Augustine on Republication

Thanks to Brandon for publishing some very interesting and provocative (in the best sense) excerpts from an anti-Pelagian treatise by Augustine in which he accounted for the uniqueness of the Mosaic, national, covenant in a way that sounds quite like the later Reformed doctrine of republication. Could it be that republication is anti-Pelagian? Who would know better than Augustine himself, the original anti-Pelagian?

Actual Related Post

Considering the Source

Subscribe to the Heidelblog today!


  1. The quote from Augustine reminded me immediately of the passage from Hebrews:

    Hebrews 11: 8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land,living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.
    The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001).

  2. Scott,

    it seems that Brandon is utilizing these quotes for his point that the New Covenant is not a historically bounded covenant. However, doesn’t the Scriptures in Jer. 31:31-34, and the book of Hebrews as a whole, teach that the “New Covenant” indeed is an expression of the Covenant of Grace which is [historically] inaugerated by Christ at the cross? OT believers are said to partake of the New Covenant in the sense that the benefits of Christ as Surety is “retroactively” given to them.

  3. Perhaps Scriptures and intended to reveal that cause-and-effect events can occur, when the Lord will it, outside of a one way time direction/trajectory and are not chained into a before-here/after-then time/space. That the Lord’s reality (as partially revealed) allows not only for prophecy, but also for non-causal events. That’s how I read this.

    • Eric,

      I don’t think that we need to break the bounds of cause-and-effect in time.

      The OT saints looked forward to the formal inauguration of the NC in the death of Christ as their Mediator, and thus were made partakers of, heirs of, or members of the New Covenant.

      How is that possible if the NC was not inaugurated until Christ’s death?

      (1) I think we need to acknowledge that the OT saints did not consider their Mediator, their Redeemer, as having already come and accomplished their redemption. For them it was yet future. Thus the cause-and-effect in time aspect is still in force for them.

      (2) I think the reason this is possible is because the New Covenant is founded upon that eternal transaction (LBC 7.3) between the Father and the Son (I would equate what is commonly called the Covenant of Redemption with the New Covenant). The Father promised to give the Son a people of His choosing upon the condition of the Son dying on their behalf. And Christ promised to do so. Titus 1:2 says “in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began.” (cf. Heb 6:17-18)

      The Son promising to do something is enough to make it a reality. Thus OT saints could look forward to their Savior who had not yet come, yet benefit by that coming and dying because it was a certainty. It was a legal certainty they could bank on because it was sworn by the Son.

      Commenting on Heb 8, Owen puts it this way:

      This is the meaning of the word “established”, say we; but it is, “reduced into a fixed state of a law or ordinance.” All the obedience required in it, all the worship appointed by it, all the privileges exhibited in it, and the grace administered with them, are all given for a statute, law, and ordinance to the church. That which before lay hid in promises, in many things obscure, the principal mysteries of it being a secret hid in God himself, was now brought to light; and that covenant which had invisibly, in the way of a promise, put forth its efficacy under types and shadows, was now solemnly sealed, ratified, and confirmed, in the death and resurrection of Christ. It had before the confirmation of a promise, which is an oath; it had now the confirmation of a covenant, which is blood.

      Note O. Palmer Robertson’s comment regarding the Mosaic Covenant:

      “Interestingly, the prophet does not refer (Jer 31) specifically to the formal inauguration of the covenant that occurred at Sinai. Instead, he refers to the covenant established on the day in which the Lord brought Israel out of Egypt. This lack of preciseness does not mean that Jeremiah did not have the Mosaic covenant itself in mind when he developed this contrast. He speaks too specifically of a law written in the heart, implying a contrast with law written in stone. His allusion to the Mosaic covenant by reference to the exodus from Egypt simply conforms to a repeated pattern found in Scripture with respect to the covenants. Historical events associated intimately with the covenant often precede the formal inauguration of the covenantal relationship. According to E. W. Hengstenberg:
      ‘The substance of the covenant evidently precedes the outward conclusion of the covenant, and forms the foundation of it. The conclusion of the covenant does not first form the relation, but is merely a solemn acknowledgment of a relation already existing.'”
      (Christ of the Covenants, pp 280-281)

      • Hi Brandon,

        First, whatever comments and thoughts I have in this matter clearly they would be impossible without all this work that must be the result of studies and training that I don’t possess. So a sincere thanks for sharing it with me and everyone.

