Some Who Once Got Into the Abrahamic Covenant Will Not Stay In

Gen 17:9 And God said to Abraham: “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations.”

Gen 18:19 “For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they may keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice, that the Lord may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him.”

When Jeremiah contrasts the new covenant with the one made with the fathers, the contrast is to the Mosaic covenant and not to the Abraham covenant. But neither is it accurate to say that the new covenant is only a renewal of the Abrahamic covenant. As Genesis 17 and 18 suggest, the Abrahamic covenant also had its “conditional” aspects.

One way some people put this all together is to say that the unconditional aspect of covenants only refers to God’s promise to save a people, but that which INDIVIDUALS are part of the people is conditioned on covenant obedience.

I speak not only of Arminians, who say that Jesus died for everybody and that the difference is their faith and obedience.
Instead of saying that all blessing is conditioned only on the imputed righteousness, many Calvinists bring into the picture the sovereign grace of God which enables the elect to meet the conditions of the covenant.

This failure to glory only in the cross is supported by a view of the new covenant which separates “covenant” from election and particular redemption. Abraham stayed in because he was enabled to obey, but some who are in get broken off because they do not obey.

The “state” of those in the new covenant does not depend on our conduct and walk. Those who try to walk to life will never arrive there. The Christian walk is a fruit of life and a guaranteed “stand in grace”. (Romans 5:1-2).

I want to think about Meredith Kline’s By Oath Consigned (Eerdmans, 1968). Despite Kline’s use of new information about extra-biblical treaties to talk about “covenant”, his conclusions are more traditional than many Reformed writers who are now distancing themselves from ANY conditional/unconditional distinctions.

I interact with Kline because I agree with his holding the line on the law/gospel antithesis. Ultimately of course Kline’s book is about infant baptism. Unlike the confessions which speak of the water as a means of assurance, Kline says that the water puts individuals into a conditional covenant, and introduces them to potential curse as well as potential blessing. But my focus in this short essay is not baptism, but Kline’s view of covenants.

If there is such a thing as “being in the covenant” but not being in Christ, what are the blessings of “being in the covenant” for those for whom Jesus did not die? Is there a “common grace” of being “in the covenant”, if one assumes that the non-elect can be included for a time in the covenant? Kline cautions that “we are not to reduce the redemptive covenant to that proper purpose.”

Those who don’t continue to believe the gospel are condemned. (John 3:18). But this is something different from saying that the non-elect are in the new covenant, and will be cursed and broken off if they don’t continue to believe..

But Kline resists the “bent toward such a reduction of covenant to election. To do so is to substitute a logical abstraction for the historical reality…” The historical reality for Kline is the reality of covenant threats and “actual divine vengeance against the disobedience as covenantal elements”. I agree about divine vengeance but my question is if this wrath is “covenantal”.

Do those who are never initiated into the new covenant experience wrath? I am sure Kline would agree with me that they do. But this is something different from saying that those who experience the wrath of God were once members of the new covenant. This is one way that the new covenant is not like the Abrahamic covenant.

Those who hear the gospel and reject it face greater condemnation but this does not prove that they EVER knew the Lord covenantally. Matthew 7 teaches us that there are those who never knew the Lord. I agree that the blessing of the new covenant comes through covenant curse on Jesus Christ. But if Christ has kept the covenant for all those in the new covenant, then how can Kline speak of “dual sanctions” for those in the new covenant?

Kline thinks that those who were never elected and those for whom Jesus never died can be initiated into the new covenant. And his pattern for this is not only the Mosaic covenant but the Abrahamic covenant. Not all the children of Abraham are children of Abraham. It was possible to be in that covenant but not be justified like Abraham was.

Not all Israel is Israel, and there is nothing the non-elect can do about it. The non-elect cannot get themselves out of the Abrahamic covenant, no matter how much they might want to, and they can never get themselves into Christ (not that the non-elect ever want to saved by the true Christ.)

