Born to Give Us Adoption as Sons

Posted by R. Fowler White

4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Gal 4:4-5)

Reflecting as he does on the wonders of the eternal Son’s birth in Gal 4:4-5, the Apostle Paul tells us extraordinary things about Him, giving us answers to the question that William C. Dix posed in his carol, “What Child is This.” In previous posts on Gal 4:4-5, we’ve seen how Paul focuses on the providential timing, three circumstances, and the purpose of Christ’s birth. Yet there is one more aspect of His birth that the Apostle would have us contemplate. As Paul puts it, God sent out His Son so that we might receive adoption as sons. What are we to make of this last phrase? Here we learn the final—yes, predestined—outcome (Eph 1:5) of the Son’s coming. We need again to deepen our understanding of the Apostle’s words.

Turning directly to Paul’s term adoption, its ancient significance was not ordinarily parallel to adoption as we know it today. We usually think of adoption as a parent-child relationship formed confidentially between persons (usually adults and orphaned or abandoned children) who are not biologically related. In the context of Gal 3:23–4:7, however, adoption was a public act in which a male heir was received from his boyhood standing as a minor into his manhood standing as full-fledged son. Elaborating on that background in Gal 4:1-2, Paul reflects on the supervision to which a male heir was subject while he was an under-age boy. Until the heir qualified as a full-fledged adult son, he did not receive the inheritance promised to a son any more than a slave did. In the meantime, however, the heir had it better than a slave. After all, he was under the temporary yoke and care of guardians and managers who would direct and bind him to meet the qualifications set by his father for full sonship. Submitting himself to their yoke and care, that sonship would come to the heir in due course.

Paul’s readers would recognize those Greco-Roman customs to which the term adoption referred, but they would also notice that he applies that term to the redemptive history of Abraham’s descendants. The Apostle rehearses the scenario for old-covenant Israel under the law as their guardian-manager (paidagōgos, Gal 3:24; epitropos and oikonomos, Gal 4:3). In His covenantal dealings with them, the Lord had promised the adoption to them and in particular to their king (Rom 9:4; Exod 4:22; Jer 31:9; Hos 11:1; 2 Sam 7:14-16; Ps 2:7; 89:26-27). Through His law, He showed the nation and their king how they would move from a standing as under-age boys into a standing as full-fledged adult sons. To meet the qualifications for that sonship, the Lord directed and bound them by the character and conduct that pleased and displeased Him and by the alternative consequences that followed each: life, prosperity, and victory, on the one side; death, adversity, and defeat, on the other. The message was clear: the only descendant of Abraham to whom the inheritance of irrevocable life, prosperity, and victory was promised would be the man who satisfied the law’s demands. That man would be the true Israel and the true David, hence the full-fledged adult Son. Of course, the history of Israel and their kings bore witness that until such a man arrived, God’s law disqualified everyone else, and the consequence was that all others came under the law’s curse and forfeited full-fledged sonship and the inheritance that went with it (Gal 3:10-11). And this cursed standing applied to Gentiles too. As we said in our previous post, whether God’s law reaches Jews in special revelation (Rom 2:17–3:1) or Gentiles in natural revelation (Rom 2:12-16), it judges us all to be under sin (Rom 2:6-11; 3:9-18; Gal 2:16). Therefore, apart from adoption, we all, Jews and Gentiles alike, are sons of disobedience (Eph 2:2) and by nature children of wrath (Eph 2:3). Even if we’re God’s offspring by creation (Acts 17:24-29), we’re all children disqualified and disinherited by God for our sin, and we all must find the true Israel, the true David, the true Son who satisfies the law’s demands.

While with the eyes of faith Israel could find that Son in the old-covenant promises, prophecies, ordinances, and types (“shadows”), the Apostle would have us know that, in the fullness of time, God’s own eternal Son was born as that man. That incarnate Son became the only descendant of Abraham, born under the law, to move from under-age boyhood into full-fledged Sonship. That incarnate Son had qualified to be publicly declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness (Rom 1:4, NASB95; see also Acts 13:33; Phil 2:6-11; Heb 1:5; 5:5, 8-9). As such, that incarnate Son had qualified both to redeem the disqualified and disinherited and to be the surety for the adoption of all who would be co-heirs with Him.

What Child, then, is this in the manger? He is the eternal Son incarnate qualified to give us the adoption as sons. In and for Him, we, who by our sin were disqualified and disinherited by God in His justice, are now by His free grace through faith received into the number of His children, have His name put upon us, and have the Spirit of His Son given to us! We are provided for under His fatherly care, are welcomed to all the liberties and privileges of the sons of God, and are made heirs of all the promises and fellow heirs with Christ in glory![i] Let us then celebrate!

[i] See Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 74. For more on the doctrine of adoption, see John Murray, “Adoption,” in Collected Writings of John Murray, Volume two: Select Lectures in Systematic Theology (Banner of Truth, 1977), 223-34; and David B. Garner, Sons in the Son: The Riches and Reach of Adoption in Christ (Presbyterian & Reformed, 2016). N.B. For those who may wonder, “the gender-specific sons speaks without an iota of prejudice against the ‘daughters’” (see David Garner, “Saved as Sons in the Son”).

Types and Sacraments

Posted by R. Fowler White

For those following the dialogue between Dr. Scott Clark and Dr. Sam Renihan on covenant theology among Reformed Christians and Particular Baptist Christians, it’s interesting to watch as apparent agreements surface in their efforts to identify and clarify their disagreement. One particular point of their discussion that has caught my eye is the relationship between old covenant types and new covenant antitypes. On the one hand, Clark tells us that “the New Covenant is the new administration of the Abrahamic covenant without the types and shadows.” On the other hand, Renihan tells us that “when the antitype to which they [i.e., the types] point arrives [in Christ and the new covenant], the typical sign[s] and [their] original significance and context are removed, having served their purpose.” In fact, when we read more of what these two advocates say, they seem to agree (applying Renihan’s words) that types point above and beyond themselves to a greater future reality (namely, the antitypical reality found in Christ). There is even apparent agreement that the benefits of Christ were made known to and received by OT believers specifically through shadows and types. Despite the formal agreement on these points, however, material disagreement persists. Clark and Renihan diverge as they apply these considerations to the sacraments. That divergence is worth closer scrutiny to see if we can get more light of the relationship of covenant theology and typology to sacraments.

Distilling the gist of WCF covenant theology on sacraments for the sake of this discussion, Clark cites Ursinus: “The sacraments of the Old and New Testaments differ in their [outward] signs, but agree in the thing signified,” that “thing” being Christ and His benefits. Renihan, by contrast, distills the gist of 1689 Particular Baptist federalism on sacraments by using typology to distinguish OT and NT sacraments. To appreciate Renihan’s appeal here, it’s important to understand that, for him, a discussion of the extent to which types are distinct from their antitypes and the theological implications that follow is a necessary part of accounting for differences between Reformed Christians and Particular Baptist Christians. With that in mind, Renihan doesn’t dispute the claim that the outward signs themselves differ, but he does dispute the claim that the two sets of sacraments agree in the thing signified. Specifically, he urges that, as types, the OT sacraments signified not one thing, but two: they signified both their initial reality as types (i.e., the ‘outward’ benefits God provided before Christ) and the future reality of their antitype (i.e., the ‘greater and other [more-than-outward]’ benefits God provides in Christ). The NT sacraments, by contrast, signify one thing only: the reality of the ‘greater and other’ benefits God provides in Christ. Notably, as Renihan argues it, the NT sacraments do not bring with them the outward benefits (i.e., the external administration) that the OT sacraments did. Now that the NT reality has arrived, the elect no longer have to look above and beyond the NT signs for a ‘greater and other’ reality to come: that reality is here. In Renihan’s own words: “All that remains is the reality, bringing with it its own signs that clearly and directly portray one thing, the antitype, and nothing else” (his emphasis).

