Are the “Two Ways of Being in the Covenant” Hirelings really “For You”?

Philip Cary—Luther points here to the words “for you,” and insists that they include me. When faith takes hold of the Gospel of Christ, it especially takes hold of these words, “for you,” and rejoices that Christ did indeed died for me In this way the Gospel and its sacraments effectively give us the gift of faith. I do not have to ask whether I truly believe; I need merely ask whether it is true, just as the Word says, that Christ’s body is given for me. And if the answer is yes, then my faith is strengthened—without “making a decision of faith,” without the necessity of a conversion experience, and without obeying a command to believe.

Philip Cary– For what the sacramental word tells me is not: “You must believe” (a command we must choose to obey) but “Christ died for you” (good news that causes us to believe). It is sufficient to know that Christ’s body is given for me. If I cling to that in faith, all will go well with me. And whenever the devil suggests otherwise, I keep returning to that sacramental Word, and to the “for us” in the creed, where the “us” includes me.

Lutherans are not the only ones who don’t talk about election. Most Reformed clergymen only talk about some “for you covenant” and never tell the truth that all for whom Christ will receive all the blessings of salvation. They sign their Westminster Confession but they do not preach it.

WCF– To all those for whom Christ has purchased redemption, He does certainly and effectually apply and communicate the same;making intercession for them, and revealing unto them, in and by the word, the mysteries of salvation;effectually persuading them by His Spirit to believe and obey, and governing their hearts by His word and Spirit;overcoming all their enemies by His almighty power and wisdom, in such manner, and ways, as are most consonant to His wonderful and unsearchable dispensation

Doug Wilson: “To see election through a covenant lens does not mean to define decretal election as though it were identical with covenantal election.

Scott Clark— The Federal Vision theology posits two parallel systems: the system of the decree, which they render MERELY THEORETICAL and the system of baptismal union with Christ, which is their operative theology….Some people just don’t understand the Reformed distinction between the divine decree and the external administration of the covenant of grace.

Why do Reformed clergymen “pose” as if everybody listening to their sermon and receiving God’s “sacrament” by means of their “keys” is an exile from the world and a Christian? These pseudo-Reformed are so brave that they refuse “to speak to the church as if were the world” , but they don’t mind using water to baptise the infant world into God’s church. For this the clergymen “have cover”—they are not really doing it, God is doing it. The church is not really doing it. The Church is not deciding who the church is (the church is God’s incarnate body doing it– and the presbytery–in theory–decides who the presbytery is)

But why not use the “for you” to explain and justify splashing water on the heads of infants without professing Christian parents? Why not use the “for you” to open up the possibility of water as the means of salvation to pagans who are not children? Why not go back into Reformed history to say that the Lord’s supper has efficacy as the means of converting those halfway in or out of the “for you”? You don’t have to go back to a “Christian state” to get back to a “Reformed parish” in which everybody gets the “sacrament.”

The Pseudo-Reformed hirelings say, let’s keep the right balance and just preach the texts without talking about election so that we can make EVERYBODY feel guilty for killing Jesus and then after the law has been read, we say “for you and your children”. The Reformed false gospel (not straight universalism but “two ways of being in the covenant”) depends on individuals already “in the covenant of grace” then agreeing with Jesus that Jesus died for them. They think that God’s “for you” even appeals to the part of us which refuses explanations we don’t like.

“Two ways of being in the covenant” thinks of election and definite redemption as two different truths, because it teaches “covenant love for you” and propitiation for the elect as two different truths. Not so the Scripture! John 10 does not say that the good Shepherd loves the goats so that they can become sheep . John 10:12 says that “he who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.

The preacher who teaches two ways of being in the covenant flees from God’s expiation/propiation and God’s election because they are hired hands and care nothing for the sheep.” How do we know the Shepherd loves the sheep? “I lay down my life for the sheep.” Does this mean that the Shepherd dies “for you” as a representative of the goats in the covenant along with the sheep? No. The Shepherd is not only the leader, not only the first to die. The Shepherd dies as a substitute for the sheep and only for the sheep. Because the Shepherd dies, the sheep do not die. John 10 does not separate Christ’s love and Christ’s death. Christ loves those for whom Christ died. Christ died for those He loves.

Christ died “for everybody in the covenant”. No, Christ did not, not if you are not talking about the new covenant but only about some covenant that you can first be in and then be out. John 10 does not say, “If you believe.” John 10:26, “But you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep hear my voice.”

It’s not, if you believe, then those in the covenant in one way will be in the covenant both ways. . Ok, Ok, the “two ways of being int the covenant” explain, we also believe in election. We too know that John 10:29 tells how “My Father has given them to me”. We just don’t happen to talk about that when we are talking about being in “the covenant of grace”, which is something different from Christ’s loving the elect and dying for the elect.. When we talk about Christ’s love, we stay with “for you” and don’t get into the business of them not being able to trust the gospel if they are not elect. Christ knew who was not elect, but we don’t

I agree that we don’t know who is not elect. Just because a person does not now believe the true gospel does not mean that person never will believe. But if they don’t profess to believe the gospel, we can know that they are not yet in the covenant “in some preliminary provisional way”.

Any person who will one day believe the true gospel is already a sheep. Christ already loves them, and Christ already died for them. We can and should say that without leaving the door open for those who teach that Christ died for everybody in the covenant in which there are two ways to be in….

If we do not say that Christ died for the elect and not for the non-elect, those who climb in by being born will be telling people that salvation blessings all depends on “if you trust In Him”. Instead of saying that Christ died only for the elect, they will change that to say that “Christ died only for those who believe”. And if you think those two statements are identical, explain to me why you always say “for those who believe” instead of “for the elect for whom Christ died”. The two statements are not the same, and you need to be honest enough to explain why you prefer to talk about the different statement (those who believe) instead of “all those for whom Christ died”

Westminster Confession of Faith —To all those for whom Christ has purchased redemption, He does certainly and effectually apply and communicate the same
If we don’t talk about Christ’s death and election at the same time, we ourselves will be heard preaching a love that depends on God enabling the sinner to make that Christ’s death work. But the truth is that WE DON’T MAKE CHRIST’S LOVE WORK.

My main point is not the motives of the “two ways of being in the covenant” clergyman. Surely some of them are hirelings who know they won’t be kept long enough to get their pension if they talk about Christ not dying for the non-elect. Most of them “sincerely” share with the Lutherans the same false gospel that teaches Christ’s death as having an universal “intent” conditioned on a sinner’s continuing in faith.

My main point is that Christ’s love always means that Christ has satisfied God’s justice for those God loves! Christ’s love meant Christ’s death for those God loved, and that love is decisive. That love is not one factor among many. Christ’s love is about a death which propitiated the wrath of God against elect sinners for their sins. God’s love is not ever over against God’s wrath. God’s love gave Christ some elect individuals, and not for one moment did that love ever mean some other “possibility” for these elect individuals. There are not two ways of being in the new covenant of which Christ is the mediator.

John 3:16 says “He gave His only Son, that as many as believe in Him would not perish but have lasting life.” God did not give His Son, so that everybody “could” believe in Him. God gave His Son, so that THE INDIVIDUALS WHO DO BELIEVE in Him will NOT PERISH. God did not give His Son for them because they would believe in Him. Nor is the only thing going on in the giving of the Son the purchasing of faith for the elect, even though that is one of the great blessings of the Son’s death. . I Peter 1:21, “who through Him are believers” and II Peter 1:1, “to those who have been given a faith as precious as ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.” The death of Christ does not make appeasement of God’s wrath possible if other factors fall into place. The death of Christ is the punishment required by God’s law for the sins of those God has given Christ. Do you reject God’s explanation? God requires the death. Never ever has God loved one individual sinner without God also requiring the death of Christ for that sinner.

