Which Covenant Did Christ Keep? The Old or the New? Or are Both ” The Covenant of Grace”?

For Richard Bax­ter, the ground of jus­ti­fi­ca­tion was NOT the imputed obe­di­ence of Christ, He held that Christ’s right­eous­ness caused a change in the demands of the law. Packer — “Where ortho­dox Calvin­ism taught that Christ sat­is­fied the law in the sinner’s place, Bax­ter held that Christ sat­is­fied the Law­giver and so pro­cured a change in the law. Here Bax­ter aligns him­self with Armin­ian thought rather than with ortho­dox Calvin­ism.”
Bax­ter sug­gested a scheme sim­i­lar to Rome’s old law/new law dis­tinc­tion: Christ’s work makes the terms of the new covenant more lenient than the old, procur­ing a change in the law that makes obe­di­ence possible.

In Baxter’s doc­trine of jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, he has a notion of a twofold right­eous­ness. “As there are two Covenants, with their dis­tinct Con­di­tions: so there is a twofold Right­eous­ness, and both of them absolutely nec­es­sary to Sal­va­tion.” The first of these two is what Baxter called legal right­eous­ness, that is, the right­eous­ness earned under the law of works. This right­eous­ness is not per­sonal to the believer, “for we never per­son­ally sat­is­fied the law,” but is “wholly with­out us in Christ.” Baxter claimed this to be the type of right­eous­ness of which Paul spoke in Philip­pi­ans 3, jux­ta­pos­ing it to the right­eous­ness that comes by faith in Christ.

The sec­ond type of right­eous­ness, how­ever, is evan­gel­i­cal right­eous­ness, which, accord­ing to Bax­ter, does belong to the believer, and con­sists of the believer’s faith. Bax­ter: “faith is imputed for Righteousness…because it is an Act of Obe­di­ence to God…it is the per­for­mance of the Con­di­tion of the Jus­ti­fy­ing Covenant. Alli­son: “Jus­ti­fy­ing faith, for Bax­ter, is that which is imputed and reck­oned for right­eous­ness as a con­di­tion of the new covenant.”

Bax­ter takes the posi­tion that Christ him­self ful­filled the con­di­tions of the old covenant, and thereby pur­chased for us eas­ier terms within the new covenant. On account of Christ’s right­eous­ness, our own right­eous­ness (faith and repen­tance) is accounted, or imputed, as accept­able right­eous­ness. We are, in other words, jus­ti­fied by our own right­eous­ness on account of the right­eous­ness of Christ. Baxter thinks that Christ’s right­eous­ness makes jus­ti­fi­ca­tion by a believer’s right­eous­ness (i.e. his faith) possible.

That the Reformed ortho­dox found this for­mu­la­tion upset­ting comes as no sur­prise, for their con­fes­sional stan­dards taught the very oppo­site about faith, namely, that it was not the ground of jus­ti­fi­ca­tion,(i.e. HC 60–61; BC 22; WCF 11.1–2; WLC 70–73). What they found even more provoca­tive in Baxter’s posi­tion was his insis­tence that jus­ti­fy­ing faith con­tained works, which is the third point we must con­sider in Baxter’s doc­trine of justification.

For Bax­ter, faith itself is not the sole ground of a believer’s jus­ti­fi­ca­tion; rather, faith must be joined to works. “Both jus­ti­fie in the same kinde of causal­ity, viz. as Causae sine quibus non…Faith as the prin­ci­pal part; Obe­di­ence as the less prin­ci­pall. The like may be said of Love, which at least is a sec­ondary part of the Con­di­tion.”


Josh Moody, pastor of College Church , No Other Gospel, Crossway, p 170

“Living as a godly Israelite in Old Testament times was not legalistic; salvation was always by faith because the promise came first. But trying to live under Moses, when Christ has arrived, is legalism….

p 171–” Justification was always by faith…But now that Christ has arrived, the operation of this justification by Christ HAS BEEN REVEALED…Christ now says, ‘with me you can’ and we find that by His Spirit we do and we want to do.”

This is Josh Moody manipulating language to ignore the discontinuity of the covenants. Instead of pointing to a change of covenants, he writes about “the revelation” of what supposedly always there. And more importantly, instead of explaining a change of covenants, he describes a change in “us”, so that we now can and want to do the law.

Part of the problem here is using a word like “legalism” which can mean almost anything . Moody’s claim is 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.

