The Economy of the Covenants (Witsius)

This is the classic statement of Covenant Theology at the end of the 17th Century.  Witsius steers an irenic course between Voetsius and Cocceius. The first volume deals with Covenant Theology proper while the second volume analyzes the various types and shadows of the Old Testament.

Image result for herman witsius

Generally, covenants signify a mutual agreement between parties, with respect to something (43).  A covenant of God, furthermore, “is an agreement between God and man, about the way of obtaining consumate happiness,” including sanctions (45).  This covenant comprises three things: a) Promise; b) condition; c) sanction.

While it is a free agreement between God and man, man really couldn’t say no.  Not to desire God’s promises is to refuse the goodness of God, which is sin. Witsius views the CoW as probationary, yet Adam wouldn’t have “earned” the reward per any intrinsic merit.  The reward is rooted in God’s covenant, not in man’s merit.

Doctrine of God

God’s knowledge of future things cannot be conceived apart from his decreeing them (141).  The creature acts in concurrence with God’s action. All things come from God. There is only one first cause (I.8.15). If something could act besides having God as its cause, then there would be multiple first Causes, which is polytheism.

God and sin.  If all beings come from God, and even though sin is privation of being, it, too, is a kind of entity, then it also arises from God’s plan (para 22)

Book II.

Chapter 1: Introduction to the Covenant of Grace

Definition: a compact or agreement between God and the elect sinner, God on his part declaring his free good-will concerning eternal salvation, and every thing relative thereto, freely to be given to those in covenant, by, and for the mediator Christ; and man on his part consenting to that goodwill by a sincere faith (2.1.5).

Chapter 2: Of the Covenant between God the Father and Son

The covenant of redemption is between God and the Mediator. The will of the Father, giving the Son to be the Head and Redeemer of the elect; and the will of the Son, presenting himself as a Sponsor or Surety for them (2.2.2). Christ’s suretyship consists in his willingness to undertake to perform that condition (2.2.4).

The exegetical foundation is in Zech. 6.13.  There is a counsel of Peace between God and the Branch.

Covenant and Justification: God the Father, through Christ’s use of the sacraments, sealed the federal promise concerning justification (para 11).  Christ’s baptism illustrates the sealing of the covenant from both sides.

BOOK III

Chapter 1: Of the Covenant of God with the Elect

The contracting parties are God and the elect (281). The son is not only mediator but testator, who ratified the covenant with his death. Are there conditions in the covenant of Grace?  Earlier divines like Rutherford spoke a qualified “yes,” though Witsius removes himself from that language. Condition: that action which gives a man a right to the reward (284).

The Decalogue

The substance of the decalogue is the same as the moral law (p. 165). When God gave the decalogue to Israel, he published some reasons annexed to it that were peculiar to Israel alone (176). There is in some sense a repetition of the Covenant of Works in Sinai (IV.4,47).  However, it was not repeated simpliciter. Carnal Israel embraced it as a covenant of works (Rom. 9.31). Sinai contains no promise of grace.

The Old Covenant

Witsius contrasts the promises made to Abraham with the stipulations of the Sinaitic Covenant. In Sinai God did not promise to give the people a heart to obey (337).  And it is to this covenant, and not to the Abrahamic or Davidic covenants, that God contrasts with the New Covenant.

Conclusion

This is the classic statement.  Witsius gets somewhat speculative in the second volume, but the first volume definitely rewards careful study.

 

Review: John Owen on the Christian Life (Ferguson)

This book is exactly what you would expect from an Owen scholar writing on John Owen.  It is clear and rarely goes off rabbit-trails.  While it is old in some ways, and not every locus of systematic theology gets treated, a careful study of this work will repay pastoral ministry.

Ferguson begins with Owen’s covenant theology.  It seems, surprisingly, that Owen held to something like a “works-principle” in Sinai.  Covenant of Sinai: sometimes referred to as Old Covenant. Owen is aware of the tensions in saying that all covenants are administrations of the Covenant of Grace. Under the covenant of grace, yet in some way there were principles of the Covenant of Works (JO: 19:389). Sinai can’t simply be Covenant of Grace because of the sharp contrasts between “a better covenant.”

Covenant theology allows Ferguson to draw several inferences on soteriology: Union with Christ: the work of grace–”same instant wherein anyone is united unto Christ, and by the same act whereby he is so united, he is really and habitually purified and sanctified” (JO: 3.517). Effectual calling takes place in Christ, is an act of God the Father (JO: 20: 498), and binds the believer by the indwelling of the spirit (JO: 21:147). Effectual calling produces a change in both status (justification) and life (sanctification), yet it does not identity the two.

Sanctification is the pinnacle of this volume. Structure of sanctification.  The work of grace produces the exercise of duty (Ferguson 55). Owen gives a long definition in JO 3.369-370. In one sense it is an immediate work on believers, since it flows from regeneration and from our Head, yet it is also a process (56). The Lord Jesus is the Head from whom all gifts flow, yet the Spirit is the efficient cause who communicates them to us (Ferguson 58).

