Temporary Site for 1689Federalism.com Resources

1689Federalism 1
Why is 1689Federalism.com down? :(

Since 1689Federalism.com is currently down, due to a virus, I wanted to provide the site resources here until it is back online.

Note that these post were primarily generated from the 1689Federalism.com feed, so resources that point to 1689Federalism.com in any way won’t work (e.g. some of the PDFs). Other than that, you can find all the post here.

1689 Federalism Videos

1689 Federalism: An Introduction

An overview of the distinctiveness of 17th century particular baptist covenant theology.


 

1689 Federalism compared to Westminster Federalism

A comparison between the covenant theology of the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith and the Westminster tradition.


1689 Federalism compared to Dispensationalism

Understand the differences between the particular baptist covenant theology of the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith and Dispensationalism.


1689 Federalism compared to New Covenant Theology & Progressive Covenantalism

Discover how the covenant theology of the 2nd London Baptist Confession compares to New Covenant Theology and Progressive Covenantalism.

 


1689 Federalism compared to 20th Century Reformed Baptists

Learn how 1689 Federalism compares to the covenant theology common among Reformed Baptists in the 20th century.

1689 Federalism responses to New Covenant Guy & Paul Flynn [VIDEOS] (Brandon Adams)

It has been nearly two years since the 1689Federalism.com site was made public. Brandon Adams has added many updates to the site since then. One of the most recent additions is the new Ask a Question page (self-explanatory). Beyond that, within the past several weeks Brandon Adams has been responding to interactions with “1689 Federalism” on YouTube.

You may watch these recent interactions below (video notes include links to content discussed):

1689 Federalism response to New Covenant Guy

Follow-up to Paul Flynn (of Megiddo Radio) on 1689 Federalism [mp3]

2015 GPTS: New Covenant Theology (Richard Barcellos)

The following is thanks to The Confessing Baptist:

March 10-12, 2015 was “The Law of God in a Lawless Age” Greenville Seminary’s Spring Theology Conference which took place in Simpsonville, SC.

GPTS Conf Law 2015

(Recall that we discussed this with Dr. Pipa here and here, as well as featured this audio interview with Richard Barcellos on “Knowing The Truth” Radio regarding New Covenant Theology and the Law and this conference.)

Below is the audio from Richard Barcellos’ lecture “New Covenant Theology & The Law of God: Views, Critiques, Proposals” [64 min. mp3]:

Here is the PowerPoint he prepared for the lecture but note that “The lecture does not follow the PowerPoint presentation due to various unforeseen factors.”:

The Panel Discussion (Day 1) also featured Richard Barcellos with most of the questions directed towards him. Also on the panel was Jospeh Pipa and Tony Curto. Below is a timeline followed by the audio:

• 00:52 – 08:35  “In relation to the threefold division of the law, how should we understand the distinction of clean and unclean animals in Genesis 7 and what appears to be Levirate Marriage in Genesis 38?”

• 08:47 – 10:20 “Do you disagree with the Marrow Men and Fisher when they say that the substance of the Covenant of Works was Moral Law?”

• 10:44 – 13:45 “Did John Bunyan hold the Mosaic Covenant to be a republication of the Covenant of Works for eternal life?”

• 13:50 – 17:38  “Can you explain New Covenant [Theology’s] interpretation of Jeremiah 31:31ff and offer a critique?”

• 14:47 – 22:33 “Can you make a few comments about the use of the law to bring a Christian to Christ in the context of counseling…”

• 22:38 – 24:34 “What is the best and most succinct way to defend  Sabbath keeping for those who claim that since it is not a command repeated in the New Testament it is not applicable to Christians.”

• 24:43 – 28:28 “What key passages from the Apostolic practice of evangelism among the Gentiles demonstrate the Law’s role in Gospel work.”

• 28:36 – 31:48 “Given the denial of the three-fold division of the law by New Covenant Theology advocates what Biblical principles govern their understanding of the day of worship?”

• 31:56 – 42:00 “Would you open up more practically how one might open up the law… in terms of evangelism.”

Audio [mp3]:

Augustine: Proto-1689 Federalist

PDF available here.

Note: 

Augustine believed in the Adamic Covenant of Works: Adam was a federal and natural representative of all men. He was working towards the reward of immutability. All his descendants broke the covenant when he sinned, imputing original sin to all of them. In this regard, he was in agreement with both 1689 Federalism and Westminster Federalism.

However, the rest of his covenant theology agreed with 1689 Federalism, in contrast to Westminster Federalism.

He believed in a Dichotomous Abrahamic Covenant wherein two distinct seeds were given two distinct promises. “[T]wo things are promised to Abraham, the one, that his seed should possess the land of Canaan… but the other far more excellent, not about the carnal but the spiritual seed, through which he is the father, not of the one Israelite nation, but of all nations who follow the footprints of his faith.”

The first promise was fulfilled during Solomon’s reign. The Old Covenant governed this earthly promise. Abraham’s fleshly seed would still inhabit that land today if they had obeyed the law. Augustine taught both a material and formal republication of the covenant of works at Mt. Sinai. The letter condemned men by the eternal law and was also a covenant of works for life in the land of Canaan.  It was an earthly city (City of Man) that signified another heavenly city (City of God), which was the Jerusalem above. In Gal 4:22-31 Augustine identified Hagar, the bondwoman, with the Old Covenant itself, properly, and not, as Calvin, an abuse or perversion of the Old Covenant. He went so far as to say that placing the Old Covenant on par with the New Covenant in terms of its promise, was to abolish “the distinction which has been drawn by Apostolic and catholic authority.” And that “as much injury is done to the New [Covenant], when it is put on the same level with the Old [Covenant], as is inflicted on the Old itself when men deny it to be the work of the supreme God of goodness [i.e. Marcion].”

The New Covenant, on the other hand, was the Jerusalem above, the freewoman, the heavenly City of God. It was the fulfillment of the second promise given to Abraham, in the death of Christ, it’s mediator. However, its effect reached back in time to the fall. It was by the New Covenant alone that all men in history have been saved. “Whence we can easily see who they are that appertain to the earthly, and who to the heavenly kingdom. But then the happy persons, who even in that early age were by the grace of God taught to understand the distinction now set forth, were thereby made the children of promise, and were accounted in the secret purpose of God as heirs of the New Testament [Covenant]; although they continued with perfect fitness to administer the Old Testament [Covenant] to the ancient people of God, because it was divinely appropriated to that people in God’s distribution of the times and seasons.” “The men of God who at that time understood this according to the ordering of the times, were indeed the stewards and bearers of the old testament [covenant], but are shown to be the heirs of the new. Shall we deny that he belongs to the new testament [covenant] who says, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me”?” In agreement with baptists, Augustine interpreted Jer 31 as referring to the blessing of regeneration and insisted that only the elect were “heirs” or members of the New Covenant. “Now all these predestinated, called, justified, glorified ones, shall know God by the grace of the new testament [covenant], from the least to the greatest of them.”

Augustine agreed with 1689 Federalism, in contrast to Westminster Federalism, on the following key passages:

  • Jeremiah 31:33-34; Hebrews 8:6-13 (The New Covenant is entirely regenerate)
  • Galatians 4:22-31 (The two children refer to the two promises of the Abrahamic Covenant and the bondwoman is the Old Covenant properly)
  • Romans 9:8 (“They are not all Israel” = New Covenant; “who are of Israel” = Old Covenant)
  • 2 Corinthians 3:1-11 (Letter = Old Covenant, not law abstracted from covenant)

The “covenant of grace under two administrations” is found nowhere. Instead, Augustine equates the New Covenant with what we call the Covenant of Grace and describes all men as saved through it working (what we would call) retroactively.

Take note of Augustine use of the word “testament”. By it he means “covenant” unless he specifically notes he is referring to the collection of Scriptures. “Therefore, by a custom of speech already prevailing, in one way the law and all the prophets who prophesied until John are called the “Old Testament;” although this is more definitely called the “Old Instrument” rather than the “Old Testament;””…”The fact is, that the phrase Old Testament is constantly employed in two different ways… we are accustomed, in our ordinary use of words, to designate all those Scriptures of the law and the prophets which were given previous to the Lord’s incarnation, and are embraced together by canonical authority, under the name and title of the Old Testament…”

Compare all of this with The Covenant in the Church Fathers, Andrew Woolsey.

Covenant of Works

City of God
Book XVI: The history of the city of God from Noah to the time of the kings of Israel.
Chapter 27.—Of the Male, Who Was to Lose His Soul If He Was Not Circumcised on the Eighth Day, Because He Had Broken God’s Covenant.

When it is said, “The male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that soul shall be cut off from his people, because he hath broken my covenant,” (Gen 17:14) some may be troubled how that ought to be understood, since it can be no fault of the infant whose life it is said must perish; nor has the covenant of God been broken by him, but by his parents, who have not taken care to circumcise him.  But even the infants, not personally in their own life, but according to the common origin of the human race, have all broken God’s covenant in that one in whom all have sinned. (Rom 5:12, 19)  Now there are many things called God’s covenants besides those two great ones, the old and the new, which any one who pleases may read and know.  For the first covenant, which was made with the first man, is just this:  “In the day ye eat thereof, ye shall surely die.” (Gen 2:17)  Whence it is written in the book called Ecclesiasticus, “All flesh waxeth old as doth a garment.  For the covenant from the beginning is, Thou shall die the death.” (Ecc 15:17)  Now, as the law was more plainly given afterward, and the apostle says, “Where no law is, there is no prevarication,” (Rom 4:15) on what supposition is what is said in the psalm true, “I accounted all the sinners of the earth prevaricators,” (Ps 119:119) except that all who are held liable for any sin are accused of dealing deceitfully (prevaricating) with some law?  If on this account, then, even the infants are, according to the true belief, born in sin, not actual but original, so that we confess they have need of grace for the remission of sins, certainly it must be acknowledged that in the same sense in which they are sinners they are also prevaricators of that law which was given in Paradise, according to the truth of both scriptures, “I accounted all the sinners of the earth prevaricators,” and “Where no law is, there is no prevarication.”  And thus, because circumcision was the sign of regeneration, and the infant, on account of the original sin by which God’s covenant was first broken, was not undeservedly to lose his generation unless delivered by regeneration, these divine words are to be understood as if it had been said, Whoever is not born again, that soul shall perish from his people, because he hath broken my covenant, since he also has sinned in Adam with all others.  For had He said, Because he hath broken this my covenant, He would have compelled us to understand by it only this of circumcision; but since He has not expressly said what covenant the infant has broken, we are free to understand Him as speaking of that covenant of which the breach can be ascribed to an infant.  Yet if any one contends that it is said of nothing else than circumcision, that in it the infant has broken the covenant of God because, he is not circumcised, he must seek some method of explanation by which it may be understood without absurdity (such as this) that he has broken the covenant, because it has been broken in him although not by him.  Yet in this case also it is to be observed that the soul of the infant, being guilty of no sin of neglect against itself, would perish unjustly, unless original sin rendered it obnoxious to punishment.

Abrahamic Covenant

City of God
Book XVI: The history of the city of God from Noah to the time of the kings of Israel.
Chapter 16.—Of the Order and Nature of the Promises of God Which Were Made to Abraham.

God’s promises made to Abraham are now to be considered; for in these the oracles of our God, that is, of the true God, began to appear more openly concerning the godly people, whom prophetic authority foretold.  The first of these reads thus:  “And the Lord said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, and go into a land that I will show thee:  and I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee and magnify thy name; and thou shall be blessed:  and I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curse thee:  and in thee shall all tribes of the earth be blessed.” (Gen 12:1-3)  Now it is to be observed that two things are promised to Abraham, the one, that his seed should possess the land of Canaan, which is intimated when it is said, “Go into a land that I will show thee, and I will make of thee a great nation;” but the other far more excellent, not about the carnal but the spiritual seed, through which he is the father, not of the one Israelite nation, but of all nations who follow the footprints of his faith, which was first promised in these words, “And in thee shall all tribes of the earth be blessed.”


City of God
Book XVI: The history of the city of God from Noah to the time of the kings of Israel.
Chapter 18.—Of the Repeated Address of God to Abraham, in Which He Promised the Land of Canaan to Him and to His Seed.

Abraham, then, having departed out of Haran in the seventy-fifth year of his own age, and in the hundred and forty-fifth of his father’s, went with Lot, his brother’s son, and Sarah his wife, into the land of Canaan, and came even to Sichem, where again he received the divine oracle, of which it is thus written:  “And the Lord appeared unto Abram, and said unto him, Unto thy seed will I give this land.” (Gen 12:7)  Nothing is promised here about that seed in which he is made the father of all nations, but only about that by which he is the father of the one Israelite nation; for by this seed that land was possessed.


City of God
Book XVI: The history of the city of God from Noah to the time of the kings of Israel.
Chapter 43.—Of the Times of Moses and Joshua the Son of Nun, of the Judges, and Thereafter of the Kings, of Whom Saul Was the First, But David is to Be Regarded as the Chief, Both by the Oath and by Merit.

…On the death of Moses, Joshua the son of Nun ruled the people, and led them into the land of promise, and divided it among them. By these two wonderful leaders wars were also carried on most prosperously and wonderfully, God calling to witness that they had got these victories not so much on account of the merit of the Hebrew people as on account of the sins of the nations they subdued. After these leaders there were judges, when the people were settled in the land of promise, so that, in the meantime, the first promise made to Abraham began to be fulfilled about the one nation, that is, the Hebrew, and about the land of Canaan; but not as yet the promise about all nations, and the whole wide world, for that was to be fulfilled, not by the observances of the old law, but by the advent of Christ in the flesh, and by the faith of the gospel. And it was to prefigure this that it was not Moses, who received the law for the people on Mount Sinai, that led the people into the land of promise, but Joshua, whose name also was changed at God’s command, so that he was called Jesus. But in the times of the judges prosperity alternated with adversity in war, according as the sins of the people and the mercy of God were displayed…


City of God

Book XVI: The history of the city of God from Noah to the time of the kings of Israel.
Chapter 2.—At What Time the Promise of God Was Fulfilled Concerning the Land of Canaan, Which Even Carnal Israel Got in Possession.

In the preceding book we said, that in the promise of God to Abraham two things were promised from the beginning, the one, namely, that his seed should possess the land of Canaan, which was intimated when it was said, “Go into a land that I will show thee, and I will make of thee a great nation;” (Gen 12:1-2) but the other far more excellent, concerning not the carnal but the spiritual seed, by which he is the father, not of the one nation of Israel, but of all nations who follow the footsteps of his faith, which began to be promised in these words, “And in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” (Gen 12:3)  And thereafter we showed by yet many other proofs that these two things were promised.  Therefore the seed of Abraham, that is, the people of Israel according to the flesh, already was in the land of promise; and there, not only by holding and possessing the cities of the enemies, but also by having kings, had already begun to reign, the promises of God concerning that people being already in great part fulfilled:  not only those that were made to those three fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and whatever others were made in their times, but those also that were made through Moses himself, by whom the same people was set free from servitude in Egypt, and by whom all bygone things were revealed in his times, when he led the people through the wilderness.  But neither by the illustrious leader Jesus the son of Nun, who led that people into the land of promise, and, after driving out the nations, divided it among the twelve tribes according to God’s command, and died; nor after him, in the whole time of the judges, was the promise of God concerning the land of Canaan fulfilled, that it should extend from some river of Egypt even to the great river Euphrates; nor yet was it still prophesied as to come, but its fulfillment was expected.  And it was fulfilled through David, and Solomon his son, whose kingdom was extended over the whole promised space; for they subdued all those nations, and made them tributary.  And thus, under those kings, the seed of Abraham was established in the land of promise according to the flesh, that is, in the land of Canaan, so that nothing yet remained to the complete fulfillment of that earthly promise of God, except that, so far as pertains to temporal prosperity, the Hebrew nation should remain in the same land by the succession of posterity in an unshaken state even to the end of this mortal age, if it obeyed the laws of the Lord its God.  But since God knew it would not do this, He used His temporal punishments also for training His few faithful ones in it, and for giving needful warning to those who should afterwards be in all nations, in whom the other promise, revealed in the New Testament, was about to be fulfilled through the incarnation of Christ.

Jerusalem Above & Below

City of God
Book XVI: The history of the city of God from Noah to the time of the kings of Israel.
Chapter 2.—Of the Children of the Flesh and the Children of the Promise.

There was indeed on earth, so long as it was needed, a symbol and foreshadowing image of this city, which served the purpose of reminding men that such a city was to be rather than of making it present; and this image was itself called the holy city, as a symbol of the future city, though not itself the reality.  Of this city which served as an image, and of that free city it typified, Paul writes to the Galatians in these terms:  “Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?  For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bond maid, the other by a free woman.  But he who was of the bond woman was born after the flesh, but he of the free woman was by promise.  Which things are an allegory:  for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar.  For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children.  But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.  For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not, for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband.  Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.  But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now.  Nevertheless, what saith the Scripture?  Cast out the bond woman and her son:  for the son of the bond woman shall not be heir with the son of the free woman.  And we, brethren, are not children of the bond woman, but of the free, in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free.”  This interpretation of the passage, handed down to us with apostolic authority, shows how we ought to understand the Scriptures of the two covenants—the old and the new.  One portion of the earthly city became an image of the heavenly city, not having a significance of its own, but signifying another city, and therefore serving, or “being in bondage.”  For it was founded not for its own sake, but to prefigure another city; and this shadow of a city was also itself foreshadowed by another preceding figure.  For Sarah’s handmaid Agar, and her son, were an image of this image.  And as the shadows were to pass away when the full light came, Sarah, the free woman, who prefigured the free city (which again was also prefigured in another way by that shadow of a city Jerusalem), therefore said, “Cast out the bond woman and her son; for the son of the bond woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac,” or, as the apostle says, “with the son of the free woman.”  In the earthly city, then, we find two things—its own obvious presence, and its symbolic presentation of the heavenly city.  Now citizens are begotten to the earthly city by nature vitiated by sin, but to the heavenly city by grace freeing nature from sin; whence the former are called “vessels of wrath,” the latter “vessels of mercy.”  And this was typified in the two sons of Abraham,—Ishmael, the son of Agar the handmaid, being born according to the flesh, while Isaac was born of the free woman Sarah, according to the promise.  Both, indeed, were of Abraham’s seed; but the one was begotten by natural law, the other was given by gracious promise.  In the one birth, human action is revealed; in the other, a divine kindness comes to light.