So 1. Some were justified by grace through faith in the righteousness of Christ in the Old Testament. I certainly agree with that. But 2. He says that some of the godly were not “legalistic” during the old covenant despite the lack of new covenant revelation.

How this is possible, he does not explain. If he simply means that no true Christian is ever a legalist, that is certainly not what he argues elsewhere in his book. But if he wants to say that the revelation has now released the justified elect from “legalism”, how can he think that the justified elect in the old covenant were also free from this “legalism”? Moody is ignoring the change of covenants.

Perhaps it was not “legalistic” for the justified elect under the Mosaic covenant to do what the Mosaic law told them to do. It was not for them a means of justification. So when Moody speaks of “trying to live under Moses when Christ has arrived”, he is not thinking of “legalism” as trying to be justified by the law.

Moody needs to define “legalism”, and state his different definitions when he changes his meanings.

But there is still a problem. 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 and 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 though I don’t think it’s right for Moody to ignore the difference between the old and new covenants (thus only stressing that now people can do the law and want to), the solution is not only to see that the old covenant law is not the same as the new covenant law.

The solution is to remind us that, 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 by legal justification.

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14 Comments on “Which Covenant Did Christ Keep? The Old or the New? Or are Both ” The Covenant of Grace”?”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    was Adam supposed to keep “the covenant of works” by faith or by works?

    Galatians 3:12 the law is not of faith

    Adam was given life by God apart from Adam obeying the law

    Adam was given life by God apart from Adam believing the gospel

    Genesis 2:7 then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living soul

  2. markmcculley Says:

    what’s the difference between His Innocence imputed to us and His righteousness imputed to us? He was always innocent in his own person, but the sins of the elect were imputed to Him, and so He needed to make a propitiation by His death. Before Christ was incarnated, born and died, He was righteous but He had not yet Accomplished by Death the Righteousness that Saves elect sinners

  3. markmcculley Says:

    ‘the covenant of works” sounds like it’s saying

    don’t sin for long enough
    then you CAN eat from the tree of life

    don’t sin for long enough
    then you won’t be under the covenant of works anymore,
    and once you are no longer under the law,
    then you can sin and the sin won’t be counted to you

    what is your reward for your success at “the covenant of works”?
    it can’t be eating from the tree of life
    because Adam could do that already as soon as he became living soul
    and that tree would be cut off only if he sinned

    what would have been the reward for Adam’s success at “covenant of works”?
    some preterists say it would have a two stage reward
    1. then he would get permission to eat from the tree of knowledge
    2, then he could finally die, and get that new spiritual soul in heaven

    no more earth, no more body

    how do you spell yippee?

  4. markmcculley Says:

    Engelsma–Highlighting the difference between Hoeksema and the men of the Federal Vision is the fact that, although they deny that Adam could have merited higher, eternal life, the advocates of the Federal Vision allow that Adam might, nevertheless, have obtained the higher life for himself and the race by “maturing” into that life through his obedience. Hoeksema would have condemned this notion as heartily as he did the notion of earning. The appeal to Hoeksema’s rejection of the covenant of works by the men of the Federal Vision is mistaken because Hoeksema’s fundamental objection against the covenant of works was different from that of the proponents of the Federal Vision. Hoeksema’s objection held against Adam’s obtaining higher life for himself and the human race in any manner whatever. Viewing the covenant with Adam in light of God’s eternal decree to glorify Himself by realizing His covenant in Jesus Christ, Hoeksema insisted that only the Son of God in human flesh could obtain the higher and better heavenly and eternal life for Himself and elect humanity, in the way of His cross and resurrection.

  5. markmcculley Says:

    the comparison between Adam and Christ is that the guilt of Adam’s one act of disobedience is imputed to the elect and that the righteousness of Christ’s one act of obedience is imputed to the elect. Adam and Christ were NOT born under the same law. Christ was born under the Mosaic law, but Adam was not. Christ came to die to win immortality for the elect. Adam was threatened with death for disobedience, but was never promised immortality no matter what he would ever do. https://markmcculley.wordpress.com/2012/06/17/was-the-physical-circumcision-of-christ-part-of-christs-righteousness/

  6. markmcculley Says:


    Barcellos: In his book Tablets of Stone, Reisinger argues that the Old Covenant was for Israel alone and also, contradicting himself, that Christ fulfilled its terms for New Covenant Christians. Owen teaches that Christ fulfilled the terms of the Adamic covenant of works for Christians . Owen taught that obedience or disobedience to the Old Covenant in itself neither eternally saved
    nor eternally condemned anyone and that its promises were temporal and only for Israel while under it. According to Owen, what Christ kept for us was the original Adamic covenant of
    works, not the Mosaic covenant.

