s covenant of grace have had to use agile circumlocutions to retain the Decalogues “principles” while regulating its form to a past era of redemptive history" it seems to me this is a problem with 1689 Federalism when it argues that the Covenant of Grace was promised in the Old Covenant, but is reluctant to say the covenant of grace was *actually* there.
Thoughts?
1) Yes.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
In the broadly evangelical sphere, how would I respond to someone who believes that the Christian is "no longer under the Law"? For example, there has been some discussion of late about a popular preacher who said that we need to "unhitch" the church from the Ten Commandments, or words to that effect. (Or was it the entire OT? I didn't read the actual quote.)
Would your own experience give you any perspective, as to how you might have received such responses to your own commitment on this score when you held to it?

The responses could be as varied as the people who offer this antinomian testimony. You might need to explore whether the person to whom you speak gives any credence to the Christian duty to obey the Word, even just the NT. Some such folk may be so casual as to what constitutes NT morality; they give no thought whatever to obedience. They have a kind of "middle-class values" ethic, which they assume is their "Spirit-led" moral intuition. This kind of person really has no resistance to the new "moral catechism" being thrust at them by the media, government, all the forces now pushing the older social mores off the stage.

Many others, with a greater commitment to at least a NT-defined set of fixed moral values, will nevertheless balk at a full range of NT duties; falling back on the "grace" motif to soften the justice that their shortcomings deserve. It is (thankfully) the case that God is gracious; however he's always been gracious, and nowhere is that attribute more evident in the Bible than in the OT. I mean, it is just as evident there as in the NT; only the ultimate grace of God in Christ Jesus had not yet been presented to the world. So, if believers in the OT were foolish to ignore the threat implied in the Law (because they were presumptuous on God's forgiving character), they are even more foolish today to ignore threats from Jesus' own mouth, which clearly indicate that lip-service to him is damnable.

If you can get someone stuck in either of these antinomian scenarios to agree up to this point, you could then explore the actual meaning of Paul's phrase, "not under Law, but under Grace." If they will not follow to here, then their reliance on Paul's phrase is probably just sloganeering.
 

SeanPatrickCornell

Puritan Board Sophomore
[snip]

Anyone who is saved is saved into the Covenant of Grace, and therefore, this Covenant is active in the OT, building and coming to its full fruition in the New Covenant.

... 1689 Federalism, ... denies what I just said

I've seen enough conversations on this very board in which you've been involved to know that you should really, really know better than this.

From 1689federalism.com

http://www.1689federalism.com/faq/did-the-covenant-of-grace-exist-during-the-old-testament/

"Did the Covenant of Grace exist during the Old Testament"

In sum, this New Covenant of Grace was extant and effectual under the Old Testament, so as the church was saved by virtue thereof.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)

Stephen L Smith

Administrator
Staff member
I've seen enough conversations on this very board in which you've been involved to know that you should really, really know better than this.

So you agree with me that the Covenant of Grace was active in the OT and believers were saved into it.
One of the difficulties in this discussion is that 1689 Federalists argue that the new covenant is the covenant of grace. Therefore how were people saved prior to the new covenant? I do acknowledge that 1689 Federalists affirm people were saved in the old covenant but some of the language has been ambiguous.

I do think, to their credit, 1689 Federalists are seeking to clarify their language better.
 

brandonadams

Puritan Board Freshman
is he challenging 1689 Federalists who do not see the Mosaic covenant as the covenant of grace?

I would be extremely surprised if Beeke specifically has 1689 Federalism in mind. I have not come across modern published works that have studied 1689 Federalism and are intentionally engaging with or critiquing it. I think Beeke clearly has other traditions in mind.

Then Beeke goes on to say "downplayed the continuity of God’s covenant of grace" - 1689 Federalism does not argue the continuity of the covenant of grace as Westminster Federalism. Beeke then links this into a solution - seeing the Mosaic Covenant as the covenant of grace.

I'm just fascinated by Beeke's choice of words.

