Trials & Their Outcome

Trials & Their Outcome

In James 1:2-3, James begins his letter with a near-paradoxical consolation. Trials are nasty. And we are all bound to experience them to one extent or another. But here, James gives us a sound reason for why Christians should remain joyful in the midst of affliction. Let’s look at our text under four headings: (1) the command to joyfulness; (2) the occasion; (3) the ground of joy; and (4) the outcome of the testing of faith.

The Command To Joyfulness

James begins by addressing his words to his “brethren…” These are not merely brethren according to the flesh (they do seem to be Jewish converts along with James), but they are brethren according to the Christian faith, as v. 3 makes plain. And he commands his brethren to, “count it all joy…” Or, “consider it joy…” This is a command and an encouragement to count those things as joy which the world would count as occasions for despair and cynicism. Joy here is not to be taken as a fleeting emotion or passion, but a perennial disposition of the Christian person grounded in the knowledge of faith. This is a gladness to be had by the Christian.

The Occasion

As mentioned, the occasion is that which the world would deem undesirable. The world teaches us to escape our issues and problems. The Christian faith teaches us to trust God and embrace what God sends our way with gladness. And in this case, James has trials in view. These trials are not specified. They could be anything from persecution to false teaching; from financial hardship to famine, etc. In our context, we might think of political upheaval, job losses, general uncertainty, economic unsurety, cultural perversity, etc. James says that upon the occasion of falling into any one of these trials, we should “count it all joy.” Of course, this doesn’t mean that we ought to be glad for wickedness itself, but for what God is doing for us in spite of it and even through it.

And this brings us to the ground of our joy in trials. What does the Christian have that the world doesn’t have which allows the Christian to count these trials as instances of joy rather than despair?

The Ground of Joy

James began his letter with what he will assume throughout: the possession of the good news of Jesus Christ and our slavehood to Him (Jas. 1:1)—in both trial and tribulation. But in v. 3, he adds a further reason why the Christian ought to have gladness in tribulation, “knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” The reason for gladness, in this case, is essentially Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” God is doing something for us, even in the midst of trial, and for that we ought to be grateful. We ought not try to thwart God’s providences, we ought not shake our fist to heaven. We must be grateful for what God is achieving in us through trial, trusting that a trial is a providential test for our good.

The Outcome of the Testing of Faith

By the way, What is a test?

A test is a metallurgical procedure whereby a metal is purified from its ore. Our faith is the precious metal buried in the human being, which is like ore, having many imperfections. And this spiritual testing of faith purifies the faith in the believing subject which in turn results in a stronger substance, able to take the beating of the world. Hence, such testing “produces patience,” or, more accurately, “perseverance.” How pure and how strong would our faith be without trial? Constant world-comforts often lead us to a  growing complacency and laziness. But God is pleased to refine us, like metal, through the fires of trial. Through these means, He casts our attention upon Him rather than the pleasures of this life. Through trial, He increases our trust and comfort in Him whilst weaning us from our trust and comforts in the world.

What Does Jesus Think About Adultery?

What Does Jesus Think About Adultery?

Our Lord Jesus Christ is the very God who inspired the Mosaic law. Therefore, when in His incarnate state He teaches us the law, His interpretation of it is the full and perfect exposition of the true sense of the law. Remember, Jesus did not come to eradicate the law, but to perfect or complete it. (Matt. 5:17) Christ is the point at which the law finally meets its goal. So, when He apparently sets Himself against the law, we have to remember that He’s not contradicting what He Himself revealed to Moses all those years ago. Instead, He’s teaching the fuller sense of the law, and in the process, He is rebuking and correcting what we might call a Pharisaical “letter of the law onlyism.”

Matthew 5:28 & Our Lord’s Teaching on Adultery

After stating the letter of the law, He says, “But I say to you…” He does not appeal to another authority outside Himself. He does not, as the prophets of old did, begin His message with, “Thus saith the LORD.” He just says, “I say to you.” The Author of the law comes to deliver the law according to its fuller sense.

He internalizes the command forbidding adultery, “whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Just as Jesus forbids soul-murder, (Matt. 5:21-22) here He forbids soul-adultery. We need to make a few observations regarding v. 28. First, what is it to “look at a woman to lust for her”? Second, what forms do this “looking,” and the resulting adultery take? Third, how is this adultery especially present and promoted in our culture today?

What is it to “look at a woman to lust for her”? It is probably necessary to note at the outset that this doesn’t apply to physical, and even sexual attraction, which is good and right. It is right for a man to be sexually attracted to a female, and a female to be sexually attracted to a male so long as that attraction is aimed toward marriage and occurring within the context of marriage. Sexual desire is good when ordered properly. Lust, however, is an inordinate sexual desire out of step with God’s purposes in and for creation.