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15 Comments on “Are the “Two Ways of Being in the Covenant” Hirelings really “For You”?”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    big laugh, David told Bathsheba that he David also was going to die . Would that comfort Bathsheba,? That can’t be true

    Dordt FIRST HEAD: ARTICLE 17. Since we are to judge of the will of God from His Word, which testifies that the children of believers are holy, not by nature, but in virtue of the covenant of grace, in which they together with the parents are comprehended, godly parents ought not to doubt the election and salvation of their children whom it pleases God to call out of this life in their infancy (Gen 17:7; Acts 2:39; 1 Cor 7:14).

    I Cor 7:14 is obvious in teaching that even though the covenant is not governed by election, any kind of holiness including covenantal holiness, will save children who have been baptised and who were born to godly believing parents—How godly are the parents now, and how certain is it that these parents will continue to have true faith and be godly, or does it matter?

    We would never say that the infants who died were elect but then they didn’t die, that they they rejected the covenant and became non-elect. Because the covenant is not governed by election. The covenantal status comforts us with certainty that if our children die, their death will be evidence not only of the covenantal status of the dead infant but also of their election. .

    Even though no depraved sinner is better than another, not all things re equal. God promises the gift of faith to the children God has given faith. Water baptism is God’s effectual gift.

    Was Judas was in the new covenant? If “covenant grace” did not keep Judas in the covenant, what did “common grace” do for Judas ? (sarcasm alert)

  2. markmcculley Says:

    John Murray, The Covenant of Grace— “How then are we to construe the conditions of which we have spoken? The continued enjoyment of this grace and of the relation established is contingent upon the fulfillment of certain conditions. For apart from the fulfillment of these conditions the grace bestowed and the relation established are meaningless. Grace bestowed implies a subject and reception on the part of that subject. The relation established implies mutuality.”

    Murray—“But the conditions in view are not conditions of bestowal. They are simply the reciprocal responses of faith, love and obedience, apart from which the enjoyment of the covenant blessing and of the covenant relation is inconceivable….Viewed in this light that the breaking of the covenant takes on an entirely different complexion. It is not the failure to meet the terms of a pact nor failure to respond to the offer of favorable terms of contractual agreement. It is unfaithfulness to a relation constituted and to grace dispensed. By breaking the covenant what is broken is not the condition of bestowal but the condition of consummated fruition.”

    Murray–“It should be noted also that the necessity of keeping the covenant is bound up with the particularism of this covenant. The covenant does not yield its blessing to all indiscriminately. The discrimination which this covenant exemplifies accentuates the sovereignty of God in the bestowal of its grace and the fulfillment of its promises. This particularization is correlative with the spirituality of the grace bestowed and the relation constituted and it is also consonant with the exactitude of its demands.”

    Murray—“A covenant which yields its blessing indiscriminately is not one that can be kept or broken. We see again, therefore, that the intensification which particularism illustrates serves to accentuate the keeping which is indispensable to the fruition of the covenant grace.”

    Peter Lillback—-“One last matter of importance for Calvin’s understanding of the relationship of the Old and New Covenants must be examined in relation to the letter–spirit distinction. If these two are really one and the same covenant that are different only in externals, then does the mass defection of Israel also imply that there can be a mass defection of the New Covenant era saints? …If this is denied, then does not the letter–spirit distinction actually prove that they are two different covenants having a different substance?”

    Peter Lillback–“Does the New Covenant allow for such covenant-breaking as the Old Covenant experienced in light of the former’s being only of the letter and the latter’s being of the Spirit? How can Calvin’s claim that the only difference between the two is with respect to the extent and power of the Spirit’s work explain this dilemma? ” Christianity and Civilization #1 – Failure of the American Baptist Culture. Edited by James B. Jordan and Gary North, “Calvin’s Covenantal Response to the Anabaptist View of Baptism.”

  3. markmcculley Says:

    but they don’t say “they became non-elect”, they say “they rejected the covenant”, but the other way around they say” they were saved because they were elect”—It’s infralapsarianism to the next level, a rejection of the sovereignty of God in favor of what humans say is “fair and just”. And yet I find this to be at the heart of what many “Reformed” people believe—no gospel needed, no faith needed, “my children were watered and in the covenant and they never rejected the covenant”

    his is the beauty of saying “only one gospel therefore only one covenant of grace with different administrations”—that way you can say that the Abrahamic covenant and the new covenant are the same, and therefore agree to “covenant-breaking”

    if their infants die while infants, they are elect, However, if their infants don’t die while infants, they may “lose their covenantal status”. 1. How can this not be a “gospel issue”? 2. How come most paedobaptists still want to say that baptists and federal visionists are the same in connecting salvation with water? Federal visionists are consistent paedobaptists who don’t do the “covenantal status” vs elect two step…

    Jonathan Rainbow—-Augustine the anti-Donatist spoke of salvation as a work of God mediated through the institution of the church and its sacraments. Hincmar squeezed Gottschalk between the objectivity of salvation and the objectivity of sacramental baptism, and Gottschalk squirmed. The predestinarianism of Wycliff and Hus was rightly perceived by the church as a dire threat to its institutionality. The Roman Catholic claim to have Augustine on their side stung the Reformers, but Rome was correct—the Reformers had taken Augustine’s particularism and placed it under the control of forensic justification and assurance. The Will of God and The Cross: A Study of John Calvin’s Doctrine of Limited Redemption, p 184

  4. markmcculley Says:

    Brandon Adams: If Reformed folks were willing to abandon their commitment to the one substance multiple administrations view, all 3 of their problems would be resolved and they would retain the biblical teaching of the unconditional new covenant

    First, it removes the problem of covenant breaking. Scripture never says the New Covenant is or can be broken (though both the Abrahamic and Mosaic can).

    Second, it solves the irreconcilable difficulty of Ishmael. The covenant of circumcision is not the covenant of grace. Being circumcised was not a sign or seal or promise that the individual is sanctified in Christ. Ishmael was circumcised because he was the offspring of Abraham, not because he might be elect and therefore the promise of salvation might apply to him. The Abrahamic Covenant is not the New Covenant and circumcision is not baptism.

    But what are we to make of Romans 9 if the organic principle of an elect kernel and reprobate shell is rejected? Well, there are two Israels. One of the flesh, the other of the promise. Both are considered the people of God, but are so constituted on a different covenantal basis. Israel according to the flesh is constituted a people on the basis of the Mosaic Covenant – typical of the true Israel of God, constituted on the basis of the New Covenant. And both of these covenants and people flow out of the Abrahamic Covenant, as Galatians 4:21-31 says. Hoeksema was right. There is a two-fold seed. But he was wrong that the children of the flesh were outside of any covenant with God.

    Romans 9 would then be Paul applying a typological interpretation of the Old Testament, rather than just correcting a misreading of the Old Testament. When God says he will establish His covenant with Isaac instead of Ishmael, He is not commenting one way or the other on Ishmael’s salvation. He is simply saying that the Messiah will be born through the line of Isaac, not Ishmael.

    Hoeksema attempted to soften the blow by saying that covenant breaking is really the same as law breaking (since the opposite is covenant keeping – ie law keeping), and does not mean the covenant bond was severed. Only once is the expression “covenant breakers” found in the New Testament, in Romans 1:31. But there the expression has nothing to do with the covenant of grace between God and His people, but rather with man-to-man relationships.
    But because of his commitment to the one covenant of grace under multiple administrations view, Hoeksema was unable to draw the obvious conclusion: the old covenant was breakable (and broken) while the new is not

  5. markmcculley Says:

    the question was asked:

    We know that there are at least two categories of people within Scripture, the elect, and the non-elect. However, it might be apparent that there is a third class of people, those who have taken the physical sign of the covenant but are not elect.

