We All Have Our Types

We All Have Our Types

In a previous post, I offered three clarifications about historical Particular Baptist covenant theology as a response to Dr. R. Scott Clark’s post dealing with the same matters. Dr. Clark posted a second article continuing the dialogue, and I found it to be a helpful article in that it mined down deeper and thus portrayed more precisely, I think, the details and differences of the parties referenced here (Particular Baptists and the broad Reformed tradition).

Since I am the primary pen being referenced in Dr. Clark’s post, I thought it would be helpful to continue this discussion in an attempt to further the cause of mutual understanding.

Before I quote and respond to a few pieces of Dr. Clark’s recent post, I want to propose to the reader, whether a proponent or opponent of Particular Baptist covenant theology, two things for their consideration before and during discussing or debating these issues.

First, covenant theology, whether considered exegetically or historical-theologically, defies simplification and summary. It deals with, necessarily and unavoidably, the forest and the trees. It covers the entire Bible. Its scope is all of redemptive history. It seeks to explain the purpose of all God’s actions. It is a subject that requires micro and macroscopic perspectives. Not only is this true in the case of studying covenant theology exegetically, but when one adds to this the history of the church’s attempts to handle the subject, i.e., historical theology, the plot thickens considerably. It is therefore a subject whose grammar and vocabulary must be sufficient for the task of dealing with trees and forests. One must exercise great caution and patience in studying a subject of such a scope. And it is therefore a subject not well suited for Twitter, Facebook, and Blogs (like this one).

Second, the Disciples/Apostles got this wrong at first and for some time after the ascension and Pentecost. The Jews got this wrong. Many early Christians got this wrong, provoking church councils and many apostolic epistles in our New Testaments. The Reformed tradition has a great deal of diversity on how the pieces fit together (without denying considerable unity in parts of the subject as well). Tread lightly. Take your time. Don’t be in a rush. Don’t go to war in your first year of marriage.

Now, on to an attempt to offer brief responses of a clarifying nature.

Dr. Clark said,

the PBs do not envision the same sort of administration of spiritual benefits through the external administration of the types and shadows, the various Old Testament administrations of the covenant of grace as the Reformed understand things.

Similarly,

that reception [of the benefits of Christ] has little to do with the actual, external, historical administration of the covenant of grace through types and shadows. For them, the substance of the covenant grace is not the divine promise to be a God to us and to our children but only Christ

As a Particular Baptist, I find these words somewhat confusing. Let me offer the reply, then the explanation. The reply is that we believe that the benefits of Christ are made known and received specifically through the types and shadows. How else were they revealed, received, and enjoyed if not through the Israelite system? So to say “the PBs do not envision the same sort of administration of spiritual benefits through the external administration of the types and shadows” does not fit right, to me.

What’s the explanation? It has to do with one’s view of typology. Particular Baptists believe that types and antitypes are two different, but related, things. God tells us in Hebrews 10:1-4,

1 For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. 2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? 3 But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. 4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Animal sacrifices are not the blood of Christ and cannot take away sin. But they do teach God’s people about penal substitutionary atonement. And they do make the people long for a more perfect sacrifice by reminding the participants of their sin, i.e., not cleansing their consciences. So then, the animal sacrifice is not the substance of the covenant of grace. It is not the sacrifice of Christ. But it reveals the sacrifice of Christ. And the people of God, combining this with other revelation in other types and shadows trusted in a sacrifice not-yet-offered for them, and enjoyed its conscience-cleansing benefits through the animal sacrifices but not by the animal sacrifices. These verses were what convinced John Owen that the old covenant was not the new covenant, in substance. A covenant that does not take away sins is not the covenant of grace, however much it subserves the covenant of grace.

