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Posts Tagged ‘Covenant Theology’

Is the Covenant of Grace a unilateral (or unconditional) covenant of promise (as maintained by theologians such as Dr. Michael Horton in such works as “God of Promise,” now retitled “Introducing Covenant Theology“)? Or is that merely a Lutheran innovation?

No less than the Reformed Orthodox theologian Francis Turretin (1623-87), at least, argued for a unilateral formulation of the Covenant of Grace:

Not without reason did the Holy Spirit wish to designate the covenant of grace under the name of “promise,” because it rests entirely upon the divine promise. In this it wonderfully differs, not only from all human covenants (which consist of a mutual obligation and stipulation of the parties), but from the covenant of works (which although it also had its own promise on the part of God to the doers and so was founded on the goodness of God, still it required obedience on the part of man that it might be put into execution). But here God wished the whole of this covenant to depend upon his promise, not only with regard to the reward promised by him, but also with regard to the duty demanded from us. Thus God performs here not only his own part, but also ours; and if the covenant is given for the happiness of only the one party, it is guarded and fulfilled by the fidelity of only one party. Hence not only God’s blessings fall under the promise, but also man’s duty; not only the end, but also the means and conditions leading us to it. – Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 12.1.11.

And although the promise of the covenant is conditionally proposed and applied to individuals, it does not follow that the promise itself depends upon man’s will and so is not absolute.  That conditional promise is a consectary [consequence] of an absolute promise and it is thus commanded as the duty of man that it may be produced at the same time and at once in the elect as the gift of God. – Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 12.6.3 

Thus, at least for Turretin, it is not wrong to conceive of the Covenant of Grace as a unilateral (or unconditional) arraignment. Although faith is certainly the condition apart from which the promise is void, even this faith is a gift of God and secured by God as part of the promise.

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Taken from the forward of Pierre Ch. Marcel’s book The Biblical Doctrine of Infant Baptism:

Some years ago it was my privilege to pastor an elderly couple who had served in the Middle East as missionaries in the early part of the 20th century. The husband was a native of Iraq and an expert in Semitic languages and culture. On numerous occasions we had fascinating discussions about the differences between the cultural situation presented in both the Old and New Testaments as it compared or contrasted with the cultural situation of modern America. Many aspects of “the American experience” as it influenced church life mystified him completely. At the top of the list was what he regarded as “the inconceivable idea” that children of Christian parents should not be regarded as part of the Church. In his biblically informed Middle Eastern mind the household was the basic unit of the Old Covenant people of God and of the church in its New Covenant form. He was utterly baffled by the very idea that children born in a Christian family would not be baptized and marked out as part of the Church.

This epitomizes the challenge of presenting the historic Christian position on household baptism (a far more biblical phrase than “infant baptism”) into our American evangelical climate. Conditioned by the spirit of independence that was instrumental in founding our nation, formed by the frontier revivalism that dramatically supplanted church and sacraments with ad hoc evangelistic meetings and personal “decisions for Christ”, and nurtured in an environment that now virtually absolutizes one’s personal “right to choose”, American religion is far more comfortable with baptistic individualism than it is with the corporate emphasis on covenant theology and its accompanying view of baptism. Those who hold to the uniform reformational view of household baptism face a powerful resistance in America’s baptist culture. — Pastor William Shishko, (OPC), p. 3.

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Of Infant Baptism

by Dr. John Owen

“Dr. Owen was a renowned Puritan minister of the Independent (Congregational) persuasion, whose profound and edifying works are published by The Banner of Truth Trust. C. H. Spurgeon in the 19th century said of John Owen, “It is unnecessary to say that he is the prince of divines. To master his works is to be a profound theologian.” He was born in 1616, in Stadham, Oxfordshire, England, and he died 1683 in London.”

I. THE question is not whether professing believers, Jews or Gentiles, not baptized in their infancy, ought to be baptized; for this is by all confessed.

II. Neither is it whether, in such persons, the profession of saving faith and repentance ought not to go before baptism. This we plead for beyond what is the common practice of those who oppose us.

Wherefore, testimonies produced out of authors, ancient or modern, to confirm these things, which consist with the doctrine of infant baptism, are mere tergiversations, that belong not to this cause at all; and so are all arguments produced unto that end out of the Scriptures.

III. The question is not whether all infants are to be baptized or not; for, according to the will of God, some are not to be baptized, even such whose parents are strangers from the covenant. But hence it will follow that some are to be baptized, seeing an exception confirms both rule and right.

