The Substance And Administration Of The Covenant Of Grace

2. Under the new covenant or testament, however, these promised blessings are not given to all men, because God is true, thus the covenant is necessarily discriminate. These blessings are given, however, doubly when the covenant is received. In the first place, by the substance of the covenant itself or by the promised blessings from God themselves, then by their administration in the visible assembly. In the first sense (learned from Jeremiah in the place already cited), which substance also is peculiar to the elect. For to all the elect and to them alone, this part, the remission of sins, renewal to the image of God, and the knowledge of God itself is therefor promised, or which embraces God’s favor which they would never have had from themselves (John 6:44,45; 64,65; 10:26; 11:52; Acts 13:47,48; Romans 8:29,30; 9:7,8,9,11,15,16; Titus 1:1).

CASPAR OLEVIANUS, De substantia, 1.1.2


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  1. I find it interesting that the quotation is about the “new covenant”, and not about “the covenant of grace that includes all covenants but the covenant of works”. And of course Olevianus is correct that the new covenant is descriminate, for those who received it. ( I would add, both by God’s imputation and also by faith.)

    My concern has to do with those who don’t receive the new covenant. Do some of them start out in the new covenant and then get cut off? Is their situation worse off than those who did not start out in the new covenant? Does “not receiving” the new covenant transform “covenant baptism” into law instead of gospel?

    In “the covenant of grace” God supposedly takes at least one believer and their infants into His care, promising them His grace and favor. Abraham believed the gospel BUT Abraham circumcised his infant sons according to God’s command. Was the circumcision of Ishamel law or gospel?

    Both of Abraham’s sons were heirs of “the covenant of grace”. But God’s freedom in election was maintained and Isaac received the gospel promise while Ishmael did not. So was the promise to Ishmael gospel?

    Romans 9:7 “For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his children.”
    Of course, some “the one covenant of grace” folks( like the Protestant Reformed) would speak of warnings to Ishmael that he many not have ever “really” been part of the covenant but only “externally” in the sphere of “the covenant”? How can it be gospel if many who enter the covenant are not promised they will be kept in the covenant?

    Like circumcision, water baptism is done by human hands but is represented in the New Testament as God’s decision and claim on Ishmael and Esau. So is this claim law or gospel? Although “the covenant” obligates us to respond in faith and obedience, water baptism is God’s seal of God’s oath. So we need to find out if this oath is about law or gospel. Both sons were heirs of the covenant.

    Even if it turns out that Ishamel is never justified, it certainly feels good to think that Esau has been promised the same grace as Abraham has. Of course, if that grace turns out to be ineffectual in the face of human failure to meet conditions, then why wouldn’t Abraham might begin to wonder about the grace which has been promised to him.

    I deny that God promised Abraham’s two sons what God promised Abraham.

    Do we regard our children as born under the law or do we assure them they are already not under the law? Do we cling to God’s promise to work by His Spirit to keep Ishmael in “the covenant” in which he began, or do we have to fall back on some uncomfortable notion of sovereign imputation (with resulting conversion) in which every person begins life under condemnation and outside the new covenant?

    • Is there an earthly administration of the New Covenant? That is, do “ministers of the New Covenant” (2Cor.3:6) administer anything? Are they government officials?

      We’re not in heaven yet; so while we walk by faith, we exercise earthly functions by sight.

      Hearts cannot be read by men. Who needs the gospel preached to them? Everyone needs it. Every week. Even (or especially) the “saved,” those who consider themselves to be “believers,” and past initiation into the church.

      “He is not a Jew who is one outwardly,” Rom.2:28, was as true on the day Abraham circumcised Ishmael, as on the day he circumcised Isaac, as on the day David was circumcised, as on the day Paul was circumcised, as on the day he wrote those words as a Christian. It is still true.

      It is a way of expressing a timeless (substantive) truth in contextual (accidental) language. External religion/identity has never been counted for anything. A covenant of the heart is what God desires, accepts, rewards. Internal reality naturally seeks external conformity to divine dictates–particularly in religious expression–so that the whole man, body and soul, is enlisted in the life of faith.

      What is it for an adult-baptized person to reject his baptism and the faith it symbolized? What is it for any person, of any baptismal status, to reject the pure preaching of the gospel? Is the gospel not the gospel anymore, but law?

      The gospel, and baptism too, are what they are, and cannot by any trick of man be turned into something else. In the end, rejecting the gospel and every covenant-sign from any age of the church will entail condemnation–not by “the gospel” but by the law, which includes as sin worthy of judgment the spurning of God’s mercies in his gospel, and the sheer goodness of his blessings.

      Ishmael spurned the gospel, both that which was spoken to him as well as what was signified to him (and what good is a sign, if not accompanied by an explanation of what it means?). From a purely human standpoint, Ishmael had an opportunity to respect the true heir, and to make himself his servant.

      But like one son of the next generation, he preferred to “cast off” his brother’s yoke, which assuredly “easy” and a “light burden.” Ishmael would rather be “a wild man, his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him.” From the divine standpoint of eternal election, Ishmael was a reprobate, and would never (could never) partake of the blessings of Abraham, even through his brother. But this eschatological fact is realized in the world by rebellion, apostasy, and abuse of the seed of promise.