City of God
Book XVII: The history of the city of God from the kings and prophets to Christ.
Chapter 3.—Of the Three-Fold Meaning of the Prophecies, Which are to Be Referred Now to the Earthly, Now to the Heavenly Jerusalem, and Now Again to Both.

Wherefore just as that divine oracle to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the other prophetic signs or sayings which are given in the earlier sacred writings, so also the other prophecies from this time of the kings pertain partly to the nation of Abraham’s flesh, and partly to that seed of his in which all nations are blessed as fellow-heirs of Christ by the New Testament, to the possessing of eternal life and the kingdom of the heavens.  Therefore they pertain partly to the bond maid who gendereth to bondage, that is, the earthly Jerusalem, which is in bondage with her children; but partly to the free city of God, that is, the true Jerusalem eternal in the heavens, whose children are all those that live according to God in the earth:  but there are some things among them which are understood to pertain to both,—to the bond maid properly, to the free woman figuratively. (Gal 4:22-31)

Therefore prophetic utterances of three kinds are to be found; forasmuch as there are some relating to the earthly Jerusalem, some to the heavenly, and some to both.  I think it proper to prove what I say by examples.  The prophet Nathan was sent to convict king David of heinous sin, and predict to him what future evils should be consequent on it.  Who can question that this and the like pertain to the terrestrial city, whether publicly, that is, for the safety or help of the people, or privately, when there are given forth for each one’s private good divine utterances whereby something of the future may be known for the use of temporal life?  But where we read, “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make for the house of Israel, and for the house of Judah, a new testament:  not according to the testament that I settled for their fathers in the day when I laid hold of their hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my testament, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord.  For this is the testament that I will make for the house of Israel:  after those days, saith the Lord, I will give my laws in their mind, and will write them upon their hearts, and I will see to them; and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people;” (Heb 8:8-10) without doubt this is prophesied to the Jerusalem above, whose reward is God Himself, and whose chief and entire good it is to have Him, and to be His.  But this pertains to both, that the city of God is called Jerusalem, and that it is prophesied the house of God shall be in it; and this prophecy seems to be fulfilled when king Solomon builds that most noble temple.  For these things both happened in the earthly Jerusalem, as history shows, and were types of the heavenly Jerusalem.  And this kind of prophecy, as it were compacted and commingled of both the others in the ancient canonical books, containing historical narratives, is of very great significance, and has exercised and exercises greatly the wits of those who search holy writ.  For example, what we read of historically as predicted and fulfilled in the seed of Abraham according to the flesh, we must also inquire the allegorical meaning of, as it is to be fulfilled in the seed of Abraham according to faith.  And so much is this the case, that some have thought there is nothing in these books either foretold and effected, or effected although not foretold, that does not insinuate something else which is to be referred by figurative signification to the city of God on high, and to her children who are pilgrims in this life.  But if this be so, then the utterances of the prophets, or rather the whole of those Scriptures that are reckoned under the title of the Old Testament, will be not of three, but of two different kinds.  For there will be nothing there which pertains to the terrestrial Jerusalem only, if whatever is there said and fulfilled of or concerning her signifies something which also refers by allegorical prefiguration to the celestial Jerusalem; but there will be only two kinds one that pertains to the free Jerusalem, the other to both.  But just as, I think, they err greatly who are of opinion that none of the records of affairs in that kind of writings mean anything more than that they so happened, so I think those very daring who contend that the whole gist of their contents lies in allegorical significations.  Therefore I have said they are threefold, not two-fold.  Yet, in holding this opinion, I do not blame those who may be able to draw out of everything there a spiritual meaning, only saving, first of all, the historical truth.  For the rest, what believer can doubt that those things are spoken vainly which are such that, whether said to have been done or to be yet to come, they do not beseem either human or divine affairs?  Who would not recall these to spiritual understanding if he could, or confess that they should be recalled by him who is able?


City of God
Book XVII: The history of the city of God from the kings and prophets to Christ.
Chapter 4.—About the Prefigured Change of the Israelitic Kingdom and Priesthood, and About the Things Hannah the Mother of Samuel Prophesied, Personating the Church.

…Therefore may the Church say, “I am made glad in Thy salvation.  For there is none holy as the Lord, and none is righteous as our God;” as holy and sanctifying, just and justifying. (Rom 3:26)  “There is none holy beside Thee;” because no one becomes so except by reason of Thee.  And then it follows, “Do not glory so proudly, and do not speak lofty things, neither let vaunting talk come out of your mouth.  For a God of knowledge is the Lord.”  He knows you even when no one knows; for “he who thinketh himself to be something when he is nothing deceiveth himself.” (Gal 6:3)  These things are said to the adversaries of the city of God who belong to Babylon, who presume in their own strength, and glory in themselves, not in the Lord; of whom are also the carnal Israelites, the earth-born inhabitants of the earthly Jerusalem, who, as saith the apostle, “being ignorant of the righteousness of God,” (Rom 10:3) that is, which God, who alone is just, and the justifier, gives to man, “and wishing to establish their own,” that is, which is as it were procured by their own selves, not bestowed by Him, “are not subject to the righteousness of God,” just because they are proud, and think they are able to please God with their own, not with that which is of God, who is the God of knowledge, and therefore also takes the oversight of consciences, there beholding the thoughts of men that they are vain, (Psalm 94:11; 1 Cor 3:20) if they are of men, and are not from Him.  “And preparing,” she says, “His curious designs.”  What curious designs do we think these are, save that the proud must fall, and the humble rise?  These curious designs she recounts, saying, “The bow of the mighty is made weak, and the weak are girded with strength.”  The bow is made weak, that is, the intention of those who think themselves so powerful, that without the gift and help of God they are able by human sufficiency to fulfill the divine commandments; and those are girded with strength whose inward cry is, “Have mercy upon me, O Lord, for I am weak.”…


City of God

Book XVII: The history of the city of God from the kings and prophets to Christ.
Chapter 6.—Of the Jewish Priesthood and Kingdom, Which, Although Promised to Be Established for Ever, Did Not Continue; So that Other Things are to Be Understood to Which Eternity is Assured.

…In this way, too, the kingdom of Saul himself, who certainly was reprobated and rejected, was the shadow of a kingdom yet to come which should remain to eternity… Whence also that which Samuel says to Saul, “Since thou hast not kept my commandment which the Lord commanded thee, whereas now the Lord would have prepared thy kingdom over Israel for ever, yet now thy kingdom shall not continue for thee; and the Lord will seek Him a man after His own heart, and the Lord will command him to be prince over His people, because thou hast not kept that which the Lord commanded thee,”1 (1 Sam 13:13-14) is not to be taken as if God had settled that Saul himself should reign for ever, and afterwards, on his sinning, would not keep this promise; nor was He ignorant that he would sin, but He had established his kingdom that it might be a figure of the eternal kingdom


City of God
Book XVII: The history of the city of God from the kings and prophets to Christ.
Chapter 7.—Of the Disruption of the Kingdom of Israel, by Which the Perpetual Division of the Spiritual from the Carnal Israel Was Prefigured.

…But the Scripture has not what is read in most Latin copies, “The Lord hath rent the kingdom of Israel out of thine hand this day,” but just as we have set it down it is found in the Greek copies, “The Lord hath rent the kingdom from Israel out of thine hand;” that the words “out of thine hand” may be understood to mean “from Israel.” Therefore this man figuratively represented the people of Israel, which was to lose the kingdom, Christ Jesus our Lord being about to reign, not carnally, but spiritually… And among them is Israel, from whom, as His persecutor, Christ took away the kingdom; although the Israel in whom there was no guile may have been there too, a sort of grain, as it were, of that chaff. For certainly thence came the apostles, thence so many martyrs, of whom Stephen is the first, thence so many churches, which the Apostle Paul names, magnifying God in their conversion.

Of which thing I do not doubt what follows is to be understood, “And will divide Israel in twain,” to wit, into Israel pertaining to the bond woman, and Israel pertaining to the free. For these two kinds were at first together, as Abraham still clave to the bond woman, until the barren, made fruitful by the grace of God, cried, “Cast out the bond woman and her son.” (Gen 21:10)…

We see that this sentence concerning this division of the people of Israel, divinely uttered in these words, has been altogether irremediable and quite perpetual.  For whoever have turned, or are turning, or shall turn thence to Christ, it has been according to the foreknowledge of God, not according to the one and the same nature of the human race.  Certainly none of the Israelites, who, cleaving to Christ, have continued in Him, shall ever be among those Israelites who persist in being His enemies even to the end of this life, but shall for ever remain in the separation which is here foretold.  For the Old Testament, from the Mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, (Gal 4:25) profiteth nothing, unless because it bears witness to the New Testament.  Otherwise, however long Moses is read, the veil is put over their heart; but when any one shall turn thence to Christ, the veil shall be taken away. (2 Cor 3:15-16)  For the very desire of those who turn is changed from the old to the new, so that each no longer desires to obtain carnal but spiritual felicity… That stone of the helper is the mediation of the Saviour, by which we go from the old Massephat to the new,—that is, from the desire with which carnal happiness was expected in the carnal kingdom to the desire with which the truest spiritual happiness is expected in the kingdom of heaven; and since nothing is better than that, the Lord helpeth us hitherto.


City of God
Book XVII: The history of the city of God from the kings and prophets to Christ.
Chapter 10.—How Different the Acts in the Kingdom of the Earthly Jerusalem are from Those Which God Had Promised, So that the Truth of the Promise Should Be Understood to Pertain to the Glory of the Other King and Kingdom.

…The following part of this psalm goes on to say what in the meantime, while He was delayed, was to become of the kingdom of the earthly Jerusalem, where it was hoped He would certainly reign:  “Thou hast overthrown the covenant of Thy servant; Thou hast profaned in the earth his sanctuary.  Thou hast broken down all his walls; Thou hast put his strong-holds in fear.  All that pass by the way spoil him; he is made a reproach to his neighbors.  Thou hast set up the right hand of his enemies; Thou hast made all his enemies to rejoice.  Thou hast turned aside the help of his sword, and hast not helped him in war.  Thou hast destroyed him from cleansing; Thou hast dashed down his seat to the ground.  Thou hast shortened the days of his seat; Thou hast poured confusion over him.” (Ps 89:39-45)  All these things came upon Jerusalem the bond woman, in which some also reigned who were children of the free woman, holding that kingdom in temporary stewardship, but holding the kingdom of the heavenly Jerusalem, whose children they were, in true faith, and hoping in the true Christ.  But how these things came upon that kingdom, the history of its affairs points out if it is read.


City of God
Book XVII: The history of the city of God from the kings and prophets to Christ.
Chapter 12.—To Whose Person the Entreaty for the Promises is to Be Understood to Belong, When He Says in the Psalm, “Where are Thine Ancient Compassions, Lord?” Etc.

But the rest of this psalm runs thus:  “Where are Thine ancient compassions, Lord, which Thou swarest unto David in Thy truth?  Remember, Lord, the reproach of Thy servants, which I have borne in my bosom of many nations; wherewith Thine enemies have reproached, O Lord, wherewith they have reproached the change of Thy Christ.” (Ps 89:49-51)  Now it may with very good reason be asked whether this is spoken in the person of those Israelites who desired that the promise made to David might be fulfilled to them; or rather of the Christians, who are Israelites not after the flesh but after the Spirit. (Rom 3:28-29)


City of God
Book XVII: The history of the city of God from the kings and prophets to Christ.
Chapter 13.—Whether the Truth of This Promised Peace Can Be Ascribed to Those Times Passed Away Under Solomon. 

…Therefore the place of this promised peaceful and secure habitation is eternal, and of right belongs eternally to Jerusalem the free mother, where the genuine people of Israel shall be:  for this name is interpreted “Seeing God;” in the desire of which reward a pious life is to be led through faith in this miserable pilgrimage. (Israel—a prince of God; Peniel—the face of God (Gen. xxxii. 28–30).)

Old Covenant vs New Covenant

A Work on the Proceedings of Pelagius.
Chapter 13 [V.]—The Fifth Item of the Accusation; And Pelagius’ Answer.

After the judges had accorded their approbation to this answer of Pelagius, another passage which he had written in his book was read aloud: “The kingdom of heaven was promised even in the Old Testament.” Upon this, Pelagius remarked in vindication: “This can be proved by the Scriptures: but heretics, in order to disparage the Old Testament, deny this. I, however, simply followed the authority of the Scriptures when I said this; for in the prophet Daniel it is written: ‘The saints shall receive the kingdom of the Most. High.’” (Dan 7:18) After they had heard this answer, the synod said: “Neither is this opposed to the Church’s faith.”

A Work on the Proceedings of Pelagius.
Chapter 14.—Examination of This Point. The Phrase “Old Testament” Used in Two Senses. The Heir of the Old Testament. In the Old Testament There Were Heirs of the New Testament.

Was it therefore without reason that our brethren were moved by his words to include this charge among the others against him? Certainly not. The fact is, that the phrase Old Testament is constantly employed in two different ways,—in one, following the authority of the Holy Scriptures; in the other, following the most common custom of speech. For the Apostle Paul says, in his Epistle to the Galatians: “Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bond-maid, the other by a free woman. . . .Which things are an allegory: for these are the two testaments; the one which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. For this is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and is conjoined with the Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children; whereas the Jerusalem which is above is free, and is the mother of us all.” (Gal 4:21-26) Now, inasmuch as the Old Testament belongs to bondage, whence it is written, “Cast out the bond-woman and her son, for the son of the bond-woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac,” (Gal 4:30) but the kingdom of heaven to liberty; what has the kingdom of heaven to do with the Old Testament? Since, however, as I have already remarked, we are accustomed, in our ordinary use of words, to designate all those Scriptures of the law and the prophets which were given previous to the Lord’s incarnation, and are embraced together by canonical authority, under the name and title of the Old Testament, what man who is ever so moderately informed in ecclesiastical lore can be ignorant that the kingdom of heaven could be quite as well promised in those early Scriptures as even the New Testament itself, to which the kingdom of heaven belongs? At all events, in those ancient Scriptures it is most distinctly written: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will consummate a new testament with the house of Israel and with the house of Jacob; not according to the testament that I made with their fathers, in the day that I took them by the hand, to lead them out of the land of Egypt.” (Jer 31:31, 32) This was done on Mount Sinai. But then there had not yet risen the prophet Daniel to say: “The saints shall receive the kingdom of the Most High.” (Dan 7:18) For by these words he foretold the merit not of the Old, but of the New Testament. In the same manner did the same prophets foretell that Christ Himself would come, in whose blood the New Testament was consecrated. Of this Testament also the apostles became the ministers, as the most blessed Paul declares: “He hath made us able ministers of the New Testament; not in its letter, but in spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” (2 Cor 3:6) In that testament, however, which is properly called the Old, and was given on Mount Sinai, only earthly happiness is expressly promised. Accordingly that land, into which the nation, after being led through the wilderness, was conducted, is called the land of promise, wherein peace and royal power, and the gaining of victories over enemies, and an abundance of children and of fruits of the ground, and gifts of a similar kind are the promises of the Old Testament. And these, indeed, are figures of the spiritual blessings which appertain to the New Testament; but yet the man who lives under God’s law with those earthly blessings for his sanction, is precisely the heir of the Old Testament, for just such rewards are promised and given to him, according to the terms of the Old Testament, as are the objects of his desire according to the condition of the old man. But whatever blessings are there figuratively set forth as appertaining to the New Testament require the new man to give them effect. And no doubt the great apostle understood perfectly well what he was saying, when he described the two testaments as capable of the allegorical distinction of the bond-woman and the free,—attributing the children of the flesh to the Old, and to the New the children of the promise: “They,” says he, “which are the children of the flesh, are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.” (Rom 9:8) The children of the flesh, then, belong to the earthly Jerusalem, which is in bondage with her children; whereas the children of the promise belong to the Jerusalem above, the free, the mother of us all, eternal in the heavens. (Gal 4:25, 26) Whence we can easily see who they are that appertain to the earthly, and who to the heavenly kingdom. But then the happy persons, who even in that early age were by the grace of God taught to understand the distinction now set forth, were thereby made the children of promise, and were accounted in the secret purpose of God as heirs of the New Testament; although they continued with perfect fitness to administer the Old Testament to the ancient people of God, because it was divinely appropriated to that people in God’s distribution of the times and seasons.


 

A Work on the Proceedings of Pelagius.
Chapter 15.—The Same Continued.

