Pastor Richard Barcellos joins the Regular Reformed Guys to talk about his upcoming, as yet unnamed book about the Covenant of Works, the Garden of Eden and a number of other questions in relation to the New Covenant Theology…
The series is sponsored by the Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies in cooperation with RBAP. The Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies is a graduate theological school which aids churches in preparing men to serve in the Gospel Ministry. For more information please visit irbsseminary.org.
The purpose of the series . . . is to address issues related to the Second London Confession of Faith of 1677/89 (2LCF). . . . The series will include treatments of various subjects by multiple authors. The subjects to be covered are those the series editors (along with consultants) determine to be of particular interest in our day. The authors will be those who display ample ability to address the issue under discussion. Some of the installments will be more involved than others due to the nature of the subject addressed and perceived current needs. Many of the contributions will cover foundational aspects of the self-consistent theological system expressed in the Confession. Others will address difficult, often misunderstood, or even denied facets of the doctrinal formulations of the 2LCF. Each installment will have a “For Further Reading” bibliography at the end to encourage further study on the issue discussed.
~ from the series editors, James M. Renihan and Richard C. Barcellos
[This book] seek to show how creeds and confessions exist in every church, denomination, or association, though they are not always written down…
the biblical warrant for creeds and confessions is established…
a further definition of what a confession of faith is and how it differs from the Scriptures…
the confession is shown to be a consensus document, both in its original formation and in its continued function…
addresses very briefly the matter of words and terms and the need to understand the authorial intent of the confession…
practical applications, addressed primarily to ministers and elders…
Theology does not occur in a vacuum. It develops out of real-life situations. Men study the Word of God, contemplate its teaching, and express their conclusions. Often it is the circumstances of life that force them to think more closely and clearly about their doctrinal views and that sharpen the expressions of truth. When Arius challenged the divinity of Christ, Christians faced new questions, and the result of the debate was a clearer view of the deity of our Savior. We could give many illustrations from the history of the Church of that increasing clarity and understanding in the Creeds and Confessions of Christianity.
The doctrine of associational churchmanship expressed in our Confession is another one of these circumstances. Our discussion will involve the following: first, the three ways to describe interchurch relations; second, the church in the Second London Confession of Faith (2LCF); third, an overview of chapter 26.1-11 and brief exposition of 26.12-13; fourth associationalism; and finally, a conclusion and application.
Moses, writing after the historical acts of creation, utilizes the covenantal name of God, Yahweh, while discussing Adam’s Edenic vocation (Gen. 2:4ff.). Isaiah utilizes concepts that started with Adam to explain the universal guilt of man, while using the word “covenant” (Isa. 25:5-6). Hosea, looking back upon previous written revelation, makes explicit what was implicit in it. The prophet’s inspired words give us God’s infallible knowledge of one of the similarities between ancient Israel and Adam. Both had a covenant imposed on them by God and both transgressed their covenants (Hos. 6:7). Paul, while reflecting on Adam’s Edenic vocation, contrasts the disobedience of Adam and its results with the obedience of Christ and its results (Rom. 5:19). The term “works” in the phrase “covenant of works” contrasts with “grace” and “gift” in Romans 5:17. Paul asserts that Adam was a type of Christ (Rom. 5:14). Adam sinned and fell short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). Christ did not sin (Heb. 4:15) and, upon his resurrection, entered into glory (Luke 24:46; Acts 26:19-23; 1 Pet. 1:10-12), a quality of life conferred upon him due to his obedience (Rom. 5:21). This is the life he confers upon all believers.
These scriptural realities, understood by the utilization of the hermeneutical principles of the Holy Spirit as the only infallible interpreter of Holy Scripture, analogia Scriptura, analogia fidei, and scopus Scripturae, led to the confessional formulation of the doctrine of the covenant of works.
“I would hope that any evangelical believer would pick it up and read it.”
On episode 89 of our interviewpodcast we finishes up our two part interview with Pastor Earl Blackburn and Pastor Rob Ventura about the new book “Going Beyond the Five Points: Pursuing a More Comprehensive Reformation”.
“This book is by Reformed Baptists for Reformed Baptists.”
On episode 88 of our interviewpodcast we have Pastor Earl Blackburn and Pastor Rob Ventura back on to tell us all about the new book “Going Beyond the Five Points: Pursuing a More Comprehensive Reformation”.
“The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience to him as their creator, yet they could never have attained the reward of life but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.” (Second London Confession of Faith 7.1)
I want to offer some brief thoughts on this paragraph of our confession, concentrating on the words, “voluntary condescension on God’s part.” I have not always understood the fine nuances and precise doctrinal intent of this very important part of our confession. I hope this brief study helps readers understand what is and is not being asserted here. These words are also contained in the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) and are being used by some in our day in a manner of which I would like to offer some friendly push-back. Once I examine and explain the meaning of the words “voluntary condescension on God’s part,” I will interact with one contemporary theologian [K. Scott Oliphint] who uses them in a different way than I think intended by the confessional framers of the seventeenth century.
First, it is important to realize the context of this paragraph in the confession…
Second, it is important to understand how 7.2 relates to 7.1…
Third, the words “The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures [cf. 4.2] do owe obedience to him as their creator” refer to what man as creature owes to God as Creator…
Fourth, the words “yet they could never have attained the reward of life but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part” means that “the reward of life” is not based on the Creator/creature relationship…
Fifth, the words “which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant” tell us what God’s “voluntary condescension” refers to, which contains the promise of “the reward of life.”…
These thoughts are directed primarily at members in the OPC and PCA.