IV. The question is only concerning the children or infant seed of professing believers who are themselves baptized. And, –

First, They by whom this is denied can produce no testimony of Scripture wherein their negation is formally or in terms included, nor any one asserting what is inconsistent with that of their seed. But this is to be required of them who oppose infant baptism, that they produce such a testimony.

Secondly, No instance can be given from the Old or New Testament since the days of Abraham, none from the approved practice of the primitive church, of any person or persons born of professing, believing parents, who were themselves made partakers of the initial seal of the covenant, being then in infancy and designed to be brought up in the knowledge of God, who were not made partakers with them of the same sign and seal of the covenant.

Thirdly, A spiritual privilege once granted by God unto any cannot be changed, disannulled, or abrogated, without an especial divine revocation of it, or the substitution of a greater privilege and mercy in the room of it; for, –

1. Who shall disannul what God hath granted? What he hath put together who shall put asunder? To abolish or take away any grant of privilege made by him to the church, without his own express revocation of it, is to deny his sovereign authority.

2. To say a privilege so granted may be revoked, even by God himself, without the substitution of a greater privilege and mercy in the room of it, is contrary to the goodness of God, his love and care unto his church, [and] contrary to his constant course of proceeding with it from the foundation of the world, wherein he went on in the enlargement and increase of its privileges until the coming of Christ. And to suppose it under the gospel is contrary to all his promises, the honour of Christ, and a multitude of express testimonies of Scripture.

Thus was it with the privileges of the temple and the worship of it granted to the Jews; they were not, they could not be, taken away without an express revocation, and the substitution of a more glorious spiritual temple and worship in their room.

But now the spiritual privilege of a right unto and a participation of the initial seal of the covenant was granted by God unto the infant seed of Abraham, Gen. xvii. 10, 12.

This grant, therefore, must stand firm for ever, unless men can prove or produce, –

1. An express revocation of it by God himself; which none can do either directly or indirectly, in terms or any pretence of consequence.

2. An instance of a greater privilege or mercy granted unto them in the room of it; which they do not once pretend unto, but leave the seed of believers, whilst in their infant state, in the same condition with those of pagans and infidels; expressly contrary to God’s covenant.

All this contest, therefore, is to deprive the children of believers of a privilege once granted to them by God, never revoked, as to the substance of it, assigning nothing in its room; which is contrary to the goodness, love, and covenant of God, especially derogatory to the honour of Jesus Christ and the gospel.

Fourthly, They that have the thing signified have right unto the sign of it, or those who are partakers of the grace of baptism have a right to the administration of it: so Acts x. 47.

But the children of believers are all of them capable of the grace signified in baptism, and some of them are certainly partakers of it, namely, such as die in their infancy (which is all that can be said of professors): therefore they may and ought to be baptized. For, –

1. Infants are made for and are capable of eternal glory or misery, and must fall, dying infants, into one of these estates for ever.

2. All infants are born in a state of sin, wherein they are spiritually dead and under the curse.

3. Unless they are regenerated or born again, they must all perish inevitably, John iii. 3. Their regeneration is the grace whereof baptism is a sign or token. Wherever this is, there baptism ought to be administered.

Fifthly, God having appointed baptism as the sign and seal of regeneration, unto whom he denies it, he denies the grace signified by it. Why is it the will of God that unbelievers and impenitent sinners should not be baptized? It is because, not granting them the grace, he will not grant them the sign. If, therefore, God denies the sign unto the infant seed of believers, it must be because he denies them the grace of it; and then all the children of believing parents dying in their infancy must, without hope, be eternally damned. I do not say that all must be so who are not baptized, but all must be so whom God would not have baptized.

But this is contrary to the goodness and law [love?] of God, the nature and promises of the covenant, the testimony of Christ reckoning them to the kingdom of God, the faith of godly parents, and the belief of the church in all ages.

It follows hence unavoidably that infants who die in their infancy have the grace of regeneration, and consequently as good a right unto baptism as believers themselves.

Sixthly, All children in their infancy are reckoned unto the covenant of their parents, by virtue of the law of their creation.

For they are all made capable of eternal rewards and punishments, as hath been declared.

But in their own persons they are not capable of doing good or evil.

It is therefore contrary to the justice of God, and the law of the creation of human kind, wherein many die before they can discern between their right hand and their left, to deal with infants any otherwise but in and according to the covenant of their parents; and that he doth so, see Rom. v. 14.

