The Mosaic Covenant and the Modern Day Justification and Sanctification Controversy


In light of the modern day controversy concerning justification and sanctification,  let me ask others to look at something that hasn’t been considered much. What is its root problem? The root problem can actually solve a lot of issues from the justification / sanctification issue in soteriology to the Natural Law / Kingdom Issues we are experiencing.  Why?  Because they all have to do with our relationship to the Law of God.

This issue has a root problem that goes back to a hermeneutic of how the Mosaic Covenant is viewed and seen. It is having a rippling effect through much of the theology in our Reformed Camp. It is dichotomizing (divorcing) law and grace (law and gospel) in our doctrines of soteriology. It is also leading others into the various doctrines that are divorcing God from society.  A few friends of mine have referred to these doctrines as old distortions of Natural Law / Two Kingdom Theology that were out of accord and rejected by the Reformers.

The hermeneutic I am referring to is propagated by men who are in the United Reformed Church of North America, Orthodox Presbyterian Church, possibly men in the Presbyterian Church of America, and noted men teaching at a Seminary that trains our Reformed and  Presbyterian Ministers. Most people who know me know of whom I am referring to.  (Westminster Seminary California)  Does this Seminary allow this teaching to go on from the top (Dr. Robert Godfrey) down (Drs. Horton and Clark) without a notification that it is against the Standards we as Presbyterians confess?  It sure seems hidden to me.  I would even venture to say that this teaching is so prevalent in the Church today that it isn’t even recognized as being different from the Westminster Standards.   I know Pastors, Ruling Elders, Drs. of Theology, Seminary Professors,  Seminary Students, and Laymen who know this is true and have affirmed this truth to me.  

Even our Divines at the Westminster Assembly knew this teaching and variants of it were in opposition to sound doctrine.  Here is Anthony Burgess on the difference between Lutheran and Reformed views concerning the Mosaic Covenant.

“We have confuted (proven to be incorrect) the false differences, and now come to lay down the truth, between the law and the Gospel taken in a larger sense.  

And, first, you must know that the difference is not essential, or substantial, but accidental: so that the division of the Testament, or Covenant into the Old, and New, is not a division of the Genus (classification) into its opposite Species; but of the subject, according to its several accidental administrations, both on Gods part, and on mans. It is true, the Lutheran Divines, they do expressly oppose the Calvinists herein, maintaining the Covenant given by Moses, to be a Covenant of Works, and so directly contrary to the Covenant of Grace. Indeed, they acknowledge that the Fathers were justified by Christ, and had the same way of salvation with us; only they make that Covenant of Moses to be a superadded thing to the Promise, holding forth a condition of perfect righteousness unto the Jews, that they might be convinced of their own folly in their self-righteousness.” (Vindication of the Morall Law,  Lecture 26  p.251)

This view that is being taught was a minority view and evidently refuted without much to do from what I understand.  There isn’t much discussion paid to the topic in the minutes nor much argument about it from what I understand. I guess that might be an indication about how much of a factor this minority view was.  Yet it seems this minority teaching is being taught as though it is a majority position. This doctrine has to do with the substance of the Old and New Covenants being the same as the Westminster Confession of Faith states in chapter 7, sections 5,6.  It also has to do with some forms of Republication of the Covenant of Works and what Republication is.

I can quote one person specifically that does not believe the Mosaic Covenant is of the same substance as the New Covenant.  He holds to views that are specifically contrary to our Standards when considering the Mosaic Covenant. Yet he is teaching future Presbyterian Pastors contrary to our Standards. I wonder if he is teaching our future Pastors that he doesn’t hold to the Westminster Confession of Faith on this topic.  I think he should since he teaches these future Pastors  from a Seminary which distinctively has a namesake taken from our Confessional Standards.  He specifically writes (for everyone to read) that he does not believe that the Mosaic Covenant is renewed in the New Covenant.  He must believe it is of a different substance having a superadded work or Covenant of Works principle in it.  The Mosaic Covenant in his thinking is both an administration (pedagogically) of the Covenant of Works and of Grace. That would make the New Covenant and Mosaic Covenant different and not of the same substance as an administration of the Covenant of Grace.  As I understand it, in this scheme there is an opposition of law and grace that is not found in the Presbyterian or later Reformed hermeneutic of the Majority of the Divines.  Samuel Rutherford, Anthony Burgess, and many other good men have written on this topic and it just seems that this is neglected by these Modern Reformed Thinkers.
Biblical / Exegetical section…
13. The Mosaic covenant was not renewed under Christ, but the Abrahamic covenant was.