    We know that not all of the Jews were literally God’s people, but there were those who took the sign of the covenant although they weren’t elect. Also, we know that not all Christians are saved, even though they profess faith in Christ and have taken on the sign of the new covenant, that of Baptism. Could we then say there is a third category of human beings, those who have placed themselves as covenanted with God, but whom God has not Himself covenanted with?

    Scott Clark–To which I reply:

    There’s no need to think of three classes of people but it is helpful and biblical to think of different ways of relating to the one covenant of grace. Some are in the visible covenant community and believe (from which we know that they are elect).

    Some are in covenant of grace outwardly but do not believe (and let us suppose that they will never believe). These are hypocrites and reprobate but they do participate in the administration o the covenant of grace. They are not united to Christ (contra the FV) but they, like Esau Ishmael, have received the signs and seals of the covenant of grace. They do “taste of the powers of the age to come” but since those signs/seals are not mixed with faith (because they are not elect; Rom 9) the signs/seals ultimate testify to their destruction (though we cannot necessarily know that at the time).

    Then there is a class of folk who have no relation to the covenant of grace at all. They are outside its administration and its substance altogether. These, like those who are involved in the administration but who have not yet believed, are the proper objects of evangelism — though we are all the proper objects of evangelism in some sense. As White Horse Inn guys always remind us, the gospel is for Christians too.

    So, better than speaking of three classes, why not speak of three ways of relating to the one covenant of grace? By recognizing that non-elect folk are actually, really, involved in the administration of the covenant of grace we avoid the Baptist error of excluding all but the elect from the covenant of grace altogether and we avoid the FV error of conflating the administration of the covenant with its substance, i.e. of confusing administration and decree (thus setting up their temporary, conditional union, election, justification, adoption etc.

    Baptists tend to identify the New Covenant/Testament entirely with the elect. They tend not to distinguish between the two (or three) ways of relating to the one covenant of grace. Like the FV (though unintentionally) they tend to conflate the decree of election with its administration.

    This is how they distinguish between Abraham and Moses (whom they lump together, even though Paul distinguishes them) on the one hand and the New Testament on the other. They assign the time for administering the covenant of grace to children to Abraham/Moses and they make NT so spiritual that, as a result, it can be only for the elect. Thus, they restrict baptism to believers so as to keep from administering baptism to any Esaus or Ishmaels whereas Presbyterians see a greater continuity between Abraham and Christ. Just as there was, under Abraham both an administration of the covenant of grace AND a substance (Rom 2:28) so under Christ there remains both administration AND substance.

    No one ordinarily participates in the substance without participating in the administration but participation in the administration doesn’t guarantee participation in the substance. Only election determines whether one who participates in the administration (via baptism) also participates in the substance of the covenant of grace.

  6. markmcculley Says:

    the best thing on the new covenant is the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7
    John Owen, comments on Hebrews 8:6-13—No man was ever saved but by virtue of the NEW COVENANT, and the mediation of Christ in that respect. The Sinai covenant thus made, with these ends and promises, did never save nor condemn any man eternally. The old covenants were confined unto things temporal. Believers in the gospel were saved under the old covenants but not by virtue of the old covenants

    Even though I disagree with him about the Holy Spirit being the one who baptises, Gary Long does believe and teach election and definite atonement.

    Gary Long, p 52—“Jeffrey Johnson’s Fatal Flaw is still somewhat hampered by differentiating between “the covenant of grace” and the new covenant, as do the Reformed Paedobaptists, when he asserts that ‘in the new covenant dispensation, the covenant of grace was manifested in its fullness’. Such teaching can be easily misunderstood to be in harmony with the twofold administration of one overarching covenant of redemption (something not in history)

  7. markmcculley Says:

    Vos–. According to Davenant, all children baptized into the covenant are not only adopted and justified but also regenerated and sanctified. But Davenant distinguishes this justification, adoption, and regeneration from the benefits of salvation, incapable of being lost, that adults share in at their regeneration. For the children, he says, those gifts are sufficient to place them in a state of salvation. If they die in childhood, then on that basis they go to heaven. But for adults it is not sufficient. When a baptized child grows up, it may not be regarded as a living member of the church on the basis of the grace of baptism alone. Not that it has lost its initial grace, but it has lost its status as a child, and thereby its condition is changed. If no true conversion follows, then a baptized person who dies as an adult is lost.

    Vos—Baptism does not exist to effect regeneration, justification, and sanctification. In Davenant baptism becomes, in a Lutheran sense, the means ordained by God for begetting new life. Further, that there would be a partial forgiveness of sins and a partial justification is irreconcilable with Reformed principles. It will not do to say that original sin is taken away but the guilt of actual sin remains. Also, it cannot be that the merits of Christ would be applied to someone for regeneration, justification, and sanctification without the one to whom they are applied being included in election. There is no application (though certainly an offer) of the merits of the Mediator except for those who have been given to Him by the Father. Finally, with the subsequent loss of these gifts of grace one comes into the greatest difficulties. Christ has suffered for that forgiven guilt, for on that basis it is forgiven. But now that forgiveness is lost again, and the person in view is punished for it personally. There is then a double retribution, first borne by Christ and then by the person himself.

    Vos: As far as regeneration, justification, and sanctification are concerned, a child can do with nothing less than an adult. The true spiritual life that is given in regeneration is sufficient for an adult to live for God. It cannot be made insufficient by the development of natural life. One would then have to assume that regeneration was really lost again, and that would be equivalent to teaching an apostasy of the saints. Davenant’s view is not tenable for one who is Reformed.

    Geerhardus Vos, Reformed Dogmatics

  8. markmcculley Says:

    Scott Clark eats cake and still wants to have it—–The term covenant of grace can be used broadly and narrowly. When used broadly, it refers to everyone who is baptized into the Christ confessing covenant community. When used narrowly, it refers to those who have received the double benefit of Christ: justification and sanctification.
    Used in the broader sense, the covenant of grace is not synonymous with election so that all the elect are in the covenant of grace, but not all in the covenant of grace are elect.
    Used in the narrow sense, the covenant of grace refers only to the elect.
    There is a just and necessary distinction to be made between those who are in the covenant broadly (externally) and those who are in the covenant both broadly and narrowly (internally).
    The internal/external distinction is a corollary of the distinction between the church considered visibly and invisibly.

    But credos can and do make a distinction between a visible and an invisible church WITHOUT SAYING THAT SOME OF THE NON-ELECT ARE SOMEWAY IN THE NEW COVENANT

  9. markmcculley Says:

    Vos–.If there were no conditions, there would be no place for threats, for threatening only makes sense to those who reject the conditions; that is to say here, those who do not walk in the God-ordained way of the covenant. .If there were no conditions, God alone would be bound by this covenant, and no bond would be placed on man. Thereby the character of the covenant would be lost. All covenants contain two parts.”

    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.

    Genesis 17: 8 And to you and your future offspring I will give the land where you are residing—all the land of Canaan—as an eternal possession, and I will be their God.” 9 God also said to Abraham, “As for you, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations are to keep My covenant. 10 This is My covenant, which you are to keep, between Me and you and your offspring after you: Every one of your males must be circumcised.

    One cannot read any portion of the Old Testament without seeing that covenant was always broader than election. Whether it was Adam’s son, Cain, Noah’s son, Ham, Abraham’s son, Ishmael, or Isaac’s son, Esau, there were always non-elect within the covenant. They, of course, incurred covenant curses for rejecting the promise of redemption in Christ; nevertheless, they–like so many Israelites after them–were in covenant with the true and living God. In addition, one barely has to enter into the New Testament epistles without seeing that there are some who “profane the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified (i.e. set apart)” (Heb. 10:29) and who are therefore “covenant breakers” in the New Covenant era. We must not mistake this language for that of saying that they were all in saving fellowship with God in Christ. That, of course, is only and ever true of the elect.