For those contra republication:
The view that the Mosaic covenant was a covenant of works is a view found among Reformed divines in the 17th and 16th centuries.
The Westminster Confession of Faith is not the exclusive expression or boundary of Reformed orthodoxy.
For those pro republication:
The fact that a given divine at the Westminster Assembly held to a given view does not mean that the Confession itself either reflects, includes, or accounts for their view. They debated many things. The conclusion of the debates was a majority vote in one direction, not a unanimous vote.
A covenant of works and a covenant of grace are as different as wood and stone. They are different “substances.” If the Mosaic covenant is a formal covenant of works (not just containing a remembrance of Adam’s covenant) it cannot be the covenant grace. See John Ball, A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace (London: Printed by G. Miller, 1645), 93-95. Ball is discussing John Cameron’s view that the Mosaic covenant (the old covenant) is neither the covenant of works nor the covenant of grace but a legal covenant for the nation of Israel to live life in the land of Canaan. Ball concludes that this view makes the old covenant differ from the new in substance. See also John Owen, A Continuation of the Exposition of the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews(London: Printed for Nathaniel Ponder, 1680), 324-42. Owen considers the majority view as expressed in the WCF and rejects it because he views the Mosaic covenant as a works covenant for life in the land. This is the result of the simple logic of substance as applied to covenant theology.
For those who may have heard of Norman Shepherd but don’t know the problems with his theology, Brandon Adams has provided a helpful summary using quotes from Shepherd’s own lectures. These issues are not restricted to Presbyterianism, however, but have surfaced in the writings of some who claim the 1689 Confession. Adams writes,
Norman Shepherd taught a false gospel of works righteousness at Westminster Theological Seminary in the 70s by arguing good works are instrumental to justification. When asked in their ordination exam how we are justified, graduates were answering “by faith and works”. When asked who taught them that, they said Professor Shepherd. He paved the way for the Federal Vision.
In 2002, Shepherd delivered 4 lectures titled “What’s All the Fuss?” regarding his views on justification:
The thrust of his lectures is to show that the Bible does not teach a works-merit paradigm. He presents his position as the “faith-grace” or “covenantal” paradigm and he opposes this to the “works-merit” paradigm.
In lecture 1 he insists that the biblical doctrine of justification consists in forgiveness of sins only… It does not provide a righteousness not our own, it only forgives our sins. And forgiveness alone is insufficient to eternally save anyone. It merely makes us eligible for eternal life… We are in the same position as Adam in terms of our need to obtain eternal life. The only difference is that when we sin, it is forgiven. But our works play the same role as they did for Adam before the fall. This is contrary to the London Baptist Confession.
With all of that in mind, it is particularly troubling to see people continue to recommend Greg Nichols’ book as a faithful representation of the system of doctrine taught in the London Baptist Confession. Nichols’ book is idiosyncratic and not representative of the confession, nor its signatories (see, for example, here and here). Confessional Reformed Baptists should stop recommending his book as representative of our confessional views.
The similarities between much of what Nichols writes and what Shepherd teaches is striking…
Introduction: Many have denied the covenant of works for various reasons. For sake of space, I want to deal with one typical objection.
Objection stated: Probably the most obvious objection, and a very common one, is that the word “covenant” is nowhere to be found in the first two chapters of Genesis. In fact, the Hebrew word for covenant does not occur in the book of Genesis until chapter 6. These observations lead to the conclusion, so goes the objection, that there is no covenant in the Bible until Genesis 6. The covenant of works, then, is unbiblical and absolutely lacks biblical evidence. It is an extra-biblical, human construct imposed on the Bible to justify one’s theological system, which obviously needs re-casting. The covenant of works has human origins, not divine. It is man’s theology, not God’s. Put in the form of a question, this objection can be stated as follows: How can there be a covenant in Genesis 2 if Moses does not say so?
Objection answered: I will answer under the four points below.
About 6 months ago I mentioned that I wanted to give a peppering of particular snippets from Particular Baptists who held to the covenant of works. The point of this peppering was to bolster the general assertion that the Particular Baptists held to the covenant of works and the specific assertion that the confession teaches this.
Below you will find numerous authors who endorse the covenant of works. This list primarily includes those who explicitly name and embrace the covenant of works. There are many other places where Adam is referred to as a “Public head” or we are said to have “fallen in him.” I included a few of those. Similarly, there are many places where the Mosaic covenant is said to be a covenant of works, which presupposes at the very least the category of a covenant of works. Most of these references have been left out (there are many). It is also worth noting that in such a polemical context: 1. I have never seen a paedobaptist accusing the Particular Baptists in any point related to the covenant of works, and 2. I have never seen a Particular Baptist reject the covenant of works or argue against a paedobaptist on that point.
Did the Particular Baptists hold to the covenant of works? Ask them.
At this point, I would say, Sam gives us a plethora of examples (from the likes of Hercules Collins, Nehemiah Coxe, Benjamin Keach, Samuel Richardson, Christopher Blackwood, Thomas Patient, John Bunyan, Thomas Collier, Edward Hutchinson, Thomas DeLaune, Philip Cary, Isaac Marlow, William Collins & more.)