Covenant Theology and the Church
Covenant Theology and the Church:
Pastor Pascal Denault
Good evening. So I am the French Canadian guy, and I am very happy to be here. It’s an honor, and I am humbled by this invitation. So, can someone just text Richard Barcellos and tell him that I have started my speech and that my English is doing fine so far?
Would someone like to have this book? If you want it, raise your hand. It’s yours. Come take it. And this one? Yours, brother. See, I want to make friends, and that’s how we do it in Québec. We give gifts. We do like the government does with us. We live in a socialist province, and we’re used to receiving gifts, and so we give gifts also.
So please excuse my French accent. And brothers, when you’ll read this book, as my friend <Junior Duran?> told me one day, “It took me so long to read your book because I keep hearing your voice in my head when I’m reading it.” So maybe it will happen to you too.
So in this speech I would like to explain the basic difference between the paedobaptist view of covenant and church and the credobaptist view. Of course, we’re just going to see the fundamental elements. If you want to have a more substantial argument, you can buy the book. There are also some more substantial lectures on the RBS website.
So we will not start from covenant theology and make our way to the church. We’re going to start with two different churches. They appear to us to be very different in the way they function, and we’re going to see what are the foundations on which those two church understandings are based. So the doctrine of the church depends on a few questions. We need to know what is the church; who is a member of the church; how do you become a member of the church; what is the difference between the visible church and the invisible church; how do you become a Christian; how do you get into the new covenant; can you be a member of the church, a member of the new covenant, and not be saved; and what about the children, are they in the church covenant, are they in the new covenant by birth?
So those are very important questions, and different answers will lead to different ecclesiology, right? The distinctiveness of the Particular Baptists and those today who hold to the Second London Confession of Faith, the distinctiveness is ecclesiology, the doctrine of the church. Ecclesiology is founded on the doctrine of the covenants, so the foundational distinctiveness is covenant theology.
So the plan for tonight is we’re going to pass <fifty person?> of this talk on the Westminster Confession of Faith, and I’m going to try to persuade you to be Presbyterians, all right? I’m going to try to convince you as best as I can. I’m going to try to be honest, and I’ll present the Presbyterian understanding of church and how it relates to covenant, and I will really try to convince you. Then I’ll try to convince you to stay Baptist or, if you’re a Presbyterian, to become Baptist.
So you’re a Baptist, right? Do Presbyterians “amen” sermons like that? I don’t know. I’ve never preached in a Presbyterian church.
We’re going to see what our federalism is. Federalism comes from the Latin word foedus, which means covenant. So the doctrines of the covenant is federalism.
We’re going to see what it is not first, and then we’re going to see what it is.
The Reformers did not reject everything from the model they inherited from the Roman church. We heard this morning from Dr. Waldron that they didn’t see themselves to restitute the church but to reform the church, and this is an important point. They kept what in their view was good and biblical, and they rejected what was not biblical. So first they rejected the authority of Rome because it contradicted Scriptures. When I say first, I don’t mean chronologically necessarily, but this is the theological foundation on which all the differences between Roman and Protestant starts. It’s with the Scripture. Everything that is not Scripture-based cannot be kept in the church.
They also rejected the sacramental view of salvation, the ex opere operato view that out of the administration of sacraments salvation comes. You baptize an infant, and he is being regenerated and saved. You receive all the other sacraments, and through that you are being infused by the grace of the Lord and being slowly transformed in order to be justified at the end of that process. And so they rejected that sacramental view, and they affirmed justification by grace alone by faith alone by the means of faith, based on Romans 1:17. In Romans 1:17 (ESV) we read: “For in it [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” So they affirm that we cannot be saved by any other way than by being justified surely by grace and through the means of faith.
But they kept other things that for us as Baptists we consider to be unbiblical, and still some vestiges of Roman Catholicism, the infant baptism, for instance. Of course, they rejected the idea that baptism will regenerate the infants who receive the sacrament. They replaced the baptismal regeneration by covenantal understanding of baptism, but still they kept infant baptism with another understanding.
They also kept the idea that the universal church is a visible institution, and of course the structure was strong from a universal structure with Rome as the head to some kingdom church, the church in Germany and in some provinces that were Protestant. But they kept the idea that whoever lives on under the realm of Christendom, under the kingdom of the church, who has received baptism and who just professes the faith, is a Christian. So if you are born in Geneva while Calvin is preaching the gospel there, and you were born in that church from Christian parents, then you’re a Christian. You’re in the church. So they kept the idea that church membership is an outward thing.
So Rome had a wrong soteriology. Soteriology comes from a Greek word soter, which means “savior,” and soteriology is the doctrine of salvation. Soteria means salvation. So Rome had a wrong doctrine of salvation, but they had an ecclesiology that was consistent with their wrong soteriology. In the church of Rome everyone is saved unless you are being excommunicated. But once you’re baptized you’re saved. It may take long before you end up in heaven, you may go to purgatory for a long time, but you’re saved. You’re in the process of getting to heaven. So they had a pure church in this way, in their understanding. Everyone is saved in the church.
The Reformers had a right soteriology, and they understood the doctrine of salvation on the right basis. It’s according to grace alone by faith alone. But somehow, they kept a national church structure, and they saw that not everyone could be saved in that visible church that they saw. Because they believed in election, they believed in the need to be born again, and so they saw that not everyone possessed that salvation.
