Owen: The New Covenant Is The New Administration Of The Abrahamic Covenant

More Evidence That Owen Was Not A Baptist

6. We have seen that Abraham, on the account of his faith, and not of his separation according to the flesh, was the father of all that believe, and heir of the world. And in the covenant made with him, as to that which concerns, not the bringing forth of the promised Seed according to the flesh, but as unto faith therein, and in the work of redemption to be performed thereby, lies the foundation of the church in all ages. Wheresoever this covenant is, and with whomsoever it is established, with them is the church; unto whom all the promises and privileges of the church do belong. Hence it was, that at the coming of the Messiah there was not one church taken away, and another set up in the room thereof; but the church continued the same, in those that were the children of Abraham according to the faith. The Christian church is not another church, but the very same that was before the coming of Christ, having the same faith with it, and interested in the same covenant.

It is true, the former carnal privilege of Abraham and his posterity expiring, on the grounds before mentioned, the ordinances of worship which were suited thereunto did necessarily cease also. And this cast the Jews into great perplexities, and proved the last trial that God made of them; for whereas both these,—namely, the carnal and spiritual privileges of Abraham’s covenant,—had been carried on together in a mixed way for many generations, coming now to be separated, and a trial to be made (Mal. 3) who of the Jews had interest in both, who in one only, those who had only the carnal privilege, of being children of Abraham according to the flesh, contended for a share on that single account in the other also,—that is, in all the promises annexed unto the covenant. But the foundation of their plea was taken away, and the church, unto which the promises belong, remained with them that were heirs of Abraham’s faith only.

7. It remains, then, that the church founded in the covenant, and unto which all the promises did and do belong, abode at the coming of Christ, and doth abide ever since, in and among those who are the children of Abraham by faith. The old church was not taken away, and a new one set up, but the same church was continued, only in those who by faith inherited the promises. Great alterations, indeed, were then made in the outward state and condition of the church; as,—
(1.) The carnal privilege of the Jews, in their separation to bring forth the Messiah, then failed; and therewith their claim on that account to be the children of Abraham.
(2.) The ordinances of worship suited unto that privilege expired and came to an end.
(3.) New ordinances of worship were appointed, suited unto the new light and grace then granted unto the church.
(4.) The Gentiles came in to the faith of Abraham together with the Jews, to be fellow-heirs with them in his blessing. But none of these, nor all of them together, made any such alteration in the church but that it was still one and the same. The olive-tree was the same, only some branches were broken off, and others planted in; the Jews fell, and the Gentiles came in their room.

And this doth and must determine the difference between the Jews and Christians about the promises of the Old Testament. They are all made unto the church. No individual person hath any interest in them but by virtue of his membership therewith. This church is, and always was, one and the same. With whomsoever it remains, the promises are theirs; and that not by implication or analogy, but directly and properly. They belong as immediately, at this day, either to the Jews or Christians, as they did of old to any. The question is, With whom is this church, founded on the promised Seed in the covenant? This is Zion, Jerusalem, Israel, Jacob, the temple of God. The Jews plead that it is with them, because they are the children of Abraham according to the flesh. Christians tell them that their privilege on this account was of another nature, and ended with the coming of the Messiah; that the church unto whom all the promises belong are only those who are heirs of Abraham’s faith, believing as he did, and thereby interested in his covenant. Not as though the promise made to Abraham were of none effect; for as it was made good unto his carnal seed in the exhibition of the Messiah, so the spiritual privileges of it belonged only unto those of the Jews and Gentiles in whom God had graciously purposed to effect the faith of Abraham. Thus was and is the church, whereunto all the promises belong, still one and the same, namely, Abraham’s children according to the faith: and among those promises this is one, that God will be a God unto them and their seed for ever.

John Owen, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, ed. W. H. Goold, vol. 18, Works of John Owen (Edinburgh: Johnstone and Hunter, 1854), 123–24.

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  1. Great quote from Owen showing that he agrees with the Reformed hermeneutic of one people of God, who share in the faith with their father Abraham. The administration of the covenant has changed, “suited unto the new light and grace,” but “the church is, and always was, one and the same.” and God promises them that, “God will be a God to them and their seed forever.”

