There is a duty incumbent on every man to instruct others, according to his ability and opportunity, in the knowledge of God; the law of which, being natural and eternal, is always obligatory on all sorts of persons. […] The highest degree in religion which men now aim at is but to attend to and learn by the public teaching of the ministry. And, alas, how few are there who do it conscientiously, to the glory of God and the spiritual benefit of their own souls! The whole business of teaching and learning the knowledge of God is generally turned into a formal spending, if not squander of so much time. But as for the teaching of others according to ability and opportunity, to endeavor for abilities, or to seek for opportunities of it, it is not only for the most part neglected, but despised. How few there are who take any care to instruct their own children and servants! But to carry this duty farther, according to opportunities of instructing others, is a thing that would be looked on almost as madness, in the days in which we live. We have far more that mutually teach one another sin, folly, yea, villainy of all sorts, than the knowledge of God and the duty we owe to him. This is… what God… has given up careless, unbelieving professors of the gospel to, in a way of vengeance (Covenant Theology: From Adam to Christ, 296).
How did Israel’s response to the Sinai Covenant affect them?
On this occasionally fell out the ruin of that people; “their table became a snare to them, and that which should have been for their welfare became a trap,” according to the prediction of our Savior, Ps. 69:22. It was this covenant that raised and ruined them. It raised them to glory and honor when given of God; it ruined them when abused by themselves to ends contrary to express declarations of his mind and will. For although the generality of them were wicked and rebellious, always breaking the terms of the covenant which God made with them, so far as it was possible they should, while God determined to reign over them to the appointed season, and repining under the burden of it; yet they would have this covenant to be the only rule and means of righteousness, life, and salvation, as the apostle declares, Rom. 9:31-33; 10:3. For, as we have often said, there were two things in it, both which they abused to other ends than what God designed them:
How did the Jews misinterpret the Sinai Covenant’s reference to the Covenant of Works?
There was the renovation of the rule of the covenant of works for righteousness and life. And this they would have to be given to them for those ends, and so sought for righteousness by the works of the law.
In other words, despite God’s reminder that only perfect obedience could merit eternal life, the Israelites tried to make a national covenant promising material & temporal blessings into a new Covenant of Works like the one made with Adam.
How did the Jews misinterpret the ways in which the Sinai Covenant pointed to the Covenant of Grace?
There was ordained in it a typical representation of the way and means in accordance with which the promise was to be made effectual, namely, in the mediation and sacrifice of Jesus Christ; which was the end [purpose] of all their ordinances of worship. And the outward law of it, with the observance of its institution, they looked on as their only relief when they came short of exact and perfect righteousness.
Thus, instead of recognizing that the animal sacrifices pointed toward the reality of Christ’s sacrifice, the Israelites believed that the outward observance of sacrificing the animals (in and of itself) actually obtained forgiveness for their sins.
Why is it important to grasp the true meaning of the Sinai Covenant, instead of misinterpreting it like the Jews did?
Against both these pernicious errors the apostle disputes expressly in his epistles to the Romans and the Galatians, to save them, if it were possible, from that ruin they were casting themselves into. On this “the elect obtained,” but “the rest were hardened.” For by that means they made an absolute renunciation of the promise, in which alone God had enwrapped the way of life and salvation.
This is the nature and substance of that covenant which God made with that people; a particular, temporary covenant it was, and not a mere dispensation of the covenant of grace (Covenant Theology: From Adam to Christ, pp. 198-199).
Theologians have historically disagreed concerning the nature and purpose of the “Mosaic” Covenant, which God made with Israel at Mount Sinai. Most Presbyterians follow the Westminster Confession (VII:iii-vi) in describing this covenant as merely one administration of the over-arching “Covenant of Grace.” Others have disagreed, saying that this Covenant is a restatement of the Old Covenant of Works made with Adam before his fall. Is the Sinai Covenant the Covenant of Grace? Is it the Covenant of Works? Both? Neither?