So they end up with a good soteriology that was not matched by their ecclesiology, and they developed the idea of a mixed church, a church where you have some people that are saved—the elect, who are regenerate—mixed with some unsaved people, but they are still to be considered Christians, and they were not to start making some distinction between the church and say, “Those persons are saved; those persons are not.” This is the Christian church into which the normal state is to have some regenerate and unregenerate persons.
We had to wait another century after the beginning of the Reformation for the reformation of ecclesiology. We had to wait another century to have a doctrine of the church that would fit the doctrine of salvation, a doctrine of the church that would correspond to the idea that we’re saved by grace alone by faith alone, and those that experience that salvation are the church and only those. So we had to wait. The Particular Baptists, well, it was a process. The Baptists didn’t just come out with this new idea. There was a progression into the Puritan movement in England and Great Britain, and we’ve heard about that during the conference.
So my question is how the reformers justified their view, how the reformers and their successors, those who followed Calvin and especially those in the Westminster tradition, how did they justify their view of a mixed church that baptizes children and gathers some elects with non-elects—but still this is the church, and both are to be considered Christian. How did they explain that on the basis of sola Scriptura? They cannot just say, “Well, it is a tradition, and we just keep it.” They had to have a biblical warrant for that. So how did they justify that biblically, holding to a right doctrine of salvation that we still hold to today?
They were using covenantal theology, and this is where I’m starting to try to persuade you to become Presbyterian. Covenantal theology is the fundamental framework to understand Scripture and theology. I appreciate this morning Dr. Waldron when he explained the structure of the confession and to see how everything relates to covenants. So this is the basic foundation for all theology and the reading of the Scriptures. To understand our own confession, it is important to compare it with federalism, the doctrine of the covenants that we find in the Westminster Confession of Faith. Our distinctiveness is basically in regard to our view of the covenant of grace. So all the Reformed, including the Baptists, believe in an overarching covenant of grace in the Bible.
If you look for the word covenant of grace in your Bible you won’t find this word, but if you look for the covenant of grace in the Bible you are going to find it very soon in your Bible—in Genesis, right in the third chapter. The covenant of grace is this idea that there is only one way of salvation in the entire Bible, that God doesn’t have two people. There is just one saved people of God in two testaments. The covenant of grace is the theological structure we use to approach Scripture and to see the unity between both testaments. Are those two testaments separated, is it two stories, or is there a basic unity, is there continuity in God’s plan? How do you relate all the parts with the overarching structure of Scripture with the story of redemption? So covenant of grace is the plan of salvation that is being unfolded, and all the Reformed believe that this is what brings unity to Scripture.
It starts right from Genesis 3:15, the Protoevangelium, the Proto-gospel, where God preaches the gospel, proclaims the gospel, right after the fall. We don’t have to wait for the Gospel of Matthew to hear about the gospel. The gospel is already in the Old Testament. Where the Baptists disagreed was how the covenant of grace related with the biblical covenants. We’re going to get to the Baptists, but first let me read to you the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 7.
In paragraph 5 we read:
This covenant [of grace] was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the Gospel.
This is very basic in the Presbyterian understanding. You have two different administrations of one covenant and then paragraph 5 continues with the explanation of how it was administered during the Old Testament, during the time of the law, by types and shadows and the sacrifices during the time of the law. Then in paragraph 6 it explains how it is administered under the New Testament, by the direct reality of Christ being the mediator, and it ends up saying:
There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations.
The fundamental idea behind the paedobaptist covenant theology is that there is one covenant of grace under two administrations. The old and the new covenant are not two distinct covenants. They are just two different administration of one and the same covenant. This is the fundamental understanding of covenant theology in Reformed Presbyterianism paedobaptism. One covenant, two administrations. What is important to that is that old and new are distinct only in their external aspect with regard to administration, but they have the same substance, and from that view they end up with infant baptism and a mixed church.
So what’s the logic? Why would holding to one covenant/two administrations lead them to infant baptism and a mixed church of believers and unbelievers? Well, if you start with the <?> position, with the assumption that the old covenant and the new covenant have the same substance, are the same covenant, are based on the same promises, then when you want to define what is the covenant of grace, what is salvation, who is in the people of God, when you want to define what is the covenant of grace, where are you going to look? Well, you’re going to look at the old covenant and the new covenant. So when you answer, when a Presbyterian answers, those questions, what is the nature of the covenant of grace? Is it only heavenly, or does it include also an earthly dimension?
Is it only unconditional, or are there some conditional aspects to the covenant of grace?
If we accept the idea that the old covenant is the covenant of grace, administer the covenant of grace, then, well, the covenant of grace is also earthly and has some conditional aspect in it. Who is in the covenant of grace? Is it only believers, or do we have also some unregenerate people and the seed of believers in the covenant of grace? Of course there is the seed of the believers in the covenant. We see that in the old covenant, which is an administration of covenant of grace. How do you get in the covenant of grace? Is it only by faith? Well, you get in by faith but also by natural birth. We see that in the Old Testament. Israelites got into the covenant of grace by birth. And what do you get from the covenant of grace? Is it only eternal life, those kinds of blessing, spiritual blessings, or do you get also temporal blessings? Well, you get both.
