Charles Hodge: Mosaic Covenant as ‘Renewed Proclamation of the Covenant of Works’

Besides this evangelical character which unquestionably belongs to the Mosaic covenant, it is presented in two other aspects in the Word of God. First, it was a national covenant with the Hebrew people. In this view the parties were God and the people of Israel; the promise was national security and prosperity; the condition was the obedience of the people as a nation to the Mosaic law; and the mediator was Moses. In this aspect it was a legal covenant. It said. “Do this and live.” Secondly, it contained, as does also the New Testament, a renewed proclamation of the original covenant of works. It is as true now as in the days of Adam, it always has been and always must be true, that rational creatures who perfectly obey the law of God are blessed in the enjoyment of his favour; and that those who sin are subject to his wrath and curse. Our Lord assured the young man who came to Him for instruction that if he kept the commandments he should live. And Paul says (Rom. ii. 6) that God will render to every man according to his deeds; tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that doeth evil; but glory, honour, and peace to every man who worketh good. This arises from the relation of intelligent creatures to God. It is in fact nothing but a declaration of the eternal and immutable principles of justice. If a man rejects or neglects the gospel, these are the principles, as Paul teaches in the opening chapters of his Epistle to the Romans, according to which he will be judged. If he will not be under grace, if he will not accede to the method of salvation by grace, he is of necessity under the law.

These different aspects under which the Mosaic economy is presented account for the apparently inconsistent way in which it in spoken of in the New Testament. (1.) When viewed in relation to the people of God before the advent, it is represented as divine and obligatory. (2.) When viewed in relation to the state of the Church after the advent, it is declared to be obsolete. It is represented as the lifeless husk from which the living kernel and germ have been extracted, a body from which the soul has departed. (3.) When viewed according to its true import and design as a preparatory dispensation of the covenant of grace, it is spoken of as teaching the same gospel, the same method of salvation as that which the Apostles themselves preached. (4.) When viewed, in the light in which it was regarded by those who rejected the gospel, as a mere legal system, it was declared to be a ministration of death and condemnation. (2 Cor. iii. 6-18.) (5.) And when contrasted with the new or Christian economy, as a different mode of revealing the same covenant, it is spoken of as a state of tutelage and bondage, far different from the freedom and filial spirit of the dispensation under which we now live.

-Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 2, p. 375

Hodge’s statement eloquently sets forth the traditional Reformed understanding of the Mosaic covenant as being a part of the Covenant of Grace while at the same time setting forth a proclamation of the Covenant of Works. This is similar to the argument I make HERE (with Samuel Bolton, Matthew Henry, and Herman Ridderbos), that the statement in Romans 8:2 “the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death,” refers to one law. The Law is a law of sin and death to those outside Christ, but it is the law of the Spirit of life for those in Christ. It is our orientation toward the law that determines how we will relate to it.

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A Theology of the Sabbath (4): John Owen on Hebrews 4:9-10 and the New Covenant Sabbath as a Sign of Christ’s Finished Work

So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of GodFor the One who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His” (Hebrews 4:9-10).

The Law Written on the Tablet of the Heart: Image from Samuel Bolton, True Bounds of Christian Freedom (Banner of Truth)

The Law Written on the Tablet of the Heart: Image from Samuel Bolton, The True Bounds of Christian Freedom (Banner of Truth)

This is the fourth installment in a four-part series. See Part 1 (the Sabbath as Moral and Mosaical) HERE,  part 2 (the Sabbath in the Covenant of Works) HERE, and part 3 (Christ’s fulfillment of the Sabbath in the Covenant of Works and its Mosaical Elements) HERE. For a summary list of quotations by Owen see HERE. All Owen quotations are from John Owen, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews: Vol. II (Grand Rapids: Baker), Reprinted 1980.

John Owen’s doctrine of the Christian first-day sabbath hinges largely on his interpretation of Hebrews 4, and more specifically Hebrews 4:9-10: “So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of GodFor the One who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His.” Owen understands “the one” of verse 10 as a reference specifically to the Lord Jesus Christ. Let’s dig a little into Hebrews 4 and see if that interpretation can be justified.

First, Hebrews 4:1-3a makes the case that the Israelites failed to enter into God’s rest because they lacked faith (and therefore obedience), while believers, through faith, do indeed enter into that rest. Second, in vv. 3b-4, the author grounds the original promise of rest in the work of God in creation. Third, in vv. 5-8, the author makes the case that Joshua, as the head of Israel, was not able to secure the promised rest; and that David, another head of Israel, acknowledged this in his own day as evidenced by Psalm 95:7-8. All of this is the author of Hebrews’ case that Sabbath remained relevant for believers under the New Covenant. This appears to be an essentially biblical-theological argument that Jesus Christ is the greater Israel/greater Joshua who has truly procured ‘rest’ for those who rest and trust in him by faith.

Next, we come to vv. 8-9. First (v. 8), since true ‘rest’ was never realized under the old covenant, the Sabbath promise of rest still stands. Therefore it would appear legitimate to infer, in v. 9, that Christ is the One who has truly entered into God’s rest. It therefore makes sense that vv. 14ff pick up on the theme (beginning with the word ‘therefore’ in v. 14) of Christ as the resurrected ‘Great High Priest’ who has entered into the heavens into the very presence of God.