Kline agrees that Jeremiah 31 sounds like “discontinuity” with earlier covenants. “Jeremiah speaks, to be sure, only of a consummation of grace; he does not mention a consummation of curses in the new Covenant.” p76. But Kline maintains this is only a matter of focus: the emphasis is on eschatological blessing but curse is not denied

Kline asks: “But the theologian of today ought not to impose on himself the visionary limitations of an Old Testament prophet.”But why should we take this (Marcionite? to turn the tables!) attitude to Jeremiah? Perhaps the prophet really is seeing a new covenant which has no “dual sanctions” because it is altogether conditioned on the obedience of Christ.

Yes, there is excommunication in the New Testament. But what Kline needs to show is that those judgments are exclusions of those who are in the new covenant. Otherwise we simply assume the paradigm with which we begin. I John 2:19 says that those who sent out “were not of us.”

But John 15 says that those who do not abide in the vine are thrown away. Is the right exegesis here that those who began to abide were later broken off from “the covenant”?

As for me, I don’t see how saying that the vine is the covenant fits with Christ saying He is the true vine. Certainly there is such a thing as a false profession and assurance about Christ, but does it really answer any questions to introduce into John 15 a covenant with dual sanctions?

But Kline argues that the new covenant of Jeremiah 31 is ultimately not about now but about after the second coming. Thus he says that we who say that only the elect are now in the new covenant “prematurely precipitate the age to come.” (p77, footnote about Jewett). In other words, Kline does the already/ not yet number, with an emphasis on the not yet. The new covenant is really not yet, he thinks, because now there are those in it who do not know the Lord.

Kline argues from the covenant breaking of Israelites in Romans 11:17-21. If gentiles in the new covenant are grafted into the Abrahamic covenant, then we must not say that the new convent is unconditional because the Abrahamic covenant was not unconditional. Verse 21: “he may not spare you either”.

Of course we have the promise of Romans 8:32 that all those for whom God did not spare His Son will be spared. The condition of this blessing is Christ’s obedience (even to death) . So I think it is possible to warn and threaten folks ( he may not spare you either) without telling them that they have been initiated into the new covenant. I think Kline would agree: not all are in the new covenant, we have to be initiated.

But are there some in the new covenant who will not be spared? What good would it do to warn people in the new covenant about this if it were not possible for them to be broken off? Then again, what good would it do to warn people about any disobedience if they are so reckless as to put all their hope in Christ as the only condition of blessing?

Since I reject the theology of paradox, I seek reconciliation of all the biblical data. I don’t want a reduction which leave out the warnings. But I would argue that the issue in Romans 9 to 11 is not about “covenant keeping” but about continued faith in the righteousness of Christ.

When Romans 9:32 complains that some of the children of Abraham did not seek righteousness by faith, this does not mean that they did not work in the right way. Faith in the righteousness means NOT TO WORK AT ALL. Those who rejected Jesus were perfectly willing to give God credit for their works. They were just not ready to be told by Jesus that their works were not only unprofitable but also ungodly! .

The reason the works of the Israelites who stumbled were evil was not simply a lack of sincerity or moral effort. Their works were evil because they were done without faith in the gospel Abraham believed.

That gospel says that God justifies the ungodly who do not work (Romans 4:5). It was not a situation of being in a covenant but failing to meet certain conditions. The problem was people not believing the promise of the gospel.

Romans 10:3 “for they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. “

This is not a “premature” anticipation of the age to come. ALREADY in Romans 9-11, Paul makes two points:

1. Not every Jew is elect or justified: one could be in the Abrahamic covenant but not justified by God as an individual. So far, with this even the Jew who stumbled could agree. Yes, we are elect because God has made us able to keep the covenant. Thus we teach grace but also conditional covenant.

2. Paul has a second point to make in Romans 9:11, and this is the one many stumble upon. Paul claims that we cannot establish our own righteousness, not even if we give God the credit for our doing.