When you say that the covenant of grace is administered by the old and the new covenant, you have to define the covenant of grace—what is its nature, who is in the covenant of grace, how do you get in it, and what do you get from it—using the old and the new. It is the same covenant. So how does this justify infant baptism and a mixed church? I just need to pronounce one word, and you understand everything: Israel. Do you understand everything? No? Israel. God made a covenant of grace with Abraham, and He said to Abraham that his seed, his offspring, would also be in covenant with God. That is the covenant of grace. Paul says that in Galatians 3. God made a formal covenant with Abraham, and in it He gave him His grace, and God also put Abraham’s seed into it, his infant. They receive the covenantal sign, circumcision, and, you know, it was replaced by baptism. (Remember, I’m trying to persuade you to be Presbyterian.)
Israel was a mixed church. It’s a national church. It’s a church nation, and it’s mixed. In Israel you have some saved and unsaved people mixed together in one church body. You know what? They’re right about that. Israel is a mixed people, and infants were added from birth, from natural birth. We cannot argue about that. We read in Genesis 17:5–13, but for the sake of space I’m going to limit to just read two verses, verse 7, where God establishes His covenant:
I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.
This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised
So the covenant God made with Abraham included his physical posterity, not just his spiritual posterity. His physical posterity was in this covenant, and this covenant was made with a mixed people because we read this in Romans 9:4–8:
They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.
But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel [it is a mixed people], and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.
So God made a covenant with Abraham. He included his physical posterity, and from that we see the Israelite nation, and it’s a mixed people. There is a spiritual Israel unto Israel, and there is a fleshly Israel.
Presbyterians believe that this justifies their view of the church. We have national churches, and infants are being put into the church by birth because that’s the principle we drive from the old administration of the covenant of grace. The church is mixed. We’re not saying our children are saved because they are in the church, but they are in the covenant, and it’s a mixed covenant that gathers some unbelievers and believers together—well, they are unbelievers, but they still professed outwardly, but they’re not necessarily regenerate believers—and it’s mixed.
The question is not if the old covenant included infants and if it was mixed. The answer to that is yes to both. The old covenant included infants and it was mixed. The question is was it the covenant of grace? Was the old covenant, the covenant that God made with Abraham, the covenant of grace? According to the Westminster it was. According to the 1689, it was not.
I have a question. If you’re starting slowly to be persuaded of the Presbyterian view, how come the covenant of grace gathers together regenerate with unregenerate under the same covenant of grace? We call it the covenant of grace. Shouldn’t all the people into that covenant be sharers of grace? Shouldn’t all share in the salvation by grace? It’s the covenant of grace. How can the covenant of grace not save everyone that is in the covenant of grace? That’s a good question. Here’s the answer. There is an internal/external distinction in the covenant of grace. There is a visible church (external thing) and an invisible church (internal), and that distinction is very fundamental to the paedobaptist understanding of covenant theology. It is also in that formula that I’ve said from the start, one covenant under two administrations. You have one covenant, but you have administrations, so you can be into the administrating big structure without being into the substance covenant. There is the vital reality of the covenant and the formal reality of the covenant.
So how does it work? The entire visible church is under the administration of the covenant of grace, but only the elect are in its substance, in the grace of the covenant of grace. You can receive some external benefit of the covenant of grace without participating in its internal benefit, which is salvation. Does it make sense? Well, some are just externally in the covenant of grace. They are called Christians. They have some privileges, but they’re not saved. Others are efficiently in the covenant of grace. They have all the external stuff, but in addition to that they have salvation.
So, according to paedobaptists, being born from Christian or believing parents entitles you to covenantal blessings. You’re not being born outside of the covenant when your parents are in the covenant, but those blessings are not directly salvation; it’s not because your parents are Christians that you are saved. But still, you can have some external blessings that belong to God’s visible church, and one of the blessings you’re entitled to is the covenantal sign, which is baptism. That’s why children, infants, receive the covenantal sign, because they are being introduced by birth into the covenant of grace.
So in order to be saved those children will have to by faith grasp the blessings that are there in the covenant of grace. They believe like us that their children need to be born again, and it is by faith only and by regeneration that they’ll get those privileges. But, you know, you can just be in the covenant of grace, the external element, you are in the new covenant. You’re called a Christian, you’re a true member of the true church, and you’re not necessarily saved. That’s the reality, the nature, of the church according to Presbyterianism.
Let me quote to you John Ball. He wrote a treatise that was published in 1645. He died a few years before that. He is a Presbyterian, and his treatise on the covenant of grace will present pretty much the Presbyterian understanding of covenant theology:
God as an absolute sovereign hath the right and authority over all men, but in a certain and particular reason they are called his people, who receive his commandment, and acknowledge Him to be their Lord and Saviour.
God is God of every man, but He is the God of some peculiar people, those who receive His commandment.
And these be of two sorts…
Very important. Those that are called the people of God are of two sorts.
For God doth make His covenant with some externally, calling them by his Word, and sealing them by his Sacraments, and they by profession of faith and receiving of the Sacraments oblige themselves to the condition required; and thus all members of the visible Church be in Covenant.