    Coxe deals with the covenants from the covenant of works
    through the Covenant of Circumcision. Owen deals with the Mosaic and New Covenants in his Hebrews commentary. Both may have held to the ‘each covenant has its own positive law’
    motif, though if so, they applied it differently when it came to the subjects of baptism. But neither used it to eliminate the Decalogue from the New Covenant.

    Radical antinomians eliminate the Decalogue because it is law. Doctrinal antinomians eliminate it because it is Moses’ Law and not Christ’s. This has detrimental implications for the identity of the Natural Law, the basis of the covenant of works, the perpetuity of the Moral Law, the Sabbath, and the imputation of the active obedience of Christ–indeed, the gospel itself

  7. markmcculley Says:

    “Baxter’s soteriology was as damaging as Arminius’ and Amyraut’s. Yet Reformed folk continue to write about Baxter in a way they would never write about Arminius. How does this lead get buried? Judging by past experience, when readers new to the HB find this post many of them will be shocked to read that Baxter denied the Protestant doctrine of justification. How could they not know it?”

    “That fact has been known since the 17th century, when John Owen refuted him. The first part of the answer is that Baxter was never condemned by an international Reformed synod as Arminius was. In this respect we have roughly the same problem with Baxter that we have with Moises Amyraut (1596–1664). Amyraut’s fairly radical revisions to the doctrines of election and the atonement (as well as his rationalism) were never formally condemned. J. H. Heidegger (1633–98) and Francis Turretin (1623–87) condemned Amyraut’s revisions and the Swiss Reformed Churches confessed in the Helvetic Consensus Formula (1675) against Amyraut until the broad, non-confessional evangelicals rejected the confession in the early 18th century in Geneva. .

    “This leads us to the second part of the problem. Not all of us who identify as Reformed either understand or agree that the doctrine of justification is, as Calvin wrote, the “axis” around which the Christian faith spins nor do we agree with Luther and Alsted that it is the article of the standing or falling of the church. Today’s remembrance of Baxter is a perfect example of the marginalization of the doctrine of justification. Its corruption is not presented as fatal to the church but as a source of irritation. An ill-fitting shirt is irritating but arsenic is fatal. Baxter’s doctrine of justification was theological arsenic.”

    “The third part of the problem is the adjective puritan. Baxter is always labelled a puritan. There are too many discrepancies between the residents in this house. They are not really a family. The adjective puritan is about as useful as the adjective evangelical is today. Do self-described evangelicals (e.g., those who attend the Evangelical Theological Society) agree about much? No. There is no common doctrine of Scripture, God, man, Christ, salvation, church, or last things. The only thing about which self-described evangelicals agree is that they love Jesus (even though they vary wildly about who and what he was and what he did). Roughly the same sorts of discrepancies are true of the adjective puritan.”

    “When we lead with piety we unintentionally give the impression that so long as a fellow as pious the rest of what he did and said is less important. That is false. Arius was pious. Pelagius was famous for his ascetic piety. Arminius was pious but they were all condemned for gross theological errors that ultimately overshadowed their piety. It’s past time that we stopped giving Richard Baxter a pass because of his piety.

    It was rationalism that drove Baxter’s revision of evangelical Protestant soteriology. That rationalism first manifested itself in his soteriology but rationalism, like water, always seeks its lowest level. The Remonstrants, with whom Baxter shared so much, were also rationalists and they became Unitarians even more quickly than Kidderminster did. The same rationalism that has us accepted with God because of our sanctity cannot tolerate a God who is mysteriously one in three persons nor a Christ who is one person with two natures.

    “I understand that there is great concern today about the rise of a new antinomianism but Richard Baxter is not our model any more than Jacob Arminius is our model. The lead of any story about Richard Baxter must be that he compromised the article of the standing or falling of the church. Everything else we say about him must follow that lead.”


    • markmcculley Says:

      Baxter was one of those “diversity” guys. Like those today who would welcome certain versions of “hypothetical universalism” into the “Reformed mainline”, Baxter created a lot of division with his “anti-division” ideas. The anti-denomination folks tend to be the very most sectarian, because what they subtract from the gospel adds up to a false gospel. When they exclude various antitheses, they thereby include the idea of salvation conditioned on the sinner.