John Owen, in his Commentary on Hebrews, describes the Sinai Covenant as being formally neither the Covenant of Grace nor the Covenant of Works, but a national covenant made with Israel which, while pointing to both the principles of works and grace, was itself confined to material, temporal things.
“This covenant thus made, with these ends and promises, did never save nor condemn any man eternally. All that lived under the administration of it did attain eternal life, or perished forever, but not by virtue of this covenant as formally such.”
At Sinai, God gave Israel a law. What was its relationship to the Covenant of Works?
“It did, indeed, revive the commanding power and sanction of the first covenant of works; and in that respect, as the apostle speaks, was “the ministry of condemnation,” 2 Cor. 3:9; for “by the deeds of the law can no flesh be justified.”
The Sinai covenant included many instructions regarding sacrifices for sin. What was its relationship to the Covnenant of Grace?
“And on the other hand, it directed also to the promise, which was the instrument of life and salvation to all that did believe.”
But despite these shadows and signs of eternal things, the Sinai covenant cannot be formally called either The Covenant of Works, or the Covenant of Grace. It was its own entity, with its own purpose, given to a special people in a special situation in history.
“But as to what it had of its own, it was confined to things temporal. Believers were saved under it, but not by virtue of it. Sinners perished eternally under it, but by the curse of the original law of works” (Nehemiah Coxe & John Owen, Covenant Theology: From Adam to Christ, pp. 197-198).
Must we meet a requirement of faithfulness in order to receive the blessings of the Covenant of Grace?
“The promises of the covenant of grace are better than those of any other covenant, as for many other reasons, so especially because the grace of them prevents any condition or qualification on our part.”
But doesn’t God require our obedience?
“I do not say the covenant of grace is absolutely without conditions, if by conditions we intend the duties of obedience which God requires of us in and by virtue of that covenant; but this I say, the principal promises of it are not in the first place remunerative of our obedience in the covenant, but efficaciously assumptive of us into covenant, and establishing or confirming in the covenant.”
What Owen is explaining here is that the main promises of the Covenant of Grace have to do with our being brought into the Covenant. We are not brought into the Covenant because of our obedience; our obedience is required because we have already been brought in by God’s free grace.
How is this different from the Covenant of Works made with Adam?
“The covenant of works had its promises, but they were all remunerative, respecting an antecedent obedience in us; (so were all those which were peculiar to the covenant of Sinai).”
So, Adam was promised reward which he would receive only if he first perfectly obeyed God’s commands.
But wasn’t there any grace involved in God’s covenant with Adam?
“They were, indeed, also of grace, in that the reward did infinitely exceed the merit of our obedience; but yet they all supposed it, and the subject of them was formally reward only.”
How is this grace different from the grace shown in the Covenant of Grace?
“In the covenant of grace it is not so; for several of the promises of it are the means of our being taken into covenant, of our entering into covenant with God. The first covenant absolutely was established on promises, in that when men were actually taken into it, they were encouraged to obedience by the promises of a future reward. But those promises, namely, of the pardon of sin and writing of the law in our hearts, on which the apostle expressly insists as the peculiar promises of this covenant, do take place and are effectual antecedently to our covenant obedience.”
In the Covenant of Works made with Adam, the promised reward would be received only if Adam had first demonstrated perfect obedience. In the Covenant of Grace, the promises are received before our obedience – indeed, we are only able to obey as a response to our prior salvation!
Does God grant us eternal life because He sees our faith? No!
“For although faith be required in order of nature antecedently to our actual receiving of the pardon of sin, yet is that faith itself produced in us by the grace of the promise, and so its precedence to pardon respects only the order that God had appointed in the communication of the benefits of the covenant, and intends not that the pardon of sin is the reward of our faith” (John Owen, Covenant Theology From Adam to Christ, pp. 178-179).