The second category:
With others God doth make his Covenant effectually,
See, for some it’s only externally; others it’s effectually.
writing his Law in their hearts by his holy Spirit, and they freely and from the heart give up themselves unto the Lord, in all things to be ruled and guided by him. And thus God hath contracted Covenant with the faithful only. The first sort are the people of God outwardly or openly, having all things external and pertaining to the outward administration. The second are the people of God inward or in secret, whom certainly and distinctly the Lord only knoweth.
The first time I read that I said, “That’s not good.” And now I love that. I love that stuff. Ball is right. God doesn’t make only covenant with some people that will be saved. God makes covenant with some people externally, with some people that won’t be saved. The only way that I differ with Ball’s understanding is that I don’t believe that it is the one and same covenant with an external/internal level into it. I believe it’s two covenants. One external, earthly covenant, typological, but that doesn’t save, and people are being called the people of God in an external way: Israel, the physical seed of Abraham. And another covenant: spiritual, efficient, that will save people, the spiritual seed of Abraham. That doesn’t just include his physical seed but it includes all believers.
I think this is exactly what Paul is teaching us in Galatians 4:22–26:
For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants.
You see, Paul is a 1689 Federalist. Two covenants. He doesn’t hold to the Westminster standard. I’m just teasing my Presbyterian friends.
One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.
Well, Presbyterians will say, “Well, he’s not talking about the Abrahamic covenant. He’s talking about the Mosaic covenant. He’s talking about the Sinai mountain where the Mosaic covenant happened.” Well, that’s true, but that covenant was founded on the Abrahamic covenant, and the circumcision didn’t start with Moses. God gave circumcision to Abraham. Paul will say in the next chapter, chapter 5, if you want to get circumcised, then you have to keep the law, because you have to bear the yoke of the old covenant and be under the principle of the covenant of works. That was the principle of the old covenant. It was conditional, and it was a covenant of works, not the covenant of works but a covenant of works, typologically linked with the original covenant of works that Adam was put under.
So I believe that it is those two covenants that will determine what you get and not on an individual basis. It’s not everyone is in the same covenant of grace. Some are externally, some are internally, and it’s on an individual basis that it will be determined. No, it’s on a covenantal basis that it will be determined. Some were under just a covenant of works, and the old covenant was not giving eternal life. But to that people a promise was added, and Sarah and Isaac were a type of this covenant of grace that was to be accomplished in Christ. It’s not one covenant with two different realities, external and internal. There is not the two-level covenant. There are two covenants. That explains why in the Old Testament there was a people of God that could be only called externally a people of God without being saved.
Okay, did I convince anyone? Well, I should maybe explain the two covenants so far. Maybe some were already convinced of the Presbyterian view. But now here’s the Particular Baptist view. I realize I need to speed up.
Particular Baptists emerge from Puritanism. The independent movement in Puritanism, some stayed in the Anglican Church, hoping it would become more Reformed. Some became independent, rejected this national structure, and started to believe in a regenerate-believers-only church. The Congregationalists and the Savoy Declaration represent their understanding. The Baptists were in the path of Congregationalism.
The first Particular Baptist church was founded in the 1630s, but the view of baptism by immersion came with John Spilsbury, who was the first pastor of the first Particular Baptist church in London in 1638. He wrote a treatise that was published in 1643 defending believer’s baptism, and his argument was rooted in covenant theology. He was a signer of the First London Baptist Confession of 1644 and 1646. The covenantal view was really at the start. It just didn’t just come a few decades later with the 1689 and with Nehemiah Coxe. I think the first Particular Baptists already had a distinct understanding of covenants.
So what the Baptists believe in regard to the church is the church is for believers only, not just people who in a very minimal way confess but in a substantial way, and they need to have a testimony that is consistent in order to be considered believers, not just profess very superficially faith. They believe that the church is not mixed by nature. There is no such thing as a natural mixed church as a state of affairs, that the true nature of the church to be mixed. But of course, they believe that there were false believers in the church. Our confession says that in chapter 26, that there are no 100 percent pure churches because of the corruption that existed in this world and because of false profession.
This reflects the warnings that we have in the New Testament: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” Well, you have some people in the visible church that say, “Lord, Lord,” and do miracles and a lot of stuff. There’s a degree of mixture in the visible church. There is chaff among the good wheat in the visible church, but we don’t believe that they are in the true nature of the church or that it is the true nature of the church to be mixed. There are warnings in Romans 11, that if branches fall into <incredulity?> they could be a broken off. The branches in Israel were broken off. We have the warning passages in Hebrews. What 1 John 2:19 is telling us is that they were not of us, those who came out from us, and that we may realize that it is not just by sheer profession that we’re necessarily Christians. But never in the New Testament will it say that the apostate were new covenant members and were church members. They were false church members. They were not of us. They were never sanctified by Christ’s blood (we could discuss Hebrew 10:29 if we had more time).
We recognize as Baptists that there is a certain degree of mixture in the visible church, but there is a big difference when we say that the church is mixed by nature or mixed by false profession. This is why we don’t baptize our children. We wait until they make a profession of faith. Some believe that we should wait a longer time so that this profession would bear fruit and prove that it is not just a childish profession. Others think we should baptize when they’re very young. There’s debate, but we all agree that the kids are not in in the covenant because of their being born of true Christian parents. They need to be born again, and this regeneration will be shown by faith. They need to profess faith before they can be baptized.