Let’s take a moment to look at v. 9 in a bit more detail:The Greek verbs in v. 9,  εἰσελθὼν (he who has entered [God’s rest]) and κατέπαυσεν (he who has rested), are both aorist, masculine, singular verbs. As masculine, singular verbs, the strict translation is “he who has entered” and “he who has rested.” The question that remains is, Is this a generalized ‘he’ referring to all believers, or a specific ‘he’ referring to Christ. Owen takes the latter view and my opinion is that the evidence bears this out. Next, the aorist tense indicates a past action with present ramifications. This rest has already been entered, and therefore he has already rested from his works in like manner to the original rest of creation. But, as the original rest of God had continued ramifications for his people, so this newly entered rest continues to have ramifications.

We cannot even begin to touch upon all of those ramifications here, but we will focus on the primary point picked up by Owen. Owen’s primary deduction from this passage is that Jesus Christ, having fulfilled the Covenant of Works in behalf of his people, and voluntarily taken the curse of covenant disobedience, for them, upon himself, has fulfilled the original import of the Sabbath. The original intent of the Sabbath, as revealed in creation, according to Owen, was that God promised Adam perfect rest and blessedness in his presence (think heaven) upon condition of obedience – work and then rest. After Adam’s failure, this principle of work before rest stays in force and is re-articulated by Moses in the Mosaical instructions regarding Israel’s sabbath. Yet Israel, like Adam, could not find rest on account of disobedience.

In the New Covenant Christ himself has finished the ‘work’ of the Covenant of Works perfectly; he has also finished the work of satisfying the demands of God’s justice in his death on the cross (hence ‘It is finished). Having done so, in his resurrection, he enters into a state of perfect rest and blessedness at the right hand of the Father. Yet there remains a sabbath-rest (or sabbatism) for the people of God.

This rest is ultimately realized as we, in Christ, rest from our own works. This entails a repudiation of our own righteousness as ‘filthy rags’ (to use Isaiah’s language) and a resting, by faith, in Christ as our substitute (both positively, in law-keeping, and negatively, in receiving God’s curse). We therefore, by faith, begin with rest and perform our works of obedience in light of what Christ has already accomplished in our behalf. The paradigm has been inverted: it is no longer work before rest, but rest before work. This is the principle of the ‘new creation’ which Christ has wrought in his resurrection.

This, says Owen, is the reason that the actual ‘day’ of rest is changed:

Now, as God’s rest, and his being refreshed in his work, on the seventh day of old, was a sufficient indication of the precise day of rest which he would have observed under the administration of that original law and covenant, so the rest of our Lord Jesus Christ, and his being refreshed in and from his works, on the first day, is a sufficient indication of the precise day of rest to be observed under the dispensation of the new covenant, now confirmed and established (pp. 409-410).

Therefore, it is fitting that the apostles should make it a practice to meet on the first day of the week rather than the last, since that is the very day when Christ himself entered into his perfect rest (Matt. 28:1ff, Mark 16:2ff, Luke 24:1ff, John 20:1ff, John 20:19, Acts 20:7, 1 Cor. 16:2).

In summary, for Owen, the institution of Sunday as the Christian sabbath, flowed from a contrast between the Covenant of Creation (or Covenant of Works) and the Covenant of New Creation (or New Covenant). In the first covenant, rest is entered into after the work of obedience has been completed. In the New Covenant, this work of obedience has been completed by a Representive – the Lord Jesus Christ. And Christ, having entered into that rest in our behalf, and as our Mediator, calls us to observe the first day of the week as a visible, weekly manifestation and reminder of his triumph over sin and the grave in the resurrection. We enter into rest in and by him alone, and therefore begin the Christian life with a principle of rest; and that principle is visibly manifested, one could almost say ‘sacramentally,’ in the observance of solemn, public worship on the first day of the week.

Owen’s own summary is this:

What account can we give to ourselves and our children concerning our observation of this day holy unto the Lord? Must we not say, nay, may we not do so with joy and rejoicing, that whereas we were lost and undone by sin, excluded out of the rest of God, so far as that the law of the observation of the outward pledge of it, being attended with the curse, was a burden, and no relief to us, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, undertook a great work to make peace for us, to redeem and save us; and when he had so done, and finished his work, even the erecting of the “new heavens and new earth, wherein dwells righteousness,’’ he entered into his rest, and thereby made known to us that we should keep this day as a day of holy rest unto him, and as a pledge that we have again given to us an entrance into rest with God? (p. 450).

Christ calls us to come to him and find rest (Matt. 11:28-29). He takes the heavy yoke of the Law of God upon himself so that our burden might be light in him. He has done the heavy lifting so that we may enter rest. We are privileged to celebrate his mighty work as we begin each new week. May this law of God be written on all our hearts.

We will make a few applications in a follow-up post.

A Theology of the Sabbath (3): John Owen on Christ’s Fulfillment of the Sabbath in the Covenant of Works and Mosaical Elements of the Fourth Commandment

So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of GodFor the One who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His” (Hebrews 4:9-10).