      What must be said to those who claimed to be “in the New Covenant,” and who for all anyone could see were in fact in it, and who received many encouraging ministrations from various “ministers of the New Covenant?” If they come not eventually into heaven’s door (regardless of how they came into the church’s door), then they were “never in” the reality of the New Covenant, 1Jn.2:19.

      But it is nonsensical legerdemain to insist that they were not “within” it in some attenuated sense while they were in the world. They made a profession of faith, they were baptized, they joined the church–Christ’s institution which is proctored by present day covenant-administrators. In other words, they LIED, 1Jn.2:4; Mt.7:22. The bitterest deception is self-deception.

      Why should that which is true today of church-hypocrites not be true of church-hypocrites of earlier ages? How can it be “gospel” to those in the church today–undifferentiated “believers”–to know that the elect in the New Covenant cannot be lost, but who can only be sure of their election in this life when they stand by faith? 1Pet.1:5, “Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.”

      Mark, if you prefer to “conditionalize” all the covenants pre-Christ, so that you can privilege the New Covenant as unconditional, that’s your right. Just don’t try to make failed FVers out of all the Reformed, because of some kind of alleged happy inconsistency. It’s not without cause that most of the FV is made up of former Baptists, who have adopted some contrary principles to what they formerly held, but who retained the hermeneutic that went with their original sentiments.

      God promised to Abraham’s sons (many generations worth, and from all the families of the earth) essentially what he promised to him, which only was and ever could only be had by faith. So teaches the Apostle.

      If some aspect could not be promised all in the nature of the case (i.e. to be the unique “father of us all,” Rom.4:16) then we may pass it over as a local, rather than universal promise. Again, you can call that cherrypicking if you desire. Seems a bit more rigorous than that, from this side.

  2. No, I have not read. Thanks for the reference.

    But before I do, a couple comments. I do not deny the visible/ invisible distinction. So I don’t disagree with much of what Bruce says in his post. I do disagree about talking about “one covenant of grace”. If we could talk about the question of the non-justified being in “the new covenant”, the discussion would be more focused.

    Bruce: we exercise earthly functions by sight. Hearts cannot be read by men. Who needs the gospel preached to them? Everyone needs it. Every week. Even (or especially) the “saved,” those who consider themselves to be “believers,” and past initiation into the church.

    mark: no reason for me to disagree with any of this. None of this shows that there is one ahistorical covenant. None of this shows that the non-justified are in the new covenant. I could just as well deduce from the fact that “everybody needs the gospel” (I agree) that “everybody is in the new covenant”. (we all disagree).

    The gospel promise is for “as many as” believe it. I can and do agree with that without agreeing to “common grace” or to some kind of “covenant grace” which is not saving. The law is rejected. The gospel is rejected. But the gospel is not grace for those who reject it. The gospel must be preached to all, those who profess to believe it and to those who don’t profess to believe it.

    But how any of this shows that the genealogical principle continues from the Abrahamic covenant to the new covenant is not yet proven. You need to move on to this, and not go on rehearsing external/internal or “real/formal” distinctions with which I agree.

    Bruce: then they were “never in” the reality of the New Covenant, 1Jn.2:19.

    Mark: for sure, and we agree that this is not a “baptist text”, nor is Matthew 7–“I never knew you”. Ishmael never was in the new covenant. Ishmael never was in “the one covenant of grace” (there is no such thing). But Ishmael was in the Abrahamic covenant. He was not cut off because of not being circumcised, but he was cut off.

    Bruce: But it is nonsensical legerdemain to insist that they were not “within” it in some attenuated sense while they were in the world.

    mark: I like the rhetoric. Not the nonsense part, since I will try not to be as disrespectful to your tradition as you are with mine. But the “in some attenuated sense”. That seems to be what we are debating. I know you are not federal visionist, nor have I accused you of that, or of being “inconsistent” for not being FV. I know that you don’t think infant baptism takes away original sin. I know that you don’t think the efficacy of water applies to each person watered, infant or adult, head for head. I have a problem saying “efficacy” when other people not watered yet effectually by the Holy Spirit hear and believe the gospel. Gospel efficacy by the Spirit for some, sure….

    But I can’t see why you don’t go back to the Constantinian presuppositions of the Magisterial Reformers who developed the argument from circumcision. If everybody needs to hear the gospel, everybody needs the water, and everybody needs to start out in “the covenant” and we need a Zwingli to make sure that happens. Why stop halfway, by insisting on one parent now judged as a Christian? We judge by sight, and we can’t be certain. So why not do what the Abrahamic covenant originally did, and initiate everybody in the race (plus slaves and proselytes) into “covenant”?

    I do not “conditionalise” the Abrahamic covenant. Abraham was unconditionally promised the SEED from his seed. I do make a distinction between what Abraham was promised and what his children were promised, nor do I think that distinction is trivial. Abraham was justified unconditionally by God’s imputation of Christ’s righteousness.