    It is on account of the biblical data about God’s covenant dealings with a mixed multitude that Reformed theologians have often distinguished between the internal and external administrations of the Covenant of Grace. One may choose to look at the Covenant of Grace from its eternal aspect–as only including the elect–and, at the same time, see that God has always included non-elect in the historical outworking of the Covenant of Grace. I have sought to explain this in some detail here. This, of course, opens the door for questions concerning covenant conditions as well. Is the Covenant of Grace unconditional or conditional? Does God’s demand for faith and repentance qualify as a condition of the Covenant of Grace? These and many other questions have been dealt with throughout the history of Reformed thought. And so, you can understand my joy in finding a fairly thorough treatment of this subject from both a historical and exegetical approach in Geerhardus Vos’ recently released Reformed Dogmatics. In vol. 2, ch. 3, Q. 30-32, Vos sought to explain how we are to categorize and understand these very difficult and highly nuanced distinctions when he wrote:

    “a)…the concept of covenant can be taken in a twofold sense. It can be a relationship between two parties with reciprocal conditions, thus is an entity in the sphere of law. The covenant in this sense exists even when nothing has yet been done to realize its purpose; it exists as a relationship, as something that ought to be. And the persons or parties who live under such a relationship are in the covenant because they are under the reciprocal conditions. In the sphere of law, everything is considered and regulated in an objective manner. There one does not inquire about inclination or interest toward one or another relationship, but exclusively about the relationship itself.

    b) Covenant can, however, also be taken in another sense, as meaning the same as fellowship. Then it does not have in view what should be and is expected and required but what is actually present in the sphere of being. Every covenant in the first sense looks forward and is intended to become a covenant in this second sense, a living fellowship or a fellowship of life. What the first is in law, the second is in actuality. The first remains barren and misses its purpose entirely if it does not move on to the second.

    c) The application of this distinction to the concept of the covenant of grace can shed light on many points over which the diverging answers of the theologians have spread darkness. One asks, “Who is in the covenant of grace?” If one has in view the legal side of the matter, that is, if one poses the question, “Who is included and of whom can it be expected that they will live in the covenant?” the answer is, “All who by stipulation or by birth have become members of the covenant”; thus believers and their seed. If one looks at the actual side, one poses the question, “In whom has this legal relationship become a living fellowship?” The answer is, “All who have been regenerated and have faith, at least in principle.” Here, therefore, one has the two sides of the matter that emerged with greater or lesser clarity in the three distinctions discussed above. And one perceives how, according as the emphasis fell more on the one side or the other, the answer to the question, “Who are in the covenant?” had to turn out differently. So it was argued on the one side: all the members of the visible church are in; on the other side: only they who have saving faith are in. Both of these are true, but in a different sense. This will appear further.

    d) From this it now appears how one has to judge the concepts “being-outwardly-in,” “being-under-the-administration,” and “being-conditionally-in.” “Being-outwardly-in” contrasts with “being-inwardly-in.” The latter means covenant fellowship and describes this as something inward. “Being-outwardly-in,” however, expresses precisely what is properly meant. The covenant, then, lays claim to the whole of the life of man, even where it has not yet come to real covenant fellowship. To be under the administration of the covenant has to mean that the covenant begins to be realized. Covenant fellowship first occurs for us and engages us as covenant promise and covenant requirement. In Olevianus, the covenant idea is borne entirely by this conception. It has to do with the inward relationship with God, with the essence of the covenant, covenant fellowship. In order that this be realized, the attestations of the covenant of grace come to us. The administration and the essence stand in the closest relationship with each other.

    “Being-conditionally-in” the covenant of grace is an improper—better, an incorrect—way of speaking. One is in the covenant or one is not in it. A middle status lying between the two is impossible. But the intention is as follows. Being in covenant relationship is a being conditionally in covenant fellowship. When from man’s side the covenant is appropriated by faith, the covenant emerges in its fullness, as it should do according to its design. So, man is first under and then in it. He is under the promise and the requirement, then he enters into the benefits of the covenant. But he is under the former completely, and he comes into the latter completely. The transition from the one to the other is in a certain sense tied to a condition.

    e) One enters into a covenant in two ways: by freely acceding to and accepting its condition, or by being born into it. In the former case, the inclination to live in the covenant is of course to be assumed. Applied to the covenant of grace, this leads us to the conclusion that an adult hitherto standing outside the covenant relationship can only enter it by faith. By his entering into the covenant, he shows that he will live in and according to the covenant, and this he cannot rightly do without faith. It is thus to be assumed that here entrance into covenant relationship and entrance into covenant fellowship coincide. The first exercise of faith leads, of itself, to both. Supposing that acquiescing in the covenant was not sincere, that all faith was lacking, then the covenant relationship would continue to apply, but from the first moment on it would be a violated and broken covenant relationship; and fellowship, the essence of the covenant, would be lacking. In the second case, where one is born into the covenant, the covenant relationship precedes, in the expectation that covenant fellowship will follow later, so far as conscious life is concerned. That it can already be present earlier in the unconscious life of the covenant child is therefore not denied.

    f) If one is under the covenant relationship and covenant fellowship, the essence of the covenant, is missing, one is nevertheless treated as a covenant member in the sense that non-observance of the covenant incurs guilt and causes covenant-breaking. This explains how there is covenant-breaking and yet no apostasy of the saints. Note carefully, not merely temporary covenant-breaking is in view—for in believers that is compatible with perseverance—but final covenant-breaking. Everyone who is under the covenant is treated as though he lived in the covenant. It is so with the covenant of works, and is so with the covenant of grace. And therefore, one does not have the right to say that the non-elect are in no way in the covenant. For them there is no true covenant fellowship, but their accountability is determined according to the covenant relationship. This accountability is greater than that which an ordinary person outside the covenant has in relation to the gospel. Being-in-the-covenant may never be diminished to a life under the offer of the gospel. It is more than that.

    g) The issue here comes down to finding the connection between this being-in-the-covenant and living in the fellowship of the covenant. It is obvious that there must be a close tie. There cannot be a dualism between these two. By freely entering the covenant, these two must immediately coincide if no discrepancy is to arise. But what if one is born into the covenant? Is then the one possible without the other? We here face the difficulty that the covenant relationship appears powerless to bring covenant fellowship in its wake. We get a covenant that remains unfruitful. A barren, juridical relationship, an “ought to be,” appears to take the place of the glorious realities that mention of the covenant brings to our minds. This is in fact the point where, by means of the covenant idea, the Pelagian error could gain access to Reformed doctrine. If the covenant idea is in fact the all-encompassing expression of life under and in grace, how then can it be that in this form it comes to us first of all as something that “ought to be,” a relationship that still lacks realization?

