Engaging With 1689 (2)

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.

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.


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 givento his elect by sola gratiasola 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.

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