      Baxter had a situation specific “gospel”. Believing that he lived in a day when not legalism but antinomianism was the problem, Baxter concluded that any assurance based on Christ’s death alone was presumption. For Baxter, “did you hear and agree” is not the question, because for Baxter the only “real” assurance depends on “what did you do”?

      To say that gospel depends on the situation tends to men that the gospel depends on those who hear it. In that situation, moralists need the gospel to be the law, and they even need the “gospel” to be what condemns people. Thus the moralists think even of the “conditions which can condemn” as “grace”.


  8. markmcculley Says:

    Lee Irons—Dispensationalism agrees that the legal ground of redemption is the same in both testaments, but it denies that the object of faith was the same. The object of faith of the Old Testament saints was not explicitly Christ himself, as covenant theology insists. So we must go on to say that the typological function of the sacrifices is not only for us to enjoy as we, from the vantage point of the new covenant, look back upon the old. It was also for the Israelites


  9. markmcculley Says:

    Jesus did not die in order to make possible condemnation of those who do not believe. Before Jesus, or without any gospel, we are all born condemned by the one law God gave to Adam. We are already condemned. Law condemns. It is not the gospel which condemns
    there was no gospel for Adam before Adam sinned, but God imputed Adam’s first sin to Adam and God also imputed that one sin of Adam to us all, which is why we are all born condemned, even if we never hear the gospel.
    “Everlasting” does not prove that the Abrahamic covenant now continues. Whether we say that the Abrahamic promises were one covenant with two aspects or two covenants, we must say that the Abrahamic covenant of circumcision does not continue.
    Which covenant did Christ fulfill and satisfy? We must continually protest the tendency of paedobaptists to flatten the covenants into one covenant. Even when they make distinctions between Abraham and Moses (as The new Testament does), they try to use that distinction to deny any distinction between the Abrahamic covenant and the new covenant. But Christ’s obedience to the “ceremonial” requirements of the Abrahamic covenant (his vicarious physical circumcision, for example) is not imputed to the elect never under the requirement of circumcision.

  10. markmcculley Says:

    Even some Lutherans (who all teach that Jesus died for all sinners) have noticed that we have not all sinned in the same way. For example, we did not all kill Jesus. Lutheran Jack Kilcrease writes: “of the whole human race, only a very small number was actually present at the crucifixion. To say to a sinner that, hypothetically, he would have killed Jesus may very well be true, but it does not solve the problem of how this sinful attitude is manifest in the sinner’s own life….Such a hypothetical makes one’s sin into an abstraction…by exercising a kind of purely civil righteousness, the sinner might very well have not wished Jesus dead

  11. markmcculley Says:

    On the one hand, I could find useful the distinction between “moral law” and “positive law” because at least there is a recognition that God is unchanging but that God has changing laws (and covenants).
    But the problem is the implication that God’s “positive laws” do not also reflect God’s character and holy nature. God’s justice is sovereign. God’s pleasure is just. Even God’s “positive laws” reflect God’s character and holy nature.
    There was ONE law before the fall. Even in that case, however, law did increase sin and there is no identity of that one law with the laws of later covenants like the law of circumcision given to Abraham. But God owes nothing (except continuing on probation—live until you sin) to Adam for obeying that one law.
    Adam by his vicarious lawkeeping was never promised immortality for himself or others. Don’t eat from that tree or die— Christ’s death is not commanded or promised by the one law given to Adam or by the many laws given to Abraham or to Moses.
    The law to Adam proves that law comes before sin, and before any need of grace. But law being before sin) does not prove in any way that God gave Adam the Ten Commandments.
    Before Adam sinned, he did not know good and evil, but Adam DID KNOW that eating from the tree was evil, with death as its evil consequence
    The righteousness that God has always had
    The righteousness that Christ had before creation
    That righteousness is not the same as the righteousness that Christ obtained by His death
    Those who teach that the death of Christ is not enough righteousness to give us a perfect standing before God teach that the cross only gives us forgiveness. They find their righteousness in the blessing of the law, not the curse of the law.
    Galatians 3: 12 Those who want to make a good impression in the flesh are the ones who would compel you to be circumcised—but only to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 For even the circumcised don’t keep the law themselves; however, they want you to be circumcised in order to boast about your flesh. 14 But as for me, I will never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ
    Jordan Cooper (Lutheran) does a good job of teaching that law comes before sin.

  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.

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