The claim of Romans 11:32 is finally that “God has committed them all to disobedience, to have mercy on all.”.This is not a claim that every individual will be justified. All for whom Christ kept all conditions will be justified. But this gospel hope is not founded on the obedience of those who will be justified.

There was a law-aspect to the Abrahamic covenant so that we can speak of some Israel being broken off. Some who once got into the Abrahamic covenant will not stay in. Not all Israel is Israel.

But those for whom Christ died will be spared. To tell a person that “you may not be spared either” is to warn her that she may not yet be in the new covenant.

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17 Comments on “Some Who Once Got Into the Abrahamic Covenant Will Not Stay In”

  1. David Bishop Says:

    Is there such a thing as being in the covenant, but not being in Christ? Of those who hold to a covenant of works, I wonder how many have ever asked themselves this.

  2. markmcculley Says:

    Mke Horton— Sanctification is a lifetime of getting used to God as a Father rather than a Judge, the law as a friend rather than an enemy
    from What Really Drives the Christian Life? – White Horse Inn Blog

  3. markmcculley Says:

    Michael Horton –
    Thus it is not only through the doctrine of justification that we are able to assure disquieted consciences that God is gracious to them, but on the wider basis of the Abrahamic covenant of grace. “The covenant is neither a hypothetical relationship, nor a conditional position; rather it is the fresh, living fellowship in which the power of grace is operative.” Not only at one point (justification), but from beginning to end, the relationship in which we stand before our God is founded on God’s own oath, fulfilled in the work of his Son, made effective through the work of his Spirit. p 110, Covenant Theology

  4. markmcculley Says:

    Dan Fuller (p 313): “Paul would have agreed with James that Abraham’s work of preparing to sacrifice Isaac was an obedience of faith. He would have disagreed strongly with Calvin, who saw obedience and works as only accompanying genuine faith…The concern in James 2:14-26 was to urge a faith that saves a person, not simply to tell a person how they could demonstrate their saving faith…Calvin should have taught that justification depends on a persevering faith, since he regarded Abraham as already justified before Genesis 15:6.”

    And then Daniel Fuller quotes Jonathan Edwards: “We are really saved by perseverance…the perseverance which belongs to faith is one thing that is really a fundamental ground of the congruity that faith gives to salvation…For, though a sinner is justified in his first act of faith, yet even then, in that act of justification, God has respect to perseverance as being implied in the first act.”

  5. markmcculley Says:

    Jesus not the church is the true Israel http://ecalvinbeisner.com/freearticles/AATConclusion.pdf

  6. markmcculley Says:

    John Owen—Answerably unto this twofold end of the separation of Abraham, there was a double seed allotted unto him; — a seed according to the flesh, separated to the bringing forth of the Messiah according unto the flesh; and a seed according to the promise, that is, such as by faith should have interest in the promise, or all the elect of God…

    they were the children of Abraham according to the flesh: but on that account they can have no other privilege than Abraham had in the flesh himself; and this was, as we have showed, that he should he set apart as a special channel, through whose loins God would derive the promised Seed into the world. In like manner were they separated to be a peculiar people, as his posterity, from amongst whom He should be so brought forth.

    That this separation and privilege was to cease when the end of it was accomplished and the Messiah exhibited, the very nature of the thing declares…

    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 (Malachi 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. https://contrast2.wordpress.com/2010/09/14/the-oneness-of-the-church-john-owen/

  7. markmcculley Says:

    John 8:37 I know you are descendants of Abraham, but you are trying to kill

    56 Your father Abraham was overjoyed that he would see My day; he saw it and rejoiced.”

    57 The Jews replied, “You aren’t 50 years old yet, and You’ve seen Abraham?”

    58 Jesus said to them, “I assure you: Before Abraham was, I am.”

    59 At that, they picked up stones to throw at Him. But Jesus was hidden and went out of the temple complex

  8. markmcculley Says:

    Brandon Adams — historic Presbyterianism was very different than modern Presbyterianism. Modern Presbyterianism will consider a non-communicant member who has reached the “age of discretion” and does not profess saving faith in Christ to be a covenant breaker and thus excommunicated. That was not the historic position. Instead, non-communicant members could remain members of the church without making any credible profession of saving faith. That was only required for communicant membership (access to the Lord’s table). Thus everyone in a nation was required by law to profess the true religion (known as “historic faith”) but they were not required by law to profess saving faith. Therefore the covenanters did not see themselves as judging “the world” with these laws. They were judging the church.
    http://reformedlibertarian.com/articles/theology/the-half-way-covenant/

    With which presumption will we start?

    –will we exclude from the new covenant those who were in the Abrahamic covenant, or only “include more” ( now females and unmarried males)

    –will we include the spouse and the slaves and the teenage children of a father, or even the grandchildren of those with parents who were cut off from the covenant?

    All or nothing–if we want to include instead of exclude, why not let’s water everybody (not only infants from some families) , including all the adults who come our way–then we can begin to teach them the commands of the covenant (how could we teach anybody God’s law until after they were in the covenant?) and thus we can teach these included disciples that God has promised all of them them saving faith….less narrow, more generous and capacious

    And all we need for that is a common enemy scapegoat—those who refuse to be magistrates, we can accuse them all of wanting to take over as magistrates—and thus find unity between ourselves by excluding fanatics loyal only to one kingdom.

    every inclusion is also an exclusion

    https://chantrynotes.wordpress.com/2015/11/11/godfrey-and-the-baptists/#more-2500

  9. markmcculley Says:

    Notice one of the promises of the Abrahamic covenant Genesis 15: 13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know this for certain: Your offspring will be foreigners in a land that does not belong to them; they will be enslaved and oppressed 400 years. 14 However, I will judge the nation they serve, and afterward they will go out with many possessions

  10. markmcculley Says:

    https://markmcculley.wordpress.com/2012/06/17/was-the-physical-circumcision-of-christ-part-of-christs-righteousness

    Brandon Adams—–Jeffrey Johnson correctly notes “Importantly, the Mosaic Covenant did not replace, alter, or add to the condition placed upon the physical seed of Abraham in Genesis 17. It merely gave clarity to what was already required by circumcision. In other words, the Mosaic Covenant grew out of and codified the conditional side of the Abrahamic Covenant.” This is a point that is ignored by modern paedobaptist proponents of republication.

    John Murray “The obedience of Abraham is represented as the condition upon which the fulfilment of the promise given to him was contingent and the obedience of Abraham’s seed is represented as the means through which the promise given to Abraham would be accomplished. There is undoubtedly the fulfilment of certain conditions… the idea of conditional fulfilment is not something peculiar to the Mosaic covenant. We have been faced quite poignantly with this very question in connection with the Abrahamic covenant. And since this feature is there patent, it does not of itself provide us with any reason for construing the Mosaic covenant in terms different from those of the Abrahamic.”

    Brandon Adams—John Murray greatly erred in transferring this principle to the New Covenant, yet he was faithful to the Old Testament text.

    https://contrast2.wordpress.com/2013/08/21/clarification-on-the-mosaic-covenant-and-eternal-life/

  11. markmcculley Says:

    Brandon Adams—Jamin Hubner’s two chapters (13 and 14) on Acts 2:39 successfully demonstrate that the history of reformed exegesis of this passage has simply been loyalty to Calvin’s eisegesis, driven by a desire to defend infant baptism. The Abrahamic Covenant and its features such as the recipients of circumcision are imported entirely into Acts 2:39 without any consideration as to what promise is being talked about in Acts 2:39, what the fulfillment of that promise looks like in the New Covenant, and what argument is being made in Acts 2 and how that argument is not altogether the same as Acts 3, and so on and so forth.