    • Dr. Clark and Angela,
      Thank you for posting John Owen’s distinctions and the summation that includes this distinction of the Reformed hermeneutic of ‘one people of God’. As I study Reformed, Confessional, Creedal, Biblical Theology I experience the Vinedresser pruning my branches of wrong thinking. This painful process increases to the degree I am attached to those fruitless branches. I love God who makes His Promise real daily, “God will be God to them and their seed forever.” Does this mean ‘The Church’ was founded in Christ just as we were chosen in Him before the Foundation of The World?
      With Gratitude, Catherine

      • Catherine,

        “The church” can denote either the visible covenant assembly, the visible church, or the church invisible, i.e., all those whom God has regenerated and brought to faith. Certainly, in some sense, all the elect are “in Christ,” inasmuch as they are elect in Christ from all eternity. Those who believe are in Christ by virtue of their union with him by the Spirit, through faith. So, in a sense, yes, “The Church” was founded in Christ, just as we were chosen in him before the foundation of the world. God decreed that there would be a visible people, the visible church, and that through it he would infallibly save his elect by grace alone, through faith alone.

  2. Hello again Mr Clark. I wanted to ask: one of the arguments Baptists use is that if the Abrahamic covenant was a spiritual covenant of grace then why weren’t Job or Lot commanded to be circumcised even though they were true believers?
    Thank you for taking the time to respond to me, and sorry if my questions are getting annoying. Here in Southern England Presbyterianism is essentially non-existent and its not easy getting answers when everyone around you is Baptist.

    • At the risk of becoming annoying, myself, even though the book of Job comes after Genesis in the bible, Job lived before circumcision was commanded, and Abraham’s dealing with Lot also occurred before circumcision was commanded by God. Circumcision was the sign that was given by God when He ratified, by way of a formal covenant, that God himself would be the second Adam who would perform the righteousness that the first Adam failed to perform as our federal head, and to suffer death for the believing descendants of the first Adam. That is what it meant when God walked through the pieces of slaughtered animals, that it should be done to Him, just as was done to the animals, if the requirement for perfect obedience under the covenant of works was not performed. The sign of bloody circumcision pointed to the cutting off and death of the second Adam, on behalf of those who would trust in Him as their federal representative. God alone promised to do and suffer all the terms of the covenant while Abraham was in a helpless stupor, and his children were also to be given the sign in their infant helplessness, to make the point that God alone is our Savior, and we can do nothing for our right standing before God but to trust in His righteousness. That is also the point of administering the sign of baptism to infants in their helplessness. Both Lot and Job were true believers because they believed in the promise that God would send a second Adam who would crush the head of Satan. Adam and all others who trusted in God’s promise, were saved before the promise was formally ratified with Abraham, that promise was already given in the garden, informally, but as a covenant pledge of grace through the promised second Adam who would defeat the death brought by Satan by providing the perfect righteousness required by His people to entitle them to glorified, eternal life with God.

      Dr. Clark has most likely already answered any questions you might have, in the many resources listed under baptism. Why do you not read and listen to them, and if you still have questions, then ask. In the past, I was very confused about baptism. I listened very carefully, and repeatedly to the Heidelcast series, I Will be a God to You and Your children. It absolutely revolutionized my understanding of baptism and biblical covenants, and Reformed theology in general. Dr. Clark’s book, Recovering the Reformed Confessions is another resource that I found incredibly helpful for understanding Reformed theology and its history. You can order a copy on line from the Westminster California bookstore.

    • Hi T,

      See Angela’s helpful reply.

      As she says, we can’t assume the chronology of Job. As to Lot, how do you know that Abraham did not communicate to him the institution of the covenant of grace? Your question seems to be laden with unstated assumptions that need to be questioned.

      From the point of view of literary analysis, Lot serves to illustrate the corruption of the world, God’s grace in redeeming him, but he hardly can be used to invalidate the institution of circumcision. If that’s the point that’s being made it proves too much. It seems to assume that if there’s no explicit reference to circumcision relative to Lot that it wasn’t universal among God’s people.