    When in the realm of nature one enters into a commitment with someone else, one has the reasonable expectation that the person will keep to that commitment, that it will not remain an abstract concept, but something that is realized in life and becomes a relationship in life. Consequently, here, too, there is a difficulty. It makes no sense that God enters into a covenant with man unable to help himself, yet in terms of which faith and repentance are expected of him, if absolutely no provision is made to cause the covenant to become reality. But the Lord does not establish a covenant of grace with believers and their seed only in order to obligate them from the heart and increase their responsibility toward the gospel. The covenant relationship must be something more than a bond of obligation.

    h) In order to remove these two difficulties, one will have to emphasize that in this covenant of grace, God in fact makes promises that enable the members of His covenant to really live in the covenant, to receive its essence, to make it a reality. God, when He establishes the covenant of grace with a believer, appears as a giving, a gracious and promising God, for He witnesses in the gospel that it is He Himself who has generated faith in the soul, whereby the covenant is sealed and received. He further assures such believers that He is not only their God, but also the God of their seed. And that if they raise up their seed for Him, He will grant the grace of regeneration, whereby the covenant will be perpetuated, and that not only as a bond but also as a real, spiritual covenant fellowship. God has pledged to the members of His covenant His promises of regenerating grace for their seed as well. From their seed, He will call believers to Himself. And therefore, that seed is not merely under a conditional bond, but also under an absolute promise. For those who do not venture to accept this, the covenant concept must more and more lose its spiritual and gracious character. They make it an arid system of obligations, in which all comforting and enlivening power is lacking. Because God has thus established in the parents the covenant with the children, He has also given the promise that He will bestow the operations of His grace in the line of the covenant. He can also work outside that line, and does so frequently. But then it is a free action, not to be explained further for us. It is an establishing of the covenant anew. In accordance with His sovereignty, He can also make exceptions within the sphere of the covenant. However, if experience later shows such exceptions, we may not seize on them to say, “God’s covenant was powerless; His word has failed.” In such a case, we must always follow the rule of Paul in Rom 9:6–8. The presumption is always that the children of the covenant, who are under the covenant bond, will also be led into covenant fellowship. Election is free, but it is not on that account arbitrary. Therefore, we say: of those born under the covenant, not only is it required with double force that they believe and repent, but it is likewise expected and prayed for with a double confidence that they will be regenerated in order to be able to believe and repent.

  10. markmcculley Says:

    Batzig–Only in this way do we obtain an organic connection between being-under-the-covenant and being-in-the-covenant, between bond and fellowship. The former is, as it were, the shadow that the latter casts. The covenant relationship into which a child enters already at birth is the image of the covenant fellowship in which it is expected to live later. And on the basis of that expectation or, more accurately, on the basis of the promise of God that entitles us to that expectation, such a child receives baptism as a seal of the covenant. The child is regarded as being in the covenant. As it matures, it is again and again pointed out how it lives under the promises and how the reasonable expectation is that it will live in the covenant. The attestations of the covenant precede the substance of the covenant. These promises and this requirement as they apply to the child are precisely the means appointed by God as the way to be traveled, along which the communion of the covenant, the being “in” in a spiritual sense, is reached. Being-under-the-covenant not only precedes, but it is also instrumental. An impetus proceeds from this that is greater than from the preaching of the word that does not come to someone in this manner, in the way of the covenant.

    j) Of the children born under the covenant, as long as they are children and if they die as children, it is to be assumed that they also share, or will have a share, in the spiritual fellowship of the covenant and the salvation coupled with it. On this basis, the Reformed Church assumes the salvation of the children of the covenant who die in infancy. Here, too, there could be exceptions, but one may not for this reason allow himself to be robbed of comfort.

    For the children of the covenant who are grown, matters are different. God’s ordinance is such that only by exercising faith can each personally obtain assurance of his share in the benefits of the covenant. If for a long time he remains unconverted and unbelieving, the covenant relationship does not immediately end, and the requirement also does not cease, and the comfort likewise is not removed. But for the person himself, by his unbelief and impenitence, that comfort diminishes with every moment. He must give an account for the expectation cherished in relation to him not having been fulfilled, that he is therefore regarded as a covenant-breaker. This, at least, must be maintained so that the covenant relationship will not be seen as degenerating into a cloak of mistaken passivity.

    k) One can ask: how does one come into the fellowship of the covenant? The answer can only be: through regeneration, or through faith and repentance. The former has in view the unconscious basis of fellowship, the latter the conscious enjoyment of fellowship, and here we have to do only provisionally with it. Now, however, an apparent objection arises. How can something be at the same time acquiescing in the covenant and a fulfillment of the conditions of the covenant? So Koelman reasons that the internal covenant is not properly a covenant because it involves no conditions or proposals for man, given that the exercise of the conditions of the covenant is itself his entry into the internal covenant. Whoever believes and repents keeps the covenant. Nothing more is expected by God or promised by man. In other words, a covenant always has in view something still to be done. Here the idea of commitment is simply employed in order to deny fellowship the name of covenant. But Scripture does not speak in this way (Jer 31:31–32). This whole objection is an apparent objection. It immediately collapses as soon as one makes a distinction between the initial assent of faith and the ongoing exercise of faith. Faith is not something that needs to be exercised only for a moment, as a condition for sharing in the benefits of the covenant forever. It is the ongoing activity that unlocks continual access to the good things of the covenant. So, if I say that by faith one enters into the inward fellowship of the covenant, this does not exclude that the continuing act of faith is also covenant-keeping. It all depends on how one views the matter. How else will such as those who were not born into the covenant gain a true agreement to the covenant than by an acquiescing faith? For such persons, therefore, faith is an entering into the covenant relationship and the fellowship of the covenant at the same time.

    31. In what sense can unregenerate and unbelieving persons be said to be in the covenant?

    a) They are in the covenant with regard to covenant obligation. As members of the covenant, they owe God faith and repentance. If they do not believe and repent, they are judged to be covenant-breakers.

    b) They are in the covenant with regard to the covenant promise, made to believers when God establishes His covenant with them. God ordinarily takes the number of His elect from those who are in covenant relationship and from their seed.

    c) They are in the covenant with regard to cultivating the covenant. They are continually roused and admonished to live in accordance with the covenant. The church treats them as members of the covenant, and offers them the covenant seals, even stirs them up to use them. They are the guests who are first invited, the children of the kingdom, those to whom the word of God must first be spoken (Matt 8:12; Acts 13:46; Luke 14:16–24).

    d) They are in the covenant with regard to the outward work of the covenant, the exercise of the power of the church. The words of God are entrusted to them, as Paul says of the greater part of the unbelieving Jewish church (Rom 3:2).

    e) They are in the covenant with regard to common covenant blessing. Koelman: “The members of the covenant, the unregenerate, too, have splendid influences and operations of God’s Spirit … I confess that even the lost experience powerful operations of the Spirit for enlightenment and enabling; the Spirit of the Lord strives in their midst (Gen 6:3) and distributes common gifts (Heb 6:4–5; 1 Cor 12:8).”

    32. In what manner can one say that the covenant of grace is conditional?

    It has already been observed that the idea of conditionality is not applicable to being in the covenant, to the establishment of the covenant relationship. It can only have in view participating in the covenant fellowship, receiving the covenant benefits. The question therefore becomes, is there something placed upon man as a condition, that he on his side must do, in order to share in the covenant blessing promised from God’s side?

    Turretin has discussed this issue extensively and with clarity (Institutes II, XII, 3). He says that one must give attention to four things:

    a) A condition can be regarded as something that has meriting power and by its own nature confers a right to the benefits of the covenant, but also as prerequisite and means, as an accompanying disposition in the member of the covenant.

    b) A condition can be regarded as to be fulfilled through natural capabilities, or to be fulfilled through supernatural grace.

    c) A condition in the covenant can have in view the end of the covenant—salvation—or the way of the covenant—faith and repentance. One can ask, what is the condition in order to gain the end of the covenant? And also, what is the condition in order to attain to the way of the covenant?

    d) The covenant can be viewed according to its institution by God, according to its first application in the believer, and according to its completion.