Hence I argue, –

Those who, by God’s appointment, and by virtue of the law of their creation, are, and must of necessity be, included in the covenant of their parents, have the same right with them unto the privileges of that covenant, no express exception being put in against them. This right it is in the power of none to deprive them of, unless they can change the law of their creation.

Thus it is with the children of believers with respect unto the covenant of their parents, whence alone they are said to be holy, 1 Cor. vii. 14.

Seventhly, Christ is “the messenger of the covenant,” Mal. iii. 1, – that is, of the covenant of God made with Abraham; and he was the “minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers,” Rom. xv. 8. This covenant was, that he would be “a God unto Abraham and to his seed.”

Now if this be not so under the new testament, then was not Christ a faithful messenger, nor did confirm the truth of God in his promises.

This argument alone will bear the weight of the whole cause against all objections; for, –

1. Children are still in the same covenant with their parents, or the truth of the promises of God to the fathers was not confirmed by Christ.

2. The right unto the covenant, and interest in its promises, wherever it be, gives right unto the administration of its initial seal, that is, to baptism, as Peter expressly declares, Acts ii. 38, 39. Wherefore, –

The right of the infant seed of believers unto baptism, as the initial seal of the covenant, stands on the foundation of the faithfulness of Christ as the messenger of the covenant, and minister of God for the confirmation of the truth of his promises.

In brief, a participation of the seal of the covenant is a spiritual blessing. This the seed of believers was once solemnly invested in by God himself. This privilege he hath nowhere revoked, though he hath changed the outward sign; nor hath he granted unto our children any privilege or mercy in lieu of it now under the gospel, when all grace and privilege are enlarged to the utmost. His covenant promises concerning them, which are multiplied, were confirmed by Christ as a true messenger and minister; he gives the grace of baptism unto many of them, especially those that die in their infancy, owns children to belong unto his kingdom, esteems them disciples, appoints households to be baptized without exception. And who shall now rise up, and withhold water from them?

This argument may be thus further cleared and improved: –

Christ is “the messenger of the covenant,” Mal. iii. 1, – that is, the covenant of God with Abraham, Gen. xvii. 7; for, –

1. That covenant was with and unto Christ mystical, Gal. iii. 16; and he was the messenger of no covenant but that which was made with himself and his members.

2. He was sent, or was God’s messenger, to perform and accomplish the covenant and oath made with Abraham, Luke i. 72, 73.

3. The end of his message and of his coming was, that those to whom he was sent might be “blessed with faithful Abraham,” or that “the blessing of Abraham,” promised in the covenant, “might come upon them,” Gal. iii. 9, 14.

To deny this, overthrows the whole relation between the old testament and the new, the veracity of God in his promises, and all the properties of the covenant of grace, mentioned 2 Sam. xxiii. 5.

It was not the covenant of works, neither originally nor essentially, nor the covenant in its legal administration; for he confirmed and sealed that covenant whereof he was the messenger, but these he abolished.

Let it be named what covenant he was the messenger of, if not of this. Occasional additions of temporal promises do not in the least alter the nature of the covenant.

Herein he was the “minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers,” Rom. xv. 8; that is, undeniably, the covenant made with Abraham, enlarged and explained by following promises. This covenant was, that God would be “a God unto Abraham and to his seed;” which God himself explains to be his infant seed, Gen. xvii. 12, – that is, the infant seed of every one of his posterity who should lay hold on and avouch that covenant as Abraham did, and not else. This the whole church did solemnly for themselves and their posterity; whereon the covenant was confirmed and sealed to them all, Exod. xxiv. 7, 8. And every one was bound to do the same in his own person; which if he did not, he was to be cut off from the congregation, whereby he forfeited all privileges unto himself and his seed.

The covenant, therefore, was not granted in its administrations unto the carnal seed of Abraham as such, but unto his covenanted seed, those who entered into it and professedly stood to its terms.

And the promises made unto the fathers were, that their infant seed, their buds and offspring, should have an equal share in the covenant with them, Isa. xxii. 24, xliv. 3, lxi. 9. “They are the seed of the blessed of the LORD, and their offspring with them,” chap. lxv, 23. Not only themselves, who are the believing, professing seed of those who were blessed of the Lord, by a participation of the covenant, Gal. iii. 9, but their offspring also, their buds, their tender little ones, are in the same covenant with them.

To deny, therefore, that the children of believing, professing parents, who have avouched God’s covenant, as the church of Israel did, Exod. xxiv. 7, 8, have the same right and interest with their parents in the covenant, is plainly to deny the fidelity of Christ in the discharge of his office.