Furthermore, not only are types not antitypes, but types had their own particular meaning and function in their own original context. When ceremonially unclean, animal sacrifices really and truly restored you to holiness, an outward holiness granted by the old covenant. To skip this initial meaning of a type and jump straight to the revealed antitype is to flatten out typology and transform the old covenant into the new in an unbiblical way. When typology is flattened into outward differences alone, accidental difference, it paves the way for the importation of old covenant practices and details into the new, such as the use of circumcision to justify paedobaptistm. The new is merely the old renewed.

Particular Baptists treat all types the same way (well I do, anyway, and the 17th-century PBs did). Types are not their antitypes. They cannot be their antitypes. They are not the antitypes in a lesser form. They are not the antitypes in an older version. They are not the antitypes in a different outward arrangement. But types are never not types. They exist to reveal antitypes. Though the old covenant can never be the new covenant, it can never stop revealing the new covenant, either.

So then, when Dr. Clark speaks of the external administration of the covenant of grace, we look at typology as the Bible defines it and we say that what he and others call the old external administration of the covenant of grace was actually a distinct but subservient covenant, the old covenant. And yet, because of typological subservience, we agree that the same benefits of the one covenant of grace were revealed, received, and enjoyed by OT saints through the old covenant, but not by the old covenant.

And for this reason I do not recognize this statement, quoted before, “reception [of the benefits of Christ] has little to do with the actual, external, historical administration of the covenant of grace through types and shadows.” It has everything to do with that. But types are not antitypes. Goat and bull blood is not the blood of the Son of God.

Typology deserves and demands a much more detailed treatment. But alas, we are currently trapped in blogland. Moving on, Dr. Clark says,

There is not a single Reformed theologian of whom I am aware, certainly not in the classical (confessional) period, who affirm the doctrine that there is a substantial difference between the New Covenant and the covenant of grace as administered in Old Testament types and shadows.

This brush is too broad to be helpful in this case. Why? First, there were (and are) many Reformed theologians who affirmed that there is a substantial difference between the new covenant and the Mosaic covenant. So then, the “not a single Reformed theologian” language is a cloak covering an inconvenient diversity. Granted, I am likewise not aware of Reformed theologians who affirmed that the new covenant is distinct from the Abrahamic covenant in substance. But that is quite different from the language used above. Second, the language is unhelpful in that it seems to imply that Particular Baptists believed in a substantial difference between the new covenant and the covenant of grace in the old testament. That just wouldn’t make sense. So then, while the language sets out to portray two distinct parties, neither description really fits as far as I can see.

Dr. Clark says,

So here is a difference between the PB and the Reformed. For the PBs, the OT covenants are not the covenants of grace as much as they are witnesses to the covenant of grace. For the Reformed the OT covenants are earthly, historical, real, external, administrations of the one covenant of grace through types and shadows. Through those administrations God the Spirit gave more than “external and typical” (typological) blessings. God the Spirit was sovereignly operating within his people through the sacrifices, through the ceremonies, through the prophetic Word, to bring the elect to new life and to true faith in Jesus the Messiah. This is our understanding of Hebrews 11 when it says that Moses preferred Christ—not typical and external blessings—to the riches of Egypt (Heb 11:24–26). Abraham was looking for a city whose builder and maker is God (Heb 11:10). Had he wanted “earthly and typical” blessings, he could have had them.

My explanation of typology above applies to these comments. So all I want to say here is that it seems odd to me to state the Reformed view of the OT saints’ enjoyment of the benefits of Christ as though that is somehow different or distinct from the Particular Baptists’. There is no difference on that point, as mentioned in my previous post and above in this post. So, to raise it as an apparent difference sends strange signals that will likely be interpreted wrongly by those who see the post as a critique of Baptists and the operative differences between us.

Dr. Clark says,

For the Reformed the OT covenants were more than witnesses to and revelations of the covenant of grace, they were administrations of the substance of the covenant: “I will be a God to you and to your children,” the fulfillment of which was Christ, in whom all the promises of God are yes and amen (2 Cor 1:20).

