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Frequently Asked Questions
1689 Federalism Go To Top
What Covenant did Christ fulfill?
The law of God (moral law) itself is not a covenant of works. It is the standard for all image bearers (servants), but there is no reward offered for obedience (Luke 17:7-10). Because it is the standard of all image bearers, it is included in every covenant that God makes with men. However, the role the law plays is determined by the particular covenant stipulations.
In the Adamic Covenant, God adds the promise of eternal rest for Adam's obedience, turning the law into a covenant of works (Rom 4:4, LBCF 7.1, 19.6).
The Old Covenant also contained the moral law, as all covenants do. Its terms were similar to the Adamic Covenant, but different. It gave the law as a covenant of works (Rom 4:4, Lev 18:5) but the reward was temporal life and blessing in Canaan. In this sense, it served as a reminder of the Adamic Covenant of Works, but it was not itself the Adamic Covenant of Works.
The New Covenant is the outworking of the Covenant of Redemption in time, and thus it is Christ's Covenant of Works. The moral law was part of this covenant as well. It was given to Christ as a covenant of works, along with the added stipulation of bearing the wrath of his people, with the promised reward being a heavenly inheritance and a people (John 6:38, etc).
In that way we can clearly articulate what reward is in question and how typology relates.
We can also see that as Christians are still image bearers, we are still obligated to obey the moral law, but not as a covenant of works (LBCF 19.6). When Paul speaks of not being under the law but under grace he is referring to the law as a covenant of works, from which we are freed by the life and death of Christ for us.
For more, see Republication, the Mosaic Covenant, and Eternal Life
Does the 2nd London Baptist Confession only permit 1689 Federalism?
No. 1689 Federalism is a view of covenant theology (distinguished by its belief that the old and new covenants differ in substance and that only the new covenant is the covenant of grace) that was held by the vast majority of particular baptists in the 17th century. It accounts for the change in language found in the 2nd London Baptist Confession with regards to covenant theology (in comparison to the WCF). However, this new language was written broadly enough to allow a variety of views to equally confess it. The label "1689 Federalism" is not intended to suggest that no other view is permissible amongst confessional baptists.
For more on this, please see these helpful posts from Samuel Renihan:
4. The confession declines to confess the Westminster model of one covenant of grace under two/multiple administrations, when in the preface it is stated that the same words will be used where agreement exists. It does not teach, employ, or endorse this distinction anywhere else in the confession.
5. The confession does not state a difference of substance between the old and new. While that is the best explanation for the changes from WCF 7 to LBCF 7, it is not explicitly asserted.
6. While the confession positively supports that notion (that the old and new differ in substance), it is probable that it also remains broad enough to accommodate some of the variety within Particular Baptist federal thought.
7. From my reading, the majority opinion of the Particular Baptists was a self-conscious rejection of the Westminster model. And in my opinion, making a Baptist argument within the Westminster Paedobaptist framework is fraught with problems, nor does it take advantage of the rich heritage that our forefathers left us in their writings on this topic.
Is 1689 Federalism compatible with Theonomy?
How do you explain the Olive Tree (Romans 11:16-24)?
Romans 11:16-24 describes a one-time event in redemptive history. Abraham is the root and Israel (not "the visible church") is the tree. At the coming of Christ, the nation of Israel (typical) was cut off for violating the Old Covenant. The branches that remained were the remnant, the true Israel of God/the Church (anti-typical), to which Gentiles were added through faith alone. Abraham had two seeds: carnal and spiritual. They are both represented as Israel, the Olive Tree.
For a full explanation, see: The Olive Tree
Do you deny the visible/invisible church distinction?
No. Chapter 26 of the 2nd London Baptist Confession states:
1._____ The catholic or universal church, which (with respect to the internal work of the Spirit and truth of grace) may be called invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ, the head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.
( Hebrews 12:23; Colossians 1:18; Ephesians 1:10, 22, 23;Ephesians 5:23, 27, 32 )
2._____ All persons throughout the world, professing the faith of the gospel, and obedience unto God by Christ according unto it, not destroying their own profession by any errors everting the foundation, or unholiness of conversation, are and may be called visible saints; and of such ought all particular congregations to be constituted.
( 1 Corinthians 1:2; Acts 11:26; Romans 1:7; Ephesians 1:20-22 )
3._____ The purest churches under heaven are subject to mixture and error; and some have so degenerated as to become no churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan; nevertheless Christ always hath had, and ever shall have a kingdom in this world, to the end thereof, of such as believe in him, and make profession of his name.