  3. That’s a bit of a scattergun shot (interesting though) as not all Baptists are of the “1689 federalist” persuasion which is what I think you’re aiming at. The “one Church, one People” is held by the “20th century” Reformed Baptists whom the 1689 federalists believe have misinterpreted their own confession – dull one. However, your post might rattle the PB cage a bit (surely unintentionally?) as they do love their John Owen with his Subservient Covenant view of Sinai. Concerning which, Dr. Clark – wouldn’t Owen’s covenant theology put the man himself outside the orthodoxy of the Savoy Declaration which he himself helped draft? I understand that its covenant theology is the same as Westminster’s with one Covenant of Grace under two administrations as per Calvin (in other words Reformed and not Lutheran)? Strange if it did that.

    • Hi Will,

      See this series:


      On Owen see:


      Owen’s doctrine that the Mosaic covenant was subservient seems to me to be either blown out of proportion or misunderstood by those who try to read Owen through Baptist lenses or through other lenses. Read through the lenses of the mainstream of Reformed theology in the period it’s no big deal.

      That is because there are two aspects to the Mosaic covenant, gracious and legal. Insofar as Moses was an administration of the covenant of grace it is one thing, insofar as it is a republication of the law/covenant of works, it is another.

      The trouble comes when people try to flatten out the Mosaic covenant into one aspect or the other. Owen did not do that. He was trying to articulate both aspects. The law is subservient to the gospel. The Spirit uses the law to bring the elect to new life and true faith by teaching them the greatness of their sin and misery. That’s standard Reformed theology.

      The Mosaic covenant, however, was not all law. It was also an administration of the gospel. People were justified under Moses (and David et al) by grace alone, through faith alone. They trusted in Christ by grace alone. That’s gospel.

  4. One aspect of 1689 Federalism which I find particularly troublesome is their definition of the of law and gospel contrast. It is radically different than what the Lutherans and Reformed taught.

    According to Lutherans and Reformed, the Scriptures contain two basic types of statements that reveal how God deals with His people, they are imperative or law statements of do this and live and indicative or grace statement declaring what God does for us, the gospel. This is the subject of Luther’s seminal book, The Bondage of the Will. The imperative or law statements are meant to show our inability to do what God requires, in order to drive us to seek righteousness in the indicative statements of gospel which tell us what
    God does for us. That according to Luther is to properly divide law and gospel.

    The 1689 Federalists use the law\gospel contrast to divide the bible and God’s people into two different entities. Everything after Genesis 3: 15 and up to the resurrection of Christ is the old covenant of law and everything after the resurrection is the covenant of grace or the new covenant. Therefore both the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants are covenants of law and works for an earthly people working for tenure in the land and earthly rewards, while the spiritual, new covenant \covenant of grace people receive eternal life through faith in Christ alone. This is what has given rise to the idea that infant initiation, according to the Abrahamic model is to mix the covenants, thereby mixing works and grace! So you have people like Jeff Johnson claiming that they are actually preserving the law\grace distinction in Reformed theology while the paedobaptists are not! By this sort of equivocation, they are actually redefining the law\gospel distinction! I think that for young Christians, or those with limited knowledge of what the Reformers actually taught, this is very confusing. In effect, it turns the law\gospel teaching of the Reformation, out, on its ear!

  5. Catherine, in addition to all the resources Dr. Clark listed above, I would mention Luther’s book, The Bondage of the Will, and The Marrow of Modern Divinity written by Edward Fisher, with notes by Thomas Boston. Dr. Clark also has an excellent Heidelcast series on this and another one on the ten commandments. You can find four lectures on Sermon Audio by Sinclair Ferguson that are very good on the Marrow of Modern Divinity as well. Also his sermons on Romans emphasise the law\gospel distinction. A short and very readable book is the Pearl of Christian Comfort by Petrus Dathenus. The Marrow of Modern Divinity and the Pearl of Christian Comfort can be ordered, on line from Reformation Heritage Books. Luther’s Bondage of the Will, with an introduction by J. I. Packer can also be ordered from Christian Book Distributor’s. As Dr. Clark mentions, the law\gospel distinction is taught throughout the confessions. A simple way to explain the Reformed law\grace distinction might be to say that any passage that tells us what God requires of us is law, while any statement that tells us about God’s grace, in accepting us for the sake of Christ’s obedience and mediation, is gospel. This distinction is so important, because if we take the law as gospel, we will try to be accepted by God by our own obedience, rather than on the basis of Christ’s obedience for us. The Reformers did not see law as everything from Genesis 3: 15 to the the death and resurrection of Christ and grace only after that. They saw the “do this” statements as law throughout Scripture and the good news statements of God’s promises to save us also to be everywhere, because they saw the whole of Scripture to be unified by the covenant of grace, administered under types and shadows in the old covenant and more clearly in the new covenant. Salvation has always been by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. That is what unites all of God’s people. The law is our school master to drive us to Christ, that is the pedagogical use of the law. When the law has done its work of driving us to Christ, it still serves as the norm, informing us how to please God out of love and gratitude for His grace, not to be accepted, but because we are assured we are accepted, for Christ’s sake.