Frederick Dale Bruner notes how the Christian church has both overreacted and under-reacted to this commandment throughout history. He writes, “The early church in particular tightened Jesus’ Command too intensely as the result of an occasionally dualistic antipathy to sex of to pleasure as sinful…”[1] And this is why forced celibacy of clergy and celibacy in general came to be seen as an exalted Christian virtue whilst marriage was more or less perceived as a necessary evil for those who couldn’t control their sexual desires. But Bruner then notes a more modern interpretation of the text. He goes on to say, “But later a losing occurred under the influence of an increasing secularity, where, for example, some interpreters said that Jesus did not forbid looking to lust at a woman but to lust at someone else’s wife…”[2]

Thus, Jesus’ words came to be understood by the modernist not as an exposition of the seventh commandment, but was limited only to the tenth, which says, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.” (Ex. 20:17) According to this interpretation, lust is perfectly acceptable, so long as it isn’t toward someone else’s wife. But this couldn’t be a more fatal mistake.

The language of the phrase, “look at a woman to lust for her,” is notable. Given the preposition in, “to lust for her,” we might render it, “look at a woman in order to lust for her.” In view here is an extremely foreboding law that condemns the very look, even prior to the formal act of lust. A look that is intended to lust is what is here identified as spiritual adultery according to Christ Himself. A look or a glance ordered to lust is what is what Jesus condemns. And this brings us to the several forms such a look takes.

Forms of “Lustful Looking”

What forms does this “adultery of the eyes” take? Given the all-encompassing nature of the commandment, there is a twofold restriction: First, against lustful intent. And second, against the steps taken in order to lust, i.e., looking, seeing, or viewing. And this means the following are here expressly forbidden and condemned by our Lord:

Perverse thoughts. All sexual thoughts the include non-marital or extra-martial sexual relations of any kind are here forbidden by our Lord.

Looking at someone else with non-marital sexual intent. That glance at that woman or man at the mall, at school, or at work, which has a non-marital sexual character is explicitly declared a sin by our Lord.

Viewing pornography. Men and women are good enough at conjuring up adulterous images in their imaginations apart from pornography, but pornography plays on this already-present sin by adding fuel to the fire. It sets the mind and flesh on fire with an inordinate passion toward another person—not for their personality, not for their value as a human being, but as an object to be used and abused for one’s sexual pleasure. As Bruner puts it, the woman or man in the magazine or on the website “is no longer really a unique human being; she or he is not simply kindling, tinder, a thing; a way for one to enjoy oneself, to express oneself, to feel one’s powers.”

Conclusion

According to Jesus, the very look ordered to the purpose of lust is itself sin. We, of course, are aware of the obvious cases of adultery found in society—extra-marital sex and explicit violations of the marriage covenant by either husbands or wives. But we are less sensitive to those forms of adultery which go unnoticed by other people. Invisible to man, yet visible to God, adultery of the heart—including looking at another person with lustful intent—is less of a concern. Even worse, it’s generally accepted as a cultural norm. Everybody’s doin’ it!

But make no mistake, if imbibed and habitually practiced, apart from the twin graces of faith and repentance in and to Jesus Christ this invisible sin will do two things: It will, first, destroy your soul. And, second, it will eventually manifest itself in outward relationships in a very visible, destructive way. Silent sins eventually become very loud. The bosom sin of internal adultery is a poison that tastes sweet, but nevertheless kills.

Resources:

[1] Frederick Dale Bruner, The Christbook, Vol. I, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1987), 221.

[2] Ibid., 220.

Our Pilgrimage

Our Pilgrimage

When the Bible calls believers “pilgrims,” what does it mean?

A pilgrim, traditionally understood, is a sojourner in a land that is not his own. Usually, this sojourner is a temporary resident in view of traveling to some other destination. And there are three senses in which Christians are pilgrims. They are pilgrims in the world of sin, they are pilgrims on the earth, and they are pilgrims in heaven.

Pilgrims in the World of Sin

Christians are pilgrims in the world of sin simply because the world of sin is not their home. The apostle Peter writes, “Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul…” (1 Pet. 2:11) The world of sin ought to be strange to us and we ought to be strange to it. We are in this world, but should not be of it. (Jn. 17:15) Thus, as good sojourners and ambassadors of our heavenly homeland, we travel through and we travel through as strangers.

Pilgrims On the Earth

The first kind of pilgrimage is uncontroversial. This one, however, may draw some controversy who believe the present earth is our final home. However, Hebrews 11:13 says, “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” The “earth” no doubt refers to the land of Canaan. This statement has a far reaching redemptive significance. But the principle point remains. On a microcosmic scale, Canaan was given to God’s people. It was a good land. On a macrocosmic scale, the entire earth was given to man, and it is a good land. But being a good land doesn’t make it our final land. Canaan was good, but it wasn’t the final resting place of God’s people. It was but a type of something greater. So too does this present earth point beyond itself to something more glorious.