( 1 Corinthians 5; Revelation 2; Revelation 3; Revelation 18:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:11, 12;Matthew 16:18; Psalms 72:17;Psalm 102:28; Revelation 12:17 )
The difference in our understanding of the visible church is that we make a distinction between de jure and de facto membership. To understand this distinction, please see Church Membership: De Jure or De Facto?
Was the Mosaic Covenant THE Covenant of Works?
However one views the Mosaic Covenant, it cannot be a republication of the Covenant of Works as it stood with Adam. This is so for at least two reasons: first, Adam was sinless; and second, Adam represented others. Israel was neither sinless nor representative of others. So if we view the Mosaic Covenant as republishing something of the Covenant of Works, it cannot be the essence and substance of that covenant on its original terms. It may be (and I think it is) a republication of certain principles of the original Covenant of Works, but for different purposes than initially given.
While holding that the Mosaic Covenant was a covenant of works, meaning it operated upon the works principle, 17th century particular baptists varied on what reward was offered by the Mosaic Covenant. Nehemiah Coxe agreed with John Owen that the Mosaic Covenant was only about temporal life in the land of Canaan, not eternal life. This is the view articulated in the videos on this site. Others said it potentially offered eternal life for perfect obedience. This is the view articulated by Jeffery Johnson.
For much more on this question, including extensive interaction between these two views by modern proponents, please see Republication, the Mosaic Covenant, and Eternal Life
What about the apostasy passages? (Hebrews 10, John 15, etc)
Paedobaptists often appeal to various "apostasy passages" as final proof that the new covenant/covenant of grace contains reprobate members who can be cut off. The important thing to note is that these passages do not teach a two-sided dual-sanction covenant of grace. Rather, paedobaptists arrive at such a view of the covenant of grace from their belief that the Mosaic covenant was the covenant of grace, and then import such a view into these passages. They believe such a view is the only way to make sense of Hebrews 10:29 and John 15:1-6, but it is important to recognize that view of the covenant of grace is brought to those texts, not derived from them.
For a 1689 Federalism understanding of the texts in question, please see:
Is the Covenant Theology of the 1689 Confession Substantially Different from the 1644/46?
[T]he writings of the men who published the First London Confession demonstrate that they were committed to the same kind of Covenant Theology that is more explicitly articulated in the Second London Confession. John Spilsbury, sometimes suggested as the author of the First Confession, writing in his 1643 book A Treatise Concerning the Lawful Subject of Baptisme, said on the very first page of the text, “As the Scriptures being a perfect rule of all things, both for faith and order; this I confesse is a truth. And for the just and true consequence of Scripture, I doe not deny; and the covenant of life lying between God and Christ for all his elect, I doe not oppose: and that the outward profession of the said Covenant, hath differed under severall Periods, I shall not deny.”
Though the word “covenant” is not used extensively in the  document, the concept is at the very root of the theology described. After an introductory paragraph and several important statements about God, his purposes in the world, and the centrality of Scripture, paragraph x explicitly introduces the language of “covenant.” We are told that Jesus Christ (who is the theme of Scripture, paragraphs viii and ix) is the “mediator of the new Covenant, even the everlasting covenant of grace.
Covenant Theology in the First and Second London Baptist Confessions, Recovering a Covenantal Heritage
Did the Covenant of Grace Exist During the Old Testament?
1689 Federalism teaches that only the New Covenant is the Covenant of Grace. Neither the Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, nor Davidic covenants were the Covenant of Grace. Neither was the Covenant of Grace established in Genesis 3:15.
The question then naturally arises: Did the Covenant of Grace exist during the Old Testament? The 1689 Federalism answer to this question centers around the meaning of "established"/"enacted" (Hebrews 8:6).
First, the 2LBCF states in 7.3 that "it is alone by the grace of this covenant that all the posterity of fallen Adam that ever were saved did obtain life and blessed immortality..." Among its references on this particular statement are Hebrews 11:6, 13 "And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him... by faith Noah... by faith Abraham... All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth." Rom 4:1, 2, &c "What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.'" and John 8:56 "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” Thus when we identify the Covenant of Grace with the New Covenant alone, we do not exclude those who lived before the establishment of the New Covenant - notably Abraham - from "the grace of this covenant." Nor do we believe that they waited to receive this grace until the death of Christ. In sum, this New Covenant of Grace was extant and effectual under the Old Testament, so as the church was saved by virtue thereof.