So, how might we react to Renihan’s interaction with Clark? I’d suggest that we can accept Renihan’s acknowledgement that “typology deserves and demands a much more detailed treatment” than he can provide in his blog posts. Even so, it’s useful to ask if he has framed the contrast between OT signs and NT signs distinctly enough. We ask this question because at the heart of Renihan’s proposal is his claim that the arrival of the NT antitypical reality brings the end of the OT typical signs and their outward reality. In the broadest context, there is formal agreement between Clark and Renihan on that point, as we suggested in our opening paragraph. A key question remains to be answered for material agreement to emerge, however: what is “the NT antitypical reality” that has arrived? To be sure, it is “Christ and His benefits.” Yet we also know that “Christ and His benefits” is an “already and not yet” reality. Christ and His benefits arrive in two comings, not in either coming alone; they emerge both in this age and in the age to come, not in one age or the other alone. From that consideration, two observations come to mind. First, each NT sacrament signifies this twofold reality. For example, the benefits of death and resurrection with Christ, signified by baptism, are realized in two stages, original conversion-union with Christ in this age and final glorification-conformity to Christ in the age to come. Similarly, the benefit of fellowship with Christ, signified by communion, comes in two phases, at the Lord’s Supper in this world and at the Lamb’s Marriage Supper in the world to come. As such, it is clear that both sets of sacraments share the same already/not yet realization: the OT sacraments were signs of what was and what would be; the NT sacraments are signs of what is and what will be. Moreover, in both sets of sacraments, promises and warnings of the age to come attend their external administration, confirming that the final antitypical reality is not yet all that remains. In that light, a second observation seems justified: the payoff from Renihan’s appeal to typology is over-realized. Though we can join Renihan in his desire to prevent the flattening of types into outward reality alone and to protect the heightening of types in a greater-than-outward reality, we cannot join him as his take on typology prematurely ushers in the age to come. Instead, to avoid over-realization in our appeal to typology, we will calculate the extent to which types are distinct from their antitypes and the theological implications that follow by referring to the “already and not yet” stages of antitypical realization. With those two ages in mind, it seems clear enough that, during this age, the elect still have to look above and beyond the NT signs for the fullness of Christ and His benefits to come. In fact, it appears that the continuing presence of sacraments is itself an indication that NT antitypical reality is not yet all here.

A Response to Tom Hicks on the Question of the Proper Subjects of Baptism, Part 2

In part 1, I dealt with the first major section of Tom Hicks’s critique of paedobaptism. The second major portion of his post is entitled “Historic Reformed Baptists Had a Better Way”, which is really the second part of the first major part. So, it is connected to the first part by being the positive construction of covenant theology that is meant to replace the errant paedo theology of the covenant of grace.

They believed there is only one covenant of grace, the same in its saving substance, running through the whole Bible, but they believed that this saving covenant is distinct from the OT covenants.

Obviously, the “they” refers to historic Reformed Baptist theologians. As I have said before, paedos can affirm this on one level. The question is just exactly how the new covenant is distinct from the OT covenants. As it stands, however, and given what he said above, Mr. Hicks’s statement is self-contradictory. What he means really to say is that salvation was not really in the OT covenants, but was only backwardly enforced after the NT covenant came into play, and yet he says that the only one covenant of grace, “the same in its saving substance,” runs through the whole Bible. Which is it? Is Christ really present in the OT covenants or not? This reminds me vividly of the Christotelic debate that has continued for a while regarding the teaching of Pete Enns et al. Jesus says that Moses wrote about Him (John 5). The Christotelic guys say that this is not essentially true, but only in retrospect, after a second reading, and has nothing to do with the human author’s original intent. That 1 Peter 1:10-12 says otherwise doesn’t seem to bring any of them up short. Again, the ambiguous situation I noted at the end of the last post is here as well. My guess is that the reason Mr. Hicks doesn’t want to say Christ is actually in the OT covenants is this brings way too much continuity between OT and NT. The more continuity there is, the more likelihood there is of children being treated the same way in both portions of the Bible.

So what is the distinction between OT and NT covenant administrations? It is the difference between type and antitype, between looking forward and looking backward, and between bloody and bloodless. Some author or another, I forget who, said “same girl, different dress.” What is promised in both is salvation through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Circumcision pointed to this, as does baptism. Passover pointed to this, as does the Lord’s Supper. Both OT and NT versions of the sacraments all point to Christ as Savior. Let me explain. Circumcision was never just about the promised land. It was also about the promised seed. In Genesis 17, God promises an everlasting covenant (7), to be their God forever (7). It was for the son on the eighth day. On the eighth day, his foreskin would be cut. Deuteronomy 10:16 and Jeremiah 4:4 prove that the physical cutting symbolized a spiritual cutting off of the old man. But more than that, the eighth day and the promise to the seed, point forward to Jesus being cut off on the eighth day. Circumcision points to Jesus. Passover is even easier to see, since Paul actually calls Jesus our Passover Lamb (1 Cor. 5:7). The ultimate passing over of sinners happens when Christ interposes His precious blood on the wooden frame of the cross, so that the wrath of God against sin may pass over us. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper pointing to Christ are not really in dispute here.

First, Christ’s mediation of the new covenant is what redeemed sinners under the old covenant. Historic Baptists taught that the covenant of grace is identical to the new covenant. The covenant of grace, however, was “promised” under the old covenant, but it is now fulfilled in the death of Christ. It was progressively revealed under the old covenant, but it is now formally concluded and enacted through the death of Christ. The OT saints were saved by virtue of the new covenant promise “breaking in” to the old covenant (Rom 9:8; Gal 3:29; 4:23, 28). Old Testament saints were not saved by virtue of the old covenant, but by virtue of the promise of the new. Thus, there is only one covenant of grace, the same in substance from Genesis to Revelation.

Here there is certainly disagreement. The covenant of grace begins with the promise of God to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:15, and continues through all the OT covenants. It is not identical to the new covenant. It encompasses all the iterations of the covenant of grace. If it were identical to the new covenant, then the Abrahamic covenant could not be called everlasting, as God calls it in Genesis 17:7. Nor could the seed promised to Abraham be called Christ by Paul in Galatians 3. Nor could the promise of 2 Samuel 7 be applied to Christ. God promised Christ to David. That was the substance of the Davidic covenant, just like the Seed was the substance of the Abrahamic covenant. Maybe Mr. Hicks should read O. Palmer Robertson’s book The Christ of the Covenants, and revise his opinions somewhat.

Second, Christ’s mediation in the covenant of grace saves all its members. Hebrews 9:15 says, “a death has occurred that redeems them.” Just a few verses earlier in Hebrews 9:12, we’re told that Christ entered the holy places as the Mediator of the new covenant, “by means of His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” Earlier in Hebrews 7:22, it says, “This makes Jesus the guarantor [or surety] of a better covenant.” A surety is someone who fulfills the legal obligations of someone who cannot fulfill them. Christ’s death effectuates the salvation of all those in this covenant. Who is in the covenant? Verse 15 says “those who are called” are in the new covenant.

Third, unbelievers were never in the covenant of grace (because of numbers 1 and 2). The covenant of grace was only made with the elect in Christ. It effectually saves all its members because they are under Christ’s effectual mediation. Therefore, since unbelieving infants (and unbelievers of any kind) were not part of the covenant of grace under the old covenant, then neither are they part of the covenant of grace under the new covenant.

I don’t think most paedos would disagree fundamentally with the paragraph marked “second.” Christ saves His elect, and only the elect. He is only a Mediator to the elect, and only the elect possess the substance of the covenant. Those belonging to the administration have none of those benefits, as I said in the previous post.

As for his third paragraph, we would agree that unbelievers are never in the covenant of grace as to substance. But to say that therefore there can be no attachment of any kind unless it be saving presents the same problem I brought up before: what do Baptists do about the unbelieving professors who are yet members of their churches? Are they really in the church? The judgment of charity would say that they are members of the church, but not members of Christ. They are part of the visible church, but not the invisible. We would add, they have the benefits of the administration of the covenant, but not the essence of the covenant.