We receive exhortations in places like Colossians 3:2, where Paul writes, “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” We are to look beyond the earth to that which we will receive in Christ which is an heavenly inheritance. There is something yet greater to which we look. Earth is good, but it cannot compare to the glories of heaven.

It is worth noting that this present earth is that on which we are pilgrims. There is going to be a time when Christ judges the inhabitants of the earth, rids it of all wickedness, and brings it into the light of His glory. “For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God.” (Rom. 8:19)

Pilgrims in Heaven

In a special sense, Christians are strangers in heaven… for now. And this is because prior to the resurrection, Christians are in the intermediate state. Though in heaven with God, they yet look to the resurrection when they will be made whole in Christ. Presently, even in heaven, Christians have an eschatology to which they look. This resurrection is what Paul alludes to in 2 Corinthians 5:1, “For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”

Christians in heaven are in the place of their eternal destiny. So they are not strangers in the sense of being in a strange land. Rather, they are pilgrims or strangers with regard to state. Man was made body and soul, and redemption entails the eschatological reunification of soul to body upon the resurrection from the dead, “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” (1 Cor. 15:52)

Divine Immutability According to Scripture

Divine Immutability According to Scripture

One of the clearest texts to teach immutability in Scripture is Malachi 3:6. But it’s probably worth briefly showing how immutability is assumed and found throughout the Scriptures. The first text to teach immutability is Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The Hebrew term for “beginning” (רֵאשִׁית) indicates the first moment of a succession of moments, and in this case, the first moment in the succession of all moments that ever were, are, or will ever be. God gives being to that which accounts for motion in the first place—time, space, and matter. Motion is impossible apart from those three things. And since God created those three things, it must be that He is before all of them, wholly transcendent of them, and thus not subject to them.

The immutable God is declared in the very first verse of Scripture. In Numbers 23:19, we read, “God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoke, and will He not make it good?” Whereas repentance is a change in the intellect and will, we are told here God does not undergo such. And in James 1:17, we are told, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” Francis Turretin tells us that in this text:

Not only change is denied of him, but even the shadow of change, that he may be contrasted with the sun, the fountain of material light, liable to various changes and eclipses by which its light is intercepted. But God, the father of lights, acknowledges no tropics and can be obscured by no clouds since there is nothing to intercept his influence.[1]

In Malachi 3:6, we read, “For I am the LORD, I do not change; Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.” There are four parts to this text: (1) God’s declaration of Himself as YHWH, (2) an inference drawn from what He is, “I do not change,” (3) an application to the created economy, “Therefore you are not consumed,” and (4) the beneficiaries of this unchangeable God’s favor, “O sons of Jacob.”

First, God’s sacred, covenant name, YHWH, is at once a name and a declaration of His own self-existence and independence from the creation. When God manifested His presence at the unburning bush in Exodus 3, He demonstrates His self-existence in that the fire appeared, enveloped the bush, yet did not depend upon the bush for its fuel. It was a picture of the unchanging God uniting the creation to Himself through His grace, but also a reminder that God does not need His creation to be God. Malachi 3:6 is an application of that self-existence in terms of God’s unchangeableness. God is self-existent and is thus unaffected by His creation. Creation does not leave an impression on Him. He does not change. He is sure. He is infinitely stable. Though this world waxes and wanes, though the people plot in vain, God does not change. He is the everlastingly cheerful and blessed God who rules creation. Creation does not rule Him.

Second, because His name implies all of this concerning His nature, He declares it plainly, “I do not change.” He does not say, “I do not change in this or that faculty,” or, “I do not change in this or that sense.” Rather, this is an absolute denial of change in God. The term used for “change” denotes the dying of a cloth. A white cloth may be dyed in several shades and colors of dye such that the cloth becomes different in some way. But, unlike a dyed garment, God does not become other than He is, in any sense. Not even in the sense that God remains God while something changes in Him or about Him. When a cloth is dyed, it remains a cloth even though something about it has changed. Even this kind of change is denied of God in these words.

Third, because of God’s stability and unchangeableness, God’s people are not consumed. God’s promises are only as sure as God Himself. God’s promise of grace and mercy toward His people rests in the cradle of God’s immutable nature. If God’s changed, God’s people would have no assurance of what God said. Furthermore, the whole of the Scriptures could become entirely inaccurate tomorrow. If God could change, what He promises could change too.

