Last time I offered a rough taxonomy of contemporary Baptists in which I distinguished between Generic Evangelical Baptists (GEB), Older Particular Baptists (OPB), and the Particular Baptists (PB) and it is with this latter view than I am particularly interested in this series. Almost as soon as part 1 was was published discussion ensued on social media (e.g., Twitter), on blogs and in the comment box and two things became clear in those discussions:
Administration Of or Witnesses To?
The PBs and the Reformed use the word “administration” quite differently. When, in my history of covenant theology course, I I diagrammed the PB view on the whiteboard, I drew an arc from Adam to the cross to represent the PB view. To diagram the Reformed view I would draw a line through Noah, Abraham, etc. As I understand the PB view, the Son is said to have covenanted from all eternity to redeem the elect in the covenant of redemption (pactum salutis). They confess a prelapsarian covenant of works (foedus operum) in chapter 7 of the Second London [Baptist] Confession and explicitly in chapter 19. The covenant of grace is promised after the fall and its effects are received by believers (e.g., Noah, Abraham, and David) but the PBs do not envision the same sort of administration of spiritual benefits through the external administration of the types and shadows, the various Old Testament administrations of the covenant of grace as the Reformed understand things. This is what I had in mind when I wrote that the PBs do not believe in one covenant of grace variously administered. For them Christ is The Seed and he is received through faith but that reception has little to do with the actual, external, historical administration of the covenant of grace through types and shadows. For them, the substance of the covenant grace is not the divine promise to be a God to us and to our children but only Christ. Inasmuch as the historic fulfillment of the promise is future then the external administration of the covenant of grace is also future, suspended, until the coming of Christ. This is a stark difference between the PBs and the Reformed.
The Reformed theologian, Caspar Olevianus (1536&ndah;87), wrote that Christ comes to us “clothed in the covenant of grace.” That’s the Reformed view. That the Noahic, Abrahamic, and even the Mosaic administrations are real, historical, external administrations of the covenant of grace through which Christ was promised and given to his elect by sola gratia, sola fide. For the Reformed the substance of the covenant of grace is unchanged from Genesis 3:15 through the New Covenant. What changes is the circumstances, the types and shadows. As I have written previously in this space, the fundamental difference between the New Covenant the Abrahamic (or the Noahic for that matter but I focus on Abraham because both Paul and Hebrews do) is the difference between receiving Christ through types and shadows and receiving him in light of fulfillment.
On the value of the historical external administration of spiritual realities through the types and shadows, see this essay exploring Paul’s question, “What Advantage Has The Jew? Much in Every Way!”
Substantial Unity Or Different In Substance?
Consider how my friend Sam Renihan, who is a faithful representative of the stream of PB theology descending theologically from Nehemiah Coxe speaks about the history of redemption:
The most essential difference between the New Covenant and all the covenants of the Old Testament is that it is made and sealed in the blood of Christ and it is revealed in Christ (Heb. 9:15–16). For this reason, the New Covenant is different in substance from all the Old Testament covenants.
Here the contrast between the PB view and the Reformed view is quite clear. There is not a single Reformed theologian of whom I am aware, certainly not in the classical (confessional) period, who affirm the doctrine that there is a substantial difference between the New Covenant and the covenant of grace as administered in Old Testament types and shadows. Certainly our Reformed confessions reject such a notion. E.g., Heinrich Bullinger, in the Second Helvetic Confession (1566), widely adopted by the Reformed, stressed the substantial continuity of the covenant of grace throughout the history of redemption.
And since there is always but one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, Jesus the Messiah, and one Shepherd of the whole flock, one Head of this body, and, to conclude, one Spirit, one salvation, one faith, one Testament or covenant, it necessarily follows that there is only one Church.
…Generally two peoples are usually counted, namely, the Israelites and Gentiles, or those who have been gathered from among Jews and Gentiles into the Church. There are also two Testaments, the Old and the New.
Yet from all these people there was and is one fellowship, one salvation in the one Messiah; in whom, as members of one body under one Head, all united together in the same faith, partaking also of the same spiritual food and drink. Yet here we acknowledge a diversity of times, and a diversity in the signs of the promised and delivered Christ; and that now the ceremonies being abolished, the light shines unto us more clearly, and blessings are given to us more abundantly, and a fuller liberty (ch. 17).
Notice that, according to Bullinger (who stressed the substantial unity of the OT covenants with the New Covenant contra the Anabaptist approach to redemptive history) stresses the spirituality of the OT covenants and the substantial unity of the covenant of grace in redemptive history.
The Westminster divines spoke for all the Reformed when they confessed:
5. This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel: under the law, it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come; which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the old testament.
6. Under the gospel, when Christ, the substance, was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper: which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity, and less outward glory, yet, in them, it is held forth in more fullness, evidence and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the new testament. There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations (WCF 21).
Again, considering the covenant of grace, there is said to be one covenant, “this covenant…differently administered” under the types and shadows. The administration is through the types and shadows. It does not transcend the types and shadows. It is not entirely suspended until the coming of Christ. The Spirit was efficaciously operating through the types and shadows “to instruct and build up the elect,” who were looking forward to the coming Messiah.