The Law Written on the Tablet of the Heart: Image from Samuel Bolton, True Bounds of Christian Freedom (Banner of Truth)

The Law Written on the Tablet of the Heart: Image from Samuel Bolton, The True Bounds of Christian Freedom (Banner of Truth)

This is the third post in a four part series. See part 1 (The Sabbath as Moral and Mosaical) HERE, part 2 (The Sabbath in the Covenant of Works) HERE, and part 4 (the Sabbath in the New Covenant) HERE.For a broader summary of Owen’s argument and a fuller list of quotations see HERE.

All Owen quotations are from John Owen, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews: Vol. II (Grand Rapids: Baker), Reprinted 1980.

Owen’s basic principle regarding the fulfillment of the Sabbath (at least in my opinion) is not that Christ fulfills and abrogates the fourth commandment per se, but that he fulfills the Sabbath principle given in the Covenant of Works, which was re-stated in the fourth commandment. This could be complicated if we’re not careful, so let me give some explanation.

Let’s get our terms straight up front. Owen believes, like many of the Puritans, that when God created Adam, he entered into a Covenant of Works with him. The idea of the Covenant of Works is that God enters into an administration of his Lordship (to use Meredith Kline’s phrase) involving blessing for obedience and curse for disobedience. In regards to the Sabbath, this entails the promise of eternal sabbath (rest, satisfaction, blessedness) with and in God:

Thirdly, Man is to be considered with special respect unto that covenant under which he was created, which was a covenant of works; for herein rest with God was proposed unto him as the end or reward of his own works, or of his personal obedience unto God, by absolute strict righteousness and holiness. And the peculiar form of this covenant, as relating unto the way of God’s entering into it upon the finishing of his own works, designed the seventh day from the beginning of the creation to be the day precisely for the observation of a holy rest (p. 338, emphasis added).

In other words, according to Owen, if Adam is faithful to God in perfect obedience for whatever set time God has appointed, Adam, having worked, will then enter into perfect rest – heavenly rest. But if Adam violates the terms of the covenant, he will be cut off from the rest (satisfaction, blessedness) of God. As a token of that promise of rest, God sanctifies the Sabbath and commands its remembrance and observation (Gen. 2:3).

A major question that often arises here is precisely what terms Adam had to keep in regards to obedience. We know for certain that he was forbidden to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. We also have a clear indication that God sanctified the seventh day and instituted the hallowing of it as a command from the beginning. We also know, from the text of Genesis 1-2, that Adam is charged to ‘work’ and to ‘keep,’ or ‘tend’ and defend,’ the Garden of Eden. A strong exegetical case can be made that this entailed a priestly service. I wrote about this in one of my very first posts on this blog a few years ago:

As G.K. Beale notes in The Temple and the Church’s Mission, the terms of Adam’s ‘labor’ in the garden, ‘work it’ and ‘keep it’ (Gen. 2:15, ESV) are used elsewhere in the Pentateuch to denote priestly service. As the Levitical priests were to do the ‘service’ of, and ‘guard,’ the tabernacle, so Adam was to do the service of and guard the Garden. Since we hold that the same author wrote each of the books in the Pentateuch, it seems likely that he is intentionally demonstrating a parallel between the Garden work of Adam and the Temple/Tabernacle work of the priests. Therefore we may legitimately deduce from Genesis 2:15 the idea that the Garden of Eden was the first earthly temple and Adam the first earthly priest (cf. Beale).

In connection with the second deduction, i.e. Adam’s priesthood, we might ask the question, ‘what was his function as a priest?’ It is apparent from the text that his function was to serve God by caring for the garden both in its cultivation and protection. Yet it may also be inferred from Moses’ other writings pertaining to priests that, as a priest, Adam would stand as a representative before God. In the natural, physical sense, Adam would represent his wife as her covenant head by his actions. This would entail his remaining holy before God for her sake, his leading her in the worship of, and obedience to, God, as well as his service and protection of her. Yet, in the view of the Apostle Paul, as set forth in Romans 5, Adam’s covenant head responsibility extended not only to Eve, but to all of his natural descendents.

Therefore, we may deduce that Adam, in his priestly role, stood before God as the covenant representative of all those who would descend from him by natural birth. His position was such that he could either lead all future generations into worship, obedience, and blessing or into a state of curse by his failure as priestly covenantal representative, leaving all of his descendents without mediation unto God (i.e. utterly cut off from his [blessed] presence or pleasure). This line of reasoning is one proof for the existence in Scripture of what has traditionally been called the Covenant of Works.

This much we know. This is the big idea of the Covenant of Works. Now to the Covenant of Grace.

In 1 Corinthians 15, the apostle Paul sets forth the Lord Jesus Christ as the ‘second Adam’ (v. 45), who stands as our Mediator before the Father. In Christ’s obedience, as the second Adam, (taking Owen’s framework) he becomes our new Covenant of Works-representative. He perfectly keeps the commandments of God and therefore keeps/earns the right, as a man, to enter into God’s perfect rest. The good news (gospel) is that Christ has perfectly kept the Covenant of Works, but instead of entering into God’s rest, voluntarily chose to be cut off and suffer the curse of death (and a cursed death at that, Gal. 3:13) for his people. Therefore, those who trust in him are credited with his righteousness as he is credited (on the cross, in the grave) with their sin. That is what the theologians call ‘double imputation’ (our sin to Christ, his righteousness to us).