It may be it will be said, that although children have a right to the covenant, or do belong unto it, yet they have no right to the initial seal of it. This will not suffice; for, –

1. If they have any interest in it, it is either in its grace or in its administration. If they have the former, they have the latter also, as shall be proved at any time. If they have neither, they have no interest in it; – then the truth of the promises of God made unto the fathers was not confirmed by Christ.

2. That unto whom the covenant or promise doth belong, to them belongs the administration of the initial seal of it, is expressly declared by the apostle, Acts ii. 38, 39, be they who they will.

3. The truth of God’s promises is not confirmed if the sign and seal of them be denied; for that whereon they believed that God was a God unto their seed as well as unto themselves was this, that he granted the token of the covenant unto their seed as well as unto themselves. If this be taken away by Christ, their faith is overthrown, and the promise itself is not confirmed but weakened, as to the virtue it hath to beget faith and obedience.

Eighthly, Particular testimonies may be pleaded and vindicated, if need be, and the practice of the primitive church.1

(1) See also Dr Owen on the Hebrews, vol. i. Exercitation the sixth, and vol. ii. p. 256; in which place he gives further light into this truth of infant baptism.

[This note is appended by the editors of the folio edition of Owen’s Sermons and Tracts, published in 1721. The second passage referred to occurs in the exposition of chap. iv. ver. 9. – Ed.]

The Works of John Owen, Vol. 16, Banner of Truth 1991. pp 258-263. COPIED FROM CovenantofGrace.com

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What comes first, logically: Federal union, or voluntary union?

There is a federal (covenantal) union with Christ which is antecedent to all actual union, and is the source of it.  God gave a people to his Son in the covenant of redemption.  Those included in that covenant, and because they are included in it – in other words, because they are in Christ as their head and representative -receive in time the gift of the Holy Spirit and all other benefits of redemption.  Their voluntary union with Christ by faith, is not the ground of their federal union, but on the contrary, their federal union is the ground of their voluntary union.  It is, therefore in Christ, i.e. as united to him in the covenant of redemption, that the people of God are elected to eternal life and to all the blessings therewith connected. – Charles Hodge

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gardenThis is a great question. Some would say there is, and that therefore we can’t speak (as does the Westminster Confession) of there being a covenant of works with Adam in the garden before the fall.  They hold, rather, that God was gracious already to Adam, before he sinned, by virtue of his creating him, endowing him with uprightness, and offering him life and friendship in the very good garden.

Is this how we should look at it? Horton picks up the question here:

Grace before the fall is entailed by the denial of the covenant of works. Many interpreters think that they observe a contradiction in the federalism of the Westminster Standards on this point, where the divines speak of God’s relationship to Adam in terms of “voluntary condescension.” However, this is not the same as grace; a term that would have been used if that is what was intended. The divines knew exactly what they were doing (and Ursinus defended every one of their points before the Assembly ever met). “Voluntary condescension” is hardly grace. Why is that so? In the first place, the former simply means that God was not compelled by any necessity to create: it was a free act. Second, by pronouncing his benediction (“It is very good,” not just “good”), God was approving Adam’s standing. But upon what basis was Adam currently acceptable before God? On precisely that basis indicated by the benediction: his intrinsic worthiness as a loyal son and servant.

Third, to conflate “voluntary condescension” and “grace” is to empty grace of its most precious scriptural meaning. Scripture nowhere speaks of this relationship as gracious, and with good reason: grace happens to sinners. Friendship, condescension, familiarity, goodness: these in no way entail graciousness on God’s part, since the relationship was not yet marred by sin. Grace is not treated in scripture as merely unmerited favor, but as demerited favor, God’s favor toward sinners despite their having deserved the very opposite. In that sense, grace and mercy are interchangeable terms, just as the “covenant of grace” has sometimes been called the “covenant of mercy.” God cannot be regarded as gracious or merciful to creatures who as yet do not deserve otherwise,. “Goodness” and “condescension” are not equivalent to grace and mercy.

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Tboston“The gospel method of sanctification, as well as of justification, lies so far out of the ken of natural reason, that if all the rationalists in the world, philosophers and divines, had consulted together to lay down a plan for repairing the lost image of God in man, they had never hit upon that which the divine wisdom had pitched upon, viz: that sinners should be sanctified in Christ Jesus, (1 Cor. 1:2), by faith in him, (Acts 26:18); nay, being laid before them, they would have rejected it with disdain, as foolishness, (1 Cor. 1: 23).

