R.B.C. Howell’s “The Covenants”
On 08, Dec 2005 | In Books | By admin
R. B. C. Howell, the second president of the Southern Baptist Convention, presiding from 1851 through 1858, is described in Cathcart’s Baptist Encyclopaedia as” one of the ablest and most learned men in the South.”
Though Howell’s formulation was slightly unique in how he divided up the post-fall covenants in the Old Testament (“we have traced in the preceding chapters, two classes of covenants, of three each”), his basic approach was that of 1689 Federalism.
Of the law, and the gospel, the Old, and New covenants, Paul speaks in language which can hardly be misunderstood. He characterizes them, not as one covenant, developing itself in different forms… Thus have we seen that the old covenant, or law, was fulfilled, and superseded by the new covenant, or gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In professed agreement with these doctrines, but practically, in direct opposition to them, it has been very generally assumed, that “The Jewish society before Christ, and the Christian society after Christ, are one, and the same church, under different dispensations.” This proposition, you must, from the examination through which we have passed, be convinced cannot be sustained. The covenants themselves, plainly show that the Jewish church, and the Christian church, are organized upon different, and dissimilar covenants; that they are composed of wholly unlike materials the one of the entire Hebrew nation, the other of “faithful men,” believers only; that one was a figure of the other; and that when the gospel church, the reality, was visibly organized, the Jewish church, the figure, ceased to exist…
The Jewish church, therefore, was not continued in any form. The new covenant was now introduced into visible administration. This is the charter of the Christian church…
Can the law be changed, and still continue to be the same law? If not, then the covenant of the Christian church, is another covenant than that of the Jewish church; having a new Mediator, a new order of priests, new sacrifices, and a new service. It follows, therefore, that “The Jewish society before Christ, and the Christian society after Christ, are not one and the same church under different dispensations.” Consequently all the deductions from this source to which men are wont to resort, in reference to the nature, form, and ordinances of the Christian church, are baseless, and necessarily fall to the ground.
These conclusions, so obviously scriptural, and true, are, I am glad to find, beginning to be acknowledged by the learned, and candid, even in the ranks of our Pedobaptist brethren. I might introduce several authorities, but will satisfy myself with one only. Dr. Hodge…
The church of Israel, was the nation of Israel, and, as a whole, could no more be the church of Christ, in the New Testament sense of that phrase, than the American nation, can be called the church of Christ.
4. From these covenants, together with the history of Israel, and instructions of the prophets, you learn, fourthly, that the gospel church was not visible until the coming of Christ.
Men eminently pious; deeply imbued with the spirit of true religion, existed in every age; not among the Jews only, but also among the Gentiles. They were all believers in the Messiah promised as yet to come. But they were not visibly organized as the kingdom, or church of the Redeemer. The gospel covenant, which was their guide, and support, has existed, as we have seen, from “before the foundation of the world.” It is, therefore, really the oldest of all the covenants. It is consequently, called the new covenant, not in respect of the date of its origin, but of the period of its visible administration, which did not commence until after the old covenant had served its purposes, was fulfilled, and had passed away. For all that concerned holiness, and salvation, it was, nevertheless, fully as effective immediately after the fall, as it is at this hour. Christ Jesus was “A Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”13 All who in any age have been saved, have obtained their deliverance through faith in him. Up, however, to the time of his personal appearing upon earth, there was no formal outward organization. The only external administration was legal, and typical. To any one who will maturely examine the subject, these facts must be apparent…
Thus did all the prophets speak of the church, up to that moment when the Old Testament dispensation was closed. The kingdom was not yet formally inaugurated. You open the new Testament, and what do you there find? John the Baptist comes, “preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”