As for his claim that unbelieving infants and unbelievers of any kind were not part of the covenant of grace under the old covenant, this is patently false. Why would Ishmael receive circumcision, the sign of the covenant, even AFTER God told Abraham that the promised line would not go through Ishmael? See the sequence of Genesis 17:13, 18, 19, and 23. If Ishmael had no attachment whatsoever to the covenant (see especially verse 19!), then there is no way he should have been given the sign of the covenant, on Mr. Hicks’s argument. And yet, all who were in Abraham’s house were circumcised. It was a household circumcision. This is proof positive that Mr. Hicks’s claim is off here. Is Mr. Hicks really suggesting that circumcised Israelites who were unbelievers had no connection to the covenant of grace whatsoever? In my opinion, this is absurd.

In conclusion, the Reformed Baptist doctrine of the covenant of grace avoids the problems of the paedobaptist while preserving the unity of the gospel throughout the Scriptures.

Mr. Hicks has not preserved the unity of the gospel throughout the Scripture. He argues that it is not really present in the OT. Only retroactively does the gospel apply to OT believers.

A Response to Tom Hicks on the Question of the Proper Subjects of Baptism, Part 1

Mr. Tom Hicks, over at the Founders Ministries, has done a great service in the debate on the proper subjects of baptism by encapsulating the Reformed Baptist objections to the paedo position in a succinct, yet cogent way. In the spirit of his irenic comments, I wish to interact with him in this series of posts, showing how a paedobaptist would respond to his objections. I will take one major section of his post in each one of mine. So, on to section 1, on the covenant of grace.

The Reformed Paedobaptist doctrine of the “covenant of grace” is the theological basis of their doctrine of infant baptism. They correctly teach that after Adam’s fall, the whole Bible is unified by one covenant of grace. But they also teach that the covenant of grace has the same substance (essence) with different, but similar, administrations (forms) throughout the Scriptures. This is where Reformed Baptists disagree with them. The language of substance and administration is critical to understanding their view. They believe that the elect are redeemed by the saving “substance” of the covenant of grace, while the external and legal “administration” of the covenant of grace is mixed with the elect and non-elect by way of infant baptism.

Mr. Hicks has put his finger on the central issue right at the outset: the nature of the covenant of grace. He agrees with paedos that the Bible is unified by one covenant of grace. Or does he? Later on, he says the following:

Third, the Reformed Paedobaptist doctrine of the covenant of grace ascribes saving power to the OT covenants of promise. But this is impossible since the OT covenants of promise, including the Abrahamic covenant, were established on the shed blood of animals and imperfect human mediators.

If read too quickly, this may seem to contradict what he said in the earlier quoted section. However, what he means by this becomes clear later in the article: the only way OT saints could be saved was by believing in the promise, and that Jesus’ work in the new covenant is what saves the OT believers. The thing is, this is what paedos believe, too. We also (with the Baptists) believe that passage in Hebrews that says the blood of bulls and goats could never take away sin. Abraham, as Paul would say in Romans 4, was indeed justified by faith alone in Jesus Christ. This becomes especially clear in Romans 4:23-25, where Paul ascribes the same faith to us as Abraham had. The only difference is that Abraham believed in the promised Jesus Christ and we believe in the given Jesus Christ. Mr. Hicks does put his finger on a key difference when he speaks about the substance versus the administration of the covenant of grace, but when it comes to how OT saints were saved, he does not accurately portray the paedo position, which is actually the same as the credo.

Where I would critique the second block-quote is in how he describes the paedo position with regard to his description of the older administrations of the covenant of grace. He says they “were established on the shed blood of animals and imperfect human mediators.” I disagree. The OT administrations of the covenant of grace were founded on the promises of land and seed, ultimately promising The Seed (Jesus) and the “land” of the new heavens and the new earth. This, however, is a relatively minor point with regard to this particular debate.

The more important point has to do with the essence/administration distinction. So, going back to the first block-quote, and now adding his first objection to the essence/administration distinction:

First, the Reformed Paedobaptist doctrine of the covenant of grace undermines the efficacy of Christ’s mediation and cross-work. Paedobaptist theology teaches that Christ is the mediator of the covenant of grace. The book of Hebrews declares that Christ’s mediation means that He reconciles His covenant people to the Father, that He is a testator who gives His blessings freely and unconditionally, and a surety who pays all their debts. Paedobaptists must either explain how Christ can be the mediator of the covenant of grace for non-elect and unregenerate people (which will undermine His mediatorial efficacy), or they must explain how Christ can be the mediator of a covenant without being the mediator of everyone in that covenant (which will undermine His mediatorial efficacy). If they say that Christ mediates for those in the outward administration of the covenant of grace, they must explain how Christ’s blood, signified by baptism, covers unregenerate people in the covenant of grace without effecting their salvation. Any explanation they give will approximate Arminian definitions of the atonement.

The force of this objection can be easily seen in the way the FV’ers have responded to objections like this: the FV’ers will go whole hog Arminian with regard to the non-decretally-elect and what they receive in the covenant. In my opinion, this first objection of Mr. Hicks is the most substantive of the three. Paedos would answer the objection along the following lines: 1. Only the essence of the covenant has salvation attached to it. The administration of the covenant, which does involve non-elect people, has never had any promise of salvation attached to it, any more than there is a guarantee of people coming to faith in a Baptist church simply by attending. Nevertheless, it is a great benefit to the non-elect to hear the words of salvation preached to them. It can have a restraining effect on their sin. It can make them less likely to oppose the gospel, and other good things could happen, things that have nothing to do with salvation. Just as God promised to Abraham that he and his offspring would be a blessing to the nations (without ever promising that the said blessing would always be salvation!), we can see that the blessings given to the elect overflow in non-salvific ways to the non-elect. Wasn’t Joseph a blessing to Egypt? Some of the Egyptians came up with Israel in the Exodus, but most stayed in Egypt as part of the non-elect. Maybe an illustration will help here: when we look at a light source, there is an aura around that light that covers a larger area than the light itself. This is, approximately, how paedos see the essence/administration distinction. Paedos who are not FV categorically deny that any saving benefits whatsoever accrue to the administration of the covenant.

2. The substance/administration distinction has great explanatory power when it comes to the apostasy passages in Hebrews 6 and elsewhere. What did those who fall away have? They didn’t have salvation. On this, paedos and credos would certainly agree. But what the paedos would say they had was access to the means of grace by being part of the administration of the covenant of grace. They had more than someone completely unrelated to God’s people would have.

3. The objection posits a dichotomy that is false. Mr. Hicks says that our position either entails the mediatorship of Christ for non-elect people, or that Christ must be mediator of only part of the people in the covenant. This all-or-nothing approach, however, assumes the credo position on the subjects related to the covenant of grace. Christ is not mediator for non-elect people. Period. The essence of the covenant is salvation. But being connected to the covenant could happen in more than one way: one saving, one non-saving. I have used this illustration before in FV debates, and it will help here, I think. There are two main kinds of branches on apple trees: fruit-bearing, and what are called “suckers.” The former are straightforward fruit-bearing branches of the tree, participating in the life of the tree, and bearing fruit. The suckers are basically parasites, taking sap from the tree but not bearing any fruit. John 15 and the parable of the vine and the branches is talking about this kind of distinction. The suckers are not-elect and never have any kind of saving benefits. But there is some kind of attachment to the vine described in that passage, one that is well illustrated by the difference between fruit-bearing vines versus suckers. The suckers, or non-fruit-bearing will be cut off, eventually, and burned. Whatever kind of relationship they had to Christ, it was 1. non-saving, but still it was something, and not nothing. John 15 is extraordinarily hard to explain on Mr. Hicks’s construction of covenant membership. There are members of the church who claim to be members but are not saved, even in (shockingly!) Baptist churches! Even Baptists call them members of their church, unless the particular church doesn’t even have church membership. The substance/administration distinction is roughly the same distinction as the visible/invisible church distinction. Unless the Baptists are willing to say that every member of their churches actually is saved, they will have to come up with some way of explaining the slippage between those claiming to be saved, versus those who actually are saved. If Baptists are willing to say that the unsaved were at one point actually members of the church, then I can raise a gigantic tu quoque at this point: you Baptists have the exact same problem as we paedos have, only you have to explain how it is that Christ died for the church, and all the church’s members, but didn’t die for the non-elect who yet claim to be saved, and are on your membership roll! You have the exact same problem with regard to Christ’s mediatorship in relation to the church. The difference is that we also use the Bible’s covenantal categories to explain the situation, whereas the Baptists have to leave the covenantal language out when talking about the church.

