What’s the Basic Difference of The New Covenant?

Richard Gaffin and Sinclair Ferguson teach that those in the old covenants were not “united to Christ”. Of course we need to define “union with Christ” and then be consistent to our definition with the rest of what we write. But I am asking now if the most basic difference which the new covenant brings is “regeneration”, which is what many folks tend to think of as “union with Christ”. Of course some would define “union with Christ” as the indwelling of the Person of Christ in us.

But if regeneration is not the most basic change brought by the new covenant, what is the most important distinctive of the new covenant. My answer would be about Christ having satisfied all the terms of the new covenant.

1 Corinthians 11:25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

Hebrews 9:15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.

Hebrews 12:24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

Josh Moody, pastor of Wheaton College Church , No Other Gospel, Crossway, p 170–” trying to live under Moses, when Christ has arrived, is legalism…. Christ now says, ‘with me you can’ and we find that by His Spirit we do and we want to do.”

Part of the problem here is using a word like “legalism” which can mean almost anything. Moody says that in the Old Covenant there were godly folks who did not live “legalistically”, even though “the operation of” justification by faith had not been revealed. If Moody wants to say that new revelation has now (potentially) released the justified elect from “legalism”, how does he think that the justified elect in the old covenant were also free from “legalism”?

In Galatians 3, when Paul is writing about “before faith came, the law was our cop”, he was not only revealing a change in covenants in redemptive history. In these same verses, Paul is concerned with individuals “getting justified” by Christ, concerned about individuals being baptized by God into Christ. Even during the time of the new covenant, there are many non-elect folks for whom Christ never died and who have never been baptized into Christ.

Even though Moody says often that he doesn’t want to assume that everybody is a Christian, he doesn’t seem to be able to keep from telling his readers that God loves them and that Christ died for them. p 42–“Christ was cursed for me and you.” p 100–“The only way to realize that you’re okay is to realize that God loves you and that Christ died for you as you are.” p 160–

Not everybody who talks about Jesus believes in the Jesus revealed in the Bible. I quote Moody: “if I believe something wrong and teach others to believe something wrong, I am under God’s judgment. That is a thought so strange to modern ears that it feels like, with this passage, we are entering an alien world.” (p 39)

Moody rightly asks why the Galatians were tempted to add their works to Christ’s righteousness (which is the object of faith). Moody rightly answers that this temptation does not come from the faith but comes instead from the fear which does not trust the cross to be enough to justify us.

But if it’s a false Jesus who died for everybody, and not everybody is justified, then those who trust this false Jesus should be afraid. They will need to be careful to complete their faith with works, and thus we will need to stress on the “now in the AD we can and want to”.

If you can’t go by train (because the train doesn’t go there), you have to go by car, and you can’t go by train and by car at the same time. If the only kind of atonement revealed in the Bible is definite and effectual (for the sheep, and not for those who will not believe, John 10), then there is no atonement revealed in the Bible for everybody, and you can’t have it both ways, no matter what clergy attempt to say or imply.

You can say all matter of true things about the difference between law and gospel (and I have no doubt that the false teachers in Galatia did so), but you have no legitimate right to say them, if you avoid the offense of the cross being A. for the elect alone and B. being alone effectual, being the difference, since Christ’s death was not for everybody.

And the true things you say about the cross, or about law and gospel, end up not being true things, just like the doctrine of the false teachers in Galatians.
If Christ’s death was the righteousness intended for everybody, then it’s not His death but our faith which must make the difference. And if that is so, we need to be very afraid.

Let me end with one more quotation from Moody: “Nobody comes along and says that you don’t need faith. They just say it’s not faith alone. But if it’s not faith alone, then it is faith plus law; and if it is by law, then it is no longer by promise; then it is no longer by faith. The message of faith and works is really a message of work; it is simply legalism” (p 157)

Let me say something different.