Fourth, the people or beneficiaries are God’s covenant people. While God does not change, He can affect change in the creation. He removes kings and sets up kings. (Dan. 2:21) But when paired with His promise to do no such thing, but to maintain His people, a promise which comes only through covenant given to that people, God will no wise change their situation to be other than what He promises through covenant. For example, the world cannot hope for a sure and stable salvation because they do not receive the sure and stable salvation that comes through a sure and stable covenant that comes from a sure and stable God. God can change and abolish covenants, but those changes are not in God, they are in His covenants and in His people. Furthermore, those changes in covenants are according to the terms of the covenants themselves which God promised. So, when the Old Covenant is abolished, according to Hebrews 8:13, it is abolished in accordance with what God had already promised to do, that is, to set up a new covenant in the blood of Christ. (Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8:7-12)

Conclusion

God does not change. While He affects change in His creation, there is yet no change in Him. Though He sets up kings and removes kings, changes the borders  of the nations regularly, brings disasters and prosperity upon God’s people seasonally, yet there is no change in God.

Resources:

[1] Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, vol. I, (Phillipsburg: P & R Publishing, 1992), 205.

Covenant Theology IV | The Covenant of Works

Covenant Theology IV | The Covenant of Works

So far, we’ve addressed exegetical assumptions which lie behind covenant theology in general. These did not get us to the key differences between 1689 federalism and paedobaptist federalism, but they did help us to contrast our hermeneutics with those of Henebury’s. We have also looked, briefly, at the covenant of redemption. In the event Henebury is writing an explainer rather than a critique, his material on the covenant of redemption fell far short on what would have been considered sufficient. He dealt incompletely with his interlocutors and, in doing so, was unable to produce for his readers a clear picture of what the covenant of redemption is along with its exegetical groundwork. I want to be clear, I am not accusing Henebury of purposeful omission. It is just my honest opinion that he lacked thoroughness.

In his fourth and fifth articles he attempts to deal with the covenant of works. I will take this opportunity to address both in one. In his fourth article, he concludes by saying, “I shall continue next time by looking more at what CT’s say about the covenant of works before looking at what the Bible has to say about it.” However, in the fifth installment, there is very little interaction with Scripture. I would urge those reading both his and my posts to pay careful attention to Henebury’s appeal to Scripture, whether there is one, and whether or not such appeals offer exegetical demonstration or are simply claims about what the text says.

An Innovative Hermeneutic

This is as good a time as any to discuss what Henebury calls the “Rules of Affinity.” He calls these rules a “grid of category formulations.” This is fascinating, especially since one of Henebury’s charges against covenant theology is its inherent reliance upon deduction. It’s also interesting for the very fact that it’s apparently brand new. Where are these rules in the history of the church? In the Bible itself? Has the church missed it for 2,000 years? We should exercise extreme caution when it comes to interpretive and theological innovations. Christianity is very old. New is rare, and when something new is discovered, it’s not by a single individual. The Bible was written to the elect (plural), not an elect individual. We must do theology in community for the sake of accountability.

Henebury proposes five a priori categories for guiding the interpretive task. I will not write at length to explain these categories, but they are listed below:

C1: a doctrinal proposition based on a straightforward quotation of Scripture.

 

C2: a proposition based on a strong inference from the witness of several C1 passages combined, thus producing an inevitable doctrinal conclusion.

 

C3: a doctrinal proposition based upon a plausible inference from the shared witness of the cumulative direction of C1 and C2 texts of Scripture.

 

C4: a proposition based on a theological inference usually from another doctrine instead of any plain statement of Scripture.

 

C5: a proposition based on a theological inference which itself based on other theological inferences without reference to plain statements of Scripture.

These categories represent an a priorism in Henebury’s method which, by definition, requires deduction. An a priori category, or assumption, is that which comes prior to conclusions one may hold as a result of said assumption. Furthermore, since Henebury, I believe, has misunderstood the hermeneutical axiom of “good and necessary consequence” (or inference), his (C2) is essentially a restatement of “good and necessary consequence” as it has been historically understood. There isn’t a formal difference between (C2) and the confessional notion of inference. Regardless of this apparent inconsistency, I can appreciate our agreement on this point.

A necessary conclusion is a conclusion which follows necessarily from two or more premises. In this case, the premises would be explicit data points in Scripture necessitating a certain doctrinal conclusion not explicitly stated. This is stronger than plausibility. A plausible conclusion is one that seems reasonable and lacks compelling force. A necessary conclusion is one that follows from premises, and, given the truth of the premises, cannot be false. An example of a doctrine gleaned from good and necessary consequence is the doctrine of the Trinity—that God is one essence subsisting in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We would, hopefully, not venture to say the doctrine of the Trinity is merely plausible, but necessary for a Christian to be, well, a Christian.