How then should there not be a feeling of just disquietude entertained by the children of promise, children of the free Jerusalem, which is eternal in the heavens, when they see that by the words of Pelagius the distinction which has been drawn by Apostolic and catholic authority is abolished, and Agar is supposed to be by some means on a par with Sarah? He therefore does injury to the scripture of the Old Testament with heretical impiety, who with an impious and sacrilegious face denies that it was inspired by the good, supreme, and very God,—as Marcion does, as Manichæus does, and other pests of similar opinions. On this account (that I may put into as brief a space as I can what my own views are on the subject), as much injury is done to the New Testament, when it is put on the same level with the Old Testament, as is inflicted on the Old itself when men deny it to be the work of the supreme God of goodness. Now, when Pelagius in his answer gave as his reason for saying that even in the Old Testament there was a promise of the kingdom of heaven, the testimony of the prophet Daniel, who most plainly foretold that the saints should receive the kingdom of the Most High, it was fairly decided that the statement of Pelagius was not opposed to the catholic faith, although not according to the distinction which shows that the earthly promises of Mount Sinai are the proper characteristics of the Old Testament; nor indeed was the decision an improper one, considering that mode of speech which designates all the canonical Scriptures which were given to men before the Lord’s coming in the flesh by the title of the “Old Testament.” The kingdom of the Most High is of course none other than the kingdom of God; otherwise, anybody might boldly contend that the kingdom of God is one thing, and the kingdom of heaven another.


 

A Treatise Against Two Letters of the Pelagians.
Book III Chapter 6 [IV.]—The Calumny Concerning the Old Testament and the Righteous Men of Old.

Now if these things are so, out of these things are rebutted those which they subsequently object to us. For what catholic would say that which they charge us with saying, “that the Holy Spirit was not the assister of virtue in the old testament,” unless when we so understand “the old testament [covenant]” in the manner in which the apostle spoke of it as “gendering from Mount Sinai into bondage”? But because in it was prefigured the new testament [covenant], the men of God who at that time understood this according to the ordering of the times, were indeed the stewards and bearers of the old testament [covenant], but are shown to be the heirs of the new. Shall we deny that he belongs to the new testament who says, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me”? (Ps 51:10) or he who says, “He hath set my feet upon a rock, and directed my goings; and he hath put a new song in my mouth, even a hymn to our God”? (Psalm 40:2-3) or that father of the faithful before the old testament which is from Mount Sinai, of whom the apostle says, “Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; yet even a man’s testament, when it is confirmed, no man disannulleth or addeth thereto. To Abraham and to his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many, but as of one; and to thy seed, which is Christ. And this I say,” said he, “that the testament confirmed by God, the law which was made four hundred and thirty years after, does not weaken, so as to make the promise of none effect. For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise.” (Gal 3:15)


A Treatise Against Two Letters of the Pelagians.
Book III Chapter 7.—The New Testament is More Ancient Than the Old; But It Was Subsequently Revealed.

Here, certainly, if we ask whether this testament [covenant], which, he says, being confirmed by God was not weakened by the law, which was made four hundred and thirty years after, is to be understood as the new or the old one, who can hesitate to answer “the new, but hidden in the prophetic shadows until the time should come wherein it should be revealed in Christ”? For if we should say the old, what will that be which genders from Mount Sinai to bondage? For there was made the law four hundred and thirty years after, by which law he asserts that this testament of the promise of Abraham could not be weakened; and he will have this which was made by Abraham to pertain rather to us, whom he will have to be children of the freewoman, not of the bondwoman, heirs by the promise, not by the law, when he says, “For if the inheritance be by the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise.” (Gal 3:18) So that, because the law was made four hundred and thirty years after, it might enter that the offence might abound; (Rom 4:20) since by sin the pride of man presuming on his own righteousness is convinced of transgression, and where sin abounded grace much more abounded (Rom 4:20) by the faith of the now humble man failing in the law and taking refuge in God’s mercy. Therefore, when he had said, “For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no longer of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise,” (Gal 3:18) as if it might be said to him, “Why then was the law made afterwards? “he added and said, “What then is the law?” (Gal 3:19) To which interrogation he immediately replied, “It was added because of transgression, until the seed should come to which the promise was made.” (Gal 3:19) This he says again, thus: “For if they who are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise is made of none effect: because the law worketh wrath: for where there is no law, there is no transgression.” (Rom 4:14) What he says in the former testimony: “For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise,” this he says in the latter: “For if they who are of the law be heirs, faith is made void; and the promise is made of none effect;” sufficiently showing that to our faith (which certainly is of the new testament) belongs what God gave to Abraham by promise. And what he says in the former testimony, “What then is the law?” and answered, “It was added for the sake of transgression,” this he instantly added in the latter testimony, “For the law worketh wrath: for where there is no law, there is no transgression.”


A Treatise Against Two Letters of the Pelagians.
Book III Chapter 8.—All Righteous Men Before and After Abraham are Children of the Promise and of Grace.

Whether, then, Abraham, or righteous men before him or after him, even to Moses himself, by whom was given the testament [covenant] gendering to bondage from Mount Sinai, or the rest of the prophets after him, and the holy men of God till John the Baptist, they are all children of the promise and of grace according to Isaac the son of the freewoman,—not of the law, but of the promise, heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ. Far be it from us to deny that righteous Noah and the righteous men of the earlier times, and whoever from that time till the time of Abraham could be righteous, either manifestly or hiddenly, belong to the Jerusalem which is above, who is our mother, although they are found to be earlier in time than Sarah, who bore the prophecy and figure of the free mother herself. How much more evidently, then, after Abraham, to whom that promise was declared, that he should be called the father of many nations, must all, whoever have pleased God, be esteemed the children of the promise! For from Abraham, and the righteous men who followed him, the generation is not found more true, but the prophecy more plain.


A Treatise Against Two Letters of the Pelagians.
Book III Chapter 11.—Distinction Between the Children of the Old and of the New Testaments.

But there is plainly this great difference, that they who are established under the law, whom the letter killeth, do these things either with the desire of gaining, or with the fear of losing earthly happiness; and that thus they do not truly do them, since fleshly desire, by which sin is rather bartered or increased, is not healed by desire of another kind. These pertain to the old testament, which genders to bondage; because carnal fear and desire make them servants, gospel faith and hope and love do not make them children. But they who are placed under grace, whom the Spirit quickens, do these things of faith which worketh by love in the hope of good things, not carnal but spiritual, not earthly but heavenly, not temporal but eternal; especially believing on the Mediator, by whom they do not doubt but that a Spirit of grace is ministered to them, so that they may do these things well, and that they may be pardoned when they sin. These pertain to the new testament [covenant], are the children of promise, and are regenerated by God the Father and a free mother. Of this kind were all the righteous men of old, and Moses himself, the minister of the old testament, the heir of the new,—because of the faith whereby we live, of one and the same they lived, believing the incarnation, passion, and resurrection of Christ as future, which we believe as already accomplished,—even until John the Baptist himself, as it were a certain limit of the old dispensation, who, signifying that the Mediator Himself would come, not with any shadow of the future or allegorical intimation, or with any prophetical announcement, but pointing Him out with his finger, said: “Behold the Lamb of God; behold Him who taketh away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) As if saying, Whom many righteous men have desired to see, on whom, as about to come, they have believed from the beginning of the human race itself, concerning whom the promises were spoken to Abraham, of whom Moses wrote, of whom the law and the prophets are witnesses: “Behold the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world.” From this John and afterwards, all those things concerning Christ began to become past or present, which by all the righteous men of the previous time were believed, hoped for, desired, as future. Therefore the faith is the same as well in those who, although not yet in name, were in fact previously Christians, as in those who not only are so but are also called so; and in both there is the same grace by the Holy Spirit. Whence says the apostle: “We having the same Spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak.” (2 Cor 4:13)


A Treatise Against Two Letters of the Pelagians.
Book III Chapter 12.—The Old Testament is Properly One Thing—The Old Instrument Another.

Therefore, by a custom of speech already prevailing, in one way the law and all the prophets who prophesied until John are called the “Old Testament;” although this is more definitely called the “Old Instrument” rather than the “Old Testament;” but this name is used in another way by the apostolical authority, whether expressly or impliedly. For the apostle is express when he says, “Until this day, as long as Moses is read, remaineth the same veil in the reading of the old testament; because it is not revealed, because it is made of no effect in Christ.” (2 Cor 3:14) For thus certainly the old testament referred to the ministry of Moses. Moreover, he says, “That we should serve in the newness of the Spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter,” (Rom 7:6) signifying that same testament [covenant] under the name of the letter. In another place also, “Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the Spirit: for the letter killeth, but the Spirit maketh alive.” (2 Cor 3:6) And here, by the mention of the new, he certainly meant the former to be understood as the old. But much more evidently, although he did not say either old or new, he distinguished the two testaments [covenants] and the two sons of Abraham, the one of the bondwoman, the other of the free, as I have above mentioned. For what can be more express than his saying, “Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, have ye not heard the law? For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. Which things are in allegory; for these are the two testaments; the one in the Mount Sinai, gendering to bondage, which is Agar. For Sinai is a mountain in Arabia, which is associated with Jerusalem which now is, for it is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem that is above is free, which is our mother?” (Gal 4:21) What is more clear, what more certain, what more remote from all obscurity and ambiguity to the children of the promise? And a little after, “Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.” (Gal 4:28) Also a little after, “But we, brethren, are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free,” (Gal 4:31) with the liberty with which Christ has made us free. Let us, therefore, choose whether to call the righteous men of old the children of the bondwoman or of the free. Be it far from us to say, of the bondwoman; therefore if of the free, they pertain to the new testament [covenant] in the Holy Spirit, whom, as making alive, the apostle opposes to the killing letter. For on what ground do they not belong to the grace of the new testament [covenant], from whose words and looks we convict and rebut such most frantic and ungrateful enemies of the same grace as these?


A Treatise Against Two Letters of the Pelagians.
Book III Chapter 13.—Why One of the Covenants is Called Old, the Other New.

But some one will say, “In what way is that called the old which was given by Moses four hundred and thirty years after; and that called the new which was given so many years before to Abraham?” Let him who on this subject is disturbed, not litigiously but earnestly, first understand that when from its earlier time one is called “old,” and from its posterior time the other “new,” it is the revelation of them that is considered in their names, not their institution. Because the old testament was revealed through Moses, by whom the holy and just and good law was given, whereby should be brought about not the doing away but the knowledge of sin,—by which the proud might be convicted who were desirous of establishing their own righteousness, as if they had no need of divine help, and being made guilty of the letter, might flee to the Spirit of grace, not to be justified by their own righteousness, but by that of God—that is, by the righteousness which was given to them of God. For as the same apostle says, “By the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and by the prophets.” (Rom 3:20-21) Because the law, by the very fact that in it no man is justified, affords a witness to the righteousness of God. For that in the law no man is justified before God is manifest, because “the just by faith lives.” (Gal 3:11) Thus, therefore, although the law does not justify the wicked when he is convicted of transgression, it sends to the God who justifieth, and thus affords a testimony to the righteousness of God. Moreover, the prophets offer testimony to God’s righteousness by fore-announcing Christ, “who is made unto us wisdom from God, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: that, as it is written, he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” (1 Cor 1:30-31) But that law was kept hidden from the beginning, when nature itself convicted wicked men, who did to others what they would not have done to themselves. But the revelation of the new testament in Christ was made when He was manifested in the flesh, wherein appeared the righteousness of God—that is, the righteousness which is to men from God. For hence he says, “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested.” (Rom 3:21) This is the reason why the former is called the old testament, because it was revealed in the earlier time; and the latter the new, because it was revealed in the later time. In a word, it is because the old testament pertains to the old man, from which it is necessary that a man should make a beginning; but the new to the new man, by which a man ought to pass from his old state. Thus, in the former are earthly promises, in the latter heavenly promises; because this pertained to God’s mercy, that no one should think that even earthly felicity of any kind whatever could be conferred on anybody, save from the Lord, who is the Creator of all things. But if God is worshipped for the sake of that earthly happiness, the worship is that of a slave, belonging to the children of the bondmaid; but if for the sake of God Himself, so that in the life eternal God may be all things in all, it is a free service belonging to the children of the freewoman, who is our mother eternal in the heavens—who first seemed, as it were, barren, when she had not any children manifest; but now we see what was prophesied concerning her: “Rejoice, thou barren, that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for there are many children of the desolate more than of her who has an husband,” (Isa. 54:1) that is, more than of that Jerusalem, who in a certain manner is married in the bond of the law, and is in bondage with her children. In the time, then, of the old testament, we say that the Holy Spirit, in those who even then were the children of promise according to Isaac, was not only an assistant, which these men think is sufficient for their opinion, but also a bestower of virtue; and this they deny, attributing it rather to their free will, in contradiction to those fathers who knew how to cry unto God with truthful piety, “I will love Thee, O Lord, my strength.” (Ps 18:1)


 

A Treatise on the Spirit and the Letter.
Chapter 34.—The Law; Grace.

After saying, “Not according to the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand, to bring them out of the land of Egypt,” observe what He adds: “Because they continued not in my covenant.” He reckons it as their own fault that they did not continue in God’s covenant, lest the law, which they received at that time, should seem to be deserving of blame. For it was the very law that Christ “came not to destroy, but to fulfil.” (Matt 5:17) Nevertheless, it is not by that law that the ungodly are made righteous, but by grace; and this change is effected by the life-giving Spirit, without whom the letter kills. “For if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. But the Scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.” (Gal 3:21-22) Out of this promise, that is, out of the kindness of God, the law is fulfilled, which without the said promise only makes men transgressors, either by the actual commission of some sinful deed, if the flame of concupiscence have greater power than even the restraints of fear, or at least by their mere will, if the fear of punishment transcend the pleasure of lust. In what he says, “The Scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe,” it is the benefit of this “conclusion” itself which is asserted. For what purposes “hath it concluded,” except as it is expressed in the next sentence: “Before, indeed, faith came, we were kept under the law, concluded for the faith which was afterwards revealed?” (Gal 3:23) The law was therefore given, in order that grace might be sought; grace was given, in order that the law might be fulfilled. Now it was not through any fault of its own that the law was not fulfilled, but by the fault of the carnal mind; and this fault was to be demonstrated by the law, and healed by grace. “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh; that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” (Rom 8:3,4) Accordingly, in the passage which we cited from the prophet, he says, “I will consummate a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah,” (Jer 31:31)—and what means I will consummate but I will fulfil?—“not, according to the covenant which I made with their fathers, in the day that I took them by the hand, to bring them out of the land of Egypt.” (Jer 31:32)


 

A Treatise on the Spirit and the Letter.
Chapter 35 [XX.]—The Old Law; The New Law.

The one was therefore old, because the other is new. But whence comes it that one is old and the other new, when the same law, which said in the Old Testament, “Thou shalt not covet,” (Ex 20:17) is fulfilled by the New Testament? “Because,” says the prophet, “they continued not in my covenant, I have also rejected them, saith the Lord.” (Jer 31:32) It is then on account of the offence of the old man, which was by no means healed by the letter which commanded and threatened, that it is called the old covenant; whereas the other is called the new covenant, because of the newness of the spirit, which heals the new man of the fault of the old. Then consider what follows, and see in how clear a light the fact is placed, that men who bare faith are unwilling to trust in themselves: “Because,” says he, “this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts.” (Jer 31:33) See how similarly the apostle states it in the passage we have already quoted: “Not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart,” (2 Cor 3:3) because “not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God.” (2 Cor 3:3) And I apprehend that the apostle in this passage had no other reason for mentioning “the New Testament” (“who hath made us able ministers of theNew Testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit”), than because he had an eye to the words of the prophet, when he said “Not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart,” inasmuch as in the prophet it runs: “I will write it in their hearts.” (Jer 31:33)


 

A Treatise on the Spirit and the Letter.
Chapter 36 [XXI.]—The Law Written in Our Hearts.

What then is God’s law written by God Himself in the hearts of men, but the very presence of the Holy Spirit, who is “the finger of God,” and by whose presence is shed abroad in our hearts the love which is the fulfilling of the law, (Rom 13:10) and the end of the commandment? (1 Tim 1:5) Now the promises of the Old Testament are earthly; and yet (with the exception of the sacramental ordinances which were the shadow of things to come, such as circumcision, the Sabbath and other observances of days, and the ceremonies of certain meats, (See Retractions 2.37) and the complicated ritual of sacrifices and sacred things which suited “the oldness” of the carnal law and its slavish yoke) it contains such precepts of righteousness as we are even now taught to observe, which were especially expressly drawn out on the two tables without figure or shadow: for instance, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” “Thou shalt do no murder,” “Thou shalt not covet,” (Ex 20:13, 14, 17) “and whatsoever other commandment is briefly comprehended in the saying, Thou shall love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Rom 13:9) Nevertheless, whereas as in the said Testament earthly and temporal promises are, as I have said, recited, and these are goods of this corruptible flesh (although they prefigure those heavenly and everlasting blessings which belong to the New Testament), what is now promised is a good for the heart itself, a good for the mind, a good of the spirit, that is, an intellectual good; since it is said, “I will put my law in their inward parts, and in their hearts will I write them,” (Jer 31:33) —by which He signified that men would not fear the law which alarmed them externally, but would love the very righteousness of the law which dwelt inwardly in their hearts.


A Treatise on the Spirit and the Letter.
Chapter 40.—How that is to Be the Reward of All; The Apostle Earnestly Defends Grace.