Yes, 1689 Federalism does disagree with Westminster regarding the continuity of the covenant of grace (i.e. that the Old Covenant was the covenant of grace). Therefore Beeke's claim would theoretically apply to 1689 Fed. But does it actually amount to a legitimate critique/concern? No, I do not believe so. 1689 Federalism fully affirms that the 10 commandments are a summary statement of the moral law that applies to all men at all times. It affirms identity of content between natural law and the 10 commandments. Where it differs from Westminster is it says that this moral law that applies to all men at all times was also uniquely given to Israel as a typological covenant of works. Specifically in this regard it has now passed away. But that does not alter the function and place it served prior to Sinai. We do not need to believe that the moral law comes to Christians through Moses in order to affirm that the moral law continues to be a guide for Christians precisely because the moral law transcends all covenant relationships.

It sounds like you have read Barcellos' Getting the Garden Right (and potentially his older IDOTD as well). Here you have the most ardent response to NCT from the 1689 camp, and it's by someone who holds to 1689 Federalism. Note what he said in IDOTD:

Hearty agreement must be given when New Covenant theologians argue for the abolition of the Old Covenant. This is clearly the teaching of the Old and New Testaments (see Jeremiah 31:31-32; Second Corinthians 3; Galatians 3, 4; Ephesians 2:14-15; Hebrews 8-10). The whole law of Moses, as it functioned under the Old Covenant, has been abolished, including the Ten Commandments. Not one jot or tittle of the law of Moses functions as Old Covenant law anymore and to act as if it does constitutes redemptive-historical retreat and neo-Judaizing. However, to acknowledge that the law of Moses no longer functions as Old Covenant law is not to accept that it no longer functions; it simply no longer functions as Old Covenant law. This can be seen by the fact that the New Testament teaches both the abrogation of the law of the Old Covenant and its abiding moral validity under the New Covenant. (61)

See also his appendix in the Coxe/Owen volume regarding the functions of the decalogue, available online here http://www.1689federalism.com/john-owen-and-new-covenant-theology/

Compare also with Luther on natural law vs decalogue https://contrast2.wordpress.com/2017/02/08/how-christians-should-regard-moses-luther/

I remember one Federalist podcast where the speaker said that he is uncomfortable saying that Moses comes to us as a Christian with the Ten Commandments because of the nature of that covenant.

It would be better to quote the podcast directly to make sure that you have correctly summarized what was said. The podcast in question (was it me on the SRR podcast?) probably just means that the decalogue was not simply given by Moses to the visible church as a guide for life, but was rather given to Israel as a typological covenant of works. That does not deny that it is also a guide for Christians.

Although Dr Venema's comments are made in a slightly different context, he says this: "the tendency to identify the holy law of God with the covenant of works ... creates an instability with respect to the Reformed view of the third use of the law [ and thus it is ] difficult, if not impossible, to affirm the moral law as an abiding rule of righteousness for the conduct of believers within the orbit of the spiritual kingdom of the church.

Note: Venema is responding to paedobaptists who equate the law of God with the covenant of works, period. That is not the position of 1689 Federalism. We differ from VanDrunen, Irons, Kline, etc on this point. We affirm WCF/LBCF 7.1 whereas they do not. The covenant of works was added to the moral law. The moral law itself is not the covenant of works.

if you take a 1689 Federalist view of the Old Covenant and the Mosaic Covenant are you not creating a theological instability [the words of both Beeke and Venema] into your system. After all if you are putting the Decalogue into the fleeting types and shadows of the old covenant, it is more difficult [I did not say impossible] to argue for the perpetuity of the Decalogue.

I'm not certain what distinction you're making between Old Covenant and Mosaic Covenant, so I'm not quite sure what you're getting at here. But regardless, your concern is addressed above. The perpetuity of the moral law does not depend upon the perpetuity of Mosaic law because moral law transcends Mosaic law.

it seems to me this is a problem with 1689 Federalism when it argues that the Covenant of Grace was promised in the Old Covenant, but is reluctant to say the covenant of grace was *actually* there.