Nobody comes along and says that Jesus didn’t need to die. They just say that Jesus died for everybody but that it doesn’t work unless the Holy Spirit causes you to consent to it. They just say that, even if you are not elect and even if the Spirit doesn’t cause you to consent to it, Jesus loves you and died for you and offers to save you. They say that Christ’s death didn’t take away your guilt and it doesn’t work, because you didn’t have faith in it.

But if Jesus died for everybody, then it is that death PLUS you being changed so that you want to “accept it” which is the real basic difference. And if the only difference of the new covenant is our regeneration, then the promise is not about Christ alone or His death alone.

If the basic new covenant difference is about your being changed (so that grace is not cheap and Jesus is King), then salvation is not by Christ’s death. The message of His death plus your regeneration is really at the end a message about your regeneration.

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13 Comments on “What’s the Basic Difference of The New Covenant?”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, IVP, 1996

    p 95 Augustinian theology was committed to a process of justification. In the process grace moved the will to hate sin and to desire justification, providing the opportunity to return to the grace of baptism. Justification could never be complete.

    p 97 The way we present the gospel invariably expresses an implicit understanding of the order of salvation.

    p 102 It is only by the Holy Spirit that we are being united to Christ. The Spirit’s agency and priority is the architectonic principle, and for this reason there is always a not yet character to our present salvation.

    Mark:So we are back to Augustinian model, where justification is not yet complete…..

    p 102 There is always a not yet character to our present salvation. It is doubtful if the chain model of the order of salvation could ever express this fully. Its very form suggests that one link is complete in itself and thus distinct from the others; thus for example, regeneration is viewed as coming to an end were faith begins.

    Mark: So justification is not distinct from the Christian life? Justification is not distinct from regeneration? And most importantly, regeneration is not distinctly before faith? Regeneration is never complete? Regeneration and the Christian life are the same, and the Christian life is not complete yet? In this way, the idea of a complete present justification can be discarded, because it depends on future regeneration. Ferguson (and Gaffin) can have no justification complete and done right now.

    p 103 And while it requires a carefully guarded statement, it is also true that….justification awaits its consummation, in the same way in which adoption (like justification, a legal act in the New Testament, will enter a new stage…when we appear before the judgment seat of Christ to receive what is due to us (II Cor 5:10)

    mark: The dialectic requires guarded statement, because if you say it too plainly, Ferguson might get in the same political trouble as Norman Shepherd. But it’s still two-stage justification (despite his “have already been justified with irreversible finality), and it’s justification which depends on works the Holy Spirit has produced in us, after we are (provisionally) Christians. Ferguson reads the Westminster Catechism (openly acknowledged and acquitted in the day of judgment) as teaching a future justification. This comes from saying that justification is not isolated or distinct from “sanctification”. This comes from saying that no link is yet complete.

    p 104 Being raised with Christ took place in a representative fashion in Christ’s historical resurrection. BUT it is realized in the believer at regeneration, which is marked sacramentally by baptism.

    Mark: And so we are back to the Augustinian process, and to the efficacy of the grace of water baptism. Instead of being raised by legal imputation into Christ’s representative death, raised is thought of as regeneration. And this justification by representative death and regeneration are again confused, with the legal representative tending to drop out of the picture. Because Ferguson thinks “union” covers it all, and that regeneration cannot be an isolated link distinct from the rest of the Christian life.

  2. markmcculley Says:

    (in an early Banner of Truth essay) Ferguson did criticize Shepherd and Gaffin on this very question.


    Shepherd writes that “The prophets and apostles viewed election from the perspective of the covenant of grace, whereas Reformed theologians of a later day have tended to view the covenant of grace from the perspective of election”(p 60). The result of this, it is argued, is that the reformed preacher no longer says “Christ died for you” – but, when these words are construed, not from the point of view of election, but of the covenant, then “The Reformed evangelist can and must say on the basis of John 3:16, Christ died for you.”