Mr. Hicks’s second point is actually the same point as the first, only in different terms (federal headship) and applied to infants:

Second, the Reformed Paedobaptist doctrine of the covenant of grace confuses (joins together) the headships of Adam and Christ. Because paedobaptists include unregenerate infants within the covenant of grace, they diminish the headship of Christ in one of two ways. One, they may say that baptized infants are no longer in Adam and under the curse of the covenant of works, but are under Christ’s headship in a way that might condemn them to hell. On this view, it is very hard to see how Christ’s covenant is a “covenant of grace.” It is, rather, a covenant of grace/justification and wrath/condemnation, which is hardly a comfort or blessing to all who are in it.

Federal headship is tied to the essence of the covenant, not the administration. This is an easier objection to answer. Only those who have faith have passed from Adamic headship to Christic headship. This is possible for infants (John the Baptist, King David are biblical examples), but not automatic. The administration points to the essence just as preaching points to Christ, and the sacraments point to Christ. As said above, these benefits preach salvation in Christ, and even have a non-saving benefit for the non-elect.

Two, paedobaptists may say that unregenerate baptized infants in the administration of the covenant of grace are “in Adam” (the covenant of works) and “in Christ” (the covenant of grace) simultaneously. These infants would be in the inward “substance” of the covenant of works, but the outward “administration” of the covenant of grace. Such a view would undermine the efficacy of Christ’s atonement because it places unregenerate children of believers under Christ’s mediation, and under His blood, while affirming the child’s condemnation in Adam.

I don’t know of any paedos who would say that any person can be represented by both heads simultaneously. As said above, the administration of the covenant of grace does not bestow union with Christ. So, paedos (who are non-FV) would not use the term “in Christ” to describe those who belong only to the administration of the covenant of grace. Even the “in me” of John 15:2 does not imply union with Christ.

Third, the Reformed Paedobaptist doctrine of the covenant of grace ascribes saving power to the OT covenants of promise. But this is impossible since the OT covenants of promise, including the Abrahamic covenant, were established on the shed blood of animals and imperfect human mediators. The OT covenants of promise commanded their members to trust the Lord, to love the Lord, and obey the Lord. But the OT covenants did not provide their members with the power to obey their commands. The shed blood of animals and human mediators never gave grace needed for regeneration, justification, sanctification, and perseverance. That only comes from the shed blood of Christ and His mediation. The paedobaptist notion of a “saving substance” in the OT covenants is foreign to the Bible.

I have answered this partially above, but a few more thoughts on the rest of the paragraph are in order. Does he really believe that the Holy Spirit was not given to OT saints? This is dispensational teaching, not Reformed teaching. He seems to be laboring under the lack of distinction between the Holy Spirit being poured out at Pentecost, which had to do with giving offices/gifts to people, versus the regenerative power of the salvific presence of the Holy Spirit, which was most certainly present in OT saints. Furthermore, his position opens itself up to a highly ambiguous situation. Is the substance of the OT covenants Christ or not? If it is, then the substance of the OT covenants is the same as that of the new, which he did seem to imply when he said, “They correctly teach that after Adam’s fall, the whole Bible is unified by one covenant of grace.” But now he wants to say that the substance of the OT is not the saving covenant of grace at all. Obviously I agree (and paedos, too) that it wasn’t the shed blood of animals and human mediators itself that gives grace for justification. But that is quite different from saying that OT saints didn’t have those things. They did. And it was the blood of animals and human mediators that pointed to the blood of the Lamb and the One Mediator to end all mediators. The substance of the OT covenants was in promise form, yes. But that promise form still presents Christ Himself, and it is by the promised Christ that OT believers were saved. Abraham rejoiced to see Jesus’ day. He saw it and was glad, Jesus tells us. Mr. Hicks’s position on this is confusing.

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Reviewing Jeffrey Johnson’s The Fatal Flaw, Part 5 (Section 2)

Posted by R. Fowler White

In this final installment of our review of Jeffrey Johnson’s The Fatal Flaw, we take up the book’s second division, consisting of eight brief essays devoted to a systematic presentation of the relationships between the Abrahamic, old, Davidic, and new covenants. (For good measure, Johnson also offers an appendix on how the law of Moses relates to the law of Christ. “In short,” he concludes, “the Law of Christ is nothing less than the Law of Moses fulfilled in the life of Christ” [p. 253].) Overall, his stated goal in the second section is “to explain the continuity and discontinuity of the old and new covenants by revealing the dichotomous nature of the Abrahamic Covenant” (p. 207, emphasis original). That dichotomy (i.e., “dual nature”) refers to the two distinct dimensions (i.e., “sides”) of God’s one covenant with Abraham: the natural-earthly-conditional side and the spiritual-heavenly-unconditional side. For Johnson, this dualism is the key to understanding the continuity and discontinuity of God’s covenants. Let’s summarize his main points.

As for Abraham, God pledged to give the patriarch seed and land (among other things), and He fulfills those promises in two forms. There was a provisional fulfillment in the form of a natural seed and an earthly land. These were shadows and types of the permanent fulfillment to come in the form of a spiritual seed and a heavenly land. Significantly, the fulfillments differed as to their basis. The provisional fulfillment for Abraham’s natural seed was conditioned on their faithfulness to God; the permanent fulfillment for Abraham and his spiritual seed was not conditioned on their faithfulness to God, but on God’s faithfulness to them. In light of these factors, says Johnson, God’s covenant with Abraham had a dual nature: it was both conditional and unconditional.

So, how does the Abrahamic covenant relate to the old and new covenants? The old and new covenants are the two sides of the Abrahamic covenant enacted consecutively in two separate covenants. Specifically, the old covenant was an extension of the conditional side of God’s covenant with Abraham, elaborating the works God required to fulfill His promises. The new covenant, on the other hand, is an extension of the unconditional side of God’s covenant with Abraham, elaborating the grace God provides to fulfill His promises. Going on to relate the old covenant to the new covenant, Johnson argues that the old covenant was the conditional covenant of works that had to be satisfied so that the new unconditional covenant of grace might be fulfilled. In light of all this, Johnson says, we understand better how the Abrahamic and old covenants relate to Christ. That is, the conditional side of the Abrahamic covenant, and its extension in the old covenant, were a covenant of works that Christ had to satisfy in order to become the mediator of the unconditional side of the Abrahamic covenant, namely, the new covenant of grace. Thus, the dichotomous Abrahamic covenant, the conditional old covenant, and the unconditional new covenant are all fulfilled because of Christ’s faithfulness.

For the sake of completeness, Johnson also has us ask how the Abrahamic covenant related to the Davidic covenant. Johnson’s answer: the Davidic covenant had the same dual nature as the Abrahamic. God promised David seed and throne, and He fulfills those promises in two forms. There was a provisional form of a natural seed and an earthly throne, the fulfillment of which was conditioned on the faithfulness of David’s natural seed to God. That form foreshadowed the future permanent form of a miraculous seed and a heavenly throne, the fulfillment of which was conditioned on God’s faithfulness to David and that miraculous seed. In this way, Johnson urges us to see that the conditional side of the Davidic covenant, elaborated in the old covenant, was a covenant of works that Christ had to satisfy in order to ascend the heavenly throne and fulfill the new covenant of grace, which is the unconditional side of the Davidic covenant.