Moving back to the Covenant of Works, Owen believes that the principles of the Covenant of Works (I suppose you could call it ‘natural law,’ though I personally wouldn’t) are re-stated in the 10 Commandments as God’s rule of righteousness:

Now, the original covenant of works being, in this representation of it on Sinai, not absolutely changed or abolished, but afresh presented unto the people, only with a relief provided for the covenanters against its curse and severity, with a direction how to use it to another end than was first given unto it, it follows that the day of the sabbatical rest could not be changed (p. 391).

The great difference, however, is that God is gracious in his re-stating of the Law on account that he explicitly provides means for the forgiveness of sin (as Exodus 20 through the end of Deuteronomy demonstrates). In addition to this, the Moral Law (i.e. the Law that corresponds to the Covenant of Works) is mingled with ceremonial law meant specifically for the people of Israel in the context in which they lived before the coming of Christ.

Owen’s position is that Christ therefore performs a double fulfillment: 1) He fulfills the Covenant of Works ‘proper’ – that is, he keeps the Moral Law perfectly, thus serving as the perfect Substitute for our own failures and 2) He fulfills the ceremonial elements of the Law, thus causing them to cease as a requirement for obedience. On Christ’s fulfillment and abolishing of the ceremonial aspects of the fourth commandment, Owen writes,

The representation of that covenant, with the sanction given unto it amongst the judgments of righteousness in the government of the people in the land of Canaan, which was the Lord’s, and not theirs, made it a yoke and burden; and the use it was put unto amongst ceremonial observances made it a shadow: in all which respects it is abolished by Christ. To say that the Sabbath as given unto the Jews is not abolished, is to introduce the whole system of Mosaical ordinances, which stand on the same bottom with it. And particularly, the observation of the seventh day precisely lieth as it were in the heart of the economy (pp. 392-393).

The general Puritan position was that the Moral Law (not ceremonial), in our present age, having been fulfilled by Christ, serves a threefold purpose: 1) to show us our sin and failure and thus drive us to Christ in order to seek his substitution and mercy, 2) to show us how God would govern the world (civil), and 3) as the standard of Christian living. The Christian is meant to be conformed to the image of Christ; Christ revered, honored, and kept the Moral Law; if we would be like Christ we must honor, revere, and keep the Moral Law (realizing that we will fail on account of our sinful natures, and that our actual righteousness depends wholly on the righteousness of Christ as our Representative – thus living by faith).

As a final note, in anticipation of our next and final post, it is interesting that Owen asserts the observation of the sabbath on the seventh day (not in general) as wholly fulfilled and changed. This fact is interesting because, as James Dennison notes in The Market Day of the Soul, many of the Puritans believed that the actual ‘day’ of the original Sabbath (in creation, thus in the Covenant of Works) could not be known because God does not specify which day is the seventh day of creation. The day of the sabbath of the Mosaic covenant is clear, for God gave a double portion of manna to the children of Israel on a certain day, mandating the sabbath on the day that followed (Ex. 16:5). (It is interesting to note, however, that the sixth and seventh days represented in Exodus 16 predate the establishment of the ‘seventh’ day in Exodus 20. It seems the day was already clear and set). On account of this idea, Dennison argues, many of the Puritans held that the important principle of the sanctification of the Sabbath in Genesis is that ‘one day in seven’ be set apart for worship, not that the ‘one day’ be a specific day. We only observe the sabbath on the first day in the present age because it was the tradition of the apostles, not because of some other biblical/theological principle. Owen, however, departs from this line of reasoning, and sees the origin of the Sabbath on the seventh day and its change to the first day as supremely significant. We will look at that fact in the next post in this series.

A Theology of the Sabbath (2): John Owen on the Sabbath Command in the Covenant of Works

So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of GodFor the One who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His” (Hebrews 4:9-10).

The Law Written on the Tablet of the Heart: Image from Samuel Bolton, True Bounds of Christian Freedom (Banner of Truth)

The Law Written on the Tablet of the Heart: Image from Samuel Bolton, The True Bounds of Christian Freedom (Banner of Truth)

All quotations are from John Owen, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews: Vol. II (Grand Rapids: Baker), Reprinted 1980.

For a summary of Owen’s argument, see HERE. For part 1 of this series of posts (Owen on the Moral and Mosaical elements of the fourth commandment), see HERE. For part 3 (Christ’s fulfillment of the Sabbath in the Covenant of Works and its Mosaical Elements) HERE. For part 4 (on the New Covenant Sabbath) see HERE.

Owen contends that the fourth commandment, ‘Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy,’ is rooted in the original creative work (six days) and rest (one day) of God. The ‘rest’ of God on the seventh day is not primarily a cessation of activity, according to Owen, but instead marks the satisfaction of God that his works were indeed “very good” (Gen. 1:31). God was completely satisfied with his work:

God originally, out of his infinite goodness, when suitably thereunto, by his own eternal wisdom and power, he had made all things good, gave unto men a day of rest, as to express unto them his own rest, satisfaction, an complacency in the works of his hands…(p. 266, emphasis added).