One of the difficulties in this discussion is that 1689 Federalists argue that the new covenant is the covenant of grace. Therefore how were people saved prior to the new covenant? I do acknowledge that 1689 Federalists affirm people were saved in the old covenant but some of the language has been ambiguous.

I do think, to their credit, 1689 Federalists are seeking to clarify their language better.

We agree with numerous paedobaptists (Frame, Horton, Calvin, Owen, Augustine, etc) that OT saints were saved by/participated in the New Covenant in their own day. They were saved by it in advance of its formal establishment, just as they were saved by Christ's atoning sacrifice in advance of him actually dying. I would also recommend taking a look at John Ball's distinction between the Covenant of Grace promised and the Covenant of Grace established and see how it compares to our view. https://contrast2.wordpress.com/2019/03/28/john-ball-on-salvation-prior-to-christs-death/
 

brandonadams

Puritan Board Freshman
It's also worth noting that Progressive Covenantalism, a sub-category of NCT, strongly rejects the idea that the Mosaic Covenant was a covenant of works. In the volume "Progressive Covenantalism" one author specifically and strongly chastises the "republication" folks, siding with its critics. Yet it rejects the continuity of the moral law/decalogue.
 

RPEphesian

Puritan Board Junior
It would be better to quote the podcast directly to make sure that you have correctly summarized what was said. The podcast in question (was it me on the SRR podcast?) probably just means that the decalogue was not simply given by Moses to the visible church as a guide for life, but was rather given to Israel as a typological covenant of works. That does not deny that it is also a guide for Christians.

It was a podcast where you were interviewed, the one about Theology and Northwestern culture with a digression or two on DB Cooper and Napoleon Dynamite (I'll never think of you apart from him now :) ). That was at least three months ago now. It was likely the one about the MC (I listened to all five of those podcasts, probably gave two of them a double listen). I believe I quote you correctly and your explanation sounds like what I thought you said. My point isn't that you don't see the 10C as a moral guide, but still the break is there that I've explained, and it did stand out to me that you were hesitant to explain Moses' relationship to the Christian in the way I described. But if more clarity on what you think is needed I'm all ears.

My point being altogether, there's no problem on my part saying in unqualified terms they are the church's because they were given to the church, and it's for the church's good to treat all these things as belonging to them and as their heritage. For these reasons, the NCT debate or positions such as Leiter's on the 10C (I've listened to all four of his lectures) don't come up or ever get debated because there is no room at all for it.
 

Pilgrim

Puritanboard Commissioner
In the broadly evangelical sphere, how would I respond to someone who believes that the Christian is "no longer under the Law"? For example, there has been some discussion of late about a popular preacher who said that we need to "unhitch" the church from the Ten Commandments, or words to that effect. (Or was it the entire OT? I didn't read the actual quote.)

It was the entire OT. Tellingly, I've seen posts from people (laypeople, mostly) who adhere to either New Covenant Theology or Progressive Covenaantalism who have had a hard time with seeing what's wrong with that statement at least, except for the suspicion that Andy Stanley makes this move in an attempt to avoid various prohibitions in the OT that aren't as clearly stated in the NT.
 

Pilgrim

Puritanboard Commissioner
Note: Venema is responding to paedobaptists who equate the law of God with the covenant of works, period. That is not the position of 1689 Federalism. We differ from VanDrunen, Irons, Kline, etc on this point. We affirm WCF/LBCF 7.1 whereas they do not. The covenant of works was added to the moral law. The moral law itself is not the covenant of works.

Brandon,

Am I right in thinking that Jeffrey Johnson agrees with VanDrunen, Irons, Kline etc? I remember him thinking very highly of the book "The Law Is Not of Faith" which I think comes from that perspective. It has been a while since I've looked in at online discussions of 1689 Federalism, but I remember there being some differences between his views and those of you, Barcellos, etc.
 
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