So what’s the covenantal understanding behind this ecclesiology? Particular Baptists have a similar understanding of the covenant of grace. We believe in one covenant of grace. We believe in the unity of the Bible by one plan of salvation and God doesn’t have two people; there is just one people of God and two testaments, and the grace of Jesus Christ was already revealed in the Old Testament. We believe that. But Particular Baptist rejected the model of one covenant, two administrations. This is an expression, a paradigm, that you don’t find in the Second London. It’s not just because they wanted to be original. It’s because they didn’t confess this as reflecting their views. Some Particular Baptists use that language. Some are dear to that view. But I don’t think it was the majority, and it’s not the view of the confession, the one covenant, two administration.
They also rejected the distinction of internal and external, the vital versus formal reality of the covenant of grace. You cannot be externally in the covenant of grace without being in it internally. You can profess to be in the new covenant or the covenant of grace without being in it, but that’s a false profession. But if you are actually in the covenant of grace externally, you are in it internally. That’s not a valid distinction where you can have unbelievers or unregenerate professors that would not be saved but will still profess faith and be in the covenant because they’re there just externally.
So instead of splitting the covenant of grace in two levels, external and internal, they affirmed that there are two covenants. There is the old covenant, which is typological. It’s not by the means of the old covenant itself that God gave His grace. There was a type of God’s grace in it, and those who had faith could receive God’s grace, but eating of the paschal lamb or being circumcised was not given to you or mitigating to you the grace of God. You needed to have faith. So the old covenant was a typological covenant for life in Canaan and not for eternal life.
The other covenant is the covenant of grace. The covenant of grace doesn’t start in the New Testament. It is already revealed in the Old Testament, but it will be established only in the New. That’s the distinction that Baptists hold to. So it was promised in the Old Testament—but only promised. It was never established in the Old as a covenant. It’s only in the New that it is established.
This understanding of the covenant of grace is in paragraph 3 of chapter 7. We can read that “this covenant is revealed in the gospel.” You see the word revealed? You can underline that. This is a very important word. It “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”— this is important too; the “full discovery” means the establishment, the enactment, of the covenant of grace as a covenant in its covenantal form—“thereof was completed in the New Testament.” So this statement is really original. You won’t find anything similar in the Savoy or in the Westminster. It is really original, and I think to understand what it means you need to read Nehemiah Coxe’s treatise on covenant theology to see this idea of revealed, established. He is very careful with the words he is using and those he is not using when he’s writing this chapter.
So in this we have the distinction: revelation, full revelation. It was revealed. It was fully revealed then. But this distinction should be understood this way. It was promised. It was not established. It was not a covenant in the Old Testament. It was only a promise. It became a covenant in the New when it was fully revealed. The gospel was there in the Old Testament in promise form, not in covenantal form. The covenant of grace had no covenantal form before the new covenant. This is very important. The covenant of grace had no covenantal form, reality, before the new covenant. Why? Because the blood of the covenant was not shed. It was not established. It was only promised. You need to look forward to have it in a covenantal form.
This reflects John Owen’s view. We read in his commentary of Hebrews 8:6–13, but here’s what Owen wrote:
It [the covenant of grace during the Old Testament] lacked the solemn confirmation and establishment, by the blood of the only sacrifice which belonged unto it. Before this was done in the death of Christ, it had not the formal nature of the covenant or a testament, as our apostle proves in Hebrews 9:15–23. For neither, as he shows in that place, would the law given at Sinai have been a covenant, had it not been confirmed with the blood of sacrifices. To that end the promise was not before a formal and solemn covenant.
I love John “the Baptist” Owen, don’t you? I’m just teasing Mark Jones. But, of course, John Owen was not a Baptist. Now he is, but when he wrote that, he was not. He died a few years after he wrote that. That was published in 1680, and I think he died in 1683. So he needed Facebook and stuff like so we can to say, “Hey, Dr. Owen, does this mean that if the covenant of grace was not a covenant until the new covenant, then we cannot take the old covenant to say this is the covenant of grace and start with the old covenant to establish our understanding of church and the covenant of grace?” And that’s exactly what it means.
So why does this distinction, revealed in the Old and established in the New, lead us to a Baptist ecclesiology of baptism for believers only and church for believers only? Because the covenant of grace is now defined only by the new covenant. When we insert a question: What is the nature of the covenant of grace, it is earthly or heavenly, who is in the covenant of grace, how do you get into it, and what do you get from it?—it’s only by the new covenant that we can answer those questions because the covenant of grace is the new covenant. Amen? The covenant of grace is the new covenant. The new covenant was promised in the old, and it was not just promised when Jeremiah talked with this terminology and said, “I will make a new covenant.” It was promised way before Jeremiah. It was promised in Genesis 3:15. He’s talking about the new covenant when He is saying that the seed of the woman shall bruise the head of the serpent. The new covenant was already there saving people, but it was not there in a covenantal form. It was there through a promise.