He later clarifies this interpretation:

And the expression of God’s rest is of a moral and not a natural signification; for it consists in the satisfaction and complacency that he took in his works, as effects of his goodness, power, and wisdom, disposed in the order and unto the ends mentioned. Hence, as it is said that upon the finishing of them, he looked on “every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” Gen 1:31, —that is, he was satisfied in his works and their disposal, and pronounced concerning them that they became his infinite wisdom and power; so it is added that he not only “ rested on the seventh day,” but also that he was “refreshed,” Exodus 31:17, —that is, be took great complacency in what he had done, as that which was suited unto the end aimed at namely, the expression of his greatness, goodness, and wisdom, unto his rational creatures, and his glory through their obedience thereon, as on the like occasion he is said to “rest in his love,” and to “rejoice with singing,” Zeph. 3:17 (p. 334).

In light of God’s action in creating the world, and his satisfaction with his creation, which is called his ‘rest,’ God mandates the observance of a sabbath for all mankind, in Adam, as a part of his original Covenant of Works. The Westminster Confession (which shares much in common with Owen’s teaching), describes the Covenant of Works in this way:

The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam; and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience (7.2).

Owen writes,

God originally, out of his infinite goodness, when suitably thereunto, by his own eternal wisdom and power, he had made all things good, gave unto men a day of rest, as to express unto them his own rest, satisfaction, an complacency in the works of his hands, so to be a day of rest and composure to themselves, and a means of their entrance into and enjoyment of that rest with himself, here and forever, which had ordained for them (p. 266, emphasis added).

Later, he puts it this way:

For the Sabbath was originally a moral pledge and expression of God’s covenant rest, and of our rest in God…(p. 390).

The sabbath command, in relation to the Covenant of Works, entails the principle that through his continued obedience, in his perfect state, he was, after a time, to enter into the perfect blessing and rest of God (shabbat, shalom):

Thirdly, Man is to be considered with special respect unto that covenant under which he was created, which was a covenant of works; for herein rest with God was proposed unto him as the end or reward of his own works, or of his personal obedience unto God, by absolute strict righteousness and holiness. And the peculiar form of this covenant, as relating unto the way of God’s entering into it upon the finishing of his own works, designed the seventh day from the beginning of the creation to be the day precisely for the observation of a holy rest (p. 338, emphasis added).

And again,

…Whereas the covenant which man originally was taken into was a covenant of works, wherein his obtaining rest with God depended absolutely on his doing all the work he had to do in a way of legal obedience, he was during the dispensation of that covenant tied up precisely to the observation of the seventh day, or that which followed the whole work of creation. And the seventh day, as such, is a pledge and token of the rest promised in the covenant of works, and no other…(p. 345, emphasis added).

And then,

Hence did he learn the nature of the covenant that he was taken into, namely, how he was first to work in obedience, and then to enter into God’s rest in blessedness; for so had God appointed, and so did he understand his will, from his own present state and condition. Hence was he instructed to dedicate to God, and to his own more immediate communion with him, one day in a weekly revolution, wherein the whole law of his creation was consummated, as a pledge and means of entering eternally into God’s rest, which from hence he understood to be his end and happiness (p. 346, emphasis added).

As such, the sabbath in the Covenant of Works has a threefold purpose:

First, That we might learn the satisfaction and complacency that God hath in his own works…And our observation of the evangelical Sabbath hath the same respect unto the works of Christ and his rest thereon, when he saw of the travail of his soul and was satisfied…Secondly, Another end of the original sabbatical rest was, that it might be a pledge unto man of his rest in and with God; for in and by the law of his creation, man had an end of rest proposed unto him, and that in God…Thirdly, Consideration was had of the way and means whereby man might enter into the rest of God proposed unto him. And this was by that obedience and worship of God which the covenant wherein he was created required of him (pp. 335-336).

It is vital that the presence of the sabbath command in the Covenant of Works be understood for at least three reasons: 1) it grounds the command primarily in the principle of God’s rest apart from specific applications made to the Israelites in the Mosaic covenant, 2) as such, it establishes the primary intention of the sabbath as a pledge and picture of God’s offer of rest and satisfaction and blessedness in him, and 3) it sets the ground for Christ’s work of re-creation which is the basis for the transfer of the day of rest from the last day of the week to the first in order point to the rest that may be found in him as Lord of the Sabbath.

In the next post, we will deal with Owen’s argument for Christ’s fulfillment of the sabbath as a principle of the Covenant of Works, of his fulfillment of the Mosaical (ceremonial/civil) elements of the fourth commandment in principle. From there we will take up Owen’s argument that, having fulfilled those elements of the Covenant of Works and Mosaic Law, Christ, entering into the rest of God, establishes a new sabbath for his people. These points will be vital 1) for a proper understanding of what is offered to us in the gospel, 2) for a proper understanding of the purpose of the Lord’s Day or Christian Sabbath, and 3) in light of those points, for guarding us against keeping ourselves under the sanctions of the Covenant of Works. As Owen puts it:

And those who would advance that [the seventh] day again into a necessary observation do consequentially introduce the whole covenant of works, and are become debtors unto the whole law; for the. works of God which preceded the seventh day precisely were those whereby man was initiated into and instructed in the covenant of works, and the day itself was a token and pledge of the righteousness thereof, or a moral and natural sign of it, and of the rest of God therein, and the rest of man with God thereby (pp. 345-346).

A Theology of the Sabbath (1): John Owen on the Fourth Commandment as Moral and Mosaical

So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of GodFor the One who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His” (Hebrews 4:9-10).