    The answer to the question above, according to these points of view, is governed by the opposition between Roman Catholics and Remonstrants on the one side, and the Reformed on the other side. This question was contended over in both the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In the former it was Junius, for example, in the latter it was Witsius, among others, who maintained that the covenant of grace knows no conditions. By making it conditional, one feared falling back into the Roman Catholic or Remonstrant confusion of law and gospel, something that must be avoided at any cost. We say:

    a) The covenant of grace is not conditional in the sense that in it there would be any condition with meriting power. Our faith and repentance never stand in a meriting relationship to the benefit of the covenant. We deny that against Roman Catholics as well as Remonstrants.

    b) The covenant of grace is not conditional in the sense that what is required of man would have to be accomplished in his own strength. When the requirement is presented to man, he must always be reminded that he can get the strength for fulfilling it only from God. God Himself, by His grace, fulfills the condition in His elect. What is a condition for all is thus for them also a promise, a gift of the covenant.

  11. markmcculley Says:

    Anything just so coenant is not election! Batzig–When we speak of faith as condition, by that is meant that the exercise of faith is the only way along which one can come to conscious enjoyment of the benefit of the covenant. For our understanding of the covenant, our consciousness of it, everything depends on faith. Whoever does not have faith, so far as his awareness is concerned, in practice stands outside the covenant, and to the degree one has more faith, one stands more firmly in the covenant. This faith as such comes into view here for reasons that will be set forth later in the treatment of faith. Law and gospel are not hereby confused, for one must note that faith, although Scripture itself calls it a work (John 6:29), is not considered a perfect work. The faith that justifies us perfectly and gives us complete access to the treasure of grace in its entirety is as actus, as a work, imperfect through and through. This alone already shows that it does not belong to the law, for the law recognizes only perfect work, in which nothing is lacking. Faith does not at all appear as the legal ground for our justification. That we believe does not make justification any less an act of pure grace. This must be emphatically underscored. Judicially, our faith does nothing for our justification. So far as the judicial aspect is concerned, God could just as well justify us without faith—something that does not eliminate the reasons there still are for the position faith occupies in the matter of justification. But those reasons do not lie within the sphere of law. They lie elsewhere. It is otherwise for work if one is in the covenant of works. Then his work is legally necessary for justification.

    f) Now one asks whether faith only appears as a condition, or whether along with faith, repentance must also be mentioned. On this, too, there was debate among Reformed theologians. The correct answer is that in the widest sense repentance may also be posited. There is no true faith without repentance, and where repentance is lacking one cannot be assured on good grounds of his sharing in the benefits of the covenant by faith. But there is, however, a difference between faith and repentance as so-called conditions. In this case, faith functions causaliter, that is, with causality. It is obviously in the nature of faith that it gives us access to the enjoyment of the covenant. It is a receptive organ, one that takes possession. One cannot say that of repentance. No one will be able to make from his repentance an inherent means that brings him into covenant fellowship. It is simply, negatively, a condition-without-which-not. Justification is of course not coextensive with the benefits of the covenant. In the matter of justification, only faith functions. There it is sola fide. But the covenant is broader, so that one may well say: faith plus repentance (whereby, of course, both are not taken as momentary acts, but as ongoing activities).

  12. markmcculley Says:

    if you can know that Jesus died for you before you believe the gospel, then the gospel you believe is not the true gospel, because the true gospel teaches that all for whom Christ died will believe, and the true gospel promises that all who believe the gospel , but the true gospel does not tell anybody that they will believe, and the true gospel does not tell anybody that Christ “died for you”.

    say, don’t ask yourself if you believe the gospel
    think instead about the faith of Christ and not about if you have faith in Christ
    since our works are excluded in salvation, some preachers say, our faith in Christ is also a work
    so don’t even think about your own faith in Christ

    some preachers say, look to Christ don’t look to yourself
    but end up separating Christ and Christ giving us faith

    though the elect do not receive faith by faith,
    the elect receive both Christ’s death and assurance from Christ’s death

    but some preach justification already for those without faith in the gospel
    preachers say, don’t look to yourself looking to Christ
    look to Christ alone, but without looking at your looking

    i don’t know what it means to look to Christ
    while trying hard not to look at yourself looking to Christ
    Christ was there then, I am here now
    does this mean, since i was not there then, I cannot here now look to Christ?
    you were already born saved, they say, before you look, without looking
    Christ, I trust you not only for the salvation of the elect whoever they are
    Christ, I look to you for MY salvation

  13. markmcculley Says:

    The Particular Baptists argued that to enjoy the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant one must obey a positive law, circumcision. Disobedience disinherits. Nehemiah Coxe said, “we first meet with an express Injunction of Obedience to a Command (and that of positive Right) as the Condition of Covenant Interest.”This is the nature of a covenant of works.

    Based on this foundation, Particular Baptists immediately connected the Abrahamic covenant to the Mosaic covenant. Coxe said: “In this Mode of transacting [the covenant], the Lord was pleased to draw the first Lines of that Form of Covenant-Relation, which the natural Seed of Abraham, were fully stated in by the Law of Moses, which was a Covenant of Works, and it

    mark: This is Scott Clark continuing to beg the question. Unwilling to see any “covenant of works” aspect in Abraham, he can only accuse baptists of turning Abraham into Moses.

    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. Those types and shadows have been fulfilled.”

    Brandon–So the Mosaic Covenant did not, in fact, add a national element to Abraham. The national element is Abrahamic and it is fulfilled in the Mosaic. … God saving a nation from physical slavery and bringing them into the literal land of Canaan is the fulfillment of a promise God made to Abraham

    Scott Clark “The Covenant of Grace with Abraham was not national, it was not temporary, and it did not have a legal character.”
    Brandon: So did God promise Abraham a nation and the land of Canaan or not? Scott Clark cannot and does not give a consistent answer. He says “yes” and “no” . I

    n his mind, the Mosaic Covenant has a “dual administration” by which he means an underlying layer regarding eschatological salvation and a temporary overlay regarding the national, typical elements related to the land of Canaan. He claims that only this underlying layer regarding salvation is Abrahamic. The top, national, Canaanite layer was only added by Moses.. (according to Scott Clark’s inflexible paradigm)

  14. markmcculley Says:

    Brandon–The Mosaic Covenant did not, in fact, add a national element to Abraham. The national element is Abrahamic and it is fulfilled in the Mosaic. … God saving a nation from physical slavery and bringing them into the literal land of Canaan is the fulfillment of a promise God made to Abraham

    So did God promise Abraham a nation and the land of Canaan or not?
    The inflexible Abraham s not Moses paradigm cannot and does not give a consistent yes or no answer. The paradigm has to remain enough to to answer the question differently, depending on if the paradigm is talking to credobaptists or to James Jordan and Leithart.

    In this paradigm, the Mosaic Covenant has a “dual administration” with an underlying layer regarding eschatological salvation and a temporary overlay regarding the national, typical elements related to the land of Canaan. The paradigm claims that only this underlying layer regarding salvation is Abrahamic. The top, national, Canaanite layer was only added by Moses.. (according to the paradigm)

  15. Mark Mcculley Says:

    Scott Clark–The FV argues that just as the Lord established a temporary covenant with national Israel so too the Lord establishes a temporary, historical, conditional covenant with Christians today that is inaugurated in the covenant of grace in baptism. Having been initiated into this conditional, historical covenant by grace it remains for the Christian to fulfill his part of the covenant by cooperating with grace. Those who cooperate sufficiently with grace are said to be decretally elect. To facilitate this understanding of “covenantal election,” i.e., an historic, conditional, temporary election they teach that, in baptism, every baptized person is united to Christ such that he has all the benefits of salvation: election, union with Christ, justification, adoption, and sanctification. According to the FV, however, these baptismal benefits can be lost if the Christian does not cooperate with the grace given him.