Lately I’ve been reading Covenant Theology: From Adam to Christ, by Nehemiah Coxe & John Owen. While reading Coxe’s section on “The Covenant of Grace Revealed to Abraham,” I found one portion in particular which struck a chord in my mind due to recent developments in the Federal Vision controversy. It seems that Coxe, writing over 300 years ago, faced heretical views about baptism, union with Christ, and interest in the Covenant of Grace which bear a striking resemblance to current Federal Vision teachings.
From the Joint Federal Vision Profession:
The Sacrament of Baptism
We affirm that God formally unites a person to Christ and to His covenant people through baptism into the triune Name, and that this baptism obligates such a one to lifelong covenant loyalty to the triune God, each baptized person repenting of his sins and trusting in Christ alone for his salvation. Baptism formally engrafts a person into the Church, which means that baptism is into the Regeneration, that time when the Son of Man sits upon His glorious throne (Matt. 19:28).
Union with Christ and Imputation
We affirm Christ is all in all for us, and that His perfect sinless life, His suffering on the cross, and His glorious resurrection are all credited to us. Christ is the new Adam, obeying God where the first Adam did not obey God. And Christ as the new Israel was baptized as the old Israel was, was tempted for 40 days as Israel was for 40 years, and as the greater Joshua He conquered the land of Canaan in the course of His ministry. This means that through Jesus, on our behalf, Israel has finally obeyed God and has been accepted by Him. We affirm not only that Christ is our full obedience, but also that through our union with Him we partake of the benefits of His death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and enthronement at the right hand of God the Father.
We affirm that apostasy is a terrifying reality for many baptized Christians. All who are baptized into the triune Name are united with Christ in His covenantal life, and so those who fall from that position of grace are indeed falling from grace. The branches that are cut away from Christ are genuinely cut away from someone, cut out of a living covenant body. The connection that an apostate had to Christ was not merely external.
For more quotes, from Federal Visionist Jeffrey Meyers (PCA elder in good standing), see here:
Nehemiah Coxe rejected the idea of a partial, conditional, or temporary interest in the Covenant of Grace/New Covenant. He correctly understood that Christ’s atoning work was accomplished on behalf of His elect, and the only ones who have any interest in the gracious covenant by which His saving, cleansing, atoning, justifying gifts are communicated are those sheep for whom He shed His blood. And those sheep He will never forsake, or permit to wander off to their eternal doom. Discussing the Covenant of Grace revealed to Abraham, Coxe writes:
The sum of all gospel blessings is comprised in this promise. Therefore it will follow that the proper heirs of this blessing of Abraham have a right (not only in some, but) in all the promises of the new covenant. This is true not in a limited sense, suspended on uncertain conditions, but in a full sense and secured by the infinite grace, wisdom, power, and faithfulness of God. Accordingly, they are in time made good to them all. And this will be more manifest if we consider that all the blessings of this covenant redound on believers by means of their union and communion with the Lord Jesus Christ, who is both the Head and Root of the new covenant, and the Fountain from which all its blessings are derived to us. Since these blessings were entirely purchased by him, so are they entirely applied to all that are in him and to none other.
Therefore, I conceive the limiting of a new covenant interest to the grant of an external and temporary privilege only, to be utterly inconsistent with the promises of the covenant itself (such as these: Isaiah 54:13; 59:21; Jeremiah 31:33, 34; Ezekiel 36:26, 27 with Hebrews 8 and many others of like import). Neither will these texts admit of another notion lately insisted on for the commendation of paedobaptism, namely:
“That the infant seed of believers, during their infancy, have all of them a certain and definite interest in the covenant of grace by virtue of which they are completely justified before God from the guilt of original sin, both originans and originatum [Footnote from CT:FATC editors: Originating and originated. Original sin has two aspects: peccatum originale originans, originating original sin, which is Adam’s act of disobedience itself; and peccatum originale originatum, originated original sin, which is the stain or defect in the individual’s nature which is transmitted to him at his conception.]. And yet when they come to years of discretion they may, (yea must) by their actual closing with or refusing the terms of the covenant, either obtain the continuation and confirmation of their covenant interest, or be utterly and finally cut off from it and so perish eternally in their ignorance of God and rebellion against him” [Footnore from CT:FATC editors: This is an unknown reference but is probably from Whiston’s Infant Baptism Plainly Proved.]