And in it the promise was accomplished. We’re not looking anymore at just a promise. Abraham’s salvation was rooted, and his actions of salvation was rooted, in God’s oath, and he had great assurance because God is faithful, and God cannot lie. But we have more than an oath, right? We have a covenant. We have a covenant mediator. Our assurance is rooted in Jesus Christ, the mediator of the new covenant, in His blood that was shed. We’re not just looking at a future promise, we are looking at an accomplished redemption, and it is in what we are basing our assurance for salvation.
So what is implied, of course, is that the old covenant is not the covenant of grace. And that’s what Jeremiah tells us Jeremiah 31:31–32:
“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers . . .
The writers of the epistle to the Hebrews says that the new was established on better promises. So it’s not the same promises. It’s not the same substance. It’s not the same covenant.
on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband,” declares the Lord.
So Jesus didn’t accomplish the old covenant. Sometimes we say that. “All the covenants are accomplished in Jesus Christ.” Well, there’s a way typologically that Christ accomplished what was meant by the old covenant, and when we say the old I include the Abrahamic/Mosaic/Davidic covenant as progressive revelation, if you want, of what is the old covenant, when the New Testament uses that languages. So Jesus didn’t accomplish the old covenant. The old covenant didn’t promise eternal life. It didn’t promise to Christ that if He died, He would have a people and He would secure eternal life for Himself and for His people. It’s the new covenant that promised that. Those promises are given to Christ in the new covenant. What is the new covenant? It’s the eternal that was made between the Father and the Son, to redeem a people for Himself. Everything before that was typologically linked to that covenant but it was not the reality of it. That was just a shadow. But in time and space that eternal transaction between the Father and the Son became reality in the new covenant. The new covenant is the accomplishment of the promised covenant of grace.
So as Nehemiah Coxe says, the old covenant and the new differ in substance and not only in the manner of their administration. This is big. This is fundamental. This is why were not just Reformed. We are Reformed Baptists. This is the point of departure from the other Reformed. This makes a distinct group into the Reformed family. I believe we’re still Reformed, and I appreciate that Dr. Waldron insisted that this morning. Our confession is Reformed. I don’t care if you say it’s not Reformed. It is Reformed, and we are to be considered in the Reformed family; we hold to the idea of a covenant of grace. But we have a distinct understanding of the covenant of grace and how it relates with the biblical covenants.
And we don’t believe that the old and the new are just two administrations of the same covenant. It’s two distinct covenants. This means that we cannot define covenant of grace with the old. Was Abraham’s posterity in the old? Yes. Was it mixed? Yes. Was it the covenant of grace? No. God made a double covenant with Abraham: circumcision that was typologically linked with a promise He made to him. But you have the promise, and you have the circumcision, and Paul makes a fundamental distinction between them and Galatians 4. I think we need to read that back in chapter 3, also, when he is saying that the law that came 430 years later could not abolish what God promised to Abraham. We need to make a distinction that, yes, God established a formal covenant with Abraham but also made a promise to him, and the formal covenant that God made with him was not the covenant of grace. Otherwise, children are included by birth in the covenant of grace.
Of course, those two covenants were intertwined until the posterity really came. That’s why when Paul is looking back at Israel in the Old Testament time, he says, “Well, that’s a mixed people. Not all who come from Israel are Abraham’s children, even if they are his seed.” So it was mixed because the promise was intertwined with another covenant that was not by nature giving eternal life.
Before it was just a promise, and it became a covenant. Let me quote to you John Spilsbury. Remember I said he was the first pastor of the first Particular Baptist church, who wrote a treatise in 1643, and even back then that reflected his view:
Again, it’s called a promise and not the Covenant, and we know that every promise is not the covenant: there being a large difference between a promise and a covenant. And now let it be well considered what is here meant by the promise, and that is God’s sending of the Messiah, or the seed in whom the Nations should be blessed, or the sending of a Savior or a Redeemer unto Israel.
So yes, the promise was put under, if you want, the old covenant that was to keep under a strict law the people of God to make sure that the promise would be kept until the seed came, about whom the promise was made. But beyond that point, the law, the old covenant law, was over because it was not needed anymore.
So the new covenant is the promise accomplished, the promise that was made since Genesis 3:15, which was renewed to Abraham and renewed to different types and prophecies. The new covenant is the accomplishment of all that. All promises are yes and amen in Christ. The new covenant brings full salvation to all its members. Jeremiah 31:33 says:
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
Everyone in the new covenant knows the Lord, and we’re not having an over-realized eschatology by saying that. The New Testament says that the new covenant is established, and we need to let the Scripture define it for us. It says that in that covenant everyone knows the Lord. If you don’t know the Lord, you’re not in the new covenant. If you know the Lord, you are in the new covenant.
The new covenant is made not with the seed of Abraham but with the children of Abraham, those by faith. Galatians 3:29 says that Abraham’s children go far beyond his natural posterity. The new covenant is sealed in the blood of Christ. Everyone who is in the new covenant is sanctified by the blood. Being sanctified means being totally redeemed, having eternal life, salvation. The apostate, those who will fall away, are not sanctified by the blood. Hebrews 9:15 says:
Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.