The Law Written on the Tablet of the Heart: Image from Samuel Bolton, True Bounds of Christian Freedom (Banner of Truth)

The Law Written on the Tablet of the Heart: Image from Samuel Bolton, The True Bounds of Christian Freedom (Banner of Truth)

All quotations are from John Owen, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews: Vol. II (Grand Rapids: Baker), Reprinted 1980. For a list of relevant quotations, see HERE.

Update: See Part 2 (The Sabbath in the Covenant of Works) HERE.

John Owen makes a distinction between ‘moral’ and ‘Mosaical’ elements in the fourth commandment:

For whereas some have made no distinction between the Sabbath as moral and as Mosaical, unless it be merely in the change of the day, they have endeavored to introduce the whole practice required on the latter into the Lord’s day (p. 441).

In the above quote, he is making the point that he believes the Christian interpretation of the fourth (sabbath) commandment which requires the entire commandment to be seen as presently binding is wrong. He sees, in the fourth commandment, two distinct elements: the moral and the Mosaical. The moral essence of the command remains binding: “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy” (Ex. 20:8). The Mosaical elements, which are ‘explicatory’ of the commandment in the distinct setting in which they are given to Israel are no longer in force: “Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Ex. 20:9-11).

He explains:

It is by all confessed that the command of the Sabbath, in the renewal of it in the wilderness, was accommodated unto the pedagogical state of the church of the Israelites. There were also such additions made unto it, in the manner of its observance and the sanction of it, as might adapt its observation unto their civil and political estate…So was it to bear a part in that ceremonial instruction which God in all his dealings with them intended. To this end also the manner of the delivery of the whole law and the preservation of its tables in the ark were designed. And divers expressions in the explicatory parts of the decalogue have the same reason and foundation. For there is mention of fathers and children to the third and fourth generation, and of their sins, in the second commandment; of the land given to the people of God, in the fifth; of servants and handmaids, in the tenth. Shall we therefore say that the moral law was not before given unto mankind, because it had a peculiar delivery, for special ends and purposes, unto the Jews? (p. 314).

This view is predicated on the idea that the original Sabbath command was a part of the pre-Fall (Adamic) covenant of works. We will deal with that issue in another post (Update: see HERE). For our present purpose here, I will draw from a contemporary of Owen (and a Westminster Divine): Samuel Bolton. Bolton held a very similar view to the nature of Old Testament Law. He describes the relationship of the moral and Mosaical (which he divides into two parts, ceremonial and judicial; these have also regularly been called ‘ceremonial’ and ‘civil’) in this way:

The ceremonial law was an appendix to the first table of the moral law. It was an ordinance containing precepts of worship for the Jews when they were in their infancy…As for the judicial law, which was an appendix to the second table, it was an ordinance containing precepts concerning the government of the people in things civil…(The True Bounds of Christian Freedom, p. 56).

I have written on Bolton’s interpretation HERE. In that post, I shared a diagram (that I created, poorly I might add) that summarizes Bolton’s view:

Here is the explanation: the great commandment and the second which is ‘like unto it’ (Matthew 22:37-39) are further elaborated in the moral law of the 10 Commandments (or to put it another way, ‘Love God’ and ‘Love your neighbor’ serve as a summary of the moral law). The Moral Law is then applied specifically to Israel by way of the Ceremonial and Civil Laws (which Bolton likens to appendices, something added after the initial laws). The Cleanliness laws are placed in the middle of the appendices, between the Civil and Ceremonial, because they can fall into either or both categories (see the original post linked above for further explanation).

With this in mind, what we find in Owen is this: he believes that appendices to the commandments not only exist after the initial giving of the 10 Commandments, but in the giving of the 10 Commandments themselves. Restating the relevant parts of the quotation above relating to ‘Mosaical’ (Ceremonial/Civil) additions to the Moral Law:

There were also such additions made unto it, in the manner of its observance and the sanction of it, as might adapt its observation unto their civil and political estate…

He lists a few examples of such additions:

…There is mention of fathers and children to the third and fourth generation, and of their sins, in the second commandment; of the land given to the people of God, in the fifth; of servants and handmaids, in the tenth. Shall we therefore say that the moral law was not before given unto mankind, because it had a peculiar delivery, for special ends and purposes, unto the Jews?

While this interpretation might seem strange upon first reading, upon careful review it will be clear that Christians have always made such a distinction (and continue to make such a distinction) in parts of the 10 Commandments. For example, consider the 2nd Commandment (according to the Protestant numbering of the Commandments):

You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.(Ex. 20:4-6).

The NAS, for instance, makes the point clear by translating ‘carved image’ as an ‘idol.’ Christians understand that the commandment applies to more than carved images. The Westminster Shorter Catechism, for instance, describes the requirements of the second commandment in this way:

Q. 50. What is required in the second commandment?
A. The second commandment requireth the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God hath appointed in his word.

Q. 51. What is forbidden in the second commandment?
A. The second commandment forbiddeth the worshiping of God by images, or any other way not appointed in his word.

We also, at least it seems to me, tend to stray away from the idea of direct, judicial generational curses, realizing that this element of the commandment was tied to the Mosaic administration of the Law.

Next, consider the fifth commandment:

Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you (Ex. 20:12).