As the promises of the covenant will not admit of any such partial interest, neither can this opinion co-exist with the analogy of faith in other respects. For either the stain of original sin in these infants is purged and the dominion of concupiscence in them is destroyed when their guilt is pardoned, or it is not. If it is, then the case of these infants in point of perseverance is the same with that of adult persons who are under grace by their actual faith. Then a final apostasy from the grace of the new covenant must be allowed possible to befall the one as well as the other, notwithstanding all the provisions of the covenant and engagement of God in it to make the promise sure to all the seed. But this the author will not admit. He may say that their guilt is pardoned by their natures are not renewed, nor the power of original corruption destroyed so that sin will not have dominion over them. It will then be replied that despite their supposed pardon, they remain an unclean thing, and so are incapable of admission into the kingdom of glory. But the truth is that none are at any time justified before God except those whom Christ has loved and washed from their sins in his own blood (Revelation 1:5). None are washed by him but those that are in him as the second Adam. It is by union to him as the root of the new covenant that the free gift comes on them to the justification of life [Footnote: Romans 5:14 and following.]. And none can have union to him but by the indwelling of his Holy Spirit. Wherever the Spirit of God applies the blood of Christ for the remission of sins he does it also for the purging of the conscience from dead works to serve the living God. As certainly as any derive a new covenant right from Christ for pardon, they also receive a vital influence from him for the renovation of their natures and conforming their souls to his own image. And therefore to assert that the grace of Christ is applied to some for the remission of sins only, or that the guilt of any sin can be pardoned to any person and yet that sin retain its dominion over him, is (so far as I can discern) both unscriptural and incoherent with the doctrine that is according to godliness (pp. 81-82).
Nehemiah Coxe, concluding his introduction to “A Discourse of the Covenants,” writes,
“I will only add this: that on the whole, my aim has been to speak the truth in love and to take my notions from the Scriptures, not grafting any preconceived opinions of my own onto them. Where the evidence of truth appears, let it not be refused because it is offered in a mean dress and presented under the disadvantage of a rude and unpolished style. But consider instead the reason of what is said and with the noble Bereans search the Scriptures to see whether these things be so or not. And the Lord give you understanding in all things.”
N.C. (Covenant Theology, p.31)
In this paragraph Coxe recognizes that in order to speak the truth, one must take his notions from the Scriptures alone, without adding any opinions conceived by men. Scripture alone is the Word of God; the Bible does not share authority with popes, councils, creeds, confessions, commentaries, religious experiences, bodily sensations, emotions, “common sense”, philosophers, science, tradition, blogs, superstition, governments, populations, opinions, or anything else.
Coxe also recognizes his own limitations and asks his reader for patience with his sometimes “rude and unpolished style.” In Christian interaction, all should practice patience with each other, in anticipation of that time in which we ourselves will need the patience of others. Coxe pleads that his readers not be distracted by any faults of his literary presentation, but rather focus their attention on the pursuit of truth.
Once again, openly before his readers, Coxe submits himself to the authority of the Scriptures. He appeals to his readers to examine his writings in the light of Scripture to determine their worth. He concludes with an acknowledgement that understanding comes only from the Lord, and not from within. Otherwise, he might have pleaded that his readers use their own “common sense,” or to search their inner feelings to find the truth. Instead, Coxe wishes the Lord’s blessing upon his readers, that they might comprehend the majestic importance of God’s covenants with man. Christians would do well to follow Coxe’s example of humility before God and His Revealed Word.