What then is the import of the “All, from the least unto the greatest of them,” but all that belong spiritually to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah,—that is, to the children of Isaac, to the seed of Abraham? For such is the promise, wherein it was said to him, “In Isaac shall thy seed be called; for they which are the children of the flesh are not the children of God: but the children of thepromise are counted for the seed. For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son. And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac, (for the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose ofGod according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him that calleth,) it was said unto her, “The elder shall serve the younger.” (Rom 9:7-12) This is the house of Israel, or rather the house of Judah, on account of Christ, who came of the tribe of Judah. This is the house of the children of promise,—not by reason oftheir own merits, but of the kindness of God. For God promises what He Himself performs: He does not Himself promise, and another perform; which would no longer be promising, but prophesying. Hence it is “not of works, but of Him that calleth,” (Rom 9:11) lest the result should be their own, not God’s; lest the reward should be ascribed not to His grace, but to their due; and so grace should be no longer grace which was so earnestly defended and maintained by him who, though the least of the apostles, laboured more abundantly than all the rest,—yet not himself, but the graceofGod that was with him. (1 Cor 15:9-10) “They shall all know me,” (Jer 31:34) He says,—“All,” the house of Israel and house of Judah. “All,” however, “are not Israel which are of Israel,” (Rom 9:6) but they only to whom it is said in “the psalm concerning the morning aid” (Ps 22) (that is, concerning the new refreshing light, meaning that of the new testament [covenant]), “All ye the seed of Jacob, glorify Him; and fear Him, all ye the seed of Israel.” (Ps 22:23) All the seed, without exception, even the entire seed of the promise and of the called, but only of those who are the called according to His purpose. (Rom 8:28) “For whom He did predestinate, them He also called; and whom He called, them He also justified; and whom He justified, them He also glorified.” (Rom 8:30) “Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed: not to that only which is of the law,”—that is, which comes from the Old Testament into the New,—“but to that also which is of faith,” which was indeed prior to the law, even “the faith of Abraham,”—meaning those who imitate the faith of Abraham,—“who is the father of us all; as it is written, I have made thee the father of many nations.” (Rom 4:16-17) Now all these predestinated, called, justified, glorified ones, shall know God by the grace of the new testament [covenant], from the least to the greatest of them.


A Treatise on the Spirit and the Letter.
Chapter 41.—The Law Written in the Heart, and the Reward of the Eternal Contemplation of God, Belong to the New Covenant; Who Among the Saints are the Least and the Greatest.

As then the law of works, which was written on the tables of stone, and its reward, the land of promise, which the house of the carnal Israel after their liberation from Egypt received, belonged to the old testament [covenant], so the law of faith, written on the heart, and its reward, the beatific vision which the house of the spiritual Israel, when delivered from the present world, shall perceive, belong to the new testament [covenant]. Then shall come to pass what the apostle describes: “Whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away,” (1 Cor 13:8)—even that imperfect knowledge of “the child” (1 Cor 13:11) in which this present life is passed, and which is but “in part,” “by means of a mirror darkly.” (1 Cor 13:12) Because of this, indeed, “prophecy” is necessary, for still to the past succeeds the future; and because of this, too, “tongues” are required,—that is, a multiplicity of expressions, since it is by different ones that different things are suggested to him who does not as yet contemplate with a perfectly purified mind the everlasting light of transparent truth. “When that, however, which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away,” (1 Cor 13:10) then, what appeared to the flesh in assumed flesh shall display Itself as It is in Itself to all who love It; then, there shall be eternal life for us to know the one very God; (John 17:3) then shall we be like Him, (1 John 3:2) because “we shall then know, even as we are known;” (1 Cor 13:12) then “they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord; for they shall all know me, from the least unto the greatest of them.” (Jer 31:34) Now this may be understood in several ways: Either, that in that life the saints shall differ one from another in glory, as star from star. It matters not how the expression runs,—whether (as in the passage before us) it be, “From the least unto the greatest of them,” or the other way, From the greatest unto the least. And, in like manner, it matters not even if we understand “the least” to mean those who simply believe, and “the greatest” those who have been further able to understand—so far as may be in this world—the light which is incorporeal and unchangeable. Or, “the least” may mean those who are later in time; whilst by “the greatest” He may have intended to indicate those who were prior in time. For they are all to receive the promised vision of God hereafter, since it was for us that they foresaw the future which would be better than their present, that they without us should not arrive at complete perfection. (Heb 11:40) And so the earlier are found to be the lesser, because they were less deferred in time; as in the case of the gospel “penny a day,” which is given for an illustration. (Matt 20:8) This penny they are the first to receive who came last into the vineyard. Or, “the least and the greatest” ought perhaps to be taken in some other sense, which at present does not occur to my mind.


A Treatise on the Spirit and the Letter.
Chapter 42 [XXV.]—Difference Between the Old and the New Testaments.

I beg of you, however, carefully to observe, as far as you can, what I am endeavouring to prove with so much effort. When the prophet promised a new covenant, not according to the covenant which had been formerly made with the people of Israel when liberated from Egypt, he said nothing about a change in the sacrifices or any sacred ordinances, although such change, too, was without doubt to follow, as we see in fact that it did follow, even as the same prophetic scripture testifies in many other passages; but he simply called attention to this difference, that God would impress His laws on the mind of those who belonged to this covenant, and would write them in their hearts, (Jer 31:32-33) whence the apostle drew his conclusion,—“not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart;” (2 Cor 3:3) and that the eternal recompense of this righteousness was not the land out of which were driven the Amorites and Hittites, and other nations who dwelt there, (Josh 12) but God Himself, “to whom it is good to hold fast,” (Ps 73:78) in order that God’s good that they love, may be the God Himself whom they love, between whom and men nothing but sin produces separation; and this is remitted only by grace. Accordingly, after saying, “For all shall know me, from the least to the greatest of them,” He instantly added, “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jer 31:34) By the law of works, then, the Lord says, “Thou shalt not covet:” (Ex 20:17) but by the law of faith He says, “Without me ye can do nothing;” (John 15:5) for He was treating of good works, even the fruit of the vine-branches. It is therefore apparent what difference there is between the old covenant and the new,—that in the former the law is written on tables, while in the latter on hearts; so that what in the one alarms from without, in the other delights from within; and in the former man becomes a transgressor through the letter that kills, in the other a lover through the life-giving spirit. We must therefore avoid saying, that the way in which God assists us to work righteousness, and “works in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure,” (Phil 2:13) is by externally addressing to our faculties precepts of holiness; for He gives His increase internally, (1 Cor 3:7) by shedding love abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given to us.” (Rom 5:5)

 

Old Covenant

City of God
Book XVI: The history of the city of God from Noah to the time of the kings of Israel.
Chapter 2.—At What Time the Promise of God Was Fulfilled Concerning the Land of Canaan, Which Even Carnal Israel Got in Possession.

…And it was fulfilled through David, and Solomon his son, whose kingdom was extended over the whole promised space; for they subdued all those nations, and made them tributary.  And thus, under those kings, the seed of Abraham was established in the land of promise according to the flesh, that is, in the land of Canaan, so that nothing yet remained to the complete fulfillment of that earthly promise of God, except that, so far as pertains to temporal prosperity, the Hebrew nation should remain in the same land by the succession of posterity in an unshaken state even to the end of this mortal age, if it obeyed the laws of the Lord its God.  But since God knew it would not do this, He used His temporal punishments also for training His few faithful ones in it, and for giving needful warning to those who should afterwards be in all nations, in whom the other promise, revealed in the New Testament, was about to be fulfilled through the incarnation of Christ.


A Treatise Against Two Letters of the Pelagians.
Book III Chapter 3.—Scriptural Confirmation of the Catholic Doctrine.

This is what we say; this is that about which they object to us that we say “that the law was so given as to be a cause of greater sin.” They do not hear the apostle saying, “For the law worketh wrath; for where no law is, there is no transgression;” (Rom 4:15) and, “The law was added for the sake of transgression until the seed should come to whom the promise was made;” (Gal 3:19) and, “If there had been a law given which could have given life, righteousness should altogether have been by the law; but the Scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.” (Gal 3:21, 23) Hence it is that the Old Testament, from the Mount Sinai, where the law was given, gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. “Now we,” says he, “are not children of the bondmaid but of the freewoman.” (Gal 4:24, 31) Therefore they are not children of the freewoman who have accepted the law of the letter, whereby they can be shown to be not only sinners, but moreover transgressors; but they who have received the Spirit of grace, whereby the law itself, holy and just and good, may be fulfilled. This is what we say: let them attend and not contend; let them seek enlightenment and not bring false accusations.


A Treatise Against Two Letters of the Pelagians.
Book III Chapter 9.—Who are the Children of the Old Covenant.

But those belong to the old testament [covenant], “which gendereth from Mount Sinai to bondage,” which is Agar, who, when they have received a law which is holy and just and good, think that the letter can suffice them for life; and do not seek the divine mercy, so as they may become doers of the law, but, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and wishing to establish their own righteousness, are not subject to the righteousness of God. Of this kind was that multitude which murmured against God in the wilderness, and made an idol; and that multitude which even in the very land of promise committed fornication after strange gods. But this multitude, even in the old testament itself, was strongly rebuked. They, moreover, whoever they were at that time who followed after those earthly promises alone which God promises there, and who were ignorant of that which those promises signify under the new testament [covenant], and who kept God’s commandments with the desire of gaining and with the fear of losing those promises,—certainly did not observe them, but only seemed to themselves to observe. For there was no faith in them that worked by love, but earthly cupidity and carnal fear. But he who thus fulfils the commandments beyond a doubt fulfils them unwillingly, and then does not do them in his heart; for he would rather not do them at all, if in respect of those things which he desires and fears he might be allowed to neglect them with impunity. And thus, in the will itself within him, he is guilty; and it is here that God, who gives the command, looks. Such were the children of the earthly Jerusalem, concerning which the apostle says, “For she is in bondage with her children,” (Gal 4:25) and belongs to the old testament [covenant] “which gendereth to bondage from Mount Sinai, which is Agar.” Of that same kind were they who crucified the Lord, and continued in the same unbelief. Thence there are still their children in the great multitude of the Jews, although now the new testament as it was prophesied is made plain and confirmed by the blood of Christ; and the gospel is made known from the river where He was baptized and began His teachings, even to the ends of the earth. And these Jews, according to the prophecies which they read, are dispersed everywhere over all the earth, that even from their writings may not be wanting a testimony to Christian truth.


A Treatise Against Two Letters of the Pelagians.
Book III Chapter 10.—The Old Law Also Given by God.

And it is for this reason that God made the old testament [covenant], because it pleased God to veil the heavenly promises in earthly promises, as if established in reward, until the fulness of time; and to give to a people which longed for earthly blessings, and therefore had a hard heart, a law, which, although spiritual, was yet written on tables of stone. Because, with the exception of the sacraments of the old books, which were only enjoined for the sake of their significance (although in them also, since they are to be spiritually understood, the law is rightly called spiritual), the other matters certainly which pertain to piety and to good living must not be referred by any interpretation to some significancy, but are to be done absolutely as they are spoken. Assuredly no one will doubt that that law of God was necessary not alone for that people at that time, but also is now necessary for us for the right ordering of our life. For if Christ took away from us that very heavy yoke of many observances, so that we are not circumcised according to the flesh, we do not immolate victims of the cattle, we do not rest even from necessary works on the Sabbath, retaining the seventh in the revolution of the days, and other things of this kind; but keep them as spiritually understood, and, the symbolizing shadows being removed, are watchful in the light of those things which are signified by them; shall we therefore say, that when it is written that whoever finds another man’s property of any kind that has been lost, should return it to him who has lost it, (Lev 6:3) it does not pertain to us? and many other like things whereby people learn to live piously and uprightly? and especially the Decalogue itself, which is contained in those two tables of stone, apart from the carnal observance of the Sabbath, which signifies spiritual sanctification and rest? For who can say that Christians ought not to be observant to serve the one God with religious obedience, not to worship an idol, not to take the name of the Lord in vain, to honour one’s parents, not to commit adulteries, murders, thefts, false witness, not to covet another man’s wife, or anything at all that belongs to another man? Who is so impious as to say that he does not keep those precepts of the law because he is a Christian, and is established not under the law, but under grace?

John Owen, Baptism, and the Baptists (Crawford Gribben)

March 20, 2015: Dr. Crawford Gribben (Professor of Early Modern British History at Queen’s University Belfast) was the guest lecturer at the Strict Baptist Historical Society Annual Lecture which took place in Kensington Place, London. His lecture was titled, “John Owen, baptism & the Baptists.”

MP3 version

http://www.1689federalism.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/John-Owen-Baptism-and-the-Baptists.mp3

Baptists: Rooted in Covenant Grace (James Renihan)

Below is Dr. James Renihan’s audio from Grace Baptist Chapel‘s annual Theology Conference “Baptists: Rooted in Covenant Grace”.

Baptists Rooted in Covenant Grace

AUDIO:

Session 1 “Genealogy Baptist Style” [MP3]

Session 2 “How Christians Have Put the Bible Together”[MP3]

Session 3 “How Christians Have Put the Bible Together (Part 2)”[MP3]

Session 4 “How Early Baptists Put the Bible Together”[MP3]

Lord’s Day Worship Service –Haggai 2:10-19 The Nature of True Religion”[MP3]

JOHN OWEN AND NEW COVENANT THEOLOGY (Richard Barcellos)

[PDF available here]

JOHN OWEN AND NEW COVENANT THEOLOGY:
Owen on the Old and New Covenants and the Functions of the Decalogue in Redemptive History in Historical and Contemporary Perspective

Richard C. Barcellos

John Owen was a giant in the theological world of seventeenth century England. He is known today as quite possibly the greatest English theologian ever. His learning was deep and his writings thorough and profound. He has left the Christian Church with a legacy few have equaled in volume, fewer yet in content. In saying this of Owen, however, it must also be recognized that some things he said are difficult to understand. Some statements may even appear to contradict other statements if he is not followed carefully and understood in light of his comprehensive thought and the Reformation and Post-Reformation Protestant Scholastic world in which he wrote.

If one reads some of the difficult sections of Owen’s writings, either without understanding his comprehensive thought and in light of the theological world in which he wrote, or in a superficial manner, some statements can easily be taken to mean things they do not. When this is done, the result is that authors are misunderstood and sometimes, subsequent theological movements are aligned with major historical figures without substantial and objective warrant. Two such instances of this involve John Owen and New Covenant Theology (NCT).

 

John G. Reisinger claims that Owen viewed the Old Covenant1 as “a legal/works covenant.”2 He goes on and says:

This covenant was conditional because it was a legal/works covenant that promised life and threatened death. Israel failed to earn the blessings promised in the covenant. But under the New Covenant, the Church becomes the Israel of God and all her members are kings and priests (a kingdom of priests). Christ, as our Surety (Heb. 7:22), has kept the Old Covenant for us and earned every blessing it promised.3

The reader of Owen’s treatise on the Old and New Covenants in his Hebrews commentary, however, will quickly realize that Reisinger’s comments above do not give the full picture of Owen’s position. For Owen did not view the Old Covenant as a covenant of works in itself. He viewed it as containing a renewal of the original covenant of works imposed upon Adam in the Garden of Eden,4 something emphatically denied by Reisinger.5 Neither did Owen teach that Christ “kept the Old Covenant for us and earned every blessing it promised.”6 On the contrary, Owen taught that obedience or disobedience to the Old Covenant in itself neither eternally saved nor eternally condemned anyone and that its promises were temporal and only for Israel while under it.7 According to Owen, what Christ kept for us was the original Adamic covenant of works, not the Old Covenant as an end in itself. Owen says:

But in the new covenant, the very first thing that is proposed, is the accomplishment and establishment of the covenant of works, both as to its commands and sanction, in the obedience and suffering of the mediator.8

Reisinger appears to make the Old Covenant the first covenant of works, a sort of new covenant of works in Owen’s thought, something he clearly denies.9 Reisinger also appears to make the Old Covenant contain in itself the promise of eternal life and the threat of eternal condemnation, thus necessitating Christ’s obedience to it.10 Owen denies both of these. He says:

This covenant [Sinai] thus made, with these ends and promises, did never save nor condemn any man eternally. All that lived under the administration of it did attain eternal life, or perished for ever, but not by virtue of this covenant as formally such. It did, indeed, revive the commanding power and sanction of the first covenant of works; and therein, as the apostle speaks, was “the ministry of condemnation,” 2 Cor. iii. 9; for “by the deeds of the law can no flesh be justified.” And on the other hand, it directed also unto the promise, which was the instrument of life and salvation unto all that did believe. But as unto what it had of its own, it was confined unto things temporal. Believers were saved under it, but not by virtue of it. Sinners perished eternally under it, but by the curse of the original law of works.11

Using Owen as Reisinger did could lead some to think that Owen and Reisinger are one on the nature of the Old Covenant. But this is far from the truth of the matter.

It must be granted, however, that Owen and Reisinger agree in some aspects of the Old Covenant, though even this acknowledgement must be carefully qualified. Both teach that the Old Covenant was made with Israel and was a temporary covenant and abrogated by the New Covenant, though Reisinger has some inconsistencies in his position (see above). Both teach that the Old Covenant was not an administration of the covenant of grace and deny the ‘one covenant two administration’ motif of other covenant theologians.12 Both view the Decalogue as a unit as abrogated under the New Covenant; however, Owen in a relative and highly qualified manner (see below) and Reisinger in an absolute manner and with the inconsistencies mentioned above.13

Another NCT advocate, Tom Wells, claims that John G. Reisinger “has adopted John Owen’s view of the Mosaic and New covenants, without adding Owen’s ‘creation ordinance’ view of the Sabbath.”14Wells also claims that Owen held a mediating position on the relationship between the Mosaic and New Covenants and that Owen’s position is substantially that of Reisinger and hence, NCT.15

Wells defines what he means by mediating position, when he says:

The mediating position is as follows: a law of any kind may be the property of more than one covenant, but no covenant is still in force in any way after it has reached its end. Applied to the present discussion that means this: many (indeed all) of the moral commands of the Mosaic Covenant reappear in the Law of Christ. But they do not do so because they are part of the Ten Commandments or the Mosaic Covenant. That covenant, with every one of its laws and with every demand it lays on anyone whatsoever, has passed away forever. That was John Owen’s position, and that is the position of John Reisinger. It has also been the position of many others.16

In Sinclair B. Ferguson’s John Owen on the Christian Life, cited by Wells in the Reisinger pamphlet, Ferguson also calls Owen’s position on the Old Covenant a mediating position.17 But Ferguson’s explanation of Owen’s mediating position does not have to do with the relationship between the law of the Old Covenant and the Law of Christ (as per Wells above). In fact, Ferguson does not even discuss this matter in this section of his book. Instead, Ferguson’s understanding of Owen’s mediating position has to do with the nature and function of the Old Covenant and its relation to the Adamic covenant of works, the covenant of grace, and the New Covenant. Unlike others, Owen did not believe that the Old Covenant was a covenant of works in itself or simply an administration of the covenant of grace. In the words of Ferguson:

Sinai should not then be thought of as the covenant of works; but Sinai does involve a renewal of the principles which partly constituted the covenant of works.