    Ferguson: This demands comment. First, Shepherd appears to adopt the view of the prevailing academic critique of the covenant theology of the seventeenth century (forcefully presented decades ago by Perry Miller), which suggests that the doctrine of covenant somehow makes God’s secret counsels less harsh. We ought therefore to look at covenant, and not at election. This analysis, both historically and biblically we reject. It is clear that, in fact, covenant theology arose in a variety of circumstances – sacramental, in the case of Zwingli, biblical and theological, in the case of Calvin, expository and pastoral, in the case of the Puritans.

    Doubtless, in the case of some writers, Shepherd may be right. But it is an extreme view to charge all reformed writers with this confusion of thought, and to suggest that they have turned the order of scripture on its head. To use Shepherd’s own citation – the fact is that some passages, e.g. Ephesians 1:1-14, do employ the mode of looking at covenant from the viewpoint of election. Indeed, in that passage it is necessary for the reader to look for covenant in the context of election.

    From a more practical point of view – was it because Whitefield and Edwards, Spurgeon and M’Cheyne managed to escape the old reformed straitjacket and discover election it its covenant perspective that they were such great evangelists? It seems highly doubtful. And therefore we are justified in wondering whether this is really the true solution at all.

    Shepherd has had the courage to state to the reformed reader that a question mark hangs over the commonly accepted notion that the preacher cannot say: “Christ died for you.” In fact Shepherd goes so far as to say that, from this covenantal perspective, the reformed preacher is under obligation to say “Christ died to save you.” But that cannot possibly be a proper assessment, for no evangelist in the New Testament shows himself to have been under an inescapable burden to say that.

    In fact Shepherd is surely confusing two things in John 3:16, to which he refers – the truth that it was the loved world to which God gave his Son (which is affirmed), and the statement, “Christ died to save you” (which is not confirmed). Not only does the reformed evangelist not say this, the apostle John does not say it either.

  3. markmcculley Says:

    Ferguson: “Eyebrows will be raised by Professor Shepherd’s comment that “Baptism rather than regeneration is the point of transition from lostness in death to salvation in life” (p 66) – to which, it must be added, he provides a note to the effect that “The position here advocated should not be confused with the sacramentalist doctrine of baptismal regeneration” (ibid). His point is that when evangelism is election-oriented, it is also regeneration-oriented, so that the whole thing is viewed from the standpoint of the secret work of God. The problem with this approach is that, “Judgments have to be made which belong properly and exclusively in the hands of God.” Just because such judgment belongs to God, the evangelist should not attempt even an approximation” (p 67).

    This whole view, according to Shepherd, leads to the tension in reformed evangelism of works of preparation for grace, to which he objects: “Even the exhortation to ask for a new heart does not square with insistence on total inability. There is nothing the unregenerate man can do or will do in the direction of his conversion” (p 69). “In contrast to this regeneration – evangelism a methodology oriented to the covenant structure of Scripture and to the Great Commission presents baptism as the point of transition from death to life” (p 71). This, Shepherd argues, is demonstrated by the emphasis in the New Testament, not on people being converted, but on their being baptized, and he cites Acts 2:41 and Acts 16:33 as illustrative of this very principle.

    Shepherd is somewhat guilty of mishandling the tests he quotes in favour of the priority of baptism over conversion. On the one hand the verses do say what he states; but he fails to remind us of other things they state. Thus, for example, that the 3000 who were baptized were those who “gladly received the word”, and that Paul and Silas baptized the jailer because he believed in God. They must have borne the distinguishing marks of a work of the Spirit of God. The apostles must have judged these men to be truly regenerate. Rather than draw attention away from conversion, these instances simply highlight that, for the adult, a profession of faith in Christ, and of conversation was a prerequisite for baptism.