In response to Section 2 of Johnson’s book, three (more or less) quick observations. First, it’s hard not to read these essays without wondering if they should have appeared much earlier in the book so that the reader could see better the whole picture into which Johnson fits the pieces of his argumentation. Second, Johnson needs to explain more thoroughly how the historical covenants are an outworking of the eternal covenant between the Father and the Son. For many, that exercise helps to clarify how individual election is a narrower circle within the broader circle of the covenant community polity that has been in effect from the beginning. Third and last, there is profit in Johnson’s comments on the dual nature of God’s covenant with Abraham when he says that to fulfill His promises, the old covenant elaborates the works God requires, while the new covenant elaborates the grace He provides. Johnson is mistaken, however, when he posits that the two sides of the Abrahamic covenant were enacted separately and consecutively in, respectively, the old covenant of works and the new covenant of grace. Rather, they are both administrations of the two sides of the one dichotomous covenant of grace. Yes, we can agree that the old covenant was continuous with the covenant of works (with Adam) in that it effectively (and no doubt more elaborately) republished the demands and sanctions of the first covenant of works. The old covenant, however, was not merely continuous with that covenant of works; it was not merely a reissuance or a republication of that covenant. It was also discontinuous with that covenant in a key way that points to a crucial flaw in Johnson’s thesis: it was discontinuous in that it also republished the promises of the Surety who would satisfy the covenant of works. Significantly, those promises, introduced only after the fall (Gen 3.15), were themselves formalized and elaborated in subsequent administrations of the one covenant of grace, not least in the various prophecies, shadows, and types of the old covenant. In the old covenant, then, along with the Abrahamic, the Davidic, and the new covenants, God has consistently discipled His people, teaching them both about the works He requires and about the grace He provides in the Surety. That being the case, old-covenant discipleship was covenant-of-grace discipleship, instructing and building up the elect in their faith in Christ, so that the salvation received under the old covenant was the same in all respects as that received under the new covenant.

Reviewing Jeffrey Johnson’s The Fatal Flaw, Part 4 (Chs. 12-16)

Posted by R. Fowler White

We turn now to part 4 of our review of Jeffrey Johnson’s The Fatal Flaw (2010), looking at chs. 12-16. Together these chapters conclude the first division of Johnson’s treatment of the covenantal framework in which paedobaptism is rooted. (He’ll devote the second division to what he calls “Covenantal Dichotomism.” In it he’ll discuss the relationships between the Abrahamic, old, Davidic, and new covenants.) The focus here is on a) four key differences between the old and new covenants, b) the nature of the new covenant, c) the meaning of circumcision, and d) the error of integrating the flesh and the spirit. From this brief summary, the reader will sense some intentional repetition in Johnson’s presentation, as he collates and, to a degree, sharpens his lines of argument.

In chs. 12-13 Johnson reminds us that the old and new covenants differ as to their participants, substance, duration, and efficacy. First, he insists once more that the new covenant guarantees the salvation of all its participants, whereas the old covenant did not (as OT history shows). In response, we emphasize once again that his claim is predicated on the false premise that, even before judgment day, the new covenant is meant to separate the elect from the reprobate and to define the community formed under it as coextensive with individual election. Historical covenant and individual election, however, are not coextensive. Second, Johnson moves on to represent paedobaptists as mixing old covenant shadows with new covenant realities by connecting infant circumcision with baptism. No, it isn’t old covenant shadows to which we cling; instead we cling to the creation ordinances of family and parental authority that have been constitutive of covenant polity from the beginning. Third, despite Johnson’s odd claim to the contrary (p. 158), paedobaptists don’t deny that the old covenant is obsolete (cf. Heb 8.13). What we deny is that the covenants’ difference in duration annuls their sameness in substance: both covenants set forth the gospel of the promised Surety, the old in types, the new in antitypes. Fourth, Johnson repeats his claim that, unlike the old covenant, the new covenant is effectual for justifying, regenerating, and sanctifying all who are brought into its membership. We can agree that the two covenants differ in power, but Johnson’s claim about all new covenant members does not follow unless he can show 1) that the new covenant is only an administration of salvation to the elect, and 2) that the people brought into its membership, before judgment day, are only the elect in Christ. This he has not done.

Moving on to ch. 14, Johnson again discusses the nature of the new covenant, restating his position that the old covenant principles of parental headship, theocracy, racial distinctiveness, and racial perpetuity don’t apply in the new covenant. Though we agree that certain old covenant principles that preserved Christ’s lineage have ended, we cannot agree with Johnson’s assertions, quoting Jer 31.29-30, that “under the Mosaic Covenant children were not viewed independently” of their parents’ headship and that parents’ headship over their children “would be completely eradicated” under the new covenant (pp. 175-76). Both assertions are demonstrably false. On the one hand, under the old covenant, children were in fact “viewed independently” of their parents’ headship (Jer 31.30 echoes Deut 24.16). On the other hand, under the new covenant, it’s not that parental headship ends; rather it’s that, as people confess that each person suffers for his own sins, they stop complaining that “innocent children” (present generations) suffer unjustly for the sins of their “fathers” (past generations). Far from being eradicated under Christ’s new covenant lordship, parental headship continues to be constitutive of covenant polity.

In ch. 15, Johnson revisits the topic of circumcision, this time to debunk the paedobaptist teaching that circumcision was a sign of the covenant of grace for all of Abraham’s biological seed just as it was for Abraham. Johnson contends that, according to Rom 4.11, circumcision was a sign of the covenant of grace only for Abraham and for those who shared his faith, but it was a sign of the (old) covenant of works for those who received circumcision without or before faith. Here again, Johnson begs the question of what counts as a covenant of grace, presuming that the covenant of grace is only an administration of guaranteed blessing and thus that circumcision is only an index of faith. This construct, however, misses the two sides of circumcision in the context of the two-sided covenant of grace. As we’ve been saying, the covenant of grace is not just a guarantee of blessing, but is an administration of both curse (Gen 12.3b; 17.14) and blessing (Gen 12.2-3; 17.4-8). Within that context, circumcision presented both sanctions to sinners. To be sure, circumcision signified the blessing of justification (Rom 4.11) to sinners who by faith (Gen 15.6) found righteousness in the covenant’s Surety, Abraham’s true Heir, who would obey God’s demands (Gen 17.1b). Yet circumcision also signified the curse of judgment to sinners who would (and could) not obey God’s demands (Gen 17.1b, 9-14), and to them circumcision became uncircumcision (Rom 2.25). Overall, it’s not, as Johnson claims, that circumcision was a sign of the covenant of grace to those who received it in faith but a sign of the covenant of works to those who received it without or before faith; rather it’s that circumcision was the two-sided sign of God’s two-sided covenant of grace, signifying to sinners—parents and their children alike—especially His promises of justification and life and also His threats of judgment and death.

In ch. 16, Johnson turns his attention to discrediting the paedobaptist teaching on the genealogical principle, of which Gen 17.10-13 is a key expression. To realize his aim, Johnson evaluates what he identifies as three paedobaptist beliefs: 1) what was true of Abraham’s seed must be equally true of every new covenant believer’s seed; 2) what was true of the covenants before the new covenant must be true of the new covenant; and 3) what was true of covenant households before the new covenant must be true of new covenant households. In these claims, Johnson says, paedobaptists persist in combining, as the covenants before the new covenant did, what the new covenant requires them to separate: flesh and spirit (the physical/natural and the spiritual/supernatural). Sounding like a broken record, we point out once more that Johnson again presumes that, before judgment day, the new covenant is intended to separate spirit from flesh and to identify all members gathered under it as siblings reborn of the Spirit. Though we join Johnson in his desire not to depreciate the progress of covenant history, we can’t join him as he falls for the opposite error of prematurely ushering in the world to come. That is, by arguing for baptism and the covenant of grace as he does, he would have the final separation of flesh and spirit already being realized, even while the member-branches of Abraham’s covenant family tree are still weighing the kindness and the severity of God (Rom 11.17-22).