On the other hand, the Sinai covenant cannot be thought of as the covenant of grace.18

His [Owen’s] conclusion then is that the Sinaitic covenant revived the commands, sanctions and promises of the covenant of works, and that when the apostle Paul disputes about works or law- righteousness it is the renovation of the Edenic covenant in the Sinaitic covenant he has in mind. Sinai therefore is a ‘particular, temporary covenant … and not a mere dispensation of the covenant of grace.’19

It now appears that what Wells meant by Owen’s mediating position and what Ferguson meant is not identical.20 Ferguson’s meaning concentrates on Owen being in the middle of those who taught that the Old Covenant was the covenant of works and those who taught it was the covenant of grace. Owen taught neither. Wells’ meaning concentrates on the introduction of moral law from the Old Covenant into the New Covenant and how that’s done with the Old Covenant abolished.

Using the phrase as Wells did (i.e., putting a different meaning on it) could easily cause confusion. Wells’ pamphlet cited above is an attempt to clear Reisinger of accusations of doctrinal antinomianism. He uses Owen’s mediating position (as he defines it), in part, attempting to clear Reisinger of this charge. By referencing Ferguson in the pamphlet, and even Ferguson’s use of the phrase mediating position,21 however, Wells allows his readers to assume he and Ferguson mean the same thing by mediating position. But this, in fact, is not the case.

It must be granted, however, that Owen held a mediating position on the Old Covenant. There were differences of opinion on this issue within Puritanism, as Ferguson acknowledges.22 Owen did not view the Old Covenant merely as an administration of the covenant of grace. He did not avow the ‘one covenant two administrations’ motif of many of his comrades.23 He viewed it as a distinct, subservient covenant with a very limited and temporal purpose.24 He saw within it a revival of the Edenic covenant of works,25 superadded to the promises of grace.26 He also viewed it as abolished by the New Covenant.27 Hence, Owen’s mediating position put him between those who held that the Old Covenant was the covenant of works and those who held that it was the covenant of grace.28 But it cannot be granted that his mediating position be considered as a forerunner to John G. Reisinger and NCT, unless highly qualified on several fronts.29

In claiming that Reisinger “has adopted John Owen’s view of the Mosaic and New covenants, without adding Owen’s ‘creation ordinance’ view of the Sabbath,”30 Wells leads his readers to believe that the only difference between Owen and Reisinger and NCT on these issues is Owen’s creation-based Sabbath position. This has already been proven to be untrue. As shown above, Owen and Reisinger (and NCT) do not agree on many issues related to the nature and functions of the Old Covenant.

There is another reason, however, why this is not the case. It has to do with the function of the Decalogue in Owen’s thought. While explaining what he means by Reisinger’s mediating position, Wells claims that Owen and Reisinger both hold that once a covenant, and the laws attached to it, has run its course, then “[t]hat covenant, with every one of its laws and with every demand it lays on anyone whatsoever, has passed away forever.”31 For Reisinger and NCT, this means that the Decalogue as a unit, including its Sabbath, has passed away forever and that if any of its laws are binding on New Covenant Christians, then they must reappear in the law of Christ.32 This appears to be the standard NCT position. But is this what Owen teaches? If it is true that Reisinger “has adopted John Owen’s view of the Mosaic and New covenants, without adding Owen’s ‘creation ordinance’ view of the Sabbath,”33 and Reisinger teaches that the Decalogue as a unit, along with its Sabbath, has been abrogated in all senses by the New Covenant, then we should find this teaching in Owen as well. In fact, if Wells’ claim is true, then the only way Owen can have the Sabbath functioning under the New Covenant is either to base it solely upon its status as creation ordinance or to contradict himself. But, as we shall see, Owen does neither. He does not base the perpetuity of the Sabbath on its status as creation ordinance alone, nor does he contradict himself by smuggling the Decalogue into the New Covenant against his principles.

Simply put, Tom Wells, as Reisinger above, has overstated his case. In doing so, he reveals that he (1) misunderstands Owen on more than one front, (2) attributes a position to him that he did not, in fact, hold, (3) claims that Reisinger “has adopted Owen’s view of the Mosaic and New covenants, without adding Owen’s “creation ordinance” view of the Sabbath”34 without objective warrant, and (4) forces Owen to either base the Sabbath on creation alone or contradict himself by introducing it into the New Covenant on other grounds as well, something which, in fact, Owen does repeatedly (see below).

The Purpose of this Appendix

The remainder of this appendix attempts to show the following:

  1. The abrogation of Old Covenant law as defined by Owen. This will demonstrate that hecan be easily misunderstood if not followed very carefully and allowed to define his ownterms.
  2. That Owen, very late in his writing career, taught the perpetuity of the Decalogue as aunit under the New Covenant, including its Sabbath, while adhering to the view of abrogation mentioned above. This contradicts Wells’ theory that Reisinger “has adopted John Owen’s view of the Mosaic and New covenants, without adding Owen’s ‘creation ordinance’ view of the Sabbath.”35This is so because Owen’s view of the New Covenant includes a Sabbath on grounds other than its status as creation ordinance alone.
  3. That Owen’s interpretation and application of Matt. 5:17 preclude the elimination of the Decalogue as a unit from the New Covenant. This also contradicts Wells’ theory as per above.
  4. That Owen held to the multifunctional utility of the Decalogue expressed in his Confession, the Savoy Declaration of Faith (Savoy), as well as in the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (2nd LCF), and the writings of the Reformers and Post-Reformation Reformed Scholastics. In other words, Owen taught the transcovenantal utility of the Decalogue, as others before and after him.

After this, some relevant conclusions will be drawn.
In displaying these things, it will become evident that Owen’s latter writings fully comport

with his earlier writings, proving that Owen did not change his views or contradict himself. It will also become evident that all of this fits Owen’s confessional theology and the theology of Reformation and Post-Reformation Reformed Scholasticism, on the main. And finally, it will become evident that Wells and Reisinger misunderstood Owen on some very crucial points.

The Concept of Abrogation in Owen and others

1. John Owen and Abrogation

Owen teaches that the whole law of Moses (even the moral element as will be seen below) has been abrogated. This is the NCT position and is probably why Wells says in Reisinger that Reisinger holds Owen’s view.

In this section, we will look at some of the Owen statements which led Wells to conclude what he did. The next three Owen quotes were cited by Wells in Reisinger. Commenting on Heb. 7:18-19, Owen says:

I have proved before that “the commandment” in this verse [Heb. 7:18] is of equal extent and signification with “the law” in the next. And “the law” there doth evidently intend the whole law, in both the parts of it, moral and ceremonial, as it was given by Moses unto the church of Israel [emphasis added].36

Commenting on Heb. 7:12, Owen says:

It was the whole “law of commandments contained in ordinances,” or the whole law of Moses, so far as it was the rule of worship and obedience unto the church[emphasis added]; for that law it is that followeth the fates of the priesthood.37

Wherefore the whole law of Moses, as given unto the Jews [emphasis added], whether as used or abused by them, was repugnant unto and inconsistent with the gospel, and the mediation of Christ, especially his priestly office, therein declared; neither did God either design, appoint, or direct that they should be co-existent.38

Owen goes on to say that this whole law has been abrogated.
While Owen does teach this, however, he also carefully qualifies what he means by the whole

law and its abrogation. What does he mean? Commenting on Heb. 7:18-19, the same text he is commenting on above which Wells cited, Owen says:

Nor is it the whole ceremonial law only that is intended by “the command” in this place, but the moral law also, so far as it was compacted with the other into one body of precepts for the same end [emphasis added]; for with respect unto the efficacy of the whole law of Moses, as unto our drawing nigh unto God, it is here considered.39

Again, speaking of the abrogation of the whole law of the Old Covenant (moral and ceremonial), Owen says:

By all these ways was the church of the Hebrews forewarned that the time would come when the whole Mosaical law, as to its legal or covenant efficacy [emphasis added], should be disannulled, unto the unspeakable advantage of the church.40

This comes in his section which seeks to explain what he means by the whole law being abrogated. In it, he is showing how “the whole law may be considered …absolutely in itself” or “with respect …unto the end for which it was given …” or “… unto the persons unto whom it was given …”41 He calls the law “the whole system of Mosaical ordinances, as it was the covenant which God made with the people of Horeb. For the apostle takes ‘the commandment,’ and ‘the law’ for the same in this chapter; and ‘the covenant,’ in the next, for the same in them both.”42 Owen appears to be concentrating on the whole Mosaic law, as it related to the ancient covenant people and was, in fact, their covenant. It is the law in its totality as it related to that people that has been abrogated. Part of Owen’s burden in his Hebrews commentary was to show that the apostle was dealing with Hebrew Christians and their relation to the Old Covenant; they thought they could still have one, but the author [Paul according to Owen] is showing otherwise. So the abrogation of the whole law in Owen refers to the whole law as it functioned with Old Covenant Israel. This abrogation is used as an argument for the superiority of the New Covenant in the face of the Hebrew audience Paul was writing to. That law, as such (moral/decalogue and ceremonial), is abrogated.43

We will now examine other Reformed theologians to show that Owen stands clearly within Reformed orthodoxy concerning his views of abrogation.

2. John Calvin and Abrogation

This understanding of abrogation is found in Calvin also. According to Calvin, the abrogation of the law under the New Covenant in no way abrogates the Decalogue in every sense of the word. Commenting on Rom. 7:2, Calvin says:

…but we must remember, that Paul refers here only to that office of the law which was peculiar to Moses [emphasis added]; for as far as God has in the ten commandments taught what is just and right, and given directions for guiding our life, no abrogation of the law is to be dreamt of; for the will of God must stand the same forever. We ought carefully to remember that this is not a release from the righteousness which is taught in the law, but from its rigid requirements, and from the curse which thence follows[emphasis added]. The law, then, as a rule of life, is not abrogated; but what belongs to it as opposed to the liberty obtained through Christ, that is, as it requires absolute perfection…44

It is important to note that “[t]he term “law” for Calvin may mean (1) the whole religion of Moses…; (2) the special revelation of the moral law to the chosen people, i.e., chiefly the Decalogue and Jesus’ summary…; or (3) various bodies of civil, judicial, and ceremonial statutes …”45 Calvin says, “I understand by the word “law” not only the Ten Commandments, which set forth a godly and righteous rule of living, but the form of religion handed down by God through Moses.”46 Calvin views the law in various ways. So when he speaks of abrogation, he does not intend absolute abrogation, but relative abrogation in terms of the law considered not in itself, but in its redemptive-historically conditioned use. Commenting on the concept of abrogation in Calvin, one Calvin scholar said, “…the Law was not in itself abrogated by the Christ, but only the slavery and malediction attaching to it under the ancient Covenant.”47 According to Calvin, therefore, the Moral Law has not been abrogated, as such. What has been abrogated or fulfilled in Christ for believers is its function as a curse. “The law itself is not abolished for the believer, but only the maledictio legis… [F]or Calvin the law is related above all to believers for whom, however, the maledictio is removed.”48 Notice that Hesselink uses the same language that Owen does (i.e., ‘the law itself’).

3. Zacharias Ursinus and Abrogation

In The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism, while discussing the question of the extent that Christ has abrogated the law and to what extent it is still in force, Ursinus says:

The ordinary and correct answer to this question is, that the ceremonial and judicial law, as given by Moses, has been abrogated in as far as it relates to obedience; and that the moral law has also been abrogated as it respects the curse [emphasis added], but not as it respects obedience.49

The moral law has, as it respects one part [emphasis added], been abrogated by Christ; and as it respects another [emphasis added], it has not.50

But the moral law, or Decalogue, has not been abrogated in as far as obedience to it is concerned [emphasis added]. God continually, no less now than formerly, requires both the regenerate and the unregenerate to render obedience to his law.51

These statements by Ursinus are similar to both Owen and Calvin. These theologians carefully and repeatedly qualify what they mean by abrogation.

4. Francis Turretin and Abrogation

A similar understanding of abrogation can be found in Turretin. In his Institutes of Elenctic Theology, II, the table of contents entitles chapter XXIII as follows:

THE ABROGATION OF THE MORAL LAW
XXIII. Whether the moral law is abrogated entirely under the New Testament. Or whether in a certain respect it still pertains to Christians. The former we deny; the latter we affirm against the Antinomians.52

Notice Turretin’s careful qualifications (i.e., ‘…entirely…’ and ‘…in a certain respect…’). While discussing the abrogation of the moral law, he says, “In order to apprehend properly the state of the question, we must ascertain in what sense the law may be said to have been abrogated and in what sense not.”53 He then lists three senses in which the law has been abrogated. Then he says, “But the question only concerns its directive use–whether we are now freed from the direction and observance of the law. This the adversaries maintain; we deny.”54

Turretin does what we have seen in others. He has a view of abrogation which both includes the Decalogue and does not include the Decalogue. This is due to the fact that the law can be viewed from different theological and redemptive-historical vantage points.

5. Protestant Scholasticism55 and Abrogation

Finally, concerning the lex Mosaica [law of Moses], which he defines as the moral law as given to Israel by God in a special revelation to Moses on Mount Sinai, Richard Muller says, “As a norm of obedience belonging to the [covenant of grace], the law remains in force under the economy of the New Testament.”56 Hence, Muller recognizes the fact that Protestant Scholastics considered the law in different ways. So when they spoke of abrogation, the fact that they considered the law in different ways must be taken into consideration. If we do not, we may take their statements on the abrogation of the law in an absolute manner and make them mean something they did not.

6. Conclusion

It has been shown that Owen’s view of abrogation was similar to Calvin, Ursinus, Turretin, and Protestant Scholasticism. His view of abrogation neither necessarily demands the elimination of the Decalogue as a unit in all senses under the New Covenant, nor is it contradicted by the inclusion of the Decalogue as a unit under the New Covenant. Though with his own nuances and emphases, Owen’s view is substantially that of others in his day. It was Calvin’s, Ursinus’, Turretin’s, Protestant Scholasticism’s, as well as that of the WCF, the Savoy, and the 2nd LCF.57

It appears that Wells takes the concept of abrogation absolutely. Hence, he cannot allow the Decalogue to function in more ways than Old Covenant law, unless its individual commands reappear in the law of Christ (New Testament). This, of course, leads to its elimination from the New Covenant, the position of NCT. From what has been shown above, however, Wells’ understanding of Owen on abrogation is not necessary. Others held similar views and yet did not eliminate the Decalogue from the New Covenant.

From the evidence presented, Owen must be understood to view abrogation as both including and not including the Decalogue, depending on how it is viewed (more on this later). If this is the case, then his understanding of abrogation, though with its own nuances and emphases, has clear and ample precedent in Calvin, Ursinus, Turretin, and Protestant Scholasticism.

The Perpetuity of the Decalogue under the New Covenant in Owen and others

1. John Owen and the perpetuity of the Decalogue under the New Covenant

Owen teaches that Jer. 31:33 and 2 Co. 3:3 refer to the Decalogue being written on the heart of New Covenant saints in his Hebrews commentary. Commenting on Heb. 9:5, he says:

This law, as unto the substance of it, was the only law of creation, the rule of the first covenant of works; for it contained the sum and substance of that obedience which is due unto God from all rational creatures made in his image, and nothing else. It was the whole of what God designed in our creation unto his own glory and our everlasting blessedness. What was in the tables of stone was nothing but a transcript of what was written in the heart of man originally; and which is returned thither again by the grace of the new covenant, Jeremiah 31:33; 2 Corinthians 3:3.58

Consider these observations, relevant to our discussion. First, the law, in the context of Owen’s discussion, refers to the law contained on the tables of stone (i.e., the Decalogue). Second, Owen is considering the Decalogue ‘as unto the substance of it’ and not necessarily the form and/or function of it under the Old Covenant.59 Third, he claims that the Decalogue ‘was the only law of creation, the rule of the first covenant of works.’ Fourth, he claims that the Decalogue, as to the substance of it, ‘contained the sum and substance of that obedience which is due unto God from all rational creatures made in his image.’ Fifth, he claims that ‘what was in the tables of stone was nothing but a transcript of what was written in the heart of man originally.’ Sixth, he claims that ‘what was in the tables of stone’ [and written on the heart of man at creation] is that ‘which is returned thither again by the grace of the new covenant.’ And finally, he does this referencing Jer. 31:33 and 2 Co. 3:3. This clearly has direct reference to the perpetuity of the entire Decalogue under the New Covenant.