This is a very important verse to understand how salvation worked in the Old Testament time. Those that are called—what is the conjugation of this verb? Yes, that’s a perfect. You’re right. What’s a perfect? Well, it’s a reality that starts in the past and that continues in the present. Those that have been called since Adam, since Abraham, God has called people into salvation. They have received what? The eternal inheritance. How did they receive that? By the mediation of the new covenant. God foresaw, knew what He was going to do, so He could give them their inheritance, He could give them eternal life, and the Holy Spirit regenerated believers during the Old Testament time because of the mediation of the new covenant that was to come.
Nobody was ever saved, nobody ever received eternal inheritance except from the new covenant. The new covenant is the concrete manifestation in time and space of the eternal covenant of redemption and has an internal mediator, Jesus Christ and is the basic constitution of the church. The universal, invisible church that gathers all the elect and the visible church also. Our church should reflect our soteriology. We should look for a church with those who profess faith in Christ alone and receive salvation by grace alone, and not just accept anyone or include, systematically, unregenerate people, and then we’re stuck with a mixed church because we put some people from birth into this church.
This I think reflects the confessional standard of the 1689 regarding covenant theology, and this is why we’re not just Reformed but we are Reformed Baptists.
Conference Moderator/Speaker: That’s a lot to digest, amen? But very good, Brother. Think for sharing that. You know when you hear that argument, if you come here as a Baptist, and you’re being introduced to a heritage of covenant theology, <as to we’re before?>, it always seemed that it was somehow an oxymoron to be Baptists and adhere to covenant theology because we’ve always been told or introduced to the study or hermeneutic of covenant theology from a paedobaptist perspective. So this is refreshing because it’s introducing us from a Baptist tradition a view of the covenants.
And nowadays when I hear people do debates, apologetic debates concerning baptism, usually on the Baptist side, it’s always going to a bunch of New Testament proof texts, and they try to do it that way. But John Spilsbury, William Kiffin, and these gentlemen, they would not have debated like that. They would have started in the old covenant, moved forward to prove to you why and who are members of the church, who should receive the sign of the church. And that’s exciting for us today, to recapture that and start to utilize that.
I have a question for Pascal. The Old Testament saints are saved through Christ. This is what is so precious about covenant theology. This is what concerns us about dispensationalism. It starts separating and almost, in some of their camps, starts just creating other gospels, <which?> someone saved. Explain to us a little bit about this retroactive application of when Christ comes, and He fully reveals and establishes the new covenant through the sealing of His blood. Abraham died way back here, Isaac died way back here, but they’re being saved through the covenant of grace. So explain all that again if you could about how they’re saved through the covenant of grace, but the blood has not yet been, the covenant has not been sealed yet in Christ’s blood. Explain a little bit about that.
Pascal: I think that the basic distinction that Particular Baptists made with the promise, accomplish, understanding of how the covenant of grace unfolds in the Scripture explains how it works. God made a promise in the old, and whoever believed the promise had faith and was saved and could receive whatever God promised, even if the price was not paid. That’s why Paul is talking that those who receive, in the Old Testament, they received the inheritance, they receive salvation, during the time of God’s patience. He kind of endured and was very patient in regard of their sins because they were not atoned yet. But God doesn’t look at things, you know, from a chronological perspective. He’s above time, so He could give them the salvation and forgiveness for their sins even though the blood has not been shed, because God is eternal, and it doesn’t mean just everlasting. It means He is above time. So He just took the blessing that Christ was going to inherit for all believers in time and space, but He gives that before it happened. Hebrews 9:15 is about that, that those that have been called. So this word means those that God started to call since the creation of the world, since the fall, since the covenant of grace was revealed. What did they receive? They received the eternal inheritance that was promised to them. That’s eternal life, that’s salvation, that’s everything that we have in the new covenant, those that have been called and still are being called today. See, there’s a continuity. How do they all receive that? Because of the mediation of this covenant. Christ is the mediator, and He redeemed their sins that were covenanted under the first covenant. Their sins were not being atoned for. The blood that was shed in those covenants never atoned their sins. So everyone was saved by the new covenant.
Now, of course, I think we can say that God was righteous to give forgiveness to them even though righteousness has not been paid, satisfied, by Christ’s sacrifice, because God is eternal. It relates also to His attributes, to His essence, that He could give salvation before that grace was established in the sacrifice.
[Transcriber’s note: The questions from audience members in the Q&A time are mostly indiscernible and have not been included. However, Pastor Pascal’s answers are.]
Pascal: Well, I think <Bob?> is right when God says, “I will be God to you.” What it means is determined by the covenant unto which that reality will happen. So God can be God to some people in an earthly sense, to protect them, to bless them with all kinds of earthly blessing in their land. That’s how God was the God of Israel. But at the same time that God was externally God to them, He was eternally and in a salvific way God to all those that believed in Israel time, and that distinction comes not based on an internal/external distinction through the same covenant but because of two different covenants—a promise that was not already a covenant and an earthly covenant of works, a typological covenant, the old covenant type of works and grace, I would say, but there’s no consensus over that.