    It is true that baptism is what “should mark the passage from death to life”(p 72), but it is another thing to suggest that it actually constitutes “the point of transition from lostness in death to salvation in life”(p 66). This is to confuse the sign and the thing signified, and to be guilty of an offence against reformed teaching. Surely Professor Shepherd means something different from what he says? It is perhaps not surprising that, while critical of the current expressions that a man is “truly converted” or “really born again”, and emphatic that in the New Testament the phraseology was that he was “baptized”, and that these other expressions were redundant, he does not himself manage to escape an addition to baptism as the expression of fruitful evangelism, when he says that “All who have been baptized AND are seeking to do the will of God are to be regarded as Christian brothers”(p 74)

  4. markmcculley Says:

    David Engelsma: The gospel truth of justification is fundamental to soteriology and to the present debate in conservative Reformed circles. Lack of clarity betokens apostasy among us.
    Justification, by faith alone, is perfect in this life: the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us, so that we appear before and are judged by God as those who have perfectly obeyed every commandment of the law and suffered in full the punishment of our sins.
    There will be a public justification on the great day of the return of Christ, but this will not be the perfection of what is imperfect in this life, much less an overturning of the verdict we hear in the gospel. Rather, it will be the publicizing of what is now private, the public manifestation of the justification we now enjoy in the forum of our conscience.
    Making justification a process is fatal concession to RC theology, which is the denial of the gospel of grace. And the churches that permit this are doomed.

  5. markmcculley Says:

    As far as I am concerned, the most basic problem with saying that “union with Christ” is created by the Holy Spirit is that this gives priority to the Spirit’s present work over Christ’s finished work.

    Romans 8:10–”But if Christ is IN YOU, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life BECAUSE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS.
    Galatians 4:5-6 –”to redeem those who were under the law, so that we would receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

    Imprecise “union” talk can be very dangerous. SOME theologians (Kevin Dixon Kennedy, for example) use the concept of “union” to say that the atonement which really matters is the Spirit’s application of Christ’s death. Therefore, no double jeopardy, they say, unless somebody for whom Christ died has been “united to Christ.” In other words, SOME OF THEM TEACH THAT CHRIST DIED ALSO FOR THOSE WHO WILL PERISH.

    It’s one thing to say that Christ’s death will be effective, and another to say WHY Christ’s death must be effective. Christ’s death saves not only because of God’s sovereign will but also because of God’s justice.

    Although John Owen taught that God only imputed the sins of the elect to Christ, Owen did not teach that all the elect were justified as soon as Christ bore those sins. Owen taught with Romans 6 that the elect must come into legal union with Christ’s death. Until the elect are “placed into” that death, they remain under the wrath of God.

    But some theologians now use “union” talk to change the meaning of the atonement. They also accuse the rest of us with thinking there is no need for faith. If the substitution for sins has already been made, they say, then all for whom it was made should logically already be justified. If the righteousness has already been obtained, then all for whom it was earned should logically already be justified by it. This is the claim made by some theologians who use “union” to collapse and define the application of the atonement as being the real atonement.

    But it’s clear that Owen did not teach justification apart from faith. It’s also clear that Owen did not teach that faith was a mere recognition that we were already justified. (See Carl Trueman’s various books and essays on John Owen). “Unionists” should not ignore Owen’s careful distinction between the atonement and the legal application of the atonement.
    Some “unionists” locate the efficacy of the atonement not in Christ’s propitiation itself but only in the efficacy of regeneration and faith to unite people with that propitiation. This is their argument: “you can’t say that there’s double jeopardy until after a person has been married to Christ by faith. Then, and only then, they say, could you say that a person was dying for the same sins twice.”

    But otherwise, it is claimed, you can teach everybody that “Christ is dead for you” without that meaning that Christ has died for your sins, because according to them, Christ’s death for sinners is not the same thing legally as Christ’s death to pay for the specific sins of sinners. According to this false gospel, it’s the “union” which designates for whose sins Christ died.

  6. markmcculley Says:

    Some folks seem to think that “new covenant’ is only a right attitude to law and gospel. So that “old covenant” is only about a wrong motive to law and the gospel. This is how Robert Rayburn Jr. explains Hebrews. We need to see that the good news is not about our better faith or attitude, but about what God has done in history in the new covenant.