My purpose is not to spend too much time here. It is only to once again point out the fact that Henebury has his own a priori assumptions he makes in drawing interpretive conclusions. This, in itself, is not wrong. Again, the question is: Does he make true assumptions? I would say that he does not, for the simple reason that biblical interpretation is not always reducible to plausible conclusions, given the laws of logic and the principle of causality. But this is not the place for a full-blown examination of the “Rules of Affinity.” Moving on.

What Is the Covenant of Works?

Quoting Brown & Keele, Henebury defines the covenant of works as follows, “God’s commitment to give Adam, and his posterity in him, eternal life for obedience or eternal death for disobedience.” He offers a secondary definition from O. Palmer Robertson:

The creation bond between God and man may be discussed in terms of its general and its focal aspects. The general aspect of the covenant of creation [aka “works”] relates to the broader responsibilities of man to his Creator. The focal aspect of the covenant…relates to the more specific responsibility of man arising from the special point of probation or testing instituted by God.

Brown & Keel’s definition is sufficient for our purposes here. In substance, all that is meant by “covenant of works” is the divine imposition of conditions upon man in the garden with blessings for obedience to those conditions and curses for failing to obey. The Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (1677/89) puts it this way, “…God created man upright and perfect, and gave him a righteous law, which had been unto life had he kept it, and threatened death upon the breach thereof…” (2LBCF, 6.1) While there is disagreement as to the nuances of Adam’s eschatology, the definitive core of the covenant of works concerns the above—a law, blessing for obedience, curse for disobedience. This is distinct from the new covenant (covenant of grace) which is not conditioned upon our obedience. Adam broke covenant with God, received the penalty for himself and his posterity. Christ keeps covenant with God, recevies the blessings of obedience for Himself and His posterity (those who are born again).

Is the Covenant of Works Built Upon Mere Conjecture?

While Henebury claims that all this sits upon inference after inference, this is not the case. God certainly does give Adam a law, “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’” (Gen. 2:16-17) The Hebrew term for “command” (swh) is the same term used within the context of the giving of the Mosaic covenant in Exodus 19:7, “So Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before them all these words which the LORD commanded him.” Furthermore, God gives a blessing, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat…” “Every tree” certainly includes the tree of life. God also issues a curse in the event of disobedience, “for in the day that you eat of [the tree of the knowledge of good and evil] you shall surely die.” This is all that is required for a covenant of works in the garden. The curse in Genesis 3 exposes more details about what is entailed here. All men die in Adam; hence, our federal theology. (cf. 1 Cor. 15:22)

Henebury does not interact with any of this. Instead, he says:

As there are zero examples of oaths taken in respect to the covenants of redemption, works, or grace in Scripture, what we have is yet another inference taken from reading the biblical covenants (Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Priestly, Davidic, and New) and supposing that the “covenants” of CT do the same thing as those clear covenants stipulate.

Of course, such a statement takes for granted his very own deduction, namely, that every covenant must include a formal oath given that some covenants in Scripture do. But where does the Bible itself require this of every covenant? We know oath-making is a feature of covenants among men, “For men indeed swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is for them an end of all dispute.” (Heb. 6:16) And we know that God has made a covenant with an oath, “Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath…” (Heb. 6:17) But such an oath was by way of confirmation, something wholly unnecessary for men prior to the fall. For Adam had certain knowledge of God and His will apart from any doubt. He wasn’t in a state of misery rendering him needful of a guarantee, which is the very purpose of oaths in the first place—to offer assurance to the vassal party of the Suzerain’s faithfulness.

In his fifth article, he writes, “In my view the biblical doctrine of the atonement does not require a doctrine of Christ’s ‘active obedience.’ The fact of the matter is that the Bible does not say that Christ’s perfect life atones in any way for either Adam’s sin or for our failure to live righteously.” Depending on how Henebury is using the term “atone,” this statement is disconcerting, and it shows us the consequence of failing to “get the garden right.”[1] If Christ did not live perfectly for us under the law, all humanity is doomed. His active obedience is directly related to our right standing before God. The necessity of Christ’s perfect life lived unto God under the law is made clear in texts like Romans 5:10, “For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” 

One might be tempted here to reduce “life” to Christ’s resurrection. But Christ’s resurrection would be impossible apart from His active obedience. Furthermore, Jesus Himself says, “A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also.” (Jn. 14:19) Here, the verb in the phrase, “Because I live,” is in the present tense. The whole of Christ’s life is here in view, including that which the disciples were then in the process of experiencing prior to His resurrection. 

Philippians 2:8-9 shows us that Christ’s exaltation, of which His resurrection was a part, was the conclusive result of His active and passive obedience, “And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name…” Romans 5:14 explicitly compares Adam with Christ, construing the first Adam as a type, or pattern, of the one who was to come, “Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.” But if Adam is an imperfect pattern of our Lord, then his responsibility before God anticipates the responsibility of Christ before God in the stead of Adam’s sinful posterity. And this just means that getting Adam wrong is to risk getting the gospel itself wrong.