Reviewing Jeffrey Johnson’s The Fatal Flaw, Part 3 (Chs. 7-11)

Posted by R. Fowler White

Continuing with part 3 of our review of Jeffrey’s Johnson’s The Fatal Flaw, we come to chs. 7-11 where Johnson carries on with what he calls his “direct and pointed attack on the covenantal framework in which paedobaptism is rooted” (p. 21). Our focus here is on his arguments devoted to the problems of conditions and covenant breakers (i.e., apostates) in paedobaptist covenant theology (chs. 7-9) and to the deficiencies and purpose of the old covenant (chs. 10-11).

As Johnson discusses in chs. 7-9 paedobaptist attempts to solve the problems posed by integrating conditions and apostates in the covenant of grace, his aim is to put a challenge to paedobaptists as follows: they should just admit that their every attempt to integrate conditions and apostasy into the covenant of grace (as they conceive it) destroys the grace of that covenant. Any covenant of grace worthy of the name must secure the grace needed to bring all its members in and keep them in, else membership in it is meaningless. With that challenge to paedobaptist covenant theology in mind, Johnson takes up the deficiencies and purpose of the old covenant. He tells us in ch. 10 that the deficiencies of the old covenant at fulfilling God’s promises were evident in that the bulk of its heirs were merely carnal, its blessings merely this-earthly, and its duration merely temporary. Having presented in ch. 10 what God’s purpose for the old covenant was not, Johnson explains in ch. 11 what His purpose was. That purpose was fourfold: 1) to expose the guilt and inability of sinners; 2) to point sinners to Christ; 3) to foster the nation’s political, moral, and genealogical security and purity; and 4) to reassert the standard to be satisfied for the ungodly to be justified (true heirs of Abraham).

In response to Johnson’s arguments in these chapters, let’s take the content of chs. 10-11 first. His treatment of God’s purpose in giving the old covenant is useful, especially in ch. 11. Even so, his primary interest is to show that, because God’s purpose in giving the old covenant was not to fulfill His eternal and spiritual promises, it cannot be a covenant of grace. This conclusion does not follow, however. We can agree that God’s purpose in giving the old covenant was not to fulfill His eternal and spiritual promises in their full and final form. We can agree that the old covenant was not intended to produce the true Heir of God’s promises: that Heir would not come through the old covenant tribe and order of Levi, but through Judah’s tribe and Melchizedek’s order. We can agree the old covenant was not intended to produce the true heirs of God’s promises: those heirs would look beyond Sinai and follow in the footsteps of father Abraham’s faith to find a righteousness better than their own and an inheritance better than Canaan. We cannot agree, however, that God’s purpose did not fulfill His promises in a temporary and physical form that instructed and built up the remnant in faith in the eternal and spiritual form available through the Surety to come. In other words, God’s purpose in giving the old covenant was to fulfill His promises in shadow and type, their deficiencies notwithstanding. For that reason, we can affirm that the justification of believers under the old and new covenants was one and the same, and that the old covenant was a covenant of grace sufficient and efficacious, through the Spirit’s work, to administer God’s eternal and spiritual promises to the remnant.

Turning back to chs. 7-9, is Johnson correct to say that paedobaptists should admit that their attempts to integrate conditions and apostates into the covenant of grace (as paedobaptists conceive it) destroy the grace of that covenant? As I see it, Johnson’s analysis is incorrect, and for reasons that he himself discusses. Focusing first on the issue of conditions, conditions are compatible with the grace of the covenant of grace because, but only because, both envision the true Heir of Abraham, the Surety of the covenant. Under both the old and the new covenants, it is the Surety’s obedience to the law’s conditions that guarantees justification for those of Abraham’s faith. Moreover, true believers in that Surety are not under the law as a covenant of works by which they are justified or condemned. In other words, the law is for believers a rule of life—the law (yoke) of liberty—training them in the holy character and conduct that are inseparable from justification as the fruits and evidences of justifying faith. In sum, then, because the Surety of the covenant of grace satisfies the law’s conditions and thus secures justification for believers in Him, conditions do not destroy the grace of the covenant.

Well, is Johnson correct to argue that any covenant of grace worthy of the name must secure the grace of justification and perseverance for all its participants, else participation in it is meaningless? Again, in my opinion, Johnson is incorrect. For him, what counts as a covenant of grace is only that which ensures the salvation of all its participants. We have to ask, however, from where does he get this definition? Not unexpectedly, time and again, Johnson appeals to Jer 31.31-34 (Heb 8.8-12). That text is certainly relevant to a discussion of the new covenant, but Jeremiah’s focus is on the promises of the new covenant. Elsewhere, the threats of the new covenant come into view. For example, in Rev 2-3, Christ addresses His church(es) with threats of judgment for apostasy as well as promises of salvation for perseverance. In Matt 7.21-23, He declares His intent on judgment day to disavow disciples of His who confessed His name as Lord but despised His law. In Rom 11.17-22 (cf. John 15.1-8), Christ’s apostle warns the church that all unnatural Gentile member-branches who fail to persevere will be broken off from Abraham’s covenant family tree, just as all natural Israelite member-branches who failed to persevere were broken off. In all this, the point is not, as Johnson alleges, that apostates, as portrayed by paedobaptists, cause Christ to suffer reproach as a poor federal head. Instead, the point is that, according to the new covenant, Christ is Judge of apostates as well as Head of the elect in His church. Yes, by their defection, apostates do bring reproach on Christ’s name. They will not, however, have the last word. Rather, in keeping with the retributive principle of the covenant, Christ will bring reproach, in final measure, on their names. Nor is the point, as Johnson claims, that the covenant itself, as conceived by paedobaptists, is faulty. Instead, the point is that the covenant of grace is not to be reduced to its proper purpose of grace, nor are the people gathered under Christ’s lordship to be reduced, before judgment day, to the elect given to Him by oath. Yes, salvation is the new covenant’s proper purpose. Before judgment day, however, the new covenant, like all other administrations of the covenant of grace, does not ensure the salvation of all in the covenant community. (That distinctive applies to the eternal covenant transaction between the Father and the Son.) The new covenant does, however, gather a community under Christ’s lordship for discipleship according to His promises of salvation and His warnings of judgment. In the experience of the historical, visible church, His promises are not always embraced; His warnings are not always heeded. Despite the faith some confess at the beginning, and despite the blessings they have in common with the remnant in the meantime, they prove in the end to have an evil, unbelieving heart and fail to persevere in faith (Luke 8.13; 1 Tim 1.19-20; 4.1; 1 John 2.19). So, even though the new covenant does not guarantee the salvation of all in the covenant community, it does afford them all the blessings of discipleship under Christ.

Reviewing Jeffrey Johnson’s The Fatal Flaw, Part 2 (Chs. 3-6)

Posted by R. Fowler White

In part 1 of our series of posts reviewing Jeffrey Johnson’s The Fatal Flaw, we covered his introductory survey and the two subsequent chapters on the absence of a NT command to baptize infants and on the analogy between circumcision and baptism. In this post—part 2—we’ll cover chs. 3-6, in which Johnson begins to present, in deliberately crafted increments, his exposé of the fundamental flaw of paedobaptist covenant theology. The four chapters of our present focus are devoted respectively to the continuity between the old and new covenants and to the nature of the old covenant.