    Romans 9:32–”Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling-stone.”

    In order to perform its killing function, the Mosaic covenant was law demanding perfection with the power to condemn… Law (Mosaic or any other divine command) is not only a tutor that “reveals” sin or makes people aware of sin. Romans 5:20 says that the law entered that sin would increase, not simply that knowledge about sin would increase.

    The law does not merely “kill” by making us thinking of things to do that we would not have thought of before. The law is used by idolaters (all of us by nature) to try to justify ourselves before God (I did it, or I did enough of it…)

    The law kills, leads to death, and if no gospel, only that. But the elect l under the law are taught the gospel by God. Romans 7 verse 9: “I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died.” We were dead by nature, and already sinners. This “I died” is something besides the death we were born with under the law.

    It’s life to see that you are dead and to see that any and all righteousness found BY US in the law (Phil 3:9) is insufficient to stand before God. Only Christ has ( for the elect alone) satisfied the requirements of law and found a righteousness, so that the law now demands that the elect be given every blessing of salvation.

    But did the Mosaic law announce clearly that it was a “killing instrument” and not the gospel? If it didn’t, who could blame any Jew for using the law wrong , so that they tried to be saved by keeping it?

    The central text discussed in this connection is Romans 9:32–”They did not seek if by faith, as if it were by works of law.” The “federal vision” says that there is no difference between law and gospel, but only a right way and a wrong way of pursuing the law, and that the gospel is the right way of pursuing the law.

    An interesting rebuttal to this is an essay by David Gordon in WTJ (Spring 1992): “Why Israel did not obtain Torah Righteousness; A note on Romans 9:32.” Gordon writes that the verse should be translated not “as if it were”, but “because the law is not of faith” in line with Gal 3:12. “The qualification works-and-not faith in Gal 3:10-13 is parallel to the qualification works and not faith in Romans 9:32.”

    “If one group attained what the other did not, the difference between them might lie in the manner in which they pursued it…This is now what Paul says however. The two groups did not pursue the same thing (the gentiles pursued nothing)…Paul’s point therefore is NOT that the Gentiles pursued righteousness in a better manner (by faith) than the Jews. Rather, God’s mercy gives what is not even pursued.”

    “When Paul asks why the Jews did not attain unto the Torah, his answer addressed the NATURE of the covenant (Torah demands perfect obedience), not the nature of the PURSUIT of the Torah.”

    Those who say “we do it the right way, with the faith and not works” do not understand the gospel. We don’t do it ANY way. God did it. God did it at the cross, for the elect.


    “Reformed covenant theology” is on the way to a general ineffective atonement

    Ineffective Unjust Indefinite atonement says that Christ is the priest for all the non-elect and that all the non-elect are in the new covenant

    new covenant theology say that as many as are elect (no more , no less) will be in the new covenant

    Reformed “covenant theology” says that all the covenants are really one “the covenant of grace” and thus they say that the new covenant includes some who are non-elect. While they don’t teach that all of the non-elect are in the new covenant, they do teach that some of the non-elect are in the new covenant.

    Of course, the continuity they so firmly affirm, they also later qualify and take back, when they make a distinction between those who are only externally in “the covenant of grace” and those who are internally in “the covenant of grace”. They also have a distinction between “in the covenant” and “of the covenant”.

    Lutherans have two kinds of “new covenant people”—
    1. Those who have their sins paid for, who eat the humanity of Christ in the sacrament, but who do not have the Holy Spirit and who do not believe the gospel.
    2. Those who have their sins paid for, who eat the humanity of Christ in the sacrament but who also have the Holy Spirit and believe the gospel.

    For Lutherans, both believer and unbeliever partake of the substance of Christ but with differing outcomes, one to life but the other to judgment. For Calvin, a person either receives both Christ and the Spirit, or neither Christ nor the Spirit. Unbelievers do not receive the Spirit, therefore they do not (in the “sacrament”) receive Christ.