How can we affirm this while at the same time holding that the New Covenant of Grace was not established until the death of Christ? In the same way that we can affirm that Abraham and other OT saints were covered by the blood of Christ prior to Christ's actual death on the cross (2LBCF 8.6). Christ promised the Father he would fulfill his work in the Covenant of Redemption, thus securing the redemption of the elect. Thus it was a guaranteed certainty that the OT saints could "take to the bank."
If the New Covenant of Grace was "in effect" since Genesis 3:15, then how can we say it was not established until the death of Christ? First, because its legal effectiveness as a covenant is entirely rooted in the death of Christ. Second, because the "establishment" of the New Covenant refers also to its being reduced into a fixed state of a law or ordinance - to its being made visible. That which before had no visible, outward worship, proper and peculiar unto it, was then made the only rule and instrument of worship unto the whole church. When the New Covenant was given out only in the way of a promise (Gen 3:15, etc), it did not introduce a worship and privileges expressive of it. That which before lay hid in promises, in many things obscure, the principal mysteries of it being a secret hid in God himself, was then brought to light, and that covenant which had invisibly, in the way of a promise, put forth its efficacy under types and shadows, was then solemnly sealed, ratified, and confirmed, in the death and resurrection of Christ. All the obedience required in it, all the worship appointed by it, all the privileges exhibited in it, and the grace administered with them, were all given for a statute, law, and ordinance unto the church.
The basic idea of the Covenant of Grace revealed and "in effect" prior to its legal establishment (where it is given ordinances of worship) is articulated by Louis Berkhof. "The first revelation of the covenant is found in the protevangel, Gen. 3:15. Some deny that this has any reference to the covenant; and it certainly does not refer to any formal establishment of a covenant... Up to the time of Abraham there was no formal establishment of the covenant of grace. While Gen. 3:15 already contains the elements of this covenant, it does not record a formal transaction by which the covenant was established. It does not even speak explicitly of a covenant. The establishment of the covenant with Abraham marked the beginning of an institutional Church." We would simply say that the New Covenant, not the Abrahamic Covenant, was the formal establishment of the Covenant of Grace.
The following are statements by 1689 Federalism theologians affirming the above.
Samuel & Micah Renihan:
Christ is the one and only federal head of the covenant of grace, the New Covenant... [T]he covenant of grace is the retro-active application of the New Covenant...
The fact that we see this redemption promised and typified from the fall onward has led Reformed theologians to see God’s grace extending into history prior to the incarnation and death of Christ. Where God’s grace extended into the past, it came by way of covenant, wherein Christ’s blood of the New Covenant was retroactively applied to those who believed in the promise, and that retroactivity of the New Covenant was and remains distinct from the Old Covenant. Thus, Christ’s people have always been those who were promised to him by the Father, and it is those people for whom he spilled his blood.
Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology and Biblical Theology, in Recovering a Covenantal Heritage, p. 487, 490
During the time of the law… [t]he children of God after the Spirit (though as underage children they were subject to the pedagogy of the law, yet) as to their spiritual and eternal state, walked before God and found acceptance with him on terms of the covenant of grace… this spiritual relationship to God [was] according to the terms of the new covenant which the truly godly then had[.]
The language of administration is extremely nebulous and problematic. Many responses to the above videos and data [referring to 1689federalism.com] have pushed back by saying that the old covenant(s) were means through which OT believers obtained salvation, and thus were “Administrations” in the sense of “getting thing A to person B.” Surely that is the case. LBCF 8.6 confesses this…
But while the use of administration in the WCF includes the notion of “getting thing A to person B,” its use of “Administration” refers more fully to “a diverse manner of dispensing, and outward managing the making of the covenant with men, but the covenant was still one and the same, clothed and set forth in a diverse manner, and did no other ways differ then and now, but as one and the self same man differeth from himself, cloathed sutably one way in his minority, and another in his riper age.” [David Dickson, Therapeutica Sacra (Edinburgh: 1697), 142.] The administration is the outward visible form of covenantal life and organization…
The question is, was the old covenant a visible organizational form of covenantal life for the covenant of grace? The question is not, were the benefits of Christ’s mediation available in the old covenant? All are agreed on the second question. It is the first question that needs careful answering. This is the difference between the substance of the covenant of grace being revealed in the old covenant and actually being the old covenant in an older form.