So how is the promise related with the covenant during the Old Testament? There they are intertwined. You cannot just take the promise and bring it away from the old covenant during that time because it was linked to it. Even though the promise was not in the essence of the covenant, it was so intertwined with it you could not separate it. Ephesians 2:12 talks about the covenant of the promise. So you see, we have this distinction. There are the covenants (plural) of the promise (singular), and that promise talks about salvation. So all the covenants are linked to the promise, and they are built around the promise. God was not doing something that had nothing to do with the covenant of grace during the old covenant time. The sacrifices were pointing to Christ, and there was some earthly typological redemption, redemption from Egypt. Being redeemed from Egypt didn’t bring eternal life, but it was a typological redemption. It was just earthly but typologically it was pointing to something bigger, and those who had faith in the promise were benefiting from that. But where do they find the promise? You never had it separated from the covenant. So it’s always linked with all the confidence of the old until the promise is accomplished, and all the old aspects that all the old covenants we can talk of the old covenant (singular) or the old covenants (plural) came to an end, and now we have the new covenant, and so we’re not just in a promised, non-formal structure of salvation. We are in a formal covenantal administration, if you want, of salvation. And in the visible church is really the people of God that administer the sacraments of the new covenant, and through that we are in communion with God. So you can never take the spiritual aspect detached from the formal reality. But in the formal reality of the New Testament, you have the eternal reality. You cannot have the formal reality of the new without the substance of the grace, but you can partake of the Lord’s Table without being saved— but you’re bringing a judgment on yourself, and you’re not considered in the new covenant when you do that.
Question from audience: [indiscernible]
Pascal: I’m not aware of that. Maybe some others are aware of it. I know that it seems to bother a lot of our paedobaptist brothers, that we are taking Owen for ourselves and quoting him and even publishing his commentary with Baptists in the same book and saying, “Well, that’s one theology, and that’s just one view.” We know John Owen is not a Baptist, but we claim his theology for ourselves. So I don’t know about back then. I know that the Baptists who were quoting Owen back then were saying to the paedobaptists that, well, the burden is on you to explain his paedobaptist practice with his covenant theology, but I’m not aware of anyone that really undertook to explain Owen and say was he inconsistent to that. I have challenged some guy to write a blog on it <with?> Coxe and Owen, that they are agreeing on covenant theology. I think they did.
Question from audience: [indiscernible]
Pascal: To be a Christian, you need to be baptized as an infant? Well, you have two ways to become a Christian. Either when you’re an infant, and you need to stay a Christian, you need to continue professing your faith, because when you’re being baptized it’s a dual reality. You’re calling the blessing but also the cursing of the covenant on you. So if as children you’re not keeping yourself into the covenant, and you’re becoming a covenant breaker, then you’re not a Christian anymore. But you can become a Christian also by professing faith, and so the Presbyterians will baptize a believer when they’re an adult or when they are old enough to profess faith if they were not baptized when they were young. So there are two ways to get into the covenant.
Audience member: [indiscernible]
Well, I think The Distinctiveness is a pretty good book. Nehemiah Coxe is very essential to understand. Yeah, The Distinctiveness [of Baptist Covenant Theology] is my book, but Coxe is the seventeenth-century treatise on covenant theology, and this is important. I think Jeffrey Johnson has two books, The Fatal Flaw and Kingdom of God, which represent this view. It depends. If you just want something on covenant theology or more, I love what Dr. Malone wrote, The Baptism of Disciples Alone. It’s not just a covenantal argument, it’s more a defense of credobaptism.
Audience member: [indiscernible]
Pascal: The old covenant saints, those that were the remnant, they were saved by the new covenant, and so they could—
Audience member: [indiscernible]
Pascal: I’m sorry, can you repeat that?
Audience member: [indiscernible]
Yes, they were, and I think that the remnant in the Old Testament is the church. It’s not a church instituted as the New Testament church, that is directly based on the accomplishment of the new covenant, which is ordained with the sacraments, belonging. The church in the Old Testament time was a remnant that was cast off, so they didn’t gather. It was a national structure that was mixed.
Audience member: [indiscernible]
Well, yeah, you may have a hard time to find their treatises. The literature I found was through EEBO, Early English Book Online. You cannot have access privately through that. Usually it is through institutions, through a seminary, that you can have those. It’s scanned, original copies of their treatise. But Logos Software is working on publishing a new edition of, I think they have close to twenty titles of Particular Baptist works on covenant theology. I don’t know if it will take a year or so to be out, but the project was approved. They have enough people signing up who wanted to buy that. I think that this will be very useful for us to go dig into the sources of the seventeenth century, because that was the main thing. I think we have <lost?> the understanding of the confession regarding covenant theology because we didn’t have access to those treatises. So yeah, it’s coming, and in that bundle, you would have some Particular Baptists that hold to a one covenant/two administration view.
Audience member: In 1689 covenant theology is represented in the confession. Does it allow for a future national Israel to be included in that covenant theology, in that understanding of it?
Pascal: I wouldn’t say that.
Audience member: We’re talking about the 1689.
Pascal: The confession itself? I’m not sure, but my view, I’m not really set if I believe or not that there will be a future conversion of national ethnic Jews. I think this is a fair reading of Romans 11 that can fit with our understanding, that, yeah, they’re not in covenant right now with God, but they are loved because their fathers were elected. God doesn’t repent of His election and His gifts, and so because of that, and that’s part of the mystery when he says, “Here’s a mystery.” So I think we could read Romans 11 and hold to a view of conversion of ethnic Jews and hold to 1689 federalism. Well, if there’s an inconsistency, someone can let me know.