    All this, they say, is the result of their biblical theology. They say they just want to be faithful to the narrative of Scripture and they don’t want dogmatic or systematic theology to flatten out the biblical story. They say that they continue to affirm (most) of the traditional and confessional Reformed theology of election and union. There is, we are told, a covenantal account and a systematic or confessional account. They say that they don’t want to let the doctrine of election unduly color or ruin the story of covenant and redemption.

    In this series I have already sketched some of the difficulties with this approach to doing theology. First of all, it isn’t biblical. Scripture itself doesn’t have two competing accounts of the faith that are in tension with each other. Scripture tells the story of the history of redemption and the draws theological conclusions from it. Imagine in the Apostle Paul followed the theological method of the FV! The book of Romans would look rather different. The Apostle Paul had no difficulty relating election and covenant. We can see how he does it in Romans 9. The beginning of the chapter starts with a truly historical problem: the fact of unbelieving Jews. How should we think about the fact that, despite the covenant God made with Israel, many Jews has rejected Christ as Messiah? Is it the case that either Jesus is not the Messiah or that, somehow, the covenant has failed? “No,” Paul says, “there is no fault with the covenant and there is no doubt that Jesus is the Messiah.” Rather he offers another solution, one that seems to have eluded the FV altogether: Election. God loved Jacob unconditionally from all eternity and he hated Esau from all eternity. There never was when Jacob was not unconditionally elect and there never was when Esau was not reprobate.

    The FV simply cannot say this and that is perhaps the most damning fact about the FV. They’ve set up a system that cannot be reconciled with Paul’s explicit teaching about the history of redemption and its relation to the divine decree. They have an alternate system that is neither Pauline nor confessionally Reformed.

    There is much more to be said about this problem than can or should be said in the space of a blog post. I have addressed this issue at length in two places and in two formats.

    You can read online, for free, part of the essay: Baptism and the Benefits of Christ. This essay has been available for more than year and, with one exception, I have seen little evidence that the FV movement has taken account of it. You can order a copy of volume 2 of the Confessional Presbyterian Journal in which it appeared here. I hope to republish the whole essay in a revised form in a collection of essays.

    Baptism, Election, and the Covenant of Grace is a popular booklet that covers many of the same issues as the essay in the Confessional Presbyterian Journal but without the same documentation (footnotes, lengthy quotations etc).

    The answer to the problem created by the FV theology is to make a distinction which they consistently deny, minimize, or ignore, viz. to distinguish between the two ways of being in the covenant of grace. The great Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Witsius spoke of a “double mode of communion” in the covenant of grace. This is exactly what Calvin taught both in his commentary on Romans 9, in his Institutes (3.21-24), and his sermons on election. All baptized Christians are in the covenant of grace. As Calvin said, to deny that is virtually blasphemy. It doesn’t help the problem to do as some have been tempted to do, i.e., to deny that unbelievers or reprobates have any relation to the covenant whatever. At the same time, it is just as harmful to refuse to distinguish between ways of being in the one covenant of grace. From Calvin to Witsius (and after!) the Reformed sorted out this problem by saying that, though there is one covenant of grace, there are two ways of being in that one covenant of grace. All baptized persons are in the covenant of grace outwardly or externally but they are not all in the covenant of grace inwardly or internally.

    Jacob and Esau were both in the covenant of grace. Both had received the sign and seal of the covenant, but the sign and seal were, as it were, fruitful for Jacob but not for Esau because they were not combined with faith (Heb 4:2). Though Jacob and Esau were both in they covenant of grace, they did not have, ultimately, the same relation to the one covenant of grace. They were both “in” the covenant of grace, but they weren’t both “of” the covenant of grace.

    Why not? Paul says it was a matter of election.

    With this understanding, we avoid another great FV error (one which takes them so close to Arminianism that the two positions are virtually indistinguishable!) that teaches that there are those who are believers who nevertheless apostatize. More on this next time.

    Consider this statement:

    That those who are incorporated into Christ by true faith, and have thereby become partakers of his life-giving Spirit, as a result have full power to strive against Satan, sin, the world, and their own flesh, and to win the victory; it being well understood that it is ever through the assisting grace of the Holy Spirit; and that Jesus Christ assists them through his Spirit in all temptations, extends to them his hand, and if only they are ready for the conflict, desire his help, and are not inactive, keeps them from falling, so that they, by no deceit or power of Satan, can be misled nor plucked out of Christ’s hands, according to the Word of Christ, John 10:28: “Neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” But whether they are capable, through negligence, of forsaking again the first beginning of their life in Christ, of again returning to this present evil world, of turning away from the holy doctrine which was delivered them, of losing a good conscience, of neglecting grace, that must be more particularly determined out of the Holy Scripture, before we ourselves can teach it with the full confidence of our mind.

    This statement has all the hallmarks of a FV statement. In fact it quite resembles the recent FV Statement that has been discussed here and in several other places (e.g., Green Baggins and Reformed Musings). It says things that are true. It speaks of being incorporated into Christ by “true faith,” just as the Reformed did, but it also contains much error. It suggests that believers become partakers of the Spirit by virtue of faith. Of course, unless the Spirit has worked through the Gospel to make one alive, he could never believe. Yet it goes on to say rightly that the Spirit gives believers power to fight against sin, the flesh, and the devil, that God gives his people assisting grace in sanctification with which they must cooperate, but again it seems as if we must take the first step. There are certainly shadows of error across the statement even as there real truths in it. If we cooperate, they wrote, we cannot be plucked out of Christ’s hand. You see how this statement makes our perseverance contingent ultimately on our cooperation with grace or our “covenantal faithfulness.” it is possible, the statement says, for those who have “true faith” to fall away, such that they do not simply lose the joy of their salvation or the sense of God’s presence, but that they actually return “to this present evil world….” There is ambiguity here, however. The statement recognizes that this doctrine is difficult and its final formulation has yet to be “more particularly determined out of the Holy Scripture, before we ourselves can teach it with the full confidence of our mind.”

    Right down to the closing ambiguity and feigned expression of humility this brief statement has Federal Vision written all over it. Who wrote it? Wilson? (after all it has affirmations of important orthodox points even as it undermines them at the same time – classic Wilson) or Wilkins, Leithart, or Barach –the ambiguity at the end seems to come from his keyboard. Is this a part of the recent FV statement that was lost on the cutting room floor?

    No. it is none of these things.

    This statement was published in 1610 by a group known then as the Remonstrants. You know them as the Arminians. In 1609, their leader, who spent most of twenty years denying that he was teaching these things, died. Not long afterward, the Arminians or Remonstrants published their Five Articles. It was to these five articles that the Synod of Dort replied.

    If you know the Canons of Dort (1619), then you know that the Reformed Churches replied to this article in the Fifth Head of Doctrine. Under this head the Reformed Churches of the Europe and Britain uniformly and utterly rejected the notion that there are regenerate, elect people who fall away from Christ. The Reformed know nothing about a Christians being historically, temporarily, conditionally elect (and united to Christ etc). CD 5.4 says that sometimes the elect “are not always so influenced and moved by God that they cannot depart in some particular instances from the guidance of divine grace, and be seduced by the lusts of the flesh and obey them.” This doesn’t mean that they actually fall away, i.e., that they become reprobate. By this language the Reformed described the subjective experience of the elect not their objective state. One of the great problems of the FV doctrine is that they do not make this distinction.

    Thus, believers are urged to “continually watch and pray, lest they should be led into temptation.” When they are careless, “they may be not only be carried away by the flesh, the world, and Satan into great and heinous sins….” If this occurs, as it did with King David, it is by “the righteous permission of God.” This isn’t the same thing as saying that one was elect (in any way) and then fell away.