    • Angela,
      Thank you for these resources. Though I’ve been reading about the law/gospel distinction, I want to locate imperatives/gospel Scriptures in the OT and NT. After I read through the ‘short stack’ of blogs from Dr. Clark, I’ll listen to Sinclair Ferguson, one of my favorite voices. Thank you for your devotion to confessional Reformed Theology.

  6. Many thanks for your reply and the links you provided, Dr. Clark, and thanks as well Angela.

    This is a short essay on Owen by a Reformed guy from your neck of the woods which is also very interesting – I believe his lenses are orthodox.


    John Owen was not a Baptist and neither am I but neither does his view of the Mosaic Covenant appear to have been the view expressed in Westminster (and Savoy) in that he saw the Mosaic Covenant to be substantially NOT the Covenant of Grace. To be fair even 1689 PB believe that salvation in the OT was by faith in Christ – but like Owen (it does seem) they deny that the Mosaic Covenant was an actual administration of the Covenant of Grace (although Owen of course agrees that the Abrahamic Covenant was indeed such, unlike the PB, who deny any form of OT administration ie no OT Church!).

    • Will,
      Thank you for the link to the essay on Owen. I think Rev. Brown provides an excellent exposition on why Owen considered the Mosaic covenant to be a republican of the covenant of works, as well as an administration of the covenant grace. As Brown states, “Owen firmly believed that the covenant of grace remained uninterrupted throughout the mosaic covenant, and that the notion promoted by the Socinians, that the gospel was not present during the period of the old covenant was for Owen, senseless and brutish.”

      Rev. Brown states his thesis: “for Owen the old and new covenants were two distinct covenants because the old covenant was a republican of the covenant of works, superimposed and subservient to the covenant of grace.” He uses three points to support this thesis:
      1. Owen sees three covenants that undergird God’s dealing with mankind. They are the covenant of redemption, and the two covenants that achieve the purposes of the plan of redemption, These are the covenant of works and the covenant of grace, where the covenant of works is superimposed and subservient to the covenant of grace.
      2. An analysis of the Mosaic covenant in relation to the covenant of redemption and the covenant of grace, and the new covenant.
      3. How Owen’s view of the Mosaic covenant has implications for his doctrine of justification.

      Rev. Brown points out, according to Owen, that since Adam failed the test of obedience to the covenant of works, God promised the second Adam who would provide the righteousness mankind needs to receive eternal, glorified life for which they were created. This is the result of the covenant of redemption, and its purpose to save the elect through the Son. Rev. Brown points out that Owen sees the covenant of grace unfolding throughout the scriptures: “A sinner’s only hope is the alien righteousness imputed to him through faith alone, which was earned through the active and passive obedience of the One placed under a covenant of works, namely, Christ, the surety and mediator of the covenant of grace.”

      Rev. Brown points out that Owen affirms that like the covenant of works, which the first Adam broke, the Mosaic covenant shows, in exact detail, that God requires perfect obedience to His commands and death is the punishment for the slightest infraction. It was meant, not to show how to obey God and live, but that to obey God and live is impossible, that the obedience of the promised Savior alone could provide eternal life. It was superimposed on the covenant of grace, which is progressively revealed throughout redemptive history to drive the elect to the Savior God promised. In this way it was an administration of grace under the types and shadows that pointed to the Savior, as the only hope of meeting God’s demands. The Mosaic covenant is unique in substance from the other covenants of grace because it contains a republication of the covenant of works, but not as a covenant of life like the first covenant which Adam broke, but as a schoolmaster to drive them to the promised Savior. Owen saw the Mosaic covenant as the old covenant, and the covenant of grace, progressively revealed and administered throughout Scripture, until it was fully realized, clearly in Christ so that the types and shadows of the old covenant, the Mosaic covenant gave way to the new covenant administration of the covenant of grace. “So the law became our guardian to lead us to Christ…” Gal. 3: 24

  7. Hi Angela,

    Thanks for your reply and your synopsis of Michael Brown’s article.