Henebury goes on to say:

As for the biblical merits of the Covenant of Works it has to be said that they are slim. The arguments that are constructed for it out of Scripture and reason are all propounded on the basis of eisegesis. That is to say, the texts of Scripture are not being expounded to see what they say in the places where they say it, but are being located and dug-out of their contexts…

However, if Christ came as the antitypical fulfillment of the first Adam, as Romans 5:14 declares, a covenant of works appears necessary. Christ came to merit the life Adam himself failed to obtain for his posterity. “For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead.” (1 Cor. 15:21)

Conclusion

In light of the above, which is only the tip of the iceberg, I hope it can be seen that the “biblical merits of the Covenant of Works” are anything other than slim. Apart from quoting another author questioning the biblical warrant for a covenant of works in the garden, Henebury never actually interacts with any of the exegesis used in support of the covenant of works from “our side.” To claim the covenant of works is the product of “eisegesis,” Henebury at least needs to show this to be the case. He does not do this. The lack of biblical engagement gives the impression that Henebury effortlessly writes off his interlocutors simply because they disagree with his preconceived system.

Resources

[1] Richard Barcellos, Getting the Garden Right, (Cape Coral: Founders Press, 2021).

Covenant Theology III | The Covenant of Redemption

Covenant Theology III | The Covenant of Redemption

In this installment, I’ll be addressing Henebury’s third article in his series. Therein, he attempts to take on the covenant of redemption. Admittedly, this is a difficult article to interact with because he cites very little from his interlocutors, makes a lot of claims, and then fails to substantiate many of those claims with either circumstantial or exegetical evidence. This may be because Henebury only writes by way of summary and introduction—for those who are not yet familiar with this subject. However, if that were the case, his conclusion says too much:

What ought to be clear here is that the covenant of redemption depends upon assumptions about the salvation of the elect as the one people of God. These assumptions were already in place before the search was made to piece together verses to support it via inferences.

That the covenant of redemption depends upon assumptions is a conclusion that does not follow from the available premises throughout the article. He never actually defines what these assumptions are, much less does he show those assumptions to be false through rational demonstration. He just asserts their presence and opines their insufficiency. That’s not good enough. Henebury’s article tells us much about what the author thinks, but it doesn’t actually succeed in proving anything beyond his own opinion. We must go to the text of Scripture to learn of the covenants of Scripture.

The One People of God?

This issue will be raised again as we continue our interaction. However, Henebury mentions it here, so I will do the same. Quoting W. J. Grier, Henebury writes, “Let us here insist that there was a Church in Old Testament times; and that the Old Testament and New Testament believers form one Church – the same olive tree (Romans 11).” Henebury appears to take issue with this. And while it is true that I and my paedobaptist counterparts would have serious disagreements as to what the above quotation implies, it stands to reason that every Christian should be willing to confess a single people of God. Such is explicit biblical teaching. Ephesians 4:4 states, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling…” And, speaking of the Old Testament saints, “And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.” (Heb. 11:39-40)

Furthermore, the Septuagint (LXX) translates the Hebrew references to Israel as an assembly to ἐκκλησίαν on several occasions, e.g., Deut. 23:1, 3; 1 Kgs. 8:55, etc. This Greek term is often translated to “church” in the New Testament. Thus, linguistically, labeling the people of God under the old covenant a “church” should not be problematic beyond a semantic scruple.

Sometimes, this one people of God is referred to by theologians as “the church under the old covenant,” and the “the church under the new covenant,” respectively. Reasons for this vary. From my perspective as a 1689 federalist, this single people of God refers to the elect through all ages, i.e., under both old and new covenants united by a common faith in a common Messiah. For the paedobaptist federalist, they would view this one people of God externally under both old and new covenants. In other words, regeneration does not determine one’s covenant status so much as their external participation in the ordinances of the covenant do. For them, God’s covenant people are mixed (corpus permixtum), not only under the old covenant, but also under the new—since both are but distinct administrations of the same covenant. More on this later.

As a 1689 federalist, I grant that the church under the old covenant was a mixed body, composed of believer and unbeliever. A major hope of the Old Testament saints was the purification of Israel, a purification that takes place under the new covenant. And this is precisely the reason for the distinctively Baptist doctrine of regenerate church membership. One of the major changes inaugurated by the new covenant was the abolition of unbelieving covenant membership. Under the old covenant, one could be a covenant member by obedience to the external letter of the law. (cf. Gen. 17:14; Ex. 12:15, etc.) Under the new covenant, however, only the regenerate may lay legitimate claim to covenant membership, “No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jer. 31:34) More on this in a later post.