Owen continues:

Although this law as a covenant was broken and disannulled by the entrance of sin, and became insufficient as unto its first ends, of the justification and salvation of the church thereby, Rom viii. 3; yet as a law and rule of obedience it was never disannulled, nor would God suffer it to be. Yea, one principal design of God in Christ was, that it might be fulfilled and established, Matt. v. 17, 18; Rom iii. 31. For to reject this law, or to abrogate it, had been for God to have laid aside that glory of his holiness and righteousness which in his infinite wisdom he designed therein. Hence, after it was again broken by the people as a covenant, he wrote it a second time himself in tables of stone, and caused it to be safely kept in the ark, as his perpetual testimony. That, therefore, which he taught the church by and in all this, in the first place, was, that this law was to be fulfilled and accomplished, or they could have no advantage of or benefit by the covenant.60

The following observations are also relevant to our discussion. First, Owen makes a distinction between how the Decalogue functioned in the covenant of works and how it functions ‘as a law and rule of obedience.’ Second, he connects this law with God’s holiness and righteousness. We see from these two observations that Owen views the Decalogue as a perpetual ‘law and rule of obedience’ because it is related to God’s holiness and righteousness (i.e., His nature).

Continuing the discussion and concentrating on how Christ is the true ark [the antitype of the Old Covenant’s Ark of the Covenant], he says:

In his obedience unto God according unto the law he is the true ark, wherein the law was kept inviolate; that is, was fulfilled, answered, and accomplished, Matt. v. 17; Rom. viii. 3, x. 4. Hence by God’s gracious dealing with sinners, pardoning and justifying them freely, the law [i.e., Decalogue in context] is not disannulled, but established, Rom. iii. 31. That this was to be done, that without it no covenant between God and man could be firm and stable, was the principal design of God to declare in all this service; without the consideration thereof it was wholly insignificant. This was the original mystery of all these institutions, that in and by the obedience of the promised seed, the everlasting, unalterable law should be fulfilled.61

Several observations are worthy of note. First, in the context of Owen’s discussion, the law refers to that which was placed in the ark (i.e., the Decalogue as written by God on stone tablets). Second, he says that it was this law that was fulfilled, answered, and accomplished by Christ. Third, he says that the obedience of Christ to this law effects our justification. Fourth, he says that the law is not disannulled but established. Fifth, he teaches that all of this was typified in the Ark of the Covenant. And finally, he says that the law is everlasting and unalterable, probably due to its reflection of God’s holiness and righteousness.62

Owen’s use of Jer. 31:33 and 2 Co. 3:3 was not novel as will be seen below. Others who held to his basic understanding of abrogation argued the perpetuity of the Decalogue under the New Covenant upon the same exegetical grounds (see below).63

2. Herman Witsius and the perpetuity of the Decalogue under the New Covenant

In his The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man, while discussing the reason that God “engraved them [Ten Commandments] with his own finger,”64 Witsius says:

Both because they contained the declaration or testimony of the divine will, and because the preservation of them by the Israelites, was a testimony of the law given to, and received by them at Sinai. This writing also signified the purpose of God, to write the law on the hearts of his elect, according to the promise of the covenant of grace, Jer. xxxi. 33.

XVII. Nor is it for nothing that God himself would be the author of this writing, without making use of any man or angel. For this is the meaning of the Holy Spirit, when he says, that the tablets were written with the finger of God, Exod. xxxi. 18. and that the writing was the writing of God, Exod. xxxii. 16. The reasons were, 1st. To set forth the pre-eminence of this law, which he permitted to be written by Moses. 2dly. To intimate, that it is the work of God alone, to write the law on the heart, which is what neither man himself, nor the ministers of God can do, but the Spirit of God alone. And thus believers are “the epistle of Christ, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God,” 2 Cor. iii. 3.65

He goes on to discuss the effects of God’s grace and says, “But the grace of God will cancel that writing of sin, and in the room of it, will the graver of his most Holy Spirit, engrave on the same table of our heart the characters of his law.”66

The context is very clear. Witsius sees Jer. 31:33 and 2 Co. 3:3 as testimonies to the perpetuity of the Decalogue under the New Covenant. As shown above, Owen used these texts in a very similar context and with the same practical result.

3. Francis Turretin and the perpetuity of the Decalogue under the New Covenant

In the same section quoted above concerning abrogation, Turretin references both Jer. 31:33 and 2 Cor. 3:3. His use of these texts corresponds with Owen’s and Witsius’, at least to a degree. He is discussing how abrogation as it related to the Moral Law (Decalogue in context) is not to be considered absolutely, but relatively and that the law must be viewed in the same light–not absolutely, but relatively. Here are a few examples of Turretin making this distinction.

It is one thing to be under the law as a covenant to acquire life by it (as Adam was) or as a schoolmaster and a prison to guard men until the advent of Christ; another to be under the law as a rule of life to regulate our morals piously and holily.67

The law is compared by Paul to “a dead husband” (Rom. 7:2, 3), not simply, but relatively with regard to the sway and rigorous dominion it obtained over us and the curse to which it subjected sinners; but not with regard to liberation from the duty to be performed to it. Thus the law threatening, compelling, condemning, is not “made for a righteous man” (1 Tim. 1:9) because he is impelled of his own accord to duty and is no longer influenced by the spirit of bondage and the fear of punishment (Rom. 8:15; Ps. 110:3), but the law directive and regulative of morals is always laid down for him and he ought to be under it.68

What was given to the Jews as Jews can be for the use of the Jews alone; but what is given to the Jews as covenanted (or as the people of God simply) does not refer to them alone, but to all those who hold the same relation of people of God.69

Turretin makes many more statements similar to this. Suffice to say that he, as with others, makes distinctions in the way the law is viewed. This is done to protect the Moral Law from an absolutist view of abrogation and to promote its perpetual utility. It is within this discussion and context that Turretin says, ‘“If ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law’ (Gal. 5:18, viz., compelling and cursing), but under it directing, inasmuch as the Spirit works that law upon our hearts (2 Cor. 3:2; Jer. 31:33).”70 In this context, the law which directs is the Moral Law (Decalogue). Hence, it is the Decalogue, which “the Spirit works upon our hearts”, and He does this according to 2 Corinthians 3 and Jeremiah 31 in the thinking of Francis Turretin.

4. Thomas Boston and the perpetuity of the Decalogue under the New Covenant

Thomas Boston’s notes to The Marrow of Modern Divinity reveal to us that at least one 18th century Reformed theologian held that Jer. 31:33 referred to the writing of the Decalogue on the heart under the New Covenant. Boston says:

One will not think it strange to hear, that the ten commandments were, as it were, razed out of man’s heart by the fall, if one considers the spirituality and vast extent of them, and that they were, in their perfection engraven on the heart of man, in his creation, and doth withal take notice of the ruin brought on man by the fall. Hereby he indeed lost the very knowledge of the law of nature, if the ten commandments are to be reckoned, as certainly they are, the substance and matter of that law; although he lost it not totally, but some remains thereof were left with him. Concerning these the apostle speaks, Rom. i. 19, 20; and ii. 14, 15. And our author teaches expressly, that the law is partly known by nature, that is, in its corrupt state, See page 181. And here he says, not simply, that the ten commandments were razed, though in another case (page 44), he speaks after that manner, where yet it is evident he means not a razing quite; but he says, “They were, as it were, razed.” But what are these remains of them in comparison with that body of natural laws, fairly written, and deeply engraven, on the heart of innocent Adam? If they were not, as it were, razed, what need is there of writing a new copy of them in the hearts of the elect, according to the promise of the new covenant? “I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,” Heb. x. 16, and viii. 10; Jer. xxxi. 33.71

Like Witsius and Turretin before him, Boston proves that there were some in the 17th and 18th centuries who argued for the perpetuity of the Decalogue from Jer. 31:33 (and 2 Co. 3:3) on the same exegetical ground as Owen.

5. Conclusion

Though Owen’s statements concerning Jer. 31:33 are not all equally clear, those provided above are clear enough to conclude that he used it and 2 Co. 3:3 in a context which argues for the perpetuity of the Decalogue under the New Covenant. He does this in similar fashion as Witsius, Turretin, and Boston.

We have seen that abrogation in Owen and others is not absolute. We have also seen that he did, in fact, reference Jer. 31:33 and 2 Co. 3:3 in a context arguing for the perpetuity of the Decalogue under the New Covenant. He did both of these things in a manner done by others before and after him.

The statements of Owen examined thus far came toward the end of his life. Tom Wells rightly claims that the Hebrews commentary reflects Owen’s “mature thoughts on the covenants.”772 But Owen’s mature thoughts on the covenants include the perpetuity of the entire Decalogue, including the Sabbath commandment, under the New Covenant. Wells claims that Reisinger “has adopted John Owen’s view of the Mosaic and New covenants, without adding Owen’s ‘creation ordinance’ view of the Sabbath.”73 But from our study thus far, we have seen that Owen taught the perpetuity of the Decalogue as a unit under the New Covenant. Hence, Owen did not base the Sabbath under the New Covenant solely upon its status as creation ordinance. Wells’ claim, therefore, needs modification and qualification in light of a proper understanding of Owen on the Mosaic and New Covenants.

Matthew 5:17 as it Relates to the Perpetuity of the Decalogue under the New Covenant in Owen and others

1. John Owen and Matthew 5:17 as it relates to the perpetuity of the Decalogue under the New Covenant

Owen argues for the perpetuity of the Decalogue under the New Covenant from Matt. 5:17 in his Hebrews commentary.

While discussing the foundations of the Sabbath, Owen says:

From these particular instances we may return to the consideration of the law of the decalogue in general, and the perpetual power of exacting obedience wherewith it is accompanied. That in the Old Testament it is frequently declared to be universally obligatory, and has the same efficacy ascribed unto it, without putting in any exceptions to any of its commands or limitations of its number, I suppose will be granted. The authority of it is no less fully asserted in the New Testament, and that also absolutely without distinction, or the least intimation of excepting the fourth command from what is affirmed concerning the whole. It is of the law of the decalogue that our Savior treats, Matt. v. 17-19. This he affirms that he came not to dissolve, as he did the ceremonial law, but to fulfill it; and then affirms that not one jot or tittle of it shall pass away. And making thereon a distribution of the whole into its several commands, he declares his disapprobation of them who shall break, or teach men to break, any one of them. And men make bold with him, when they so confidently assert that they may break one of them, and teach others so to do, without offense. That this reaches not to the confirmation of the seventh day precisely, we shall after-wards abundantly demonstrate.74

Commenting on Heb. 9:3-5, Owen says:

Although this law as a covenant was broken and disannulled by the entrance of sin, and became insufficient as unto its first ends, of the justification and salvation of the church thereby, Rom. viii. 3; yet as a law and rule of obedience it was never disannulled, nor would God suffer it to be. Yea, one principal design of God in Christ was, that it might be fulfilled and established, Matt. v. 17, 18; Rom. iii. 31. For to reject this law, or to abrogate it, had been for God to have laid aside that glory of his holiness and righteousness which in his infinite wisdom he designed therein. Hence, after it was again broken by the people as a covenant, he wrote it a second time himself in tables of stone, and caused it to be safely kept in the ark, as his perpetual testimony. That, therefore, which he taught the church by and in all this, in the first place, was, that this law was to be fulfilled and accomplished, or they could have no advantage of or benefit by the covenant.75

These two quotes show that both early in the Hebrews commentary and late, Owen held that Matt. 5:17 did not eliminate the Decalogue from the New Covenant. It is of interest for our purposes to note that this latter use of Matt. 5:17 both agrees with the former and comes after the statements Tom Wells used to conclude that Owen’s view was John G. Reisinger’s and that of NCT. This also proves that Owen based the Sabbath on its place in the Decalogue as well as its status as creation ordinance.

This consistent understanding of Matt. 5:17, which includes the perpetuity of the Decalogue under the New Covenant, does not necessarily contradict Owen on the abrogation of the whole law–Decalogue included. We have seen that abrogation for Owen, and many others, is not absolute, especially when it comes to the Decalogue. Owen used Jer. 31:33 and 2 Co. 3:3 as proof for the perpetuity of the Decalogue. His use of Matt. 5:17 is to the same end.76

2. Zacharias Ursinus and Matthew 5:17 as it relates to the perpetuity of the Decalogue under the New Covenant

While discussing how abrogation affects the Moral Law, Ursinus makes the point that “the moral law, or Decalogue, has not been abrogated in as far as obedience to it is concerned.”77 He then argues, “God continually, no less now than formerly, requires both the regenerate and the unregenerate to render obedience to his law.”78 He seeks to prove this by three reasons. The third reason is:

From the testimony of Scripture: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” (Matt. 5:17.) This is spoken, indeed, of the whole law, but with a special reference to the moral law, which Christ has fulfilled in four respects …79

Ursinus understands Matt. 5:17 in such a way as to demand the perpetuity of the Decalogue under the New Covenant. This shows that someone who held similar views with Owen on abrogation also upheld the perpetuity of the Decalogue under the New Covenant from Matt. 5:17.

3. Francis Turretin and Matthew 5:17 as it relates to the perpetuity of the Decalogue under the New Covenant

While offering “Proof that the law is not abrogated as to direction”80 , Turretin says, “…Christ ‘did not come to destroy but to fulfill the law’ (Mt. 5:17). Therefore as it was not abolished but fulfilled by Christ, neither is its use among us to be abolished.”81 Once again, one who held similar views with Owen concerning abrogation and the use of Jer. 31:33 and 2 Co. 3:3 uses Matt. 5:17 to support the perpetuity of the Decalogue under the New Covenant.

4. Conclusion

It has now become clear that Owen’s view of Matt. 5:17 does not require the elimination of the Decalogue under the New Covenant. This was Owen’s position in the Hebrews commentary itself. His view on Matt. 5:17 was the view of Ursinus and Turretin. These men also held similar views on abrogation and the perpetuity of the Decalogue based on various grounds. Taking all that we have seen thus far in Owen and others who held similar views, it is becoming more and more unlikely that his mediating position can be claimed as that of John G. Reisinger or NCT. They may and do hold to his view in part, but certainly not in whole, and the difference is not as simple as Owen’s addition of the Sabbath as a creation ordinance.

The Multi-functional Utility of the Decalogue in Owen and others

1. John Owen and the multi-functional utility of the Decalogue

Owen viewed the Decalogue as having more than one function. Unlike Reisinger and NCT, he did not view it as Old Covenant law alone. His understanding of the multi-functional utility of the Decalogue can be seen very clearly in several places of his Hebrews commentary. For instance, commenting on Heb. 9:5, referenced above, he says, “The law [Decalogue in context], as unto the substance of it, was the only law of creation, the rule of the first covenant of works.”82 Later he claims that “[w]hat was in the tables of stone was nothing but a transcript of what was written in the heart of man originally; and which is returned thither again by the grace of the new covenant.”83 Notice that he views the Decalogue as functioning several ways; first, ‘as unto the substance of it, …the only law of creation’; second, ‘the rule of the first covenant of works’; third, that which ‘was in the tables of stone’; fourth, ‘a transcript of what was written in the heart of man originally’; and fifth, that ‘which is returned [to the heart of man] again by the grace of the new covenant.’

Commenting on Heb. 7:18-19, also referenced previously, he says:

Nor is it the whole ceremonial law only that is intended by “the command” in this place, but the moral law also, so far as it was compacted with the other into one body of precepts for the same end [emphasis added]; for with respect unto the efficacy of the whole law of Moses, as unto our drawing nigh unto God, it is here considered.84

Here he views the Decalogue as a unit ‘so far as it was compacted with the other [ceremonial law] into one body of precepts for the same end.’ In other words, he is considering the Decalogue not absolutely or in itself (see below), but relatively or as it was ‘compacted’ with the ceremonial law under the Old Covenant.

While discussing the causes of the Sabbath and arguing for the morality and immutability of the essence of the fourth commandment, he makes this statement concerning the nature and function of the Decalogue under the Old Covenant:

The nature of the decalogue, and the distinction of its precepts from all commands, ceremonial or political, comes now under consideration. The whole decalogue, I acknowledge, as given on mount Sinai to the Israelites, had a political use, as being made the principal instrument or rule of the polity and government of their nation, as peculiarly under the rule of God. It had a place also in that economy or dispensation of the covenant which that church was then brought under; wherein, by God’s dealing with them and instructing of them, they were taught to look out after a further and greater good in the promise than they were yet come to the enjoyment of. Hence the Decalogue itself, in that dispensation of it, was a schoolmaster unto Christ.85

First, Owen views the Decalogue as the core of the law of the Old Covenant. He says, ‘The whole decalogue, …as given on mount Sinai to the Israelites, had a political use, as being made the principal instrument or rule of the polity and government of their nation.’ Second, he makes the point that the Decalogue was ‘made the principal instrument or rule of the polity and government’ of Israel under the Old Covenant. This is something it was not until that time. He viewed it as already in existence, though in a different form and revealed in a different manner, but now being ‘made’ something it was not. It was now ‘made’ to fit the redemptive-historical conditions of the Old Covenant. This seems even more likely, since he goes on to say, “Some, indeed, of the precepts of it, as the first, fourth, and fifth, have either prefaces, enlargements, or additions, which belonged peculiarly to the then present and future state of that church in the land of Canaan.”86 Third, he also viewed it as ‘a schoolmaster unto Christ.’

Next, he is going to consider the Decalogue “in itself, and materially.”87 He says:

But in itself, and materially considered, it was wholly, and in all the preceptive parts of it, absolutely moral. Some, indeed, of the precepts of it, as the first, fourth, and fifth, have either prefaces, enlargements, or additions, which belonged peculiarly to the then present and future state of that church in the land of Canaan; but these especial applications of it unto them change not the nature of its commands or precepts, which are all moral, and, as far as they are esteemed to belong to the Decalogue, are unquestionably acknowledged so to be.88

Notice that he has transitioned from viewing the Decalogue in its Old Covenant functions to the Decalogue in itself. We might say that he was considering it relatively speaking, as it functioned under the Old Covenant, and now he is considering it absolutely or in itself, as it functions transcovenantally. First, he makes a distinction between the Decalogue ‘as being made the principal instrument or rule of the polity and government of their [Old Covenant Israel’s] nation’ and ‘in itself.’ Hence, ‘in itself’ and ‘in all the preceptive parts of it’ the Decalogue is ‘absolutely moral.’ Second, he says that the Decalogue under the Old Covenant had redemptive-historical ‘prefaces, enlargements, or additions’ peculiar to the conditions in which they [the church in the land of Canaan] lived. These are positive, covenantal appendages, added to the Decalogue and applicable to Old Covenant Israel in the land of Canaan.