The 1689 does not claim that the Mosaic Covenant was an administration of the covenant of grace. Rather, it simply says that the covenant of grace was innately revealed in the protoevangelium (Genesis 3:15), and then with greater clarity it was revealed throughout the progression of the Old Testament dispensation until it came to its fullest manifestation in the New Testament: “This covenant is revealed [not established] in the gospel; first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman, and afterwards by further steps, until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament” (7:3).
More explicitly, the 1689 says that the covenant of grace, which was established by the blood of Jesus, was retroactive during the Old Testament dispensation: “Although the price of redemption was not actually paid by Christ until after His incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy, and benefit thereof were communicated to the elect in all ages” (8:6). This is in agreement with Benjamin Keach who said: “All believers, who lived under the Old Testament, were saved by the covenant of grace, which Christ was to establish.”2
This implies that the covenant of grace is identical to the New Covenant. So rather than the covenant of grace being established through various administrations of the different covenants of the Old Testament (Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic), it was established by Christ in the New Covenant. Therefore, Old Testament believers were saved by faith in Christ, in the same way New Testament believers are saved by faith in Christ. Or as paragraph 3 states: “It is alone by the grace of this covenant that all the posterity of fallen Adam that ever were saved did obtain life and blessed immortality” (7:3).
The covenant of grace is, simply put, salvation by grace alone, by faith alone, through Christ alone... The Epistle to the Hebrews attributes directly to the grace of the New Covenant (the covenant of grace), the salvation of those who were called since the fall:
And for this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, in order that since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance (Hebrews 9:15).
Even if the sacrifice of the covenant of grace by which all blessings proceed was not shed till long after the promise was made, many had already been called and did possess by faith the eternal inheritance. The retroactive efficacy of the New Covenant is one of the main reasons why many Particular Baptists equated the covenant of grace with the New Covenant...
Where Was the Covenant of Grace During the Old Covenant Time?
If the Old Covenant was not an administration of the covenant of grace what was it and where was the covenant of grace during this time? The first part of LBC 7:3 answers this question:
This covenant is revealed in the gospel; first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman, and afterwards by farther steps, until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament…
The 1689 federalism replaced the paedobaptist concept of one covenant of grace under different administrations by the one covenant of grace revealed by farther steps model...
The New Covenant is the concrete manifestation of the heavenly realities in the visible world. It’s only by this covenant (New Covenant) that the eternal inheritance (eternal covenant of redemption/covenant of grace) is given (Hebrews 9:15).
The confession ends this section by affirming that “it is alone by the grace of this covenant that all the posterity of fallen Adam that ever were saved did obtain life and blessed immortality”. Thus, from all time, all those that were saved, were saved by the grace offered in the New Covenant in Jesus Christ. Before it was established in the form of a covenant sealed in the blood (Hebrews 13:20) it was revealed by a promise guaranteed by God’s oath (Hebrews 6:17). This covenant of grace revealed and concluded in history is founded on the eternal covenant between the Father and the Son for the redemption of the elect. It is the exclusive source of salvation according to what Scripture expressly declares: “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Is 1689 Federalism Dispensational?
No. It is actually anti-Dispensational.
- Keeping Israel and the church distinct throughout eternity.
- A hermeneutic of literal interpretation. (#1 is derived from #2)
- Salvation is not the main underlying purpose of God’s work in history.
1689 Federalism rejects all 3.
With regards to #1, Ryrie says “This is probably the most basic theological test of whether or not a person is a dispensationalist… The essence of dispensationalism, then, is the distinction between Israel and the church [throughout eternity]. This grows out of the dispensationalist’s consistent employment of normal or plain or historical-grammatical interpretation [#2]… The spiritualizing may be practiced to a lesser or greater degree, but its presence in a system of interpretation is indicative of a nondispensational approach.” And finally “The error of covenant theologians is that they combine all the many facets of divine purpose in the one objective of the fulfillment of the covenant of grace,” (as 1689 Federalism does).
On each of these essential points, 1689 Federalism is not merely contrary to Dispensationalism; it is contradictory to Dispensationalism. Its Christological (“spiritualizing”) hermeneutic “is indicative of a nondispensational approach” resulting in a typological view of Israel that fails “the most basic theological test of whether or not a person is a dispensationalist.”
1689 Federalism is Anti-Dispensational (just ask a Dispensationalist).
For a longer explanation, please see Is 1689 Federalism Dispensational? (Contrast)
When Did the Church Begin?
The church began in Genesis 3:15 and the church began at Pentecost.
