Sunday, August 22, 2010

0 Marrow Theology: A Helpful Word from Thomas Boston on the Covenant of Grace

In The Marrow of Modern Divinity, I happened upon a paragraph that I had missed, I think, but which makes an important point concerning the covenant of grace. The Westminster Larger Catechism clearly notes in question 31 that the Covenant of Grace is made with Christ and His elect in Him as His seed:
Question 31: With whom was the covenant of grace made?
Answer: The covenant of grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed.
This did not keep the Westminster Divines from asserting that many are visibly in the covenant of grace - part of the covenant community - though they are really and truly under the covenant of works. They certainly participate in the visible activities of the church, but merely by profession and other visible signs. They are not in a true sense united to Christ, though they may have taken on the trappings of that union by being baptized. This was the case among Abraham's descendants, who were under the covenant of grace visibly and by profession, just as it is today. The sign of circumcision was given to his immediate descendants for those who identified themselves with the covenant community and their children... the sign of baptism is rightly practiced within the church for all those who are members of its visible expression - but is no guarantor of salvific blessings, nor of one's union with Christ. (contrary to what is proclaimed among Federal Vision advocates)

Now, back to The Marrow of Modern Divinity, where Edward Fisher writes, with Nomista, the legalist, speaking of the people in Moses's day to whom the Law had been delivered as a republished covenant of works:
"Nomista - But, by your favour, sir, you know that these people were the posterity of Abraham, and therefore under that covenant of grace which God made with their father; and therefore I do not think that they were delivered to them as the covenant of works; for you know the Lord never delivers the covenant of works to any that are under the covenant of grace.

Evangelista - Indeed it is true, the Lord did manifest so much love to the body of this nation, that all the natural seed of Abraham were externally, and by profession, under the covenant of grace made with their father Abraham; though, it is to be feared, many of them were still under the covenant of works made with their father Adam." (p. 80, The Marrow of Modern Divinity)
Nomista is perplexed, regarding the delivery of the Law to the Israelites - whom he rightly characterizes as being children of Abraham in the physical sense - but he seems confused regarding their identity as partakers of the covenant of grace. Evangelista rightly corrects, noting, however, that their identity as Abraham's posterity places them within the sphere of the covenant of grace in an outward sense. Thomas Boston then inserts this note for the purpose of clarification:
"The strength of the objection in the preceding paragraph lies here, namely, that at this rate, the same persons, at one and the same time, were both under the covenant of works, and under the covenant of grace, which is absurd. Am. The unbelieving Israelites were under the covenant of grace made with their father Abraham externally and by profession, in respect of their visible church state; but under the covenant of works made with their father Adam internally and really, in respect of the state of their souls before the Lord. Herein there is no absurdity; for to this day many in the visible church are thus, in these different respects, under both covenants. Farther, as to believers among them, they were internally and really, as well as externally, under the covenant of grace; and only externally under the covenant of works, and that, not as a covenant co-ordinate with, but subordinate and subservient unto, the covenant of grace: and in this there is no more inconsistency than in the former." (p. 76, The Marrow of Modern Divinity)
This is, I believe, very helpful. We who confess the Westminster Standards as a proper and true summary of Biblical truth will recognize the clear distinction between the visible and invisible church - the visible and invisible manifestations of the covenant of grace. This distinction MUST be kept clear if we are to properly understand the saving work of Christ, and union with Him! Today the waters are VERY muddied, unfortunately.



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