In all views which fallen man has towards the means of his own recovery, the natural bent is to the way of the covenant of works. This is evident in the case of the vast multitudes throughout the world, embracing Judaism, Paganism, Mahometanism, and Popery. All these agree in this one principle, that it is by doing men must live, though they hugely differ as to the things to be done for life.

The Jews, in the time of Julian the Apostate, attempted to rebuild their temple, after it had lain many years in ruins, by the decree of heaven never to be built again; and ceased not, till by an earthquake, which shook the old foundation and turned all down to the ground, they were forced to forbear, as Socrates the historian tells us. But the Jews were never more addicted to that temple, than mankind naturally is to the building on the first covenant: And Adam’s children will by no means quite it, until Mount Sinai, where they desire to work what they do work, be all on fire about them. Oh, that those who have been frightened from it were not so ready to go back towards it!”

– Boston, Thomas.
From the preface to Marrow of Modern Divinity (p. 9-10)

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485px-Charles_Haddon_Spurgeon_by_Alexander_MelvilleCovenant theology might not be something one necessarily expects from a Baptist preacher.  But it is apparent that at least this Baptist preacher had an extremely high regard for the doctrine — even to the point of distinguishing a covenant of works from a covenant of unconditional grace.  Read my friend, and drink to your heart’s rest, peace, and joy.

“If anything in the world can make a man praise his God it is the covenant, and the knowledge that he is in it. I will leave off preaching and ask you to think over the love of God in the covenant. It does not belong to all of you. Christ is not the Shepherd of the whole herd of men; he is only the Shepherd of the sheep, and he has not entered into any covenant for all mankind, but for his sheep alone. The covenant is for his own people; if you believe in him it is a covenant for you, but if you reject him you can have no participation in that covenant; for you are under the covenant of works, which condemns you. But now, believer, just sit down for a moment and think over this exceeding mercy. Your God, the everlasting Father, has entered into a solemn compact with Christ on your behalf; that he will save you, keep you, and make you perfect. He has saved you; he has performed a large part of the covenant in you already, for he has placed you in the way of life and kept you to this day; and if, indeed, you are his, he will keep you to the end. The Lord is not as the foolish man who bedpan to build and was not able to finish. He does not commence to carry out a design, and then turn from it. He will push on his work till he completes it in you. Can you really believe it? With you, a poor puny mortal, who will soon sleep in the grave—with you he has made an everlasting covenant! Will you not say with our text, “To whom be glory.” Like dying David you can say, “Though my house be not so with God, yet hath he made with me an everlasting covenant ordered in all things and sure.” I am sure you will joyfully add, “Glory be to his name.”

Our God deserves exclusive glory. Covenant theology glorifies God alone. There are other theologies abroad which magnify men; they give him a finger in his own salvation, and so leave him a reason for throwing up his cap and saying, “Well done I;” but covenant theology puts man aside, and makes him a debtor and a receiver. It does, as it were, plunge him into the sea of infinite grace and unmerited favor, and it makes him give up all boasting, stopping the mouth that could have boasted by filling it with floods of love, so that it cannot utter a vainglorious word. A man saved by the covenant must give all the glory to God’s holy name, for to God all the glory belongs. In salvation wrought by the covenant the Lord has exclusive glory.”

“How I wish Christ’s ministers would spread more and more of this covenant doctrine throughout England. He who understands the two covenants has found the marrow of all theology, but he who does not know the covenants knows next to nothing of the gospel of Christ. You would think, to hear some ministers preach, that salvation was all of works, that it was still uncertain who would be saved, that it was all a matter of “ifs,” and “buts,” and “peradventures” and if you begin to give them “shells,” and “wills,” and purposes, and decrees, and pledges, and oaths, and blood, they call you Calvinistic. Why, this doctrine was true before Calvin was born or thought of! Calvin loved it as we do, but it did not come from him. Paul had taught it long before; nay, the Holy Ghost taught it to us in the word, and therefore we hold it. The bringing back of this truth to the front will be a grand thing for the church. From the mouth of this cannon the Lord will blow the Pope and all his myrmidons into a thousand shivers, but no other doctrine will do it. By God’s good grace, we must live this doctrine as well as preach it, and may he that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will. Then will he have glory through the covenant and through you, both now and for ever. Amen and amen.”

– Charles Haddon Spurgeon
Taken from, “The Blood of the Covenant”. Delivered on Lord’s-Day Morning, August 2nd, 1874
Full sermon can be found here: http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/1186.htm

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