    “The Paedobaptist ear is so attuned to the Old Testament echo in this text that it is deaf to its New Testament crescendo.” The attitude is “promise of the Spirit, Abrahamic Covenant, covenant of grace, it is all the same thing,” and “children, seed, same idea” .

    An interpreter’s interest in hearing Old Testament overtones should not overthrow exegesis of the actual text.


  12. How is the land promise distinctively Mosaic in contrast to Abrahamic? The typological land promise was something the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants shared in common. So how can anybody categorize Mosaic elements as temporary and thereby distinguish them from the Abrahamic types that are not “distinctively Mosaic”? , Why is the “ceremonial law” not “moral law” and how do we know which is which?

    Who gets to decides that all the Abrahamic types are not Mosaic? Aren’t all types temporary? Unless you have your mind already made up that the new covenant is no different from the Abrahmaic covenant, you will see that Abraham had two sons. Not only Ishmael and Isaac, but also Christ and Moses.. The Abrahamic covenant has been fulfilled and has expired.


  13. One of these quotations does not agree with the other one.

    Scott Clark—Even though there were typological (land) and even national elements in the promises given to Abraham (Gen 12 and 15) they were only temporary expressions of the more fundamental promise to send a Savior.

    Scott Clark— The national, Israelite, Sinaitic covenant, the Mosaic covenant, was a temporary addition, a codicil, added to the Abrahamic promises. That temporary national covenant expired with the death of Christ. Paul reckons the old covenant as a temporary, national, pedagogical, typological arrangement SUPERIMPOSED UPON the Abrahamic covenant of grace.

  14. markmcculley Says:

    Brandon–In you shall all the nations be blessed.” What does “In you” refer to in that promise? It refers specifically to the Messiah, Abraham’s seed. “It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ. This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void.” This covenant promise was that in Christ all the nations would be justified. But if the nations could be justified through the law of Sinai, then Christ died for no purpose, which would make the promise void.“For if the inheritance [righteousness] is based on the law, it is no longer based on the promise [of Christ], but God graciously gave it [righteousness] to Abraham through the promise [of Christ]” referring to how God “preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham…

    Brandon– Galatians 3:18 does not teach that inheritance by promise is synonymous with inheritance by gift/grace/faith in distinction from inheritance by due/works/law. Therefore Galatians 3:18 does not teach a distinction between a covenant of promise and a covenant of law. Therefore Galatians 3 does not establish the unity of the Abrahamic and New Covenants in distinction from the Sinai Covenant. Therefore the Abrahamic Covenant may, in fact, be a covenant of law/works for the typical kingdom of Abraham’s carnal offspring in unison with the Sinai Covenant.

    https://contrast2.wordpress.com/2016/09/03/gal-318-generic-law-and-promise-or-sinai-and-messiah/

  15. markmcculley Says:

    Gen 18:19 “For I have known him, in order that he command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice, in order that the Lord bring to Abraham what He has spoken to ABRAHAM.
    paedobaptist—But the covenant with Abraham was not by works

    mark—Some aspects of the covenant with Abraham were by works. Individuals staying in the land covenant was by works. Christ kept all the conditions of the new covenant, but the new covenant is not the same as the Abrahamic covenant. The Abrahamic covenant was older than the old covenant, and promised Abraham (and some of his seed) other realities besides righteousness before God . Abraham was promised that his seed would be a great blessing to the nations. None of us are promised that our seed will be a blessing to the nations. Abraham was promised that he would be a great nation, but his children were punished by exile from the land.

    It’s important not to ignore the conditioned on the sinner (the not automatic, you can still be cut off) the works aspects of the Abrahamic covenant , and therefore important not to confuse the Abrahamic and the new covenants. If we don’t make the distinction, we will end up with an idea of the new covenant as not being governed by election to justification before God based on Christ the mediator alone.

