Ernest Kevan & the Kaleidoscope of Covenant Theology


This is just a friendly reminder that there is, has been, and will be a variety of views of Covenant Theology until our Lord comes. The following is submitted not with the purpose of promoting one view over another [we here at CB seek to bring out all orthodox views on any given topic within the bounds of our Confession] but simply for the purpose of exposing the kaleidoscope that is Covenant Theology.

[listen to five minute readout of this post]


Ernest Kevan, “The Grace of Law“, p. 113

There have been many attempts to expound the covenants of God, and, in particular, to find a place for the Mosaic Covenant within God’s saving purposes for mankind. The outward appearance of the Mosaic Covenant, however, seems not at first sight to be compatible with such saving purposes, and the demands of the Law, with the severity attaching to them, approximate more to the likeness of a Covenant of Works. This semblance of a covenant of Works receives some support from the passages of Scripture in which the Law and Gospel are compared or even contrasted, and, conspicuously in the Prologue to the fourth Gospel, where Moses and Christ are represented as the opposite poles of revelation. There is, without a doubt, a great difference between the manifestation of God in Christ and that earlier manifestation by Moses [See II Corinthians iii:6-18 and Hebrews ix and x], although it is possible falsely to magnify the difference. It is not surprising, therefore, to find a wide variety of thought among the Puritans about the exact nature of the Mosaic Covenant.


An outline of the ways in which the Mosaic Covenant was regarded by the Puritans is provided by Anthony Burgess in Vindiciae Legis,


In expressing this Covenant there is difference amoung the Learned; some make the Law a Covenant of works, and upon that ground that it is abrogated; others call it a subservient covenant to the covenant of grace, and make it only occasionally, as it were, introduced, to put more luster and splendour upon grace; Others call it a mixt covenant of works and grace; but that is hardly to be understood as possible, much lesse as true. I therefore think that opinion true … that the Law given by Moses was a Covenant of grace.


It is not possible to make an accurate classification of the Puritans on the basis of their views about the Mosaic Covenant, because many of them held several of the different views in varying combinations.


moral lawErnest Kevan, “Moral Law“, pp. 54-55

The change that comes about through the grace of God is not a change in the Law, but a change in the sinner towards the Law.


Closer attention, however, has still to be paid to the concept of the Law as a covenant. The Covenant of Law is now ended, but the rule of Law is eternal. there is some difference of judgment among expositors about the nature of the Covenant of Law. Some make the Law a Covenant of Works and hold that is is upon the ground that its covenant aspect is ended; others call it a subservient covenant to the Covenant of Grace, and regard it as introduced only to enhance the glory of God’s grace; there is a third group who call the Covenant of law a mixed Covenant of Works and Grace, but this can scarcely be comprehended as possible, much less as true. The view which seems most likely to be correct is the one which understands that since the Fall God never entered into covenant with man on any other basis than that of grace, and that therefore the Law given by Moses was itself part of the Covenant of Grace. The Covenant of Law, even as an expression of the Covenant of Grace, is brought to an end because though the essence of the former covenant and that of the one that replaced it are the same, yet the administration of the former is altogether outmoded [This appears from Heb. 7:18-19 and 8:7-8]. It is perfectly clear, therefore, that whoever looks to the Law for life and justification abuses the Law and turns it into a man-made Covenant of Works.


The description of variegated Covenant Theology was true not only for Anthony Burgess but is repeated by Francis Turretin. I quote it here as corroboration.


turretin electic theologyFrancis Turretin, “Elenctic Theology“, II:262

Twelfth Question: Whether the Sinaitic legal covenant, made by Moses with the people of Israel on Mount Sinai, was a certain third covenant distinct in species from the covenant of nature and the covenant of grace. We deny.


I. The opinions of theologians vary on this subject. Some maintain that the Sinaitic covenant was a covenant of works; others that it was a mixture of the covenant of works and the covenant of grace; others that it was properly neither a covenant of nature nor of grace, but a third covenant distinct from both in its whole species and was instituted to minister to the covenant of grace (and for this reason properly called “subservient”). Finally others (with whom we agree) say that it was a covenant of grace, but promulgated with the law and lying under it (which was sanctioned in the unusual manner of terror and servitude, in accordance with the state of the Israelite people and the age of the church at that time).


16 Replies to “Ernest Kevan & the Kaleidoscope of Covenant Theology”

  1. FYI, an old article from the UK reformed baptist magazine/journal “Reformation Today” might be of interest:

    Strickland, “E.F. Kevan, Samuel Petto and Covenant Theology,” Reformation Today, no. 137 (January 1994)

    -referenced in Michael Brown’s “Christ and the Condition”

    1. In Brown’s article in Mid-America Journal of Theology, Vol. 20, he states,
      “Donald Strickland overstates the case when he says Petto’s view “breaks the tight continuity” in the views of those divines who saw the Mosaic covenant as an administration of the covenant of grace. Responding to E.F. Kevan’s work The Grace of Law, which delineated two schools of seventeenth-century thought on the Mosaic covenant, namely, those who taught it to be a covenant of works and those who taught it to be an administration of the covenant of grace, Strickland argues that Petto’s view was so unlike the latter that it “could have been written by a Baptist.” Such a reading of Petto, however, is simplistic at best and misleading at worst. While Strickland is correct to point out that Petto’s view represented a third position in addition to the two positions Kevan delineated, he fails to do justice to Petto’s teaching of the continuity in the one covenant of grace.”

      1. Kevan did not point out the third way. Ferguson corrects him and I agree with Ferguson. Plus, I think the Particular Baptists had less fudge room than the paedobaptists. The majority view (by far) seems to be what Brandon Adams’ site promotes. :-)

          1. I’m not sure who started it, but somehow a falsehood got around that Dr. Kevan “delineated two schools of seventeenth-century thought on the Mosaic covenant…”.

            The purpose of this post was to clearly show that Kevan recognised the 17th century had a plethora of schools of thought on the Mosaic Covenant – not just two as if often attributed to him. Michael Brown repeats this inaccuracy, as apparently does Dr. Ferguson, and Dr. Barcellos.

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