Here is a difference between us is in regard to identifying and defining the substance of the covenant. Insofar as the substance of the covenant of grace is defined as “I will be a God to you and your children” we disagree strongly (and I would argue that this definition does not represent the fullness of Reformed covenant theology). The substance of the covenant of grace is “I will remember your sins no more.”

In conclusion, there is a need for more work on both sides, especially in being slow to speak and quick to listen. Particular Baptists need to publish more literature in exegetical theology and historical theology. Paedobaptists need to read that literature as we read theirs. And both sides need to pursue verity more than victory.

Henry Ainsworth, The Confession of Faith, Final Page

As a student of the debate in the seventeenth-century, I lament the divide. Whenever I hear of someone moving from one side to the other, I am sad the divide exists. There can be no victory parade when brethren are the “enemies.” Woe is me, woe is us. Thomas Manton remains quotably helpful.

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Soft Rain on Tender Grass

Soft Rain on Tender Grass

In a recent blog post that introduces a forthcoming series of posts on the relationship of the Second London Baptist Confession (1677 2LCF) to the recovery of Reformed confessionalism (if I understand the purpose correctly), Dr. R. Scott Clark raises the issue of covenant theology as a significant topic to be addressed in this discussion. He is certainly right to raise this issue, and it is worth investigation and further interaction. I had no part in the “friendly dialogue” to which Dr. Clark refers, so my comments should not be regarded as participating in or being privy to its content.

I’d like to offer three corrections of a clarifying nature to help those who desire sincerely to think through these issues. The first is historical, the second is theological, the third is historical-theological.

First, historical clarification:

This is not especially important, but I’ve seen it happen here and there. The post uses the date 1688 for Nehemiah Coxe’s death. Nehemiah Coxe died 5 May 1689. His second son died in 1688 and Nehemiah has been associated incorrectly with this date through internet resources.

Second, theological clarification:

Dr. Clark refers to modern inheritors of the 1677 2LCF as PB’s and speaks of their covenant theology. I assume that the 1689 Federalism project and Pascal Denault’s book are in view here. Perhaps more. While I will be quick to say that many should stop debating these topics because there is a need for more care and precision in articulating certain truths, and Baptists have often not helped themselves by diving headlong into this discussion with only an introduction to it, yet sufficient material has been articulated that some of Dr. Clark’s statements should appear to the reader to express Baptist views in a way that we would consider misrepresentation. I am not making an accusation of intentional misrepresentation. That is sin. I am saying that Dr. Clark’s comments need to be clarified for the sake of those that would consider them to be an accurate representation of PB (to use Dr. Clark’s term) covenant theology.

There are two statements I have in view:

“the covenant of grace was promised to Adam et al. but it was not actually administered under the types and shadows.” “The covenant of grace only enters history in the New Covenant.”

The problem underlying this misunderstanding and misrepresentation does not originate with Dr. Clark at all. It is the problem of the very language used in these debates, and it has been a problem ever since the debates began. The problem is the language of substance and administration.

To administer, in a covenantal context, can refer to receiving benefits, or it can refer to outward ordinances. The Particular Baptists of the seventeenth century, and the inheritors of their covenant theology today, affirm that the benefits of the covenant of grace, i.e., the substance, were appropriated by the elect in the Old Testament as they were made known in promises and types. In this sense, the Particular Baptists affirm that the substance of the covenant of grace was administered to the elect. And because of this, to say that PBs of then or now believe that the covenant of grace “was not actually administered” in the Old Testament is incorrect and takes the discussion in an extremely unhelpful, and I dare say heavily prejudiced, direction.

The promise of salvation in Christ is carried along throughout the Old Testament, a promise of a future deliverance that is not established in history until the death of Christ and the inauguration of the new covenant. This is a way of thinking and teaching in no way particular to Baptists. John Ball, following John Cameron, distinguished the covenant of grace into a pre-Messianic covenant of promise, and a post-Messianic covenant of promulgation, i.e., legal enactment.