    I understand that not all Presbyterians think of watered members of their households as Christians. I understand that Leithart thinks of these other Presbyterians as having no better view of “the covenant” than “anabaptists” since these presbyterians won’t welcome all household members to the weekly sacrament which gives indwelling grace. I understand that many Presbyterians think of water baptism as merely an objective but conditional promise that some watered members will become Christians. (And this does not deny that some not watered will also become Christians)

    DGH– “critics of 2k need to do is stop showing how 2k departs from the past. We get that…. Critics need to propose an equation for God-and-state that is required by God’s word (especially the part where Paul recommends submission to Nero)

    mark mcculley—It’s not enough to say that Calvin was wrong about the two kingdoms, without seeing the connection between Geneva trying to have church with old covenant polity and Geneva being a city-state with old covenant polity. Reformed two kingdom people want to have no Bible covenant govern nations, but they still use the Abrahamic covenant as a model for law and promise in the church. They confuse types and shadows with the new covenant fulfillments.

    We are not only talking about law, about all children being commanded to obey parents.
    We also are talking about children inheriting Christianity from their parents (with some not automatic assistance from Christ)

    Since forgiveness of sins before God belongs to God and not to parents. we need to make a distinction between children obeying parents and children inheriting justification before God.

    Children are commanded to obey parents who cannot give them justification. This means that inclusion in the covenant (or the sacraments) is not necessary for parents’ right to command children.

    DGH—Two kingdom advocates the spirituality of the church which is a part of the Western Christian tradition going back to Augustine and In another sense it is new —

    mark mcculley—Not new but new, this is the contradiction which I am trying to get at. The new project which attempts to defend the secular state against theologians is saying that the Augustinian church was wrong to kill Donatists who would not submit their household members to the church (and empire). How can two kingdom Reformed people say that infant initiation into the covenant is not a private matter but only about the authority of the church but nevertheless not a question of political sedition against the state (since the state depends on families, and churches) ?

    http://reformedlibertarian.com/articles/theology/the-half-way-covenant/ BA– “Modern Presbyterianism will consider a non-communicant member who has reached the “age of discretion” and does not profess saving faith in Christ to be a covenant breaker and thus excommunicated. That was not the historic position. Instead, non-communicant members could remain members of the church without making any credible profession of saving faith. Thus everyone in a nation was required by law to profess the true religion but they were not required by law to profess saving faith. Therefore the covenanters did not see themselves as judging “the world” with these laws. They were judging the church.”

    mark mcculley–And why was it so important for these people to remain in the church and in the covenant, but without any need for a conversion narrative? First, how will they ever become Christians if they are without access to the “means of indwelling grace”. (And here the debates between those who charitably assume all in the covenant are Christians and give them the sacraments, and those who tell their children that they are not Christians yet but have been promised an inheritance that those outside have not been)

    Second, where there is a “confessional State”, you cannot be a citizen without also being a member of the church. In theory, I suppose, you could have a confessional state but more than one church, but if the confessional state requires its citizens to be Christians and makes part of the test for that being a member of one of the churches, you have not escaped idolatry. Is atheism a worse kind of idolatry than other kinds? The paedobaptists who killed the native Americans and took possession of the land in New England modeled their nation after the nation of Abraham and admitted only their own kind and cut off other Trinitarian paedobaptists ( Lutherans and Roman Catholics)

    DGH–If the false gods are no gods, isn’t then every state without the Triune God revealed in Holy Writ an atheistic state? Some Puritans are closer to a confessional state than to Robinson and Hodge who seemingly welcomed a secular government like the United States but rejected an atheistic state.

    mark mcculley–and now the modern two kingdom advocates are more consistent and welcome the atheist state and ask us what alternative can there be to Christians serving in a second kingdom which administers the wrath of God (but without appeal to any confessional identification of God or of God’s law). They suggest that the only other two alternatives are 1. a confessional state or 2. being loyal only to Christ’s kingdom and submitting to Nero but not participating in his kingdom. And people with a Reformed world view don’t withdraw into that second option


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