    “The matter now disputed between us, is whether unbelievers receive the substance of Christ without his Spirit.” Lutherans say that, if Christ is truly present he is present independent of the communicant’s new birth or faith or unbelief.

    Calvin says that one cannot truly partake of Christ without partaking of His life-giving Spirit.
    Since Christ was baptized with the Holy Spirit, Christ is not where the Spirit is not.

    Garcia, “Christ and the Spirit”, in Resurrection and Eschatology, ed Tipton and Waddington, p430

  8. markmcculley Says:

    Smeaton’s section in “the Atonement Procuring the Holy Spirit” in Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement

    p 348—“the Lord in John 16:7-9 gives prominence to the Spirit’s operation, without removing our eye from Himself as the crucified one…By righteousness, Christ intimates the righteousness which He wrought out BY HIS DEATH FOR HIS PEOPLE. By judgment, Christ understands that the adversary by a great judicial process lost all lawful claim to the property which the adversary formerly possessed.

    I Cor 15:45 “Christ BECAME the life-giving Spirit”

    whatever we say about the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit (or by Christ) in the OT, we still have to account for the “became as a result of Christ’s judicial death”

    II Cor 3:17 the Lord is the Spirit——-this is not talking about Christ in pre-existence before the incarnation

    this is not even when Christ received the Spirit at the Jordan (Luke 3), but about Pentecost, Christ pouring out the Spirit

    the Spirit given Christ before His ministry is not the reward for His death

    the Spirit given Christ after His resurrection and ascension IS the reward for His death

    sure, the Holy Spirit raised Christ from the dead, but that does not mean that imputation waits on the Spirit

    the Holy Spirit raised Christ from the dead, but that does not mean that the Holy Spirit justifies or that “Christ in us by His Spirit” has priority over “in Christ’s death”

    Christ became the life-giving Spirit, because Christ was justified by His death, and therefore was raised from the dead

    Christ was not justified by His resurrection or by the Holy Spirit or even by becoming the life-giving Spirit

  9. markmcculley Says:

    Owen: “It is not, therefore, the peculiar command for the institution of the legal priesthood that is intended, but the whole system of Mosaic institutions…..Nor is it the whole ceremonial law ONLY that is intended by “the command” in this place, but the moral law also, so far as it was compacted with the other into one body of precepts for the same end; for with respect unto the efficacy of the whole law of Moses, as unto our drawing nigh unto God, it is here considered… By all these ways was the church of the Hebrews forewarned that the time would come when the whole Mosaic law, as to its legal or covenant efficacy, should be dis-annulled. ” Exposition of Hebrews 7:12, 18-19 ↩

    John Owen, comments on Hebrews 8:6-13)—This Sinai covenant thus made, with these ends and promises, did never save nor condemn any man eternally. All that lived under the administration of it did attain eternal life, OR perished for ever, BUT MOT BY VIRTUE OF THIS SINAI COVENANT. IT…. was “the ministry of condemnation,” 2 Cor. iii. 9; for “by the deeds of the law can no flesh be justified.” And on the other hand, it directed also unto the new covenant promise, which was the instrument of life and salvation unto all that did believe. But as unto what it had of its own, it was confined unto things temporal. Believers were saved under it, but not by virtue of it. Sinners perished eternally under it, but by the curse of the original law to Adam. …No man was ever saved but by virtue of the new covenant, and the mediation of Christ in that respect.


  10. markmcculley Says:

    Mark Karlberg review of The Holy Spirit. By Sinclair B. Ferguson. Contours of Christian Theology. Gerald Bray, general editor. Downers Grove, IL, 1996, 288 pp., $14.99. In many respects this study incorporates much that is standard fare in Reformed dogmatics, while at the same time staking out a number of highly signi˜cant departures from that tradition. Overall, Ferguson’s recasting of Reformed theology follows closely on the heels of his senior faculty colleague, Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.,

    The final product is a modification—at times radical modification. There is the shift of emphasis from the traditional ordo salutis—the temporal and logical ordering of the various benefits of Christ’s atoning work in the application of redemption by the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of Christ—to the doctrine of union with Christ as that is articulated in these pages.