    I will read the thesis, summary etc. I am interested in the attempt to say that federal visionists are ex-baptists. My intuition is that even the former baptists among them had already agreed to “the one covenant of grace’. I know that many Reformed Baptists who confess the 1689 (second London) have done so (David Kingdon) so they are possibly being inconsistent to not at least go as far as you do with the water.

    But I am sure that you know more Reformed Baptists than I do, and as Dr Clark has so well said, the development of covenant theology is not only about baptism. It’s not only about sabbath either, but about family and state (in relation to church or churches). As Doug Wilson explains, in his To a Thousand Generations, even the baptist “households” in his congregation agree on ” the covenantal family”.

    When in doubt about your arguments, always say covenantal.

    Thanks for the interaction.

  3. I read it. Not anything I haven’t seen before. But I have been reading covenant theology for 30 years now, and not just Rushdoony and Bahnsen. How long ago was it that Kline’s The Structure of Biblical Authority came out?

    As I see it, you must have a “theology of glory” because, unlike those in the Abrahamic covenant, you won’t give the initiation ritual to an infant unless you first judge (by sight) that one parent is a Christian. Thus must be rationalism on your part, or at the least, “over-realised eschatology”, not to let into the “grace of the covenant” all those who need it. The glory is NOT YET.

    What else, besides the constant begging of the question with the phrase (manifestations of ) “the covenant of grace”?

    Hebrews 12: the reference “arguably” (!) moves beyond the contrast with Moses, but then you rush back to your view of chapter 10 and conclude—not only is it worse to reject the gospel now than was to reject the Mosaic covenant, but this means (for you) that rejecting the gospel means that those who do so were in “the covenant of grace”.

    It is interesting that (in this essay) you don’t formally explain how the Mosaic covenant is “an administration of the covenant of grace”. But I am sure that you could do so, and have (in other places). The question is never about us being able to make a covenant invalid. Even the temporary Mosaic covenant was not broken by those who broke it, because it cursed those who broke it. The same is true of the Abrahamic covenant. As for the new covenant, Christ did not keep it for those who reject it. So the basic question between us is about what “attenuated” way those who reject gospel were “in the new covenant”.

    p 9 has an interesting line: “If the Abrahamic covenant is the definition of covenant, then the Mosaic law was not a covenant, at least in the same sense.”. But since the Bible speaks of covenants, including one mediated by Moses, then we can know we have a Reformed hermeneutic at work. That which can be fulfilled and become obsolete is in a sense not a real covenant. Therefore the Abrahamic covenant cannot be obsolete (except for the no need for one parent, and no females etc). If you can prove that the Mosaic was pedagogical, then that is supposed to prove that the Abrahamic is not pedagogical (but is typological).

    “In it’s nature” should be ” In its nature”. The next sentence should start with a capital I.

    I certainly can agree with the basic anti-preterist idea (given by Pratt in his essay on Newness, but see the rebuttal by James White) that the absolute fulfillment of Jeremiah 31 is not yet. But how you get from that to keeping the genealogical principle is a leap in which you land where you started….

    If I had been Abraham’s grandchild, I would have had no problem circumcising all my infants, even if my wife and I did not believe the gospel. But that’s because I would have been in the Abrahamic covenant. And the fulfillment of circumcision is certainly not another type, certainly not infant water.

    It’s interesting that you read Acts 2:39 as being about the “addition of gentiles”. You claim that this “completes the analogy”. The analogy you could explain more, but an analogy does not prove that the new covenant is the Abrahamic covenant. And anyway, Gentiles could and were added to the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants. It’s the language of “as many as the Lord shall call” which baptists want you to notice, and I think you know that.

    Of course I think the old accusation that anabaptists think salvation is “the destruction by grace of nature” is always interesting. Leonard Verduin dealt with that a long time ago in The Reformers and Their Stepchildren, but I was none too happy with how he came out (still too medieval, which only confirms continuities between those ex-priests who became anabaptists.) If we want to think a lot more carefully about the grace-nature topic, I still think there is no better place to start than Mark Karlberg.


    • Still can’t figure out why Act.2:39, final clause, is alleged to be a stumbling block for CT. It’s not like its an “extra piece” we keep overlooking, or surreptitiously brushing under the rug or something…

      “As many as the Lord our God shall call” is integral to Abrahamic-covenant making. Ishmael is the initial test case.

      The fact that one can be excluded whether circumcised or not is evidence that just being a circumcised descendant without faith doesn’t, in fact, make said descendant party to that covenant. Whilst, having that faith even without said sign is evidence of being party to the same. So saith the Apostle, Rom.4:11-12.

      I deny Paul’s observations only have force after A.D.30. I do not consent to this claim: that a Xth and an unbeliever was, in fact, a full participant in the Abrahamic covenant, and heir to its blessings, even temporal ones.

      Paul is saying “No. That’s NEVER true. Superficiality ain’t much, if its all you got.” Every one of those faithless persons were a heartbeat away from having even the externalities of their affiliation stripped from them. And in several of those generations, they were actually stripped from them, en masse, never to be recovered.

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