From these statements, the following observations are relevant to our purposes. First, Owen viewed the Decalogue both relatively and absolutely, depending on its function in redemptive history. Second, he viewed the Decalogue (i.e., that which ‘was in tables of stone… as unto the substance of it’) functioning various ways and in all of the epochs of redemptive history. First of all, he saw it functioning in the Garden of Eden. He viewed it as being the law of creation, the rule of the Adamic covenant of works, and that which was written on Adam’s heart. He then saw it functioning in a special manner under the Old Covenant. He also saw it functioning under the New Covenant. He taught that it was this same law, as unto its substance, “which is returned thither [to the heart of man] again by the grace of the new covenant.”89 He also viewed it as the rule of life for all men,90 because ‘in all the preceptive parts of it’ it is ‘absolutely moral.’ And as stated earlier, he viewed it as related to the active and passive obedience of Christ and hence, connected and essential to the doctrine of justification.91

Hence, Owen adheres to the multi-functional utility of the Decalogue. It functioned in the garden as the law of creation written on Adam’s heart, as the rule of the covenant of works, as that which is required of all image bearers, as the principal instrument or rule of the Old Covenant, and as the basic rule of life under the New Covenant. Hence, its broken commands were the cause of Christ’s suffering and its precepts the rule of His obedience.92

2. John Calvin and the multi-functional utility of the Decalogue93

Calvin very clearly and in many places identified the Decalogue as a special form of the Natural Law. For instance, Calvin said, “Now that inward law, which we have above described as written, even engraved, upon the hearts of all, in a sense asserts the very same things that are to be learned from the two Tables.”94 Calvin “saw the revealed law as given in the ten commandments as a specially accommodated restatement of the law of nature for the Jews.”95 He clearly held that by nature Gentiles without special revelation possessed the general knowledge of the Decalogue, though obscured by sin.96 Hesselink says, “There is no denying that for Calvin the content of the moral law is essentially the same as that inscribed on the hearts of humans “by nature”.”97 Francois Wendel says, “One can even say that, for Calvin, the Decalogue is only a special application of the natural law which God came to attest and confirm.”98

Calvin’s view of the multi-functional utility of the Decalogue is no secret. It is also evidenced by the fact that he clearly upheld the perpetuity of both Tables of the law for New Covenant believers.99 For instance, he says:

The whole law is contained under two heads. Yet our God, to remove all possibility of excuse, willed to set forth more fully and clearly by the Ten Commandments everything connected with the honor, fear, and love of him, and everything pertaining to the love toward men, which he for his own sake enjoins upon us.100

Calvin clearly held that the Decalogue, all Ten Commandments, functioned as the basic, fundamental law of the Bible and as a universal ethical canon for all men based on creation. He also believed in the basic centrality of the entire Decalogue under the New Covenant.

Similar to Owen, Calvin holds to the multi-functional utility of the Decalogue.

3. Zacharias Ursinus and the multi-functional utility of the Decalogue

As stated above, in his Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, while discussing the question: To What Extent Has Christ Abrogated The Law, And To What Extent Is It Still In Force, Ursinus says: “The moral law has, as it respects one part, been abrogated by Christ; and as it respects another, it has not.”101 He continues and says, “…But the moral law, or Decalogue, has not been abrogated in as far as obedience to it is concerned.”102

It is clear that Ursinus, like Owen and Calvin, holds to a multi-functional utility of the Decalogue.

4. Francis Turretin and the multi-functional utility of the Decalogue

While discussing the use of the Moral Law, Turretin says:

A twofold use of the law may be laid down—absolute and relative. The former regards the law in itself; the latter regards the law in relation to the various states of man. The absolute (which obtains in every state of man) is that it may be a unique, full and certain rule of things to be done and avoided by each of us as well towards God as his neighbor. Thus there is no work truly and properly good and acceptable to God which does not agree with the law and is not prescribed by it; and whatsoever is not commanded nor forbidden by it is to be considered in its own nature indifferent and left to the freedom of man, unless this freedom has been restricted by some positive law.103

In Turretin, the Moral Law or Decalogue is the inscripturated form of the Natural Law.104 Notice above that Turretin views the Moral Law absolutely and relatively. Viewing it absolutely, it is applicable ‘in every state of man.’ How does he view the Moral Law relatively? He continues:

The relative use is manifold according to the different states of man. (1) In the instituted state of innocence, it was a contract of a covenant of works entered into with man and the means of obtaining life and happiness according to the promise added to the law…

(2) In the destitute state of sin, the use of the law cannot be “justification” because it was weak in the flesh. …Still there is a threefold use of the law [in man’s destitute state of sin]. (a) For conviction… (b) For restraint… (c) For condemnation…

(3) In the restored state of grace, it has a varied use with respect to the elect, both before and after their conversions. Antecedently, is serves (a) to convince and humble man… (b) To lead men to Christ…

It not only antecedently prepares the elect man for Christ, but consequently also directs him already renewed through Christ in the ways of the Lord; serving him as a standard and rule of the most perfect life…105

Relatively, or considering the law in its relation ‘to the different states of man,’ the law has various functions as it pertains to the lost and the saved throughout all ages. In other words, there is a multi-functional utility to the law. Its utility transcends covenantal bounds. Due to the nature of the Decalogue, it cannot be eliminated from any era of redemptive history, which includes the New Covenant era.

Turretin’s view is that of Owen, Calvin, and Ursinus.

5. Protestant Scholasticism and the multi-functional utility of the Decalogue

Richard Muller defines Moral Law in Protestant scholastic thought as follows:

[S]pecifically and predominantly, the Decalogus, or Ten Commandments; also called the lex Mosaica …, as distinct from the lex ceremonialis …and the lex civilis, or civil law. The lex moralis, which is primarily intended to regulate morals, is known to the [innate habit of understanding basic principles of moral law] and is the basis of the acts of [conscience–the application of the innate habit above]. In substance, the lex moralis is identical with the lex naturalis …but, unlike the natural law, it is given by revelation in a form which is clearer and fuller than that otherwise known to the reason.106

While defining the Mosaic Law, he says:

…the moral law or lex moralis (q.v.) given to Israel by God in a special revelation to Moses on Mount Sinai. In contrast to the moral law known in an obscure way to all rational creatures, the lex Mosaica is the clear, complete, and perfect rule of human conduct. The Protestant scholastics argue its completeness and perfection from its fulfillment, without addition, by Christ. Since the law does promise life in return for obedience, the Reformed argue that in one sense it holds forth the abrogated foedus operum q.v.), or covenant of works, if only as the unattainable promise of the righteous God and the now humanly unattainable requirement for salvation apart from grace. In addition, the Reformed can argue that Christ’s perfect obedience did fulfill the covenant of works and render Christ capable of replacing Adam as federal head of humanity. Primarily, however, the Reformed view the law as belonging to the Old Testament dispensatio (q.v.) of the foedus gratiae (q.v.), or covenant of grace. It is the norm of obedience given to God’s faithful people to be followed by them with the help of grace. As a norm of obedience belonging to the foedus gratiae, the law remains in force under the economy of the New Testament. Lutheran orthodoxy, which does not follow the covenant schema typical of the Reformed, also views the law as the perfect standard of righteousness and the absolute norm of morals, which requires conformity both in outward conduct and inward obedience of mind, will, and affections.107)

These definitions of key theological terms and concepts used by Protestant Scholasticism amply display that it held to the multi-functional utility of the Decalogue.

6. Conclusion

Owen’s view of the multi-functional utility of the Decalogue comports with his view of abrogation, Jer. 31:33, 2 Co. 3:3, and Matt. 5:17, and also with many of his theological contemporaries. There is a way to understand Owen on abrogation which both eliminates the Decalogue from the New Covenant and preserves it. Relatively speaking, as the Decalogue functioned under the Old Covenant, it has been abrogated. Absolutely speaking, as the Decalogue represents and summarily comprehends the Moral Law as to its substance, it has not and cannot be abrogated. It has more than one function.

Wells’ theory that John G. Reisinger and NCT have adopted Owen’s view of the Mosaic and New Covenants becomes more and more suspect as the evidence mounts.

Some Concluding Thoughts

Tom Wells has made two claims that gave rise to this discussion. Those two claims are: (1) that John G. Reisinger “has adopted John Owen’s view of the Mosaic and New covenants, without adding Owen’s ‘creation ordinance’ view of the Sabbath”108 and (2) that Owen held a mediating position on the relationship between the Mosaic and New Covenants, a position substantially that of Reisinger and NCT.109 What can we conclude in light of the evidence presented?

1. Owen and the Importance of Historical/Theological Context

  • Owen in the context of his own writings

Primary source documentation of Owen has been presented on (1) abrogation, (2) the perpetuity of the entire Decalogue from Jer. 31:33 and 2 Co. 3:3, (3) Matt. 5:17 as it relates to the perpetuity of the Decalogue under the New Covenant, and (4) the multi-functional utility of the Decalogue. Examining Owen on these subjects both put us into the primary documents themselves and within Owen’s systematic thought on relevant theological issues. This was necessary in order to understand him on the primary issue under investigation–whether or not Tom Wells’ two claims can be justified from Owen.

Ample evidence was supplied above to make the following conclusions concerning Owen and NCT. His view of abrogation must be carefully qualified, especially as it relates to the Decalogue and the New Covenant. On the one hand, he did view the Decalogue as abrogated under the New Covenant, something properly and emphatically affirmed by NCT. But he viewed it abrogated in terms of its function under the Old Covenant and along with the rest of the Old Covenant’s law. His view of the abrogation of the Decalogue was not absolute, contrary to NCT, but relative. It concerned a specific redemptive-historical function of the Decalogue and not all redemptive-historical functions.

On the other hand, Owen did not view the Decalogue as abrogated under the New Covenant, something emphatically denied by NCT. He viewed it as perpetual because it contains “the sum and substance of that obedience which is due unto God from all rational creatures made in his image.”110

These distinctions in his views on abrogation and the various redemptive-historical functions of the Decalogue are in his early and later statements in the Hebrews commentary. It may be difficult for us to understand them, taking them at face value, but once his careful qualifications are taken into account, along with his other clear assertions concerning the perpetuity of the Decalogue under the New Covenant and the grounds for it, his meaning comes clearly into focus. But if we import into Owen our understanding of what certain statements mean or fail to understand his systematic thought, we are apt to misread him and either force upon him something he never intended or force him to contradict himself.

It appears that Wells misunderstood Owen. Wells’ claims give the impression that he may not have taken all of the relevant data into consideration. This caused him to claim that the mediating position of Owen was that of Reisinger and NCT, without Owen’s creation ordinance view of the Sabbath. We have seen, however, that this is an overstatement in need of numerous crucial qualifications. And these qualifications would actually reveal the fact that Owen and NCT are farther apart on these matters than a prima facie approach may indicate.

  • The historical/theological context in which Owen wrote

Primary source documentation has been presented from Calvin, Ursinus, Witsius, Turretin, Protestant Scholastic thought, and Boston. In doing so, the attempt was made to put Owen in historical and theological context. We found that his views on the subject matters examined were not novel and fit within the theological nomenclature of his contemporaries. Though what he said may be hard for us to understand and even appear novel, it was not so in his day. Owen’s statements, put under the microscope of his theological peers, do not warrant Wells’ assessment of him–that his mediating position is substantially that of John G. Reisinger and NCT.

2. The Contemporary/Theological Issues which gave rise to this Discussion

When understood in context, with Owen’s own qualifications, and in light of other pertinent statements of his on related matters, and in light of the historical/theological nomenclature of his day, Owen can be understood to teach the same thing throughout the Hebrews commentary about the perpetuity of the Decalogue under the New Covenant. His views were somewhat standard in his day, though with their own nuances. They were neither novel nor those of NCT.

Tom Wells’ claims have been referenced throughout this discussion and proven wrong for several reasons or, at least, proven to be in need of some crucial qualifications. What are those crucial and necessary qualifications? Here is a suggested list of agreements between John Owen and NCT and some necessary qualifications:

  1. Both John Owen and NCT believe that ‘the first covenant’ in the book of Hebrews is a reference to the Old or Mosaic Covenant.
  2. Both John Owen and NCT believe that the Old Covenant was a distinct and temporary covenant for Israel in the land of Canaan, abolished by Christ and replaced by the New Covenant. But Owen did not believe that Christ fulfilled the terms of the Old Covenant in itself for believers; NCT, at least John G. Reisinger, does.
  3. Both John Owen and NCT believe that the Old Covenant was not an administration of the covenant of grace. But Owen believes it was not a covenant of works in itself but revived the original Adamic covenant of works; NCT, at least John G. Reisinger, believes it was a covenant of works in itself.
  4. Both John Owen and NCT believe that the Bible contains a legal covenant or covenant of works. But Owen equates this covenant with the Adamic economy; NCT, at least John G. Reisinger, with the Old Covenant.
  5. Both John Owen and NCT believe that the New Covenant is an effectual covenant, securing all of the promised blessings of it for all in the covenant.111
  1. Both John Owen and NCT believe in the abrogation of the Decalogue under the New Covenant. But Owen believes in it relatively, as it was ‘compacted’ with the rest of the Old Covenant’s law; NCT absolutely.
  2. John Owen believes in the multi-functional utility of the entire Decalogue; NCT does not.
  3. John Owen believes that the New Covenant includes the perpetuity of the Sabbath and not only because the Sabbath is a creation ordinance; NCT does not. In fact, as we have seen above, Tom Wells claims that the only difference between John Owen and John G. Reisinger (and NCT) on the Mosaic and New Covenants is Owen’s creation ordinance view of the Sabbath. This, indeed, is not the case and an oversimplification of Owen’sview.

This list reflects something mentioned above. When Owen and NCT are examined side by side, they appear to be farther apart on these matters than a surface approach may reveal.

In the section in Reisinger which presents Wells’ understanding of Owen’s mediating position, he says:

Why, then, has the negative term antinomian stuck to so many who take this to be the best explanation of the presence of OT laws under the New Covenant? [I take ‘this’ to refer to Wells’ previous statement concerning his understanding of Owen’s mediating position: ‘a law of any kind may be the property of more than one covenant, but no covenant is still in force in any way after it has reached its end.’]

If the answer is that this is essentially an antinomian explanation two replies seem obvious. First, if it is antinomianism in John Reisinger it is also antinomianism in John Owen. Second, it does not fall under the strictures against antinomianism in the latest volume to deal extensively with that issue, The Weakness of the Law by Jonathan Bayes, though Mr. Bayes himself holds the “orthodox” Puritan position.112

Understanding Owen’s mediating position as he does, Wells argues that if one wants to label John G. Reisinger an antinomian113, then John Owen must be also. We have, however, seen that Owen’s views are somewhat standard concerning abrogation, Jer. 31:33, 2 Co. 3:3, Matt. 5:17, and the multi-functional utility of the Decalogue. Assuming Wells’ interpretation of Owen and that Owen’s views were somewhat standard (something proved above), we would then be forced to label Calvin, Ursinus, Witsius, Turretin, and Boston as antinomians, since they held substantially what Owen did. This would be interesting, especially since those men wrote against antinomianism in its various forms. This would mean either they all changed their views or they contradicted themselves.

The evidence above, however, provides a better solution. Owen cannot be labeled as an antinomian in any sense because he did not abrogate the Moral Law (Decalogue as a unit) in all senses from the New Covenant. In other words, he did not deny the third use of the law (as a rule of life for believers) as traditionally understood in Reformed theology. NCT does and hence, is doctrinally antinomian.114

Owen’s ‘each covenant has its own positive law’ motif (i.e., Wells’ understanding of Owen’s mediating position) is adhered to by NCT, though applied differently. It appears that NCT uses this motif to eliminate the Decalogue as a unit, especially the fourth commandment, under the New Covenant, among other things. Owen’s understanding and application of ‘each covenant has its own positive law’ did not. It may well be that this motif is one reason why the seventeenth century Particular Baptist Nehemiah Coxe was endeared to Owen on the Mosaic and New Covenants. If applied consistently, it eliminated infant baptism from the New Covenant, not the Decalogue or only its Sabbath. Coxe deals with the covenants from the covenant of works through the Covenant of Circumcision. Owen deals with the Mosaic and New Covenants in his Hebrews commentary. Both may115 have held to the ‘each covenant has its own positive law’ motif, though if so, they applied it differently when it came to the subjects of baptism. But, if held to by both, neither used it to eliminate the Decalogue from the New Covenant. Hence, using Owen as a precursor to John G. Reisinger or NCT simply does not fit the evidence.

3. Closing Comments

We have examined Owen in light of Owen, his historical and theological context, and Tom Wells’ claims that align him with John G. Reisinger and NCT. In light of the discussion above, it is safe to say that Owen cannot be claimed by NCT on the grounds Wells claims him. He held views with which NCT is sympathetic. But his views did not change, at least as far as the perpetuity of the Decalogue under the New Covenant goes, nor were they contradictory or novel. The novelty in all of this appears to be NCT’s method of abrogating the Decalogue from the New Covenant. It does this upon the grounds of it being a unit of law applicable to Old Covenant Israel as a body politic and applicable to them alone. This leads NCT to view the Old Covenant as a covenant of works in itself and unrelated to the Edenic covenant of works. Radical antinomians eliminate the Decalogue because it is law. Doctrinal antinomians eliminate it because it is Moses’ Law and not Christ’s. This has detrimental implications for the identity of the Natural Law, the basis of the covenant of works, the perpetuity of the Moral Law, the Sabbath, the active obedience of Christ, and the imputation of righteousness–indeed, the gospel itself. The issues are far-reaching and have very practical relevance.