    He rightly concludes that “ruach denotes more than simply the energy of God; it describes God extending himself in active engagement with his creation in a personal way” (18). The Spirit’s work encompasses both creation and redemption. (The closing chapter is entitled “The Cosmic Spirit,” underscoring the comprehensive role of the Spirit of Christ in the renewal of the heavens and the earth.) The “Let us make” in Gen 1:26 is construed as a reference to the trinity, however indirect and obscure. Though referring the reader to the insightful study of Meredith Kline, Images of the Spirit, Ferguson ends up misinterpreting this OT text.

    Most startling of all is Ferguson’s scant treatment of the doctrine of justification, that which occupies a major section in standard texts in pneumatology, for example, the studies of John Owen and Abraham Kuyper which are commended by Ferguson. The reason for this neglect becomes apparent when the attentive reader captures the new direction taken by the author (see below). Generally speaking, Ferguson’s covenant theology embodies some of the distinctive elements found in dispensational theology. Early on, Ferguson speaks confusedly of regeneration (i.e. the new birth) as a peculiarly NT experience, whereas “new life” in the old economy was anticipatory of the new (pp. 25–26). Twice in this book the author deals with the experience of David who, in the author’s opinion, feared losing his salvation after committing grievous sin. The permanent indwelling of the Spirit is understood here as strictly a new covenant experience. “In the old covenant, God was immanent among his people through the Spirit; the consummation of this immanence is found in Christ, and one who is anointed with the Spirit’s presence and power; the consequence of his work is the giving of the Spirit to indwell believers” (p. 176). The implication is that salvation (at least in the OT) is losable. According to Ferguson, only under the new covenant is the intimacy of one’s saving relationship with God experienced at all, and not just some (p. 30).

    p 530– Ferguson’s formulation of the “tension” between covenant and election stands in contrast to the proper balance struck by Reformed orthodoxy. The same problem resurfaces in Ferguson’s exposition of the doctrine of union with Christ. According to Ferguson, it is union with Christ that is “the dominant motif and architectonic principle of the order of salvation” (p. 100). What is new in the present discussion is the inordinate stress given to the eschatological tension between the “already” and “not yet” of the Christian’s life in the Spirit. The recent approach in biblical-theological studies is to accent “the vital eschatological dimension (and tension) which features so largely in NT thought” (p. 102).

    According to this school of thought, the older dogmatic model (which posits a “chain” linking various benefits in logical, if not temporal sequence) obscures the already/not yet tension– how “each blessing is capable of its own distinctive consummation” (p. 102). Ferguson’s model, which is by no means original with him, relativises the definitive aspect of soteric justification, the once for-all act of God reckoning sinners righteous in his sight by means of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.

    In precisely what sense does justification (as one of many benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection) await future consummation? Clearly, Ferguson is saying something different from traditional Reformed theology. The crux of the new theology lies in its repudiation of the classic Protestant law/ gospel distinction. There is no place in Ferguson’s theology of the covenants for this antithetical contrast with reference to the history of God’s covenant dealings with humankind. Ferguson knows of only one covenant of grace in creation and redemption (à la the Torrance school).

    Rather, with respect to godliness the indicative and imperative of biblical religion operate within the context of the single covenant of grace, before and after the Fall. Law becomes a dead letter only when it is divorced from the indicatives of grace. As a corollary, Ferguson recognizes only the ful˜llment of the moral law for the believer, not its abrogation, a point of contention in the history of evangelical and Reformed theology. (Compare further my article, “The Search for an Evangelical Consensus on Paul and the Law,” JETS 40/4 [December 1997] 563–579).