    On page 10 of it, however, Rev. Brown wrote this: “Owen believed the Mosaic covenant to be a republication of the covenant of works, superimposed upon, subservient to, and organically independent from the covenant of grace, and distinct from the new covenant in substance and essence.”

    If Owen taught this then wouldn’t you say that he was in opposition to the covenant theology of the Westminster Confession of Faith? WCF teaches that the Mosaic Covenant (like the New Covenant) was an administration of the (one) Covenant of Grace – they were different in form but identical in substance, that substance being Christ Himself, of course. If the Mosaic wasn’t gracious in substance then it could only be works (Rom. 11:6). That’s a confessional no-no right? You can have the form or administration republishing a covenant of works or works principle pedagogically but not the substance. I don’t think its enough to say that the Mosaic Covenant administered the (gracious) Abrahamic Covenant through types and shadows (like Kline et al). The Mosaic Covenant itself was a covenant administration of grace. This is Westminster. This is Calvin. It is against these two principally that the 1689 Federalist Baptist is attacking in order to promote their own agenda.

    But I’m not sure Owen taught what Rev. Brown (and some others) say he did (though ultimately I don’t confess Owen). Here’s an example opposing the 1689 PB:


    There are excellent resources on the Mosaic Covenant here that show the position of historic Reformed theologians on this important doctrine:


    • Will,

      When we account for all that Owen wrote on the Mosaic covenant, The best interpretation is that it was different in substance from the covenant of grace , in so far as it was a republication of the covenant of works. The other issue here is his contrast between Moses and the new covenant, which raises a redemptive-historical aspect and isn’t, in this context, synonymous with the covenant of grace.

      Owen did treat the Mosaic/old covenant as an administration of the covenant of grace. For Owen, no one was saved under Moses except sola gratia, sola fide. He was not Amyraldian. He was not Dispensationalist. He was a leader at Savoy.

  8. Will,
    As Dr. Clark replies to my comment to you, “It’s the ‘both…and’ of Owen’s covenant theology that people seem to miss.” I think that is the problem with 1689 Federalism, they are isolating Owen’s recognition that the Mosaic covenant is a republication of the covenant of works, and ignoring the fact that Owen ultimately sees the Mosaic covenant as an administration of the covenant of grace where the republication of the covenant of works serves to drive the people to the Savior promised in the garden and the Abrahamic covenant. The 1689 Federalists are taking Owen out of context by focusing only on his statements regarding the Mosaic covenant as a covenant of works, and ignoring that Owen sees it as a covenant of grace as well. They also ignore the fact that Owen sees it, not as a covenant of works that the Israelites must perform, but rather a covenant of works that is impossible for them to obey perfectly, one that God promised to fulfill when He walked between the pieces alone. The exacting nature of the law was to drive them back to the Abrahamic covenant, and to trust in the righteousness of God in their behalf, and on His suffering the death curse for their disobedience. The sacrifices and ceremonies were types and shadows of how God’s gracious promise would be fulfilled. That was the administration of the covenant of grace in the Mosaic covenant, and those who believed this promise, as Abraham did, were saved by faith in the Savior shown to them in the sacrifices and ceremonies. Owen repeatedly explains the purpose of the ceremonies and sacrifices as having this purpose as we see in your first link to rpcnacovenanter. As Rev. Brown points out, the republication of the covenant of works in the Mosaic covenant was subservient, it served the purpose of the covenant of grace, which is to point to Christ as the perfect fulfiller of the law, as the second Adam. That is what makes the Mosaic covenant a covenant of grace. As far as I can see, that is quite in keeping with the Westminster and the Savoy, and since Owen was probably the primary author of the Savoy, it really brings into question the claim of 1689 Federalists that Owen agrees with them.

    • Dr. Clark and Angela,

      Please do not close this post since I am continuing to work through the original post of Owen and the recommendations you each contributed to me. Foggy thinking is evaporating while healthy thinking and understanding is growing. I need one more week in this materials even though you may have moved on.
      Thank you,

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