    That the Synod was describing the subjective condition of the believer is clear in CD 5.5 when we confess that

    by such sins they very highly offend God, incur a deadly guilt, grieve the Holy Spirit, interrupt the exercise of faith, very grievously wound their consciences, and sometimes for a while lose the sense of God’s favor, until, when they change their course by serious repentance, the light of God’s fatherly countenance again shines upon them.

    Like the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 2, so in the Canons of God 5.6 there is a glorious, “But God…”

    But God, who is rich in mercy, according to His unchangeable purpose of election, does not wholly withdraw the Holy Spirit from His own people even in their grievous falls; nor does He allow them to proceed so far as to lose the grace of adoption and forfeit the state of justification, or to commit the sin unto death or against the Holy Spirit; nor does He permit them to be totally deserted and plunge themselves into everlasting destruction.

    Notice how we speak about election. When it comes to salvation, we only know about one kind of election: the eternal, unconditional kind. So we speak of God’s “unchangeable purpose of election.” From those whom God has elected, God never withdraws his Spirit. They never lose God’s grace. They never lose their adoption or justification.

    In 5.7, we confess that God has placed, within his elect, an incorruptible seed of regeneration. Therefore the elect can never fall away, they can never be “totally lost.” In 5.8 this is attributed entirely to the mercy and grace of God. This has nothing to do with our cooperation with grace or our “faithfulness,” but with God’s initiative and sovereign grace. The ground of our salvation and preservation lies in God’s immutability (exchangeability). Our God cannot be changed. His decree (counsel) cannot be changed. Neither can the “or the merit, intercession, and preservation of Christ be rendered ineffectual, nor the sealing of the Holy Spirit be frustrated or obliterated.”

    For this reason, we can trust the promise of God (CD 5.9–10), we can have assurance without “any peculiar revelation contrary to or independent of the Word of God” that we belong to Christ and that his elect will never fall away. The source of our comfort, confidence, and assurance is “God’s promises, which He has most abundantly revealed in His Word for our comfort; from the testimony of the Holy Spirit, witnessing with our spirit that we are children and heirs of God….”

    Yes, in this life we will doubt (5.11) and we may not always have the “full measure of assurance” that we ought to have, but “God, who is the Father of all consolation, does not suffer them to be tempted above that they are able, but will with the temptation make also the way of escape, that they may be able to endure it, and by the Holy Spirit again inspires them with the comfortable assurance of persevering.”

    No, this doesn’t lead to immorality. Grace produces gratitude and sanctity; not all at once but gradually (5.12–14). This is a very important point. Notice how the Reformed deal with sanctity. How do we “get there”? We get there via the promise and gospel of Christ. There’s no shortcut to sanctity around the foolishness of the gospel. If preachers want their congregations to be sanctified, the secret is not to preach sanctity (at least not all the time). The secret is to preach Christ and his obedience for his people. The secret is to preach the unmerited, eternal favor of God toward his people. The secret — and it is no secret really, we’ve been doing it for centuries! — is to preach Christ’s faithfulness in the history of redemption. These are the things that produce piety in Christ’s people.

    According to CD 5.15, these things are alien to the “carnal mind.” Telling Christ’s people to “be pious,” however intuitive it might be, isn’t going to work, neither will it work (contrary to the expectations of Francis Beckwith, who recently converted to Rome, partly because he felt he had not enough incentive to be good) to make our justification before God contingent upon our behavior. Even if it all depended on our cooperation with grace or faithfulness, i.e., upon our sanctity, that would not be enough incentive to overcome our sinfulness. Grace and gratitude is a more powerful, if less intuitive, motive for piety than fear of damnation.

    Finally, there is a section after each head of doctrine in our Canons of Dort titled, “Rejection of Errors.” These rejections have not received as much attention as the positive teaching of the Synod, but we learn from them a great deal about the threat the Reformed faced from Arminianism (in roughly the same way we learn the threat Paul faced from the judaizers by reading Galatians).

    In RE 5.1 we reject the error of saying that perseverance is not the fruit of election but rather that it is a condition of the new covenant, “which (as they declare) man before his decisive election and justification must fulfill through his free will.” Notice that the Remonstrants distinguished between a “conditional election” and a decisive election! Now, I’m not saying that the FV are “Arminians,” but I am saying that they have been very foolish by wandering so near to the Remonstrant reservation. The FV makes a similar distinction, though theoretically different, practically ends up in very similar place. This is remarkable for ministers who call themselves Reformed and who say they subscribe the Canons of Dort. Have these fellows read the Rejection of Errors?

    In RE 5.3 we reject the idea that “God does indeed provide the believer with sufficient powers to persevere, and is ever ready to preserve these in him if he will do his duty.” Again, Synod rejected the same sort of conditionality proposed by the FV. Do we believe in “conditions” in the covenant of grace? Sure we do, but not the sort that the Arminians attached — whereby salvation becomes merely possible for those who do their part or that the FV attach whereby salvation becomes merely possible for those who do their part.

    The Synod calls the idea that God preserves those who do their part “outspoken Pelagianism….” It might make men “free,” or it might make it seem that they’re free, but it robs God of his honor.

    Thus we reject the idea that the elect can ever actually fall away or commit the sin against the Holy Spirit (RE 5.3-4). We can know that we are elect, not by asking, “Am I elect?” but by asking, “Do I believe the gospel of Christ?” Only the elect believe and if one believes, then one is elect. it is that simple. If anyone tries to make it more complicated — well, I think we know what to do with such tempters.

    We do not need a special revelation to have assurance of faith (CD RE 5.5). We trust the promises of God. To require special revelation for assurance is to reintroduce the “doubts of the papist” into the Reformed Churches.

    In 5.7 we reject a sentence of the Arminians that is perilously close to that of the FV: “That the faith of those who believe for a time does not differ from justifying and saving faith except only in duration.” Isn’t this exactly what the FV says about the common state of all the baptized? Isn’t this what they say about “baptismal union with Christ” and perseverance? I have been told by Federal Visionists more than once that the difference between Esau and Jacob is that the latter persevered and the former did not.

    Not according to the Canons of Dort. Full stop.

    As RE 5.9 concludes, our Lord prayed that believers should continue in faith. The Arminians, and to the degree the FV agree in substance with them, “contradict Christ Himself, who says: “I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail” (Lk 22:32).”

    This is a grave matter. Either perseverance is by grace alone, through faith alone, grounded in the sole obedience of Christ for his people, and in the preserving grace of the Spirit, behind all of which is the unconditional decree of election, or it is not. The FV cannot have it both ways. They cannot tell us that they believe in an unconditional decree of election but then refuse to bring it to bear on our understanding of the way the covenant plays out in history. By doing so they make the decree theoretical and become practical Arminians. They don’t like this accusation but it stings because it is true.

    We don’t have two systems of theology: a covenantal and a systematic. We have one faith that we express in two different ways. This is a basic difference between the orthodox and the FV and the fact that, after all the discussion and writing, they still don’t understand this problem (as evidenced by their July 2007 Statement – released after the PCA GA and the URCNA Synod rejected their distinctive views) suggests that this no mere “experiment” (as they have sometimes said). This is a conviction for them which places them at odds with our confession. They are not “of us.” They don’t want us to think or say that because to recognize their theology as alien to Reformed theology, piety, and practice means excluding the Federal Visionists from our churches. They like living in our midst, benefiting from the orthodox but they don’t want to confess our faith.

    Just as they can’t have two versions of the doctrine of election (covenantal and decretal) so they can’t have two relations to our confession (to affirm and deny).

    Now it is up to the orthodox to see if we really are orthodox and if we’ll make the decisions of the GAs and Synods stick in the courts and assemblies of the churches or whether we’ll allow these quasi-Remonstrants to continue to subvert the faith from within and create the sort of havoc they’ve been doing.

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