    . What we find here is an attempt to place side by side two disparate and irreconcilable theologies. It has the effect of cloaking Gaffin’s interpretation to appear as something other than it really is—an adaptation of neo-orthodox teaching. On virtually all points in dispute, the theology of Ferguson and Ga¯n is at sharp variance with that of John Murray, their predecessor in the systematics department. Mark W. Karlberg Warminster, PA http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/42/42-3/42-3-pp477-555_JETS.pdf

  11. markmcculley Says:

    Eternal and everlasting are words also used for for the old temporary and provisional covenants, not only for the new covenant.
    As James Haldane suggests in his commentary on Hebrews (p 245, Newport Commentary Series, Particular Baptist Press), the solution to the problem of the first covenant is not to find a better mediator for that first covenant. If a former covenant is infringed by one of the parties, satisfaction is given by making a second covenant.
    If we are going to make distinctions within the Mosaic law-economy, why not be consistent in thinking about these distinctions when we think of Christ legally satisfying the Mosaic law? Was Christ keeping the ceremonial laws of Moses when He shed His blood? Were we Gentiles under the curse of the Mosaic law for our failure to keep the ceremonial law? Were we Gentile elect imputed with Christ’s keeping of the ceremonial laws of Moses?
    Hebrews 13:20—“the God of peace brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant.”
    Leviticus 24: 8 The bread is to be set out before the Lord every Sabbath day as a perpetual covenant obligation on the part of the Israelites. 9 It belongs to Aaron and his sons, who are to eat it in a holy place, for it is the holiest portion for him from the fire offerings to the Lord; this is a permanent rule.”
    Exodus 31:16 The Israelites must observe the Sabbath, celebrating it throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant.
    Exodus 40:15 And thou shalt anoint them, as thou didst anoint their father, that they may minister unto me in the priest’s office: for their anointing shall surely be an eternal priesthood throughout their generations.
    Numbers 25:13 It will be a covenant of perpetual priesthood for him and his future descendants, because he was zealous for his God and made atonement for the Israelites.”
    Exodus 12:17 “You are to observe the Festival of Unleavened Bread because on this very day I brought your divisions out of the land of Egypt. You must observe this day throughout your generations as a permanent statute.
    Exodus 27:21 In the tent of meeting outside the veil that is in front of the testimony, Aaron and his sons are to tend the lamp from evening until morning before the Lord. This is to be a permanent statute for the Israelites throughout their generations.
    Leviticus 16: 29 “This is to be a permanent statute for you: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month you are to practice self-denial and do no work, both the native and the foreigner who resides among you.

  12. markmcculley Says:

    Since there was never but one gospel (one way of justification), does this mean that the Abrahamic covenant is (mostly) the same as the new covenant?


    If only one gospel means only one covenant, then there is no (important) difference between the Mosaic covenant and Abrahamic covenant.

    If only one gospel means one covenant, that would mean that the law given to Adam was a “covenant of works for salvation”.

    But God gave Adam law before Adam sinned, and God did not give Adam the gospel before Adam needed the gospel.

    The gospel is NOT that Christ kept a covenant of works. The gospel is that Christ died for all the sins of the elect.

    Adam keeping the Mosaic law for us is not our righteousness
    Christ keeping the Mosaic law for us is not our righteousness.

    Covenant of works folks focus on our problem as Adam’s failure to do enough in “the covenant of works”! But we sinners need Christ’s death because we are all born condemned by Adam’s first sin.

    Founders review of Phillips–So if the new covenant has been the means of salvation since Genesis 3, and if the old covenant believers were saved by their union with Christ, in what way is the new covenant actually new? Chapter fifteen answers that question. For Griffiths, baptism in the spirit is a “validation of a previously existing position in Christ” (182). Or, to say it another way: “If we just accept the baptism of the Spirit by faith, just assume that it happens as conversion, then it appears that the only thing that actually differentiates us from OT saints is our clearer understanding of redemption. The fact that we have the New Testament and a greater intellectual understanding of our position in Christ”

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