Very thorough chapter on Assurance and why the believer may experience varying degrees of it.  This lets Owen talk about the sealing of the Holy Spirit.  Owen: “No special act of the Spirit, but only in an especial effect of his communication unto us” (JO 4:400). He seals the believer by his personal indwelling, but there are no rules as to how/when the believer may recognize it.

With the volumes numerous quotations from Owen, from almost all of his works, we recommend this as a handy guidebook to navigating Owen.

 

Witsius, Notes: Vol 1

This is mainly Books 1-3 of The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man (Reformation Heritage reprint)Image result for herman witsius economy of the covenants

Book 1

Chapter 1: Covenants in General

Generally, covenants signify a mutual agreement between parties, with respect to something (43).  A covenant of God, furthermore, “is an agreement between God and man, about the way of obtaining consummate happiness,” including sanctions (45).  This covenant comprises three things: a) Promise; b) condition; c) sanction.

While it is a free agreement between God and man, man really couldn’t say no.  Not to desire God’s promises is to refuse the goodness of God, which is sin.

Covenant of Works: in the covenant of works there is no mediator (49).

Chapter 2: Of the contracting parties of the covenant of works

The CoW = natural law = covenant of nature (50).  Witsius notes that there was supernatural revelation in this covenant (53).

Image of God

The imago dei has knowledge, righteousness, and holiness (54).

Chapter 3: Of the Law, or Condition, of the Covenant of Works

The law of nature: the rule of good and evil inscribed on man’s conscience.  Further, it is identical with the substance of the decalogue (62).

Witsius views the CoW as probationary, yet Adam wouldn’t have “earned” the reward per any intrinsic merit.  The reward is rooted in God’s covenant, not in man’s merit.

Chapter 4: Of the Promises of the Covenant of Works

Man’s natural conscience teaches him that God desires not to be served in vain (71).

Chapter 5: Of the Penal Sanction

Nature of the soul: a spiritual substance endowed with understanding and will (89).  Witsius notes that the soul is conscious of itself, which modern philosophers like JP Moreland call “self-presenting.”

Aquinas and the majesty of God: Adam’s disobedience, no matter how small, is divine treason–it is not honoring and infinite majesty as it deserves. God’s holiness is such that he cannot admit a sinner to communion without satisfaction first made to his justice (94).

Chapter 7: Of the First Sabbath

Contra Turretin, Witsius doesn’t think Adam fell on the first day (126).

Chapter 8: Of the Violation of the Covenant of Works on the Part of Man

Witsius suggests that Satan’s suggestion to Eve that she can disobey God and not die, which is a venial sin, is functionally equivalent to Rome’s definition of venial sin (138).

Foreknowledge and Predestination: God’s knowledge of future things cannot be conceived apart from his decreeing them (141).  The creature acts in concurrence with God’s action. All things come from God. There is only one first cause (I.8.15). If something could act besides having God as its cause, then there would be multiple first Causes, which is polytheism.

God and sin.  If all beings come from God, and even though sin is privation of being, it, too, is a kind of entity, then it also arises from God’s plan (para 22).

Chapter 9: Of the Abrogation of the Covenant of Works

The covenant of law demands a merit of perfect obedience, otherwise Christ would have been under no necessity to submit to this covenant (158).

Book II.

Chapter 1: Introduction to the Covenant of Grace

Definition: a compact or agreement between God and the elect sinner, God on his part declaring his free good-will concerning eternal salvation, and every thing relative thereto, freely to be given to those in covenant, by, and for the mediator Christ; and man on his part consenting to that goodwill by a sincere faith (2.1.5).

Chapter 2: Of the Covenant between God the Father and Son

The covenant of redemption is between God and the Mediator. The will of the Father, giving the Son to be the Head and Redeemer of the elect; and the will of the Son, presenting himself as a Sponsor or Surety for them (2.2.2). Christ’s suretyship consists in his willingness to undertake to perform that condition (2.2.4).

The exegetical foundation is in Zech. 6.13.  There is a counsel of Peace between God and the Branch. 

Covenant and Justification: God the Father, through Christ’s use of the sacraments, sealed the federal promise concerning justification (para 11).  Christ’s baptism illustrates the sealing of the covenant from both sides.

Chapter 3: The nature of the covenant between the Father and the Son more fully explained

Lines of argument:  Christ was foreordained (1 Peter i.20).

Rejects the idea of liberty of will = indifference (p. 187).

The reward the Son was to obtain:

  1. Highest degree of glory (John 17.1).
  2. Christ’s obedience is the cause of the rewards.

Chapter 4: Of the Person of the Surety

4 things necessary for a surety: true man;  holy man; true God; unity of person.

Chapter 7: Of the Efficacy of Christ’s Satisfaction

The proximate effect of redemption and payment of ransom is setting the captives free, and not a bare possibility of liberty (235).