The substance of the New Covenant, here designated “the Gospel,” thinking of the Law and the Gospel in historical rather than theological terms, is the same as the covenant of grace under the types and shadows. The difference is one of degree and quality not type.
Thus, the Reformed may not say, as my PB friends do:
Therefore, the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic Covenants were national, temporary, and typological covenants that placed Israel in an external relationship with God and in which the new covenant was revealed through types and shadows. On the one hand they are, in their substance and essence, distinct from the covenant of grace, and on the other hand they are related to it through rich typology and historical progression.
For the Reformed the substance of the covenant of grace—Olevianus’ great work was On the Substance of the Covenant of Grace Between God and the Elect (1585). The elect have always had the substance, either through types and shadows or in the New Covenant after the fulfillment and abrogation of the types and shadows. Since the OT believers had the substance of the covenant of grace administered through the types and shadows, those OT administrations were not merely external. They were also spiritual. The Reformed agree with Charles Hodge that the Abrahamic covenant was spiritual and not fundamentally earthly or national. The earthy, national elements were part of the types and shadows fulfilled by Christ.
My PB friends conflate the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants:
Because the Mosaic covenant Controls both the Abrahamic and the Davidic covenants, it is the primary referent of the New Testament when speaking about the old covenant. However, the Mosaic covenant cannot be divided or disconnected from the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, and thus all three combined to form the old covenant, in every aspect typological of the covenant of grace, yet in every aspect different in substance from the covenant of grace.”
We do not. We read Paul and Hebrews quite differently but it seems to me that it is essential to the various Baptist views (see above) to turn Abraham into Moses. I have addressed that here. For the Reformed, the Abrahamic covenant was essentially gracious. It did not have a dual character in the way Moses did. I am aware of not a single Reformed writer who spoke of the Abrahamic as a “republication” of the covenant of works to teach the Israelites the greatness of their sin and misery but the Reformed wrote frequently that the Mosaic covenant, the Old Covenant strictly speaking, was such a republication. You can see a library of posts, quotes, and podcasts here. For the Reformed, Moses and David have a national, military, and legal character. Noah and Abraham have a rather different character. Paul contrasts Moses and Abraham in Galatians 3 and continues that contrast in chapter 4. For my PB friends, Abraham is his son, especially his legal son. For the Reformed, the sons remain the sons.
Thus, we could never speak as Sam does when he writes about the PBs
They argued that the Bible assigns to Abraham an earthly offspring and a heavenly offspring, and that it sorts them into two different covenants, an earthly covenant according to the flesh, and a heavenly covenant according to the Spirit. This, they argued, was the intracanonical exegesis of the Bible itself, comparing Galatians 3-4 and Genesis 17. To the Particular Baptists, the paedobaptist model conflated two distinct seeds into one covenant and imposed the typical earthborn national model of Israel on the antitypical heavenborn transnational church.
The Reformed distinguish between those who are believers inwardly and those who have only an outward (Rom 2:28; 9:6) relation to the covenant of grace. There have always been at least two ways of relating to the one covenant of grace. See also the booklet, Baptism, Election, and the Covenant of Grace There has always been within the visible covenant community (the institutional church) those who are elect and those who are reprobate. As always, the Reformed administer the covenant of grace externally, accepting members on the basis of their profession of faith and administering the covenant of grace, as Peter says, on the basis that “the promise is to you and to your children” (Acts 2:39). We suppose that our PB friends know no more than we do about who is elect and they do must operate on the basis of a credible profession of faith. They suspend the initiation of the children of believers into the visible covenant community because they have broken the connection between the Abrahamic covenant and the New Covenant.
It was important to the Particular Baptists to maintain a close connection between the old covenant(s) and the covenant of grace. Though they were distinct, they were not to be divided. The old covenant(s) were subservient to the covenant of grace and made its benefits available through typology. But, in and of themselves, they did not grant heavenly blessings. “Notwithstanding the respect this Covenant hath to the Covenant of Grace, it yet remains distinct from it; and can give no more than external and typical Blessings unto a Typical Seed.” The covenant of grace was materially made known in the old covenant(s), but not formally made until Christ shed his blood. The heavenborn people of God began in the garden and extend to all ages. The earthborn people of God began with Abraham and ended with the cross (ibid).
So here is a difference between the PB and the Reformed. For the PBs, the OT covenants are not the covenants of grace as much as they are witnesses to the covenant of grace. For the Reformed the OT covenants are earthly, historical, real, external, administrations of the one covenant of grace through types and shadows. Through those administrations God the Spirit gave more than “external and typical” (typological) blessings. God the Spirit was sovereignly operating within his people through the sacrifices, through the ceremonies, through the prophetic Word, to bring the elect to new life and to true faith in Jesus the Messiah. This is our understanding of Hebrews 11 when it says that Moses preferred Christ—not typical and external blessings—to the riches of Egypt (Heb 11:24–26). Abraham was looking for a city whose builder and maker is God (Heb 11:10). Had he wanted “earthly and typical” blessings, he could have had them.
For the Reformed the OT covenants were more than witnesses to and revelations of the covenant of grace, they were administrations of the substance of the covenant: “I will be a God to you and to your children,” the fulfillment of which was Christ, in whom all the promises of God are yes and amen (2 Cor 1:20).
Next time: Looking at Nehemiah Coxe’s account of the history of redemption.