The land promise tied to obedience is, at least, radically changed under the New Covenant. It is clear that this promise (based on obedience) was in direct reference to the Promised Land of Canaan.

So then, Owen argues that the the majority of what is known as the fourth commandment is essentially an appendix meant for the children of Israel under the Mosaic Covenant; those elements, he will argue, are fulfilled in Christ, while the moral essence of the commandment, ‘Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy,’ abides.

We will look at the rest of the argument in detail in future posts. Subjects included will be Owen’s view of the Mosaic Law (with the Sabbath in particular) as a restatement of the Covenant of Works, how Christ’s Law-keeping, death, and resurrection relate to the Sabbath command in relation to the Covenant of Works, and how Christ, fulfilling the Law, begins, in the resurrection, a new creation with a new (Christian) Sabbath – the Lord’s Day.

A Summary of John Owen on the Sabbath

Update: I am writing a series of posts based on Owen’s argument. See part 1(the Sabbath as Moral and Mosaical) HERE, part 2 (the Sabbath in the Covenant of Works) HERE, part 3 (Christ’s fulfillment of the Sabbath in the Covenant of Works and its Mosaical Elements) HERE, and part 4 (the Sabbath in the New Covenant) HERE.

In his (massive and epic) exposition of Hebrews, John Owen provides a large excursus on the Reformed doctrine of the Sabbath. The full title (which is amazing) is Exercitations Concerning the Name, Original, Nature, Use, and Continuance of a Day of Sacred Rest wherein the Original of the Sabbath from the Foundation of the World, the Morality of the Fourth Commandment, with the change of the Seventh Day, are Inquired Into; Together with an Assertion of the Divine Institution of the Lord’s Day, and Practical Directions for its Due Observation.  The context of the excursus is Hebrews 4, and particularly vv. 9-10:

So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of GodFor the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His.

Owen’s primary contention is that ‘the one’ of verse 10 is Jesus Christ. Christ, in his resurrection and ascension, has entered into His own rest, reminiscent of the original Sabbath rest of creation, thus inaugurating the new age, and the new heavens and the new earth. In order to build upon this idea, Owen traces his doctrine back to creation in Genesis 1 and 2, through the Sabbath command of Exodus and Deuteronomy, and into its fulfillment and renovation in Christ.

What follows is my attempt at a summary of Owen’s exposition of Hebrews 4:9-10 using only quotes from him with headings added by me. Each bullet point is a quotation. Quotations are taken from John Owen, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews: Vol. II (Grand Rapids: Baker), Reprinted 1980. This seven-volume set was given to me as a gift years ago. I’ve ever remained thankful. You can read an online version for free HERE. After this post, I will likely devote some time to fleshing out this argument apart from simple quotations. I will update this post as I continue writing about the subject in the future (I hope to work through this on a semi-point-by-point basis in future posts as time permits). This is a lot of straight quotation (I know), but the argument is worth our attention, as there is very little thought with any sort of depth or nuance regarding a Christian doctrine of the sabbath these days.

I. The Sabbath Command is Grounded in God’s Own Rest (Satisfaction and Complacency) in His Creative Work

  • God originally, out of his infinite goodness, when suitably thereunto, by his own eternal wisdom and power, he had made all things good, gave unto men a day of rest, as to express unto them his own rest, satisfaction, an complacency in the works of his hands, so to be a day of rest and composure to themselves, and a means of their entrance into and enjoyment of that rest with himself, here and forever, which had ordained for them (p. 266).
  • And the expression of God’s rest is of a moral and not a natural signification; for it consists in the satisfaction and complacency that he took in his works, as effects of his goodness, power, and wisdom, disposed in the order and unto the ends mentioned. Hence, as it is said that upon the finishing of them, he looked on “every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” Gen 1:31, —that is, he was satisfied in his works and their disposal, and pronounced concerning them that they became his infinite wisdom and power; so it is added that he not only “ rested on the seventh day,” but also that he was “refreshed,” Exodus 31:17, —that is, be took great complacency in what he had done, as that which was suited unto the end aimed at namely, the expression of his greatness, goodness, and wisdom, unto his rational creatures, and his glory through their obedience thereon, as on the like occasion he is said to “rest in his love,” and to “rejoice with singing,” Zeph. 3:17 (p. 334).
  • For the Sabbath was originally a moral pledge and expression of God’s covenant rest, and of our rest in God…(p. 390).

II. The Sabbath Command is Embedded in the Natural Law of Creation

  • All nations, I say, in all ages, have from time immemorial made the revolution of seven days to be the second stated period of time. And this observation is still continued throughout the world, unless amongst them who in other things are openly degenerated from the law of nature…(p. 309).