Chapters 3-4 set the course for chs. 5-6 (and, in fact, the rest of part one of Johnson’s book). So, in chs. 3-4, we find Johnson intent on showing that the legitimacy of infant baptism hangs especially on the continuity between the old and new covenants: that is, it hangs on the belief that the covenants and the communities formed under those covenants remain essentially the same. Johnson identifies the principles that governed membership under the old covenant as 1) racial distinction, 2) national affiliation, 3) racial perpetuity, and 4) the federal headship of parents—all signified by circumcision. Throughout his discussion, however, Johnson emphasizes that something even more fundamental than those principles is at work: the old covenant did not secure (guarantee) a saving relationship with God to anyone participating under its terms (p. 63; cf. pp. 63-64). In that emphasis we get our most explicit clue into what Johnson believes is the trait that distinguishes the old covenant from a covenant of grace (i.e., that differentiates it from an administration of the covenant of grace). Any covenant that does not guarantee salvation for all its members is no covenant of grace. With that trait in mind, Johnson goes on in chs. 5-6 to offer observations to support his conclusion that the old covenant was a covenant of [based on] works and not of grace. In ch. 5 he lays out four such points: the old covenant 1) made its promised blessings contingent on Israel’s obedience; 2) threatened Israel with curses for their disobedience; 3) was breakable and broken by Israel; and 4) is described in Scripture with terms that identify it as a covenant of works (e.g., law, commandments, ministry of death). To close out his argument in ch. 5, Johnson anticipates the objection that, if the old covenant made its promises contingent on Israel’s obedience, then their identity as God’s elect people must also have been contingent on their obedience. Johnson answers the objection by urging that election applies only to a remnant within the nation, and the ground of the remnant’s election was according to grace. Capping off his contention that the old covenant was a covenant of works and not grace, Johnson devotes ch. 6 to a consideration of Gal 4.21-31. In that passage he finds what he calls a ‘singular refutation’ of the paedobaptist claim that the old and new covenants were each covenants of grace (i.e., were essentially the same covenant). No, says Johnson, in Gal 4 Paul denies the continuity between the old and new covenants and thus denies the continuity of the communities formed under them.

What can we say about Johnson’s arguments in chs. 3-6? First, with regard to chs. 3-4, Johnson’s point that covenant continuity is foundational for infant baptism is certainly relevant. Even so, Johnson’s agenda is driven fundamentally by the fact that the old covenant did not secure salvation for all its participants and so is no covenant of grace. In response, we have to observe that no covenant before the new covenant (as Johnson defines it) guaranteed salvation for all its participants, and no covenant community before the new covenant was coextensive with the elect in Christ. Hence, on Johnson’s terms, no covenant before the new covenant qualified as a covenant of grace. Observations such as these highlight a key question for us to answer: when, if ever, are we to reduce divine covenant to an administration of election in Christ and guarantees of salvation? More specifically, are we to identify the new covenant (i.e., the new covenant administration of the covenant of grace) with God’s eternal purpose in Christ (i.e., the covenant of redemption), or are we to distinguish the two? Once more: are we to identify the new covenant community with the elect in Christ or to distinguish the two? Briefly, in my view, the argument of Heb 7.20-22, 28; 8.6 is decisively in favor of distinguishing the two. Since the new covenant has been enacted on the oath-promises of the Father to the Son—since the oath is the basis of the new covenant, we must distinguish the one from the other. In addition, we must also distinguish the people given to the Son by oath (Ps 110.3; Isa 53.10; John 6.37, 39) from the community formed under the new covenant. Thus, the new covenant is not reducible to an administration of salvation to the elect; the new covenant is also an administration of judgment to the reprobate. In other words, Christ, as Lord of the new covenant church, is both its Savior and its Judge. We’ll have occasion to come back to this topic, but for now it looks to me that in all preconsummate historical covenants (i.e., administrations of the covenant of grace), covenant is broader than individual election according to grace.

Second, respecting chs. 5-6, Johnson’s attempt to support his conclusion that the old covenant was a covenant of works and not of grace fails to convince. It does so because he omits from consideration the role of God’s designated sureties of grace in the election of both the nation and the remnant under the old covenant. To God’s designation of sureties, even those born under the old covenant, Scripture gives careful attention, as when God gave certain of His servants as sureties in the promises, prophecies, ordinances, and other types (“shadows”) of the old covenant, especially those related to the messianic-mediatorial offices. This is not to say that the pre-Christ designees were sufficient and efficacious to prevent the nation’s loss of election and temporal blessing for its disobedience, much less to secure the nation’s election to eternal blessing with their exemplary obedience. To the contrary, their failings made the nation’s election revocable. The remnant’s election to eternal blessing was a different matter, however. It was irrevocable because of the perfections of the Surety to come. In fact, God’s designation of sureties under the old covenant was sufficient and efficacious, through the work of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the remnant in faith in the promised Surety. Thus, Johnson is mistaken not to recognize that by setting forth the promised Surety in shadow and type, the old covenant was a covenant of grace. This is not to deny that the old covenant spoke of conditions, curses, and covenant-breakers. Nor is it to deny the discontinuity between the old and new covenants. It is to say that the folly of the Galatian churches (Gal 3.1) was to consider the works of the law apart from God’s promises of a Surety. In doing so they would have to regard their own works as adequate to qualify them (or their children) as true heirs of Abraham, as adequate to secure their justification and eternal salvation. In doing so members of the Galatian churches would fail to listen to the law, would break its conditions, and would subject themselves to God’s curse, all because they had severed themselves from the Surety God had promised.

Reviewing Jeffrey Johnson’s The Fatal Flaw, Part 1 (Chs. 1-2)

Posted by R. Fowler White

In this post and (God willing) a series of posts to follow, I plan to work through the chapters of Jeffrey D. Johnson’s book, The Fatal Flaw of the Theology Behind Infant Baptism (Free Grace Press, 2010). Yes, it’s been out a while, so perhaps you’ve seen it mentioned here and there. The initial reasons for my interest in the book are that I was once a convinced credobaptist myself (even publishing on the topic!) and that Johnson’s book has been applauded by some noteworthy (self-identified) “sovereign grace Baptist” leaders, such as Tom Nettles and Richard Belcher, Sr. The more significant reason that I picked up the book, however, is that it is part of a relatively recent flurry of activity among Baptists who have been reexamining covenant theology (e.g., Tom Wells, Fred Zaspel, Gary Long), and Johnson states that his own position on covenant theology is very similar to that of Meredith Kline, Michael Horton, and Kim Riddlebarger (p. 22 n. 70). All these factors provoke my interest in Johnson’s critique of paedobaptist covenant theology.

Johnson divides his book into two major parts, the first of 16 chapters on “The Fatal Flaw” behind paedobaptist theology and the second of 8 chapters on what he calls “Covenantal Dichotomism” and in which he discusses the relationships between Abraham, Moses, and Christ. For the purpose of interaction, I don’t expect to review each of these 24 chapters in detail, but to focus on what Johnson tells us is the primary thrust of his book, namely, “a direct and pointed attack on the covenantal framework in which paedobaptism is rooted” (p. 21). Even with that emphasis, “the purpose of this work is not so much to convert the die-hard paedobaptist as much as to help prevent credobaptists from changing their position” (p. 20). In addition, the book is not offered merely to deliver negative commentary (ibid.). For Johnson “there are many sturdy stones, which must be left alone” (ibid.) in paedobaptist covenant theology. Not least among those stones is the progressive unfolding of God’s eternal plan of redemption in each of His covenants throughout history. Given Johnson’s purpose and primary thrust, I’ll leave aside the helpful introduction in which he surveys the history of infant baptism and various paedobaptist interpretations of its rationale and settles on engaging presbyterians who’ve adopted the Westminster Confession. I’ll use this opening post to look at his first two chapters (pp. 25-48), where he takes on the absence of a NT command to baptize infants and the analogy between circumcision and baptism.