Chapter 9: Of the Persons for whom Christ engaged and satisfied

Key point: those “all for whom” (2 Cor. 5.15) Christ died are those who are also dead to the old man (257).

Chapter 10: After What manner Christ used the sacraments

Key point: Christ used the sacraments of the old covenant to show them as signs and seals of the covenant, whereby mutual contracting parties are sealed (273). The promsies made to Christ as mediator were principally sealed to him by the sacraments.

BOOK III

Chapter 1: Of the Covenant of God with the Elect

The contracting parties are God and the elect (281). The son is not only mediator but testator, who ratified the covenant with his death. Are there conditions in the covenant of Grace?  Earlier divines like Rutherford spoke a qualified “yes,” though Witsius removes himself from that language. Condition: that action which gives a man a right to the reward (284).

Chapter 12: Sanctification

Witsius gives a warm and pastoral chapter on mortifying the flesh.

Concerning body, soul, spirit:

  1. Spirit is the mind, or the leading faculty of man (II.17).
  2. Soul denotes the inferior faculties.
  3. Yet spirit and soul aren’t two different substances.

God is the author and the efficient cause of sanctification (18).

Chapter 13: Of Conservation, or the manner by which God preserves us

God conserves us internally by the Spirit and externally by the means he hath appointed (55).  This is otherwise known as “P” in the unfortunately-named “TULIP.” Our security is guaranteed because of God’s covenant, not only with us, but between the members of the Trinity (62ff).

Chapter 14: Of Glorification

Df. = that act of God whereby he translates his chosen and redeemed people to the next life.

Nature of the Soul

The soul must continue after death because the righteous who die in the Lord are considered “blessed,” yet how can someone be blessed without knowledge or feeling?

Paradise and the thief on the cross:

It makes no sense to say that the “today, I say to you” refers to when Christ spoke.  The thief already knows that Christ is speaking on that day (p. 95). The thief was asking a “when” question, and Christ gives him a “when” answer.

 

An old Covenant of Works precis

This is from my covenant theology class at RTS.  Sure, I was confused, but that’s also because no one on either side really knew what was going on.

Jacob Aitken
Covenant Theology
Professor Ligon Duncan
2 March 2006

Covenant of Works Precis

I. It is important, before exploring the covenant of works, to have a definition of what a covenant is.

A. God’s covenant with man is a bond in blood, sovereignly administered by God                 (this is Palmer Robertson’s definition, which I now reject.  A number of covenants                are not dealt with in blood.)
1. There is a difference in creation between God and man, known as the C                               reator-creature distinction.
2. Therefore, it is God and not man who sets the terms of the covenant.
B. It calls for faith in his promises and obedience to his commands (I got in                                  trouble      for this line because the pre-fall covenant was seen to be strictly                           law,          no faith).
II. God entered into a covenant with Adam in Eden, before the Fall.
A. Although the word is not there, it has a covenantal format and the doctrine                           can be deduced from other scriptural passages.
1. Hos. 6:7 speaks of a covenant broken with respect to Adam.
B. Adam’s position in the covenant was federal.
1. Adam represented the whole of humanity.
2. This is key to maintaining the Adam-Christ parallel.
a. Rom. 5:12ff. and 2 Cor.5:14ff. speak of Christ paralleling
Adam’s work and triumphing where Adam failed.
b. Christ is the new humanity, the greater and greatest Adam.

                 C. The covenant was eschatological in design.
1. Adam’s state was probationary.
2. While created very good, he was not created “ultimately perfect” and
his state by definition pointed to another Adam.

a. This does not prove conclusively that Christ would have come
into the world regardless of Adam’s obedience in the garden.
b. It does suggest that Adam’s condition was temporary.
c. Beyond that, however, one cannot reasonably speculate.
III. The covenant in the garden, while one of works, was gracious as well.
A. The terminology of works, while not the most accurate, does clearly guard the
work of Christ and his relation to Adam and the believer’s relation to Christ.
1. With Herman Bavinck one will state that the covenant was one of
works, but it was also non-meritorious in nature: it is a gracious
covenant as well (Reformed Dogmatics vol. 2, 572).
2. Adam’s condition was gracious in a sense in that he was blessed by
God, set forth in a proto-paradise, and given a companion for love and
for help.
3. Yet this gracious existence was conditional upon Adam’s obedience.
B. The Covenant of Works, if gracious in one sense, therefore implies continuity between the
testaments, given the obvious fact that the New Covenant was gracious as well.
1. Scripture speaks repeatedly of an eternal covenant.
2. God has always had one plan of redemption for his people.
3. However, there are differing degrees of administration in these plans.
a. In this case, the CoW is still in effect. It has been executed by Christ.
b. Believers, however, do not relate to God by works, but by faith.
C. Christ, however, given the CoW schema, operates and executes the eternal
covenant on the basis of works: His active obedience undoes the Curse of
Adam.

Sources used:
Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics volume 2: God and Creation
Peter Lillback, The Binding of God.
Rowland Ward, God and Adam.