        1) Any of form of valid prophecy (Covenantal promises have various prophetic corollaries) breaks the normal bounds of cause-and-effect. Either God allowed a message from the future to be sent back in time or chose to reveal the future that He can somehow foresee.

        2) When a future event will effect a past event Fourier and Laplace system theory as interpreted by electrical engineers (taught to all of them in a junior level course called Signals and Systems), this phenomenon is called non-causal. Non-causal is a somewhat confusing term at first since it actually describes cause-and-effect outside the bounds of normal temporal events. (Non-causal systems can’t be realized in real-time unless a time delay is introduced into the system.)

        3) This electrical engineering thought is just an analogy that pops into my head when I think about prophecy. As implied above in your response, Spatial and temporal phenomena imply limits that apply to us as part of creation but not to the Creator nor to the Pactum Salutis.

        4) Prophecy is the means through which the NC was extendedbackwards in time. Why can’t the benefits of NC not be inherent within the Covenantal promise and its implied prophecy?

        5) I could be naively straying from several orthodox Biblical hermeneutics here simply because I don’t know about them or understand them.

        • Hi Eric,

          Not sure what to say here other than that I still don’t see any reason to break the normal bounds of cause and effect. OT saints could enjoy some of the blessings of the NC because the NC was founded upon Christ’s promise. In the same way we could say that someone could have a loan “covered” if a surety vouched for them – even before that loan was fully paid. I have to think through that a little more, but I would recommend looking in Berkhof to see his discussion of Christ as surety.

  4. Funny. Torrance, et al., did/do argue that the common covenantal construction found among the puritans was latently legalistic. If Karlberg is right, the idea that the mosaic covenant is to be viewed in some sense as a covenant of works was held by “the vast majority of Reformed theologians in the early history of federalism (up to 1648)” (Covenant Theology in Reformed Perspective, p. 18).

    Do Torrance and that crowd sense legalism in the puritans (especially) because of this republication thesis or because it wasn’t truly everywhere found as Karlberg suggests (he seems to admit as much on p. 131)?

    Maybe Sailhamer’s work is a better antidote to Pelagianism (fleshed out in greater detail in his most recent book on the subject) and a more faithful reading of the covenantal framework of Scripture?

    • Chris,

      The problem that the Torrances had is that, having embraced Barth’s theology (like Dan Fuller) they (like Shepherd) couldn’t tell the law from the gospel. The classic Reformed theologians didn’t have that problem! The latter group used covenant theology to express their distinction between law and gospel.

      There were a variety of ways of speaking of the Mosaic covenant. Overwhelmingly, except for a small minority, Reformed theologians in the classical period understood that there were two principles at work during the Mosaic covenant.

      On the soteriological level, as the WCF says, there was a fundamental unity of the covenant of grace. This theme goes back to the anti- gnostic fathers in the 2nd century. On a typological level, however, they recognized a special function for national Israel. More than a few referred to the legal nature of that status. Was it a universal view? No. Were those theologians who spoke that way regarded as legalistic? No, because even those who emphasized grace most strongly at every turn (e.g. Ball) even to the point of speaking of “one covenant” before and after the fall recognized a clear distinction between law and gospel.

      So there was terminological variety in the 17th century but there was a good deal of conceptual unity. The notion of the old covenant, i.e., the Sinaitic covenant, as a republication of the covenant of works was truly widespread in the 17th century even though there were many different ways of speaking about it.

  5. Scott,

    I am fairly new to the discussion here so I apologize if my questions are dumb. But when I read the quote from Augustine on Brandon’s blog, it wasn’t quite clear to me how Augustine was supporting the principle of republication. To claim Augustine supports the ‘republication’ principle, wouldn’t Augustine need to have mentioned the garden of Eden or the Covenant of works as connected to the Mosaic covenant?

    Maybe I am missing it, but I saw in the quotes Augustine pressing for a unity of the Mosaic covenant with the covenant of grace, as such his quotes seemed to imply an anti-meritorious view of the Mosaic covenant. So I am curious what exactly in the quotes leads you to claim Augustine as holding to the ‘republication’ principle?

    Thanks much,

  6. Hi Andy,

    Rather than my answering why don’t you re-read the passage and see if you can find what it is that seems to suggest some version of a doctrine of republication?

    Why do you think that republication necessarily contradicts continuity with the covenant of grace? Why can’t both principles be operating simultaneously?

    What do you think that republication is trying to say?

Comments are closed.