16. With regard to the land promise, the Mosaic covenant was, mutandis, for pedagogical reasons (Galatians 3:23-4:7), a republication of the Adamic covenant of works.

17. With regard to justification and salvation, the Mosaic covenant was an administration of the covenant of grace.

18. The Israelites were given the land and kept it by grace (2 Kings 13:23) but were expelled for failure to keep a temporary, typical, pedagogical, covenant of works (Genesis 12:7; Exodus 6:4; Deuteronomy 29:19-29; 2 Kings 17:6-7; Ezekiel 17).

19. The covenant of grace, initiated in history after the fall, was in its antepenultimate state under Adam, Noah, and Abraham, its penultimate state under the New Covenant administration and shall reach its ultimate (eschatological) state in the consummation.

20.  The term “Old Covenant” as used in Scripture refers to the Mosaic epoch not every epoch before the incarnation nor to all of the Hebrew and Aramaic Scriptures indiscriminately.

21. The New Covenant is new relative to Moses, not Abraham.

Concerning the Covenant of Grace, Richard Sibbesl states it thusly in his writing…

There are four periods of time of renewing this covenant: first, from Adam to Abraham;… Secondly, From Abraham to Moses;… The third period of renewing the covenant of grace was from Moses to Christ; and then it was more clear, whenas to the covenant made with Abraham, who was sealed with the sacrament of circumcision, the sacrament of the paschal lamb was added, and all the sacrifices Levitical; and then it was called a testament. That differeth a little from a covenant; for a testament is established by blood, it is established by death. So was that; but it was only with the blood and death of cattle sacrificed as a type.

But now, to Christ’s time to the end of the world, the covenant of grace is most clear of all; and it is now usually called the New Testament, being established by the death of Christ himself; …

This is the hermeneutical root and problem in my estimation. This hermeneutical problem is a dichotomizing of Law and Gospel (Grace).  It tells us the Law only commands and that Gospel (Grace) tells us something has been done for us without command.  Just for reference this is what I am talking about.   Dr. Michael Horton in his three minute video clip says this concerning the Gospel,  “It refers to God’s promise of salvation in Christ.  The gospel is a victory announcement.  It never tells us something to do.  That is the business of the law.  Rather, the gospel tells us something that has been done.

This has spilled over into other areas of our theology also.  For instance it has spilled over into Kingdom Theology and how the Law of God applies to all of mankind.   We are slowly removing the requirement and responsibilities of our Magistrates to be in subjection to God and His Ten Commandments.   This is killing our Society.  Anytime you start to partition an Administration of the Covenant of Grace and change its substance like these guys are doing you are treading in strange waters if you are Presbyterian.  The Gospel and Law are not opposed to each other as some want to prove in all cases.  In fact Ursinus says when they are joined together they become the Spirit.

I started discovering this dichotomizing of law and grace a few years ago as I started noting how these men were defining the Gospel.  This dichotomizing of law and Grace seemed unnatural even to this one time Reformed Baptist. I use to be a Reformed Baptist until I came to understand that the Old Covenant and New Covenant were of the same substance as they were from the Administration of the Covenant of Grace. Even then this long time Reformed Baptist didn’t dichotomize Law and Grace in the Gospel and Sanctification to the extreme I saw it being done.  As a Reformed Baptist I did dichotomize the Substance of the Covenants based upon my understanding of Hebrews chapter 8.  I did hold to a similar view of John Owen’s interpretation of the Mosaic and New Covenant when it came to membership of the Covenant but I didn’t dichotomize grace and law in the life of the believer of either Covenant.  I believe that is what is being done by those who hold to this Lutheranized (Not necessarily Luther’s view) / Klinean view of the Mosaic Covenant.