How can both be true? Because of the visible/invisible church distinction as it relates to the promised/established New Covenant.
Old Testament saints were saved in the same way that we are today: through saving faith produced by the regenerating power of the indwelling Holy Spirit (2LBC 8.6, 8.8, 10.1, 11.6). They were united to Christ and were therefore part of his mystical body, the church (2LBC 26.1).
But it does not therefore follow that Israel was the church ("assembly") of Christ. Israel was an assembly, but not the assembly of Christ (Heb. 12:23). Though regenerate Old Testament saints were part of the body of Christ, they were a remnant within the broader body of the assembly of Israel (which was governed by the Old Covenant). Likewise, believers outside of Israel were not under the Old Covenant (for example, Lot & Melchizedek were not circumcised - see Coxe p. 117-118).
It was not until Pentecost that the invisible church gathered ("assembled") together as the assembly of Christ (the church) (2LBC 26.2, 26.5-7). The visible church was instituted at Pentecost and given ordinances of worship and its own government. John Owen explains how this relates to the New Covenant as promised & established.
This is the meaning of the word nenomoqe>thtai: “established,” say we; but it is, “reduced into a fixed state of a law or ordinance.” All the obedience required in it, all the worship appointed by it, all the privileges exhibited in it, and the grace administered with them, are all given for a statute, law, and ordinance unto the church. That which before lay hid in promises, in many things obscure, the principal mysteries of it being a secret hid in God himself, was now brought to light; and that covenant which had invisibly, in the way of a promise, put forth its efficacy under types and shadows, was now solemnly sealed, ratified, and confirmed, in the death and resurrection of Christ. It had before the confirmation of a promise, which is an oath; it had now the confirmation of a covenant, which is blood. That which before had no visible, outward worship, proper and peculiar unto it, is now made the only rule and instrument of worship unto the whole church, nothing being to be admitted therein but what belongs unto it, and is appointed by it. This the apostle intends by nenomoqe>thtai, the “legal establishment” of the new covenant, with all the ordinances of its worship. Hereon the other covenant was disannulled and removed; and not only the covenant itself, but all that system of sacred worship whereby it was administered. This was not done by the making of the covenant at first; yea, all this was superinduced into the covenant as given out in a promise, and was consistent therewith. When the new covenant was given out only in the way of a promise, it did not introduce a worship and privileges expressive of it. Wherefore it was consistent with a form of worship, rites and ceremonies, and those composed into a yoke of bondage which belonged not unto it. And as these, being added after its giving, did not overthrow its nature as a promise, so they were inconsistent with it when it was completed as a covenant; for then all the worship of the church was to proceed from it, and to be conformed unto it. Then it was established. Hence it follows, in answer unto the second difficulty, that as a promise, it was opposed unto the covenant of works; as a covenant, it was opposed unto that of Sinai. This legalizing or authoritative establishment of the new covenant, and the worship thereunto belonging, did effect this alteration. (Exposition of Hebrews 8:6)
The first solemn promulgation of this new covenant, so made, ratified, and established, was on the day of Pentecost, seven weeks after the resurrection of Christ. And it answered the promulgation of the law on mount Sinai, the same space of time after the delivery of the people out of Egypt. From this day forward the ordinances of worship, and all the institutions of the new covenant, became obligatory unto all believers. Then was the whole church absolved from any duty with respect unto the old covenant, and the worship of it, though it was not manifest as yet in their consciences. (Exposition Hebrews 8:10)
Thus the church began as soon as God began to redeem lost sinners through the promise of the New Covenant (Gen. 3:15), which was efficacious to save, bringing an individual into the invisible church. But it was not until the New Covenant was formally established that the visible church was instituted with its own worship and governance.
For more, see Tom Ascol's Toward a Confessional Doctrine of the Church (3-Part Video)
Does 1689 Federalism require "Regeneration Goggles"?
Critics of 1689 Federalism often caricature baptists as claiming to know who the elect are. This does not follow from any 1689 Federalism belief. We agree with the reformed "judgment of charity." Based upon a credible profession of faith, we judge (with charity) a person to be saved. The only difference is that we do not believe that being born to a professing parent is sufficient warrant to charitably judge a person to be saved.
Note this statement from an 1857 issue of the Princeton Review
And this statement from Hodge in an 1858 Princeton Review.
As well as this statement from Scottish Presbyterian John Erskine (1765).
As well as a revealing Twitter conversation.