The Covenant of Redemption

The covenant of redemption (pactum salutis) is a controversial doctrine for a number of reasons, but two major points of departure currently come to mind. First, some think the covenant of redemption necessitates a form of process theology. Process theology alleges process, of one kind or other, in the Godhead, e.g., motion, transient passions, time-boundedness, give and take with creatures, etc. Though none of the earlier adherents to the covenant of redemption believed in process theology, they were inconsistent, so it seems, by alleging a covenant transaction in the Godhead prior to creation. A “transaction” in eternity seems like a contradiction to the very idea of that which is eternal. For creatures, transactions are always temporal and transitory. Second, even if some kind of agreement is granted amongst the Persons of the Godhead prior to the foundation of the world, should such an agreement be termed a “covenant”? Many would answer in the negative since a covenant, it is imagined, requires an act of solemnity, such as an oath.

Foregoing a thorough survey of the covenant of redemption as it appears in the literature apart from some very brief quotes by Guy Richard, Richard Belcher, and O. Palmer Robertson, Henebury writes, “We’re not exactly off to a good start.” Why not? Because all these men admit the difficulty of the covenant of redemption and, in Robertson’s case, question the exegetical support. However, reluctance in a theologian is not proof of error in the same. Otherwise, we might as well conclude the same of Henebury’s position, being the self-proclaimed “reluctant dispensationalist” that he is.

Henebury, then, says, “if there is controversy around whether there even was a covenant of redemption before creation got underway, there can hardly be a great expectation of finding exegetical foundations for it in Scripture. Otherwise there would be no dispute.” Controversy, however, does nothing to signify falsehood. For it is the most orthodox and fundamental tenets of the faith that have suffered the most controversy. Trinity, creation, incarnation, and justification are some of the most controversial doctrines among those who call themselves Christians. Yet, such controversy does not, nor should not, erase the objective certainty of these doctrines, without which there is no Christian faith at all.

Moreover, Henebury doesn’t actually engage his interlocutors on their exegetical defense in favor of the covenant of redemption. Instead, he sweeps their work aside as if they had nothing to offer when he says:

So, for instance, in their Introduction to the impressive book Covenant Theology: Biblical, Theological, and Historical Perspectives, the editors, Guy Prentiss Waters, J. Nicholas Reid and John R. Muether, we have a sub-heading which reads, “Covenant Theology is Exegetical” (Covenant Theology, 32). In a big book of well over 600 pages one would expect a lot of exegetical proof for the covenants of redemption, works, and grace. Is that what we get? Sadly, no.

This is a claim that is never substantiated. Henebury is free to believe that his interlocutors are failing to interpret the Bible correctly. But, at minimum, he must attempt a demonstration of why he believes this to be the case.

The book in question begins with a chapter on the covenant of redemption well over twenty pages long. In that single chapter, we find sub-headings such as: “Language of Scripture,” “Dialogues Between Father and Son,” and, “Individual Passages.” In the case of “Language of Scripture,” Guy Richard notes the “sending” and “giving” language in John 5:36, 37. Henebury quotes Richard’s citation of Patrick Gillespie, who says, “Patrick Gillespie argued that agreement is the essential ingredient of all covenants…” But he stops there rather than engaging Richard’s use of Isaiah 28:15, “We have made a covenant with death, And with Sheol we are in agreement.” Commenting on Gillespie’s appeal to this text, Richard notes, “He concluded from this that because the two words occur in parallel, they must be synonymous. This meant that all that was required to prove the existence of a covenant between the Father and the Son was to show that there was an agreement between them.”[1]

Henebury does mention Richard’s appeal to David Dickson and James Durham in their use of John 6:37, asking, “Is there any hint of a covenant in the verse?” This, of course, is a word/concept fallacy. A word/concept fallacy occurs when the concept is reduced to its explicit mention. Some might say that because “Trinity” is nowhere mentioned in the Bible that, therefore, the concept is not present. This is a word/concept fallacy, and it’s fallacious precisely because the technical term doesn’t have to be present for the concept it signifies to be present. John 6:37 reads, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.” The Father gives, the Son receives, the Spirit seals. Of course, trinitarian theology must qualify our notions of sending, receiving, agreement, etc. It is not as if one Person wills one thing and another Person willfully agrees to it. There is but one will in God. Yet, Scripture appropriates the works of God to specific Persons in correspondence to their relations of origin. The Father qua eternal begetter gives the Son a people, the Son qua eternally begotten receives that people, etc. 