Zeroing in on the paedobaptist appeal to OT inferences to fill in where no NT command exists, Johnson argues that those inferences leave too many uncertainties to justify infant baptism. He insists that, if OT inferences are really to make up for a missing NT command, then some related issues should also be considered: 1) that, besides baptism, no duty of the local NT church comes from the OT; 2) that baptized children are excluded from the Lord’s Supper even though circumcised children were included in the Passover meal; 3) that the NT church experienced much confusion on almost everything related to the old covenant; 4) that the NT church experienced major controversy over circumcision in particular; and 5) that NT Gentile converts, largely ignorant of circumcision’s meaning, doubtless needed instruction on baptism and its participants. With these uncertainties as backdrop, Johnson moves on to take up the circumcision-baptism relationship itself, intent on showing that the two ordinances are only analogous and not identical. Contending that “the NT must set the limits of the analogy” (p. 45; see also p. 47), he concludes that they are similar, not in that both involve children, but only in that both signify circumcision of the heart (regeneration). Citing Jer 31.34, he goes on to urge that, “unlike the old covenant, the new covenant leaves no room for unbelieving participants” (ibid.). All told, then, Johnson maintains that neither OT inferences nor the circumcision-baptism relationship can be authoritative for determining the nature of baptism or its participants (p. 47).

The absence of a NT command to baptize infants – What shall we say about Johnson’s claim that OT inferences leave too many uncertainties to warrant infant baptism? In my view, the uncertainties that Johnson highlights do little to discourage the paedobaptist appeal to the OT to locate the warrant for infant baptism. For example, when he argues that, besides baptism, no requirement for the local NT church comes from the OT, Johnson asks us to presuppose that the administrative principles of the NT church originated without any connection whatsoever to OT Israel. Leaving aside the question of baptism, this is a bridge too far: we cannot simply concede that the administrative principles of the NT church generally or the basis of its membership specifically are disconnected from OT Israel. After all, we know that God is administering one household in redemptive history, not two (Heb 3.1-6). Going on, Johnson observes that, unlike circumcised children, baptized children are excluded from the covenant meal. We acknowledge, of course, that paedobaptists differ on this point, though we cannot pursue it here. Suffice it to say, then, that back of Johnson’s objection is the debatable assumption that the function and basis of the OT ordinances differ from those of the NT. Further, Johnson points out that almost everything related to the old covenant, including circumcision, created confusion or controversy in the NT church that was eventually dominated by largely uninformed Gentile converts. The difficulties of the transition from the old covenant to the new notwithstanding, Johnson offers no evidence that there was ever confusion or controversy in the NT church about the membership status or baptism of children. In sum, Johnson’s collection of uncertainties does not touch the fundamental concern of the paedobaptist argument from the OT. More pointedly, if the administrative principles of the NT church, including the basis of its membership, originated without any connection to OT Israel as Johnson argues, there would have been an obvious and profound need for and expectation of an exposition not unlike the one we find in the Epistle to the Hebrews to make this change emphatically clear. Instead we find that the principles and practices of the NT church are stated in language that imitates the language in which the principles and practices of OT Israel were stated.

The circumcision-baptism relationship – Moving on to Johnson’s take on the circumcision-baptism relationship, we can agree with him that the relationship is one of analogy and not identity. There are clear differences between the two (thus the denial of identity), but both rites testify to the same realities (thus the affirmation of analogy): death to sin and new life to God (otherwise known as circumcision of the heart). In fact, because both rites speak as one, we can understand better why circumcision became obsolete and baptism superseded it. The transition came to pass because Christ’s death-and-resurrection was both a circumcision (Col 2.11) and a baptism (Mark 10.38; Luke 12.50). Whether we say that Christ was circumcised or baptized in His death and resurrection, God’s witness to us is that the death He died He died to sin, and the life He lives He lives to God (Rom 6.10). In that light, it makes sense that the circumcision of Christ made circumcision obsolete as a covenant sign, while the baptism of Christ established baptism as the covenant sign that continued to testify of the realities formerly signified by circumcision.

Meanwhile, however, the differences between the two and the change from the one to the other do nothing to revoke the membership status of children in God’s covenant. How can we be so sure? Because the NT narrates the administration of baptism by the apostles in language that imitates the narration of the administration of circumcision and baptism in the OT. In particular, the apostolic company is said to have baptized households (Acts 11.14; 16.15, 31-34; 1 Cor 1.2), just as God is said to have baptized the household of Noah in the flood (1 Pet 3.20-22; Gen 7.1) and the households of “our (circumcised!) fathers” in the cloud and the sea (1 Cor 10.1). Strikingly, in the baptism into Moses, the baptized are even said to have been those who “feared the Lord and believed in Him and His servant Moses” (Exod 14.29-31). Paedobaptists might ask, then, shall we dispute that those OT baptisms included both parents and their children? Can we imagine Joshua saying anything other than, “as for me and my house, we were baptized into Moses”? If baptism into Moses was administered thus to our circumcised ancestors, it at least strains credulity to maintain that the apostles administered baptism into Christ differently to those who are the descendants of those baptized into Moses. To press the point still further, paedobaptists might ask, would not the Jews at Corinth (Acts 18.1-8), who were among those addressed in 1 Cor 10.1, have justifiably inferred that just as parents and children were baptized into Moses, so also parents and children were to be baptized into Christ? Consider here especially what Crispus, the ruler of Corinth’s synagogue, and his household (Acts 18.8) would have been thinking. Insofar, then, as we observe the parallel language in the narration of the baptisms of Noah’s household, Israel’s households, and the church’s households, there is warrant sufficient for paedobaptists to urge that the apostles’ practice of baptism into Christ took place on the same principle as did OT baptism and circumcision: “you and your household.” All this to say, then, that we can agree with Johnson that the relationship of circumcision and baptism is one of analogy, but we cannot agree that the analogy makes infant baptism less than clear. To the contrary, the administration of baptism in the NT imitates the administration of circumcision and baptism in the OT. To be sure, other questions and passages remain to be considered.

The Covenant of Works in Isaiah 24

I used to think that Hosea 6:7 was the clearest passage outside of Genesis 2-3 describing the covenant of works as a covenant (hereafter CoW). However, I no longer think that is the case. Isaiah 24 now takes pride of place. For one thing, although I believe Warfield’s arguments on Hosea 6:7 are correct, it is still a disputed passage with more than one possible interpretation. I do not believe there is nearly as much wiggle room in Isaiah 24.

The key verse here is verse 5: “The earth lies defiled under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant” (ESV). The question is simple: what is the identity of the בְּרִית עוֹלָם, the “eternal covenant”? Well, it cannot be the Abrahamic covenant, or the Mosaic covenant, since the scope of the people involved goes well beyond Israel. This is proven in the context by the repeated references to the earth in verses 1-4, capped by a reference to the תֵּבֵל (world). The use of this term in 1 Samuel 2:8 certainly points in a universalizing direction. While one could argue that the nations are involved somewhat in the Abrahamic (“all the nations of the world will be blessed through you”), this does not make the nations of the world direct parties to the Abrahamic covenant.

The only other universal covenant in the OT besides the CoW is the Noahic covenant. However, this possibility is ruled out by the presence of sanctions in verses 2 and especially 6. There are no sanctions in the Noahic covenant whatsoever. The only other possible reference, then, is to the Adamic situation. This has some very important ramifications.

Firstly, John Murray’s misgivings about the terminology of the CoW can now be put finally to rest. The Adamic administration is a covenant. Period. If it isn’t already clear in Hosea 6:7, it is now abundantly clear in Isaiah 24. Secondly, just because Adam and Eve broke the CoW doesn’t mean that the CoW is now somehow defunct. Surely, this is explicit in the use of עוֹלָם to describe the covenant: it is eternal. The sanctions are still being applied, and the nations are still violating the CoW. Thirdly, the CoW cannot be purely a covenant of grace if the sanctions fall on the earth because of the violations (and this is the implication of the move from verse 5 to verse 6). Obedience -> blessing; disobedience -> cursing. This is the very structure of the CoW. Fourthly, the terms of the CoW are here obviously so much more than refraining from eating an apple. The nations are not punished here for eating an apple. It is assumed that the basis for a just society on earth is tightly related to the terms of the CoW. This might relieve the misgivings of those who claim that Adam and Eve got more punishment than they deserved. For Adam and Eve had far more sin going on than merely eating a forbidden fruit.

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