I believe a proper view of the Covenant of Grace as it administers the Covenants historically will give us a proper balance of Law and Grace.  I have already written about the substance of the Covenant before and I think if you read it you will see why I am saying what I am saying.  It views the Law of God and Grace in their proper relationship as they should be viewed in my estimation.  It also views the Gospel correctly as it isn’t just a proclamation outside of us with no commands.

I also want to encourage Westminster California to be forthcoming about their Professors doctrinal stances in relationship to the Westminster Confession of Faith.  I have run into far too many people that look to Westminster West for guidance that don’t know that they are teaching contrary to the Westminster Standards concerning the Mosaic Covenant.   It is eye opening when others discover this.  After they put aside their party spirit and their theological celebrity status blinders things start falling into place and a whole new world of understanding comes to their aid in Christ.  Pieces of the theological puzzle start to fit together as it was meant to be.  People start to have a different appreciation for grace and law as they see it more clearly.

Just my Nickles worth.

The following link is a short paper presented to Dr. Joseph Pipa on this topic. It also helped me clarify some things when I first started looking at this issue.


And this is one great website that is pulling the historical truth out concerning the Mosaic Covenant.

James Durham on the Mosaic Covenant

From A Puritan Theology by Beeke and Jones. What is Republication

Depraved Christianity?  The Gospel….. Horton…. What is the Gospel?

2 thoughts on “The Mosaic Covenant and the Modern Day Justification and Sanctification Controversy

  1. The possibility of the nation or individuals being cast out of the land by exile or execution, typologically, represented those who having been within the administration of the covenant of grace, having rejected that grace, being cast into Hell under the law i.e. the law as a covenant of works. If we go to a lost eternity it is as those who have never truly moved from the (broken) covenant of works to the covenant of grace.

    The law and sanction of the covenant of works still stands after Adam broke it, and we broke it in him. The reward of the covenant of works can no more be of works, since Adam broke it, but of grace, which is where the Republicationists get it wrong.

    • Richard,
      I was just reexamining this blog and the comment you made. In light of your comment I will just post what I have written elsewhere.

      On another note I would mention that some say that the Mosaic was a Covenant that administered the Covenant of Grace as well as the Covenant of Works. Some differentiate that works was required in order for the Israelite’s to stay in and be blessed in the Land. They stayed in the Land based upon their works. Some say that this is different from the New Covenant. I am not seeing this difference. For one thing Jesus himself said in Revelation 2 that he would remove a local Church’s candlestick if they didn’t repent. In 1 Corinthians 5 a man who was found to be exceedingly sinful was to be delivered to Satan and excommunicated from the Church. In Galatians 6:7 we are told that we reap what we sow.

      I actually see what happened to the Church in the Old Covenant to be very gracious and just a form of discipline. It was grace that chastisement happened. It was grace that brought Israel back into the Land. They were the Church that was redeemed from bondage. God called them His people. They grew from dwelling in the wilderness to possessing the land. If it was by works then they would have never been brought back as they were. It looks quite the same to me as the man in 1 Corinthians 5. A casting out was performed. Excommunication was evident. Restoration by God’s grace was confirmed. The substance of both the Old pedagogical Covenant and the New are essentially the same. Salvation, regeneration, faith, repentance, justification, and sanctification for the Church is the same between both the old and new. It is all by God’s Covenant of Grace. The substance seems to be the same to me.

      At the same time Richard I do want to acknowledge what you state is also very important as the Law of God does expose our sin and it does tell us how to be loving. The Law of God graces us with knowing what not to do and with what we need to do.

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