At this point, however, there is no reason we shouldn’t think of the covenant of redemption according to minimal facts. According to Richard, a covenant is an agreement. With Gillespie, he appeals to Isaiah 28:15 to justify this definition, and that text does not require the narrow association of “covenant” with a “a solemn act.” Though some covenants take place as solemn acts or oaths, not all covenants do. A confirmatory oath may as well be a revelation to man rather than a necessary feature of all covenants. In other words, an oath is present in covenants made to man because that is how God “stoops” to us, whereas a covenant in the Godhead would not require any stooping whatsoever. Furthermore, if the term “covenant” is just a term that refers to God’s eternal decree specifically as it relates to the trinitarian work of redemption, then there shouldn’t be any substantial issues beyond that of semantic scruples.

There is one last thing I would like to address prior to concluding this article. Henebury registers the use of Psalm 2 in support of a covenant of redemption. He starts by saying, “The psalm does not speak of a covenant, but it does speak of a decree in verse 7. That’s enough if you need to find a covenant of redemption somewhere. Is the decree pretemporal? And is every decree covenantal? An affirmative to those questions reflects guesswork and wishful thinking respectively.” Unfortunately, Henebury doesn’t actually examine the text, and this is per the usual throughout this series. There is little to no exegesis in the articles with which I’m interacting. So, let’s look at Psalm 2:7, “I will declare the decree: The LORD has said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.’”

Now, maybe it’s Henebury’s conscious avoidance of the New Testament use of the Old, but Psalm 2:7 is clearly recapitulated in Hebrews 1:5, and there, it’s explicitly applied to the Son of God, not David. Yet, as Richards notes, Psalm 2 immediately refers to David, “I have set My king on My holy hill of Zion.” This indicates that there is a typological relationship between David and Christ. Hebrews 1:5 invites the reader to consider the “coronation” language of Psalm 2, included in which is the notion of decree, but specifically in relation to the sending and mission of Christ, as v. 8 indicates, “Ask of Me, and I will give You The nations for Your inheritance, And the ends of the earth for Your possession.” It is this mission of Christ that warrants the language of “decretal agreement” or “covenant of redemption,” due to the sending and giving of the Son by the Father for that definitive work of salvation.

Henebury concludes this article speaking of the hermeneutics behind covenant theology, “Such a hermeneutics is utterly foreign to my way of reading, being injected with assumptions about CT rather than listening to the text itself.” We should note, however, that no one arrives at the text as a blank slate. Everyone brings their assumptions, and everyone “injects” something of them into their reading of the Bible. The question is whether or not those assumptions are accurate. Even Henebury himself admits to bringing a distinctively dispensationalist hermeneutic to the text when, in his own bio, he writes:

As far as it goes, my contribution is to offer courses, lectures, seminars, and other materials, and to explore a new and very promising avenue of inquiry – the Biblical Covenants. These covenants can be mined via the dispensationalist hermeneutics to produce far more than they have been made to in the past. Enter “Biblical Covenantalism” (a clumsy phrase coined by yours truly). This method contains hermeneutical, theological and worldview truths which, I think, can really give a shot in the arm to contemporary Dispensationalism.

In spite of his critical observation of assumptions made by covenant theologians, it seems Henebury brings a somewhat voluminous set of assumptions of his own to the text. But are those assumptions true? Perhaps we shall find out as we continue this series.

Conclusion

At this point in his critical analysis, Henebury has not allowed for an impartial presentation of covenant theology by its adherents. They are sparsely quoted, and when they are quoted, Henebury fails to include the relevant context. Not only this, but in an article series concerned with biblical theology, one would expect a fair amount of exegesis in order to introduce biblical defeaters against the position of covenant theology which, we’ve been told, is largely constructed upon conjecture. If the artificial nature of covenant theology were true, Scripture would certainly provide ample exegetical ammunition to the contrary. Yet, throughout Henebury’s series, the text is hardly dealt with at all. Henebury states what he thinks the text means, but he rarely moves to actually substantiate his opinions. I applaud him for his opinionated clarity, but the exegetical theology is simply lacking in this series overall, and this particular post is no exception.

Lastly, lest anyone forget, I have strong disagreement with the paedobaptist version of covenant theology. But, thus far, we’ve largely only dealt with introductory matters. The covenant of redemption is not distinct to paedobaptist covenant theology, but to the orthodoxy of high Calvinism in the post-Reformation era. In other words, these are matters concerning which both Baptists and paedobaptists have historically agreed. In part six, the divergence will become all the more apparent as we begin to talk about the covenant of grace.

Resources

Nicholas Piotrowski, In All the Scriptures: The Three Contexts of Biblical Hermeneutics, (Westmont: IVP Academic, 2021).

[1] Guy Richards, Guy Prentiss Waters, et al, Covenant Theology: Biblical, Theological, and Historical Perspectives, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2020), 46.