The difference, and difficulty, arises when we discuss administration in the sense of ordinances. Were the ordinances of the Abrahamic covenant and Mosaic covenant the ordinances of the covenant of grace in older forms, or were they ordinances of covenants distinct from, yet subservient to and revelatory of, the covenant of grace? Because the Particular Baptists denied that the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants were the covenant of grace, they denied that they were administrations, i.e., an older form of ordinances, of the covenant of grace. But they did not deny that those covenants administered the grace of the new covenant.

The grand difference was so wonderfully summarized by John Owen in his discussion of the Mosaic covenant. Saints were saved under, not by, the old covenant. Owen distinguished via typology between the earthly old covenant with its ordinances, and the antitypical  new covenant realities to which those ordinances and promises pointed. The uniqueness of the Particular Baptists was to apply the same hermeneutics to the Abrahamic covenant. The earthly ordinances and promises pointed to antitypical realities. So the Abrahamic covenant itself is not the covenant of grace, nor is it an outward administration of the covenant of grace, yet by typology it inwardly administered the grace of the new covenant. Saints were saved under, not by the Abrahamic covenant.

Paul’s repeated arguments in the New Testament are that the new covenant was not a plan B, or a new direction, but had been made known and was always the intended destination of the Israelite covenants. Paul doesn’t tell the Galatians that the entire nation of the Jews were in the covenant of saving grace the whole time and they just didn’t know it. He tells the Galatians that the covenant of grace was present the whole time in the promises of Christ, and those who believe in Christ as Abraham did, in all ages, are the children of Abraham’s faith, born from above, the free citizens of Heaven, belonging to Christ and his new covenant. And any Jew that tries to make the old covenant something other than that which points to Christ is not truly Jewish in that sense.

To put it awkwardly, types are never not types. In other words, the Old Testament covenants may be regarded rightly as earthly in and of themselves, but they can never be regarded as divested of new covenant relation and meaning. They never existed apart from the ultimate intent to unite all peoples in one new covenant under Christ. They were designed to bring about the Christ and make his mission visible and legible! They were designed to bring about the blessing for all nations. But it was only by faith that they, then or now, would ever belong to Christ and his covenant. The purpose of the old covenant was to bring about the new covenant. But subservience is not identity.

My desire is not to prolong or provoke a discussion on these points, but to clarify the PB position and alert the reader to issues in Dr. Clark’s representation of it.

Did/do the PBs believe that the grace of the new covenant was administered under the old covenant(s) but not by the old covenant(s)? Yes.

Did/do the PBs believe that the old covenant(s) were older outward forms (an old administration) of the covenant of grace? No.

Third, historical-theological clarification:

Dr. Clark states,

“Our Baptist friends did not and do not share the Reformed way of reading Scripture (hermeneutics).”

While it is certainly true that the Particular Baptists’ view of the Abrahamic covenant distinguished them from their paedobaptist brethren (that is the fundamental difference, after all), in order to say things like Dr. Clark has, one must first appreciate the unity and diversity of Reformed covenant theology itself, then second understand the Particular Baptists historical and theological relation to that unity and diversity, in order to third make an informed statement about these complicated relationships.

Obviously, blog posts are not ideal places for such work. My recent book deals with this subject at length. Nevertheless, I want to alert the reader to the fact that the picture presented by Dr. Clark of the unity of Reformed covenant theology does not address its diversity, and it is precisely within the context of the unity and the diversity that the relation of the Particular Baptists to the Reformed tradition is clarified.

Rather than get into that content here, I simply want to say that apart from serious engagement with the breadth of Particular Baptist seventeenth-century literature (beyond just Nehemiah Coxe), and apart from citation of actual sources, one should postpone all judgments on others’ historical-theological descriptions of the Particular Baptists. Keep asking, “can you show this to me from the sources?”

Conclusion:

I am glad that these discussions are happening. And I am hopeful for future mutual understanding and iron-sharpening. I’ll conclude with an exhortation to us all from Thomas Manton:

Thomas Manton, Words of Peace, 35