In closing, it is important to remember what was said at the outset. Owen can be easily misunderstood if not followed very carefully and if his statements are not examined in light of his systematic thought and the historical and theological context in which he wrote. It appears that both John G. Reisinger and Tom Wells did just that.116 May we all learn from this to be careful when making claims about another’s position, especially someone who carries as much theological weight as John Owen. In making such claims, we may be making sweeping generalizations unawares and leading others to believe that which is simply not true.


  1. The phrase ‘Old Covenant’ will be used throughout as a synonym for ‘Mosaic or Sinai Covenant.’ 
  2. John G. Reisinger, Tablets of Stone (Southbridge, MA: Crown Publications, Inc., 1989), 36. 
  3. Reisinger, Tablets of Stone, 37. 
  4. John Owen, The Works of John Owen (Edinburgh, Scotland: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1991), XXII:78, 80, 81, 89, 142. Owen viewed the Old Covenant as containing a works-inheritance principle of the broken covenant of works. The reintroduction of this element of the covenant of works, however, functioned on a typological level under the Old Covenant and applied to temporal promises and threats alone. See Mark W. Karlberg, Covenant Theology in Reformed Perspective (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2000), 167, 184, 217, 218, 248, 273, 346, and 366 for a similar understanding of the works principle of the Old Covenant as it relates to the covenant of works on the typological level of kingdom administration. 
  5. The following is taken from John G. Reisinger Abraham’s Four Seeds (Frederick, MD: New Covenant Media, 1998), 129. In it he denies both the covenant of works and the covenant of grace as traditionally understood. “Some time ago I discussed the basic theme of this book with a group of Reformed ministers that was about equally divided on the subject of Covenant Theology, Dispensationalism, and the view that I hold. Several of those who held strongly to Covenant Theology insisted on using the term covenant of grace as if it had the authority of a verse of Scripture. They made no attempt to prove their assertions from Scripture texts. They kept speaking in terms of logic and theology. I finally said, ‘We agree that the Bible is structured around two covenants. However, the two covenants that you keep talking about, namely, a covenant of works with Adam in the garden of Eden and a covenant of grace made with Adam immediately after the fall, have no textual basis in the Word of God. They are both theological covenants and not biblical covenants. They are the children of one’s theological system. Their mother is Covenant Theology and their father is logic applied to that system. Neither of these two covenants had their origin in Scripture texts and biblical exegesis. Both of them were invented by theology as the necessary consequences of a theological system.’” Though Reisinger denies the Edenic covenant of works, he does not deny the theology of the covenant of works entirely. He simply does not go back far enough in redemptive history for its basis (cf. Hosea 6:7 and Romans 5:12ff). Because of holding to a modified covenant of works position (i.e., the Mosaic Covenant is the covenant of works), Reisinger’s writings uphold the law/gospel distinction which is crucial in maintaining the gospel of justification by faith alone. For this he is to be commended. 
  6. Reisinger, Tablets of Stone, 37. 
  7. Owen, Works, XXII:85, 90, 92. 
  8. Ibid., 89, 90. 
  9. Ibid., 78. 
  10. See Richard C. Barcellos, In Defense of the Decalogue: A Critique of New Covenant Theology (Enumclaw, WA: WinePress Publishing, 2001), 57-59, for more statements by Reisinger which substantiate this along with my comments. In his book Tablets of Stone, he argues that the Old Covenant was for Israel alone and also, contradicting himself, that Christ fulfilled its terms for New Covenant Christians. Owen teaches that Christ fulfilled the terms of the Adamic covenant of works for Christians and not the Old Covenant as a covenant of works in itself. 
  11. Owen, Works, XXII:85-86. 
  12. See Ibid., 76, 86 and Reisinger, Abraham’s, 129ff. 
  13. In Reisinger’s Tablets of Stone, he asserts several times and in various ways that the Tablets of Stone were given to ancient Israel, and ancient Israel alone, as a legal covenant. But, as noted above, he also claims that Christ died under the curse of and to secure the blessings of that very covenant for the New Covenant Israel of God, His church. 
  14. Tom Wells, Is John G. Reisinger and Antinomian? (Frederick, MD: New Covenant Media, 2001), 6. 
  15. Wells, Reisinger, 6. I added ‘hence, NCT’ because Wells admits that Reisinger is part of the movement called NCT on page 5. 
  16. Wells, Reisinger, 8. 
  17. Sinclair B. Ferguson, John Owen on the Christian Life (Edinburgh, Scotland: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1987), 28. In an email discussion concerning his view of Owen’s mediating position, Ferguson affirmed that my understanding of him (and Owen) is correct. 
  18. Ferguson, John Owen, 29. 
  19. Ibid., 30. 
  20. In an email discussion and subsequent telephone conversation with Tom Wells, he affirmed that he probably intended to use the phrase with Ferguson’s meaning. After examining Wells and Ferguson, however, I have come to believe that they, in fact, cannot mean the same thing and that Wells probably misunderstood both Ferguson and Owen. 
  21. Wells, Reisinger, 10. 
  22. Ferguson, John Owen, 28. 
  23. Owen, Works, XXII:76, 86. 
  24. Ibid., 76, 77, 85, 90. 
  25. Owen, Works, XXII:78, 80, 81, 89, 142. Geerhardus Vos acknowledges that other Reformed theologians have used similar language as Owen concerning the relationship between the covenant of works and the Sinai covenant. He says, “…we can also explain why the older theologians did not always clearly distinguish between the covenant of works and the Sinaitic covenant. At Sinai it was not the ‘bare’ law that was given, but a reflection of the covenant of works revived [emphasis added], as it were, in the interests of the covenant of grace continued at Sinai.” See Geerhardus Vos, Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1980), 255. See also Karlberg, Covenant Theology, 76, 184, 248, and 273. 
  26. Ibid., 113, 142. 
  27. Ibid., 100. 
  28. Ferguson, John Owen, 28. Cf. also Samuel Bolton, The True Bounds of Christian Freedom (Edinburgh, Scotland: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1978), 88-109 (cf. also 173-174), for a discussion on the various views of the nature and function of the Old Covenant among seventeenth-century divines. Bolton holds, substantially, the same position as Owen. The Old Covenant is not a covenant of works in itself, nor a ‘legal’ administration of the covenant of grace. It is a subservient covenant to the covenant of grace. Fisher, Witsius, and Boston held similar views. 
  29. Neither Reisinger nor Wells have provided these necessary qualifications for us. I will suggest some qualifications at the end of this article. 
  30. Wells, Reisinger, 6. 
  31. Wells, Reisinger, 8. 
  32. Ibid., 8-9. 
  33. Ibid., 6. 
  34. Wells, Reisinger, 6. 
  35. Ibid. 
  36. Owen, Works, XXI:464. Cited by Wells in Reisinger, 7. 
  37. Ibid., 428. Cited by Wells in Reisinger, 7. 
  38. Ibid., 429. Cited by Wells in Reisinger, 7. 
  39. Ibid., 458. 
  40. Ibid., 469. 
  41. Owen, Works, XXI:466. 
  42. Ibid., 471. 
  43. I defended this view of abrogation in chapter 3 of my book In Defense of the Decalogue: A Critique of New Covenant Theology (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.” See Barcellos, IDOTD, 61. 
  44. John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, Volume XIX (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, re. 1984), 246. 
  45. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Philadelphia, PA, The Westminster Press, 1960), II.vii, n. 1. 
  46. Calvin, Institutes, II.vii.1. The same phenomena of viewing the law from different theological vantage points can be found in Owen also. I will provide evidence for this below. 
  47. I. John Hesselink, Calvin’s Concept of the Law (Allison Park, PA: Pickwick Publications, 1992), 203. 
  48. Hesselink, Calvin’s Concept, 256. 
  49. Zacharias Ursinus, The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism (Edmonton, AB, Canada: Still Waters Revival Books, re. n.d.), 492. 
  50. Ursinus, Heidelberg Catechism, 495. 
  51. Ibid., 496. 
  52. Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology (Phillipsburg, PA: P&R Publishing, 1994), II:ix. 
  53. Turretin, Institutes, II:141. 
  54. Ibid., 141-142. 
  55. The sections dealing with Protestant Scholasticism reflect the general teaching of that school of thought. Other sections may and do deal with specific representatives of that school. 
  56. Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1985), 174. 
  57. See chapters 4 and 19 of these Confessions. 
  58. Owen, Works, XXII:215. 
  59. Protestant Scholasticism taught that the Decalogue summarily contains the moral law and is the inscripturated form of the natural law, as to its substance. A distinction was made between substance and form. Substance is one; form may vary. Hence, when the Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 98 says, “The moral law is summarily comprehended in the ten commandments,” it refers to the fact that the substance (i.e., the underlying essence) of the Moral Law is assumed and articulated in the propositions of the Decalogue as contained in Exo. 20 and Deut. 5. The form fits the redemptive-historical circumstances in which it was given. The substance or underlying principles are always relevant and applicable to man. The application may shift based on redemptive-historical changes, such as the inauguration of the New Covenant, but its substance and utility never changes. 
  60. Owen, Works, XXII:215-216.  
  61. Ibid., 217-218. 
  62. Owen, Works, XXII:215. 
  63. In IDOTD, I provided exegetical evidence that Jer. 31:33 and 2 Co. 3:3 speak directly to the issue of the perpetuity of the Decalogue under the New Covenant. I provided references to Old Testament and New Testament scholars to this end. The scholars I referenced are not all Reformed confessionalists. I did this on purpose to show that one’s confessional commitments do not necessarily cloud one’s exegetical lenses. See Barcellos, IDOTD, 16-24 and 34-38. 
  64. Herman Witsius, The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man (Escondido, CA: The den Dulk Christian Foundation, re. 1990), II:170. 
  65. Witsius, Economy of the Covenants, II:170-171. 
  66. Ibid., 171. 
  67. Turretin, Institutes, II:143. 
  68. Ibid. 
  69. Ibid., 145. 
  70. Ibid., 143-144. 
  71. Edward Fisher, The Marrow of Modern Divinity (Edmonton, AB, Canada: Still Waters Revival Books, re. 1991), 177. 
  72. Wells, Reisinger, 17. 
  73. Ibid., 6. 
  74. Owen, Works, XVIII:372. 
  75. Owen, Works, XXII:215-216. 
  76. In IDOTD, I argued that Mt. 5:17 can be understood in such a way as not to eliminate the Decalogue from the New Covenant. As a matter of fact, I argued that it could be understood in such a way as not to eliminate the Old Testament from the New Covenant. For instance, after providing exegetical observations and conclusions and then testing my interpretation with the rest of the New Testament, I said: “The law of God, even the whole Old Testament, has its place under Christ, finding its realization in Him and its modified application in His kingdom. If the whole of the Old Testament is still binding, then certainly all its parts are as well.” See Barcellos, IDOTD, 65. I realize my explanation has nuances Owen’s may not. The point is that Owen is not the only one in history to so understand Mt. 5:17 as not to eliminate the Decalogue from the New Covenant, as will be further illustrated below. 
  77. Ursinus, Heidelberg Catechism, 496. 
  78. Ibid., 496. 
  79. Ibid. 
  80. Turretin, Institutes, II:142. 
  81. Ibid., 142. 
  82. Owen, Works, XXII:215. 
  83. Ibid. 
  84. Owen, Works, XXI:458. 
  85. Owen, Works, XVIII:365-366. 
  86. Ibid., 366. 
  87. Ibid. 
  88. Ibid. 
  89. Owen, Works, XXII:215. 
  90. Ibid. 
  91. Ibid., 89-90. “But in the new covenant, the very first thing that is proposed, is the accomplishment and establishment of the covenant of works, both as to its commands and sanction, in the obedience and suffering of the mediator.” 
  92. In IDOTD, I argued for a multi-functional utility of the Decalogue. For instance, I said: “In light of the exposition above [Jer. 31:33; 2 Cor. 3:3; Eph. 6:2-3; and 1 Tm. 1:8-11], we may assert that the Decalogue functions three ways in Scripture: first as the basic, fundamental law of the Old Covenant; second, as the basic, fundamental law of the New Covenant; and third, as the basic, fundamental law common to all men, the Moral Law.” See Barcellos, IDOTD, 59. Elsewhere, I use the language ‘transcovenantal utility’ to refer to the same concept. In other words, the Decalogue has more than one function. It is transcovenantal and applies to all men at all times, though not always in the same way. In my article published by Tabletalk, “The Death of the Decalogue,” I added these observations which comport with Owen. “The essence of righteousness in man is the same from Creation to consummation. The righteousness demanded of Adam is essentially the same demanded of us. The righteousness procured by Christ’s life (His active obedience) and imputed to believers is the same for all the elect. NCT unwittingly tampers with what constitutes essential righteousness in man. This is so because NCT sees the moral law as a dynamic concept in Scripture and therefore in process, both changing and advancing as revelation unfolds. This impinges upon the active obedience of Christ, the imputation of righteousness, and the ground of justification. The Bible teaches one justification based on one righteousness, not various levels of righteousness depending on what moral law one is under.” See Richard C. Barcellos, “The Death of the Decalogue,” Tabletalk (Orlando, FL: Ligonier Ministries, September 2002), 55. 
  93. Some of the following material comes from Barcellos, IDOTD, 92-93, and is used with permission from Founders Press. 
  94. Calvin, Institutes, II.viii.1. 
  95. Hesselink, Calvin’s Concept, 51. 
  96. Calvin, Institutes, II.viii.1. 
  97. Hesselink, Calvin’s Concept, 10. 
  98. Francois Wendel, Calvin, Origins and Developments of His Religious Thought (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, re. 1997), 206. 
  99. Calvin, Institutes, II.vii.13. 
  100. Ibid., II.viii.12. 
  101. Ursinus, Heidelberg Catechism, 495. 
  102. Ibid., 496. 
  103. Turretin, Institutes, II:137. 
  104. Turretin, Institutes, II:6-7. 
  105. Ibid., 138-140. 
  106. Muller, Dictionary, 173-174. 
  107. Muller, Dictionary, 174. 
  108. Wells, Reisinger, 6. 
  109. Ibid. 
  110. Owen, Works, XXII:215. 
  111. In Owen, Works, XXII:116, Owen says: “There is ascribed unto this covenant such an efficacy of grace, as nothing but almighty power can make good and accomplish. …But this covenant is of that nature, as that the grace administered in it shall effectually preserve all the covenanters unto the end, and secure unto them all the benefits of it.” In Owen, Works, XXII:118, Owen says: “For all those with whom this covenant is made shall as really have the law of God written in their hearts, and their sins pardoned, according unto the promise of it, as the people of old were brought into the land of Canaan by virtue of the covenant made with Abraham. …The covenant of grace in Christ is made only with the Israel of God, the church of the elect.–For by the making of this covenant with any, the effectual communication of the grace of it unto them is principally intended. Nor can that covenant be said to be made absolutely with any but those whose sins are pardoned by virtue thereof, and in whose hearts the law of God is written; which are the express promises of it.” In Owen, Works, XXII:147, he says: “And therefore all with whom this covenant is made are effectually sanctified, justified, and saved.” See also Owen Works, XXII:127, 131, 132, 133, 135, 138, 150, 167, 168, 169, and 170. 
  112. Wells, Reisinger, 9. 
  113. I prefer the phrase “doctrinal antinomian” which I define below. 
  114. Historically, antinomians have been labeled differently, depending on the type of antinomianism adhered to.Practical antinomians not only teach against law in the Christian life, they also advocate lawless living. Doctrinal antinomians, however, do not advocate lawless living, but they deny the third use of the law or, at best, advocate it but redefine what law means. See Turretin, Institutes, II:141ff. where he discusses the fact that antinomians deny the third use of the law. See Ernest F. Kevan, The Grace of Law (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1976, second printing, February 1983), 22 (n.32), 24-25, for evidence that those who denied the perpetuity of the Decalogue and hence, the third use of the law, were labeled as moderately antinomian or doctrinally antinomian, even though considered otherwise virtuous. See also Jonathan F. Bayes, The Weakness of the Law (Carlisle, Cumbria, UK: Paternoster Press, 2000), 44-46, where he discusses John G. Reisinger in the context of doctrinal antinomianism, my article “The Death ofthe Decalogue,” Tabletalk, September 2002, which is a brief discussion of the doctrinal antinomianism of NCT, my review of New Covenant Theology by Tom Wells and Fred Zaspel in Reformed Baptist Theological Review, I:1, January 2004, and Ian McNaughton, “Antinomianism in Historical Perspective” and James M. Renihan, “Caterpillars and Butterflies,” which is a book review of New Covenant Theology in Reformation Today, September-October 2003, No. 195, 9-16 and 23-26. NCT, as a movement, abominates practical antinomianism, and rightly so. 
  115. Coxe does not say if this motif endeared him to Owen’s treatment of the Old and New Covenants. In Coxe’s preface to the reader, he does say that Owen’s recently published argument “That the Old Covenant and the New do differ in substance, and not in the manner of their Administration only …” prevented him from writing on this subject since he viewed his treatment as satisfactory on this point. Coxe is referring to Owen’s Hebrews commentary on Hebrews 8. 
  116. The author confesses that he has done this before and, most likely will again, though without malicious intent. We must assume the same in our NCT brothers.