III. The Sabbath Command was a Part of the Original Covenant of Works with Adam

  • Thirdly, Man is to be considered with special respect unto that covenant under which he was created, which was a covenant of works; for herein rest with God was proposed unto him as the end or reward of his own works, or of his personal obedience unto God, by absolute strict righteousness and holiness. And the peculiar form of this covenant, as relating unto the way of God’s entering into it upon the finishing of his own works, designed the seventh day from the beginning of the creation to be the day precisely for the observation of a holy rest (p. 338).
  • …Whereas the covenant which man originally was taken into was a covenant of works, wherein his obtaining rest with God depended absolutely on his doing all the work he had to do in a way of legal obedience, he was during the dispensation of that covenant tied up precisely to the observation of the seventh day, or that which followed the whole work of creation. And the seventh day, as such, is a pledge and token of the rest promised in the covenant of works, and no other. And those who would advance that day again into a necessary observation do consequentially introduce the whole covenant of works, and are become debtors unto the whole law; for the. works of God which preceded the seventh day precisely were those whereby man was initiated into and instructed in the covenant of works, and the day itself was a token and pledge of the righteousness thereof, or a moral and natural sign of it, and of the rest of God therein, and the rest of man with God thereby (pp. 345-346).
  • Hence did he learn the nature of the covenant that he was taken into, namely, how he was first to work in obedience, and then to enter into God’s rest in blessedness; for so had God appointed, and so did he understand his will, from his own present state and condition. Hence was he instructed to dedicate to God, and to his own more immediate communion with him, one day in a weekly revolution, wherein the whole law of his creation was consummated, as a pledge and means of entering eternally into God’s rest, which from hence he understood to be his end and happiness (p. 346).

IV. Reasons for the Sabbath Command in the Covenant of Works

  • First, That we might learn the satisfaction and complacency that God hath in his own works…And our observation of the evangelical Sabbath hath the same respect unto the works of Christ and his rest thereon, when he saw of the travail of his soul and was satisfied…(p. 335).
  • Secondly, Another end of the original sabbatical rest was, that it might be a pledge unto man of his rest in and with God; for in and by the law of his creation, man had an end of rest proposed unto him, and that in God (p. 335).
  • Thirdly, Consideration was had of the way and means whereby man might enter into the rest of God proposed unto him. And this was by that obedience and worship of God which the covenant wherein he was created required of him (p. 336).

V. The Mosaic Law (including the Sabbath Command) is in some sense a Re-Presentation or Re-Publication of the Covenant of Works

  • Now, the original covenant of works being, in this representation of it on Sinai, not absolutely changed or abolished, but afresh presented unto the people, only with a relief provided for the covenanters against its curse and severity, with a direction how to use it to another end than was first given unto it, it follows that the day of the sabbatical rest could not be changed. And therefore was the observation of the seventh day precisely continued, because it was a moral pledge of the rest of God in the first covenant; for this the instructive part of the law of our creation, from God’s making the world in six days, and resting on the seventh, did require. The observation of this day, therefore, was still continued among the Israelites, because the first covenant was again presented unto them (p. 391).
  • But when that covenant was absolutely, and in all respects as a covenant, taken away and disannulled, and that not only as to its formal efficacy, but also as to the manner of the administration of God’s covenant with men, as it is under the gospel, there was a necessity that the day of rest should also be changed, as I have more fully showed elsewhere. I say, then, that the precise observation of the seventh day enjoined unto the Israelites had respect unto the covenant of works, wherein the foundation of it was laid, as hath been demonstrated. And the whole controversy about what day is to be observed now as a day of holy rest unto the Lord, is resolved fully into this inquiry, namely, what covenant we do walk before God in (pp. 391-392).

VI. Specific External Applications are Added to the Sabbath Command Under Moses that are Particular to Israel

  • It is by all confessed that the command of the Sabbath, in the renewal of it in the wilderness, was accommodated unto the pedagogical state of the church of the Israelites. There were also such additions made unto it, in the manner of its observance and the sanction of it, as might adapt its observation unto their civil and political estate…So was it to bear a part in that ceremonial instruction which God in all his dealings with them intended. To this end also the manner of the delivery of the whole law and the preservation of its tables in the ark were designed. And divers expressions in the explicatory parts of the decalogue have the same reason and foundation. For there is mention of fathers and children to the third and fourth generation, and of their sins, in the second commandment; of the land given to the people of God, in the fifth; of servants and handmaids, in the tenth. Shall we therefore say that the moral law was not before given unto mankind, because it had a peculiar delivery, for special ends and purposes, unto the Jews? (p. 314).
  • …For all the judgments relating unto civil things were but an application of the moral law to their state and condition. Hence was the sanction of the transgression of it to be punished with death. So was it in particular with respect unto the Sabbath, Numbers 15:32-36, partly that it might represent unto them the original sanction of the whole law as a covenant of works, and partly to keep that stubborn people by this severity within due bounds of government. Nor was any thing punished by death judicially in the law but the transgression of some moral command…“the hand of heaven,” is threatened against their presumptuous transgression of the ceremonial law, where no sacrifice was allowed: “I the LORD will set my face against that man, and cut him off.” This also made the Sabbath a yoke and a burden, that wherein their consciences could never find perfect rest. And in this sense also it is abolished and taken away (p. 392).
  • The representation of that covenant, with the sanction given unto it amongst the judgments of righteousness in the government of the people in the land of Canaan, which was the Lord’s, and not theirs, made it a yoke and burden; and the use it was put unto amongst ceremonial observances made it a shadow: in all which respects it is abolished by Christ. To say that the Sabbath as given unto the Jews is not abolished, is to introduce the whole system of Mosaical ordinances, which stand on the same bottom with it. And particularly, the observation of the seventh day precisely lieth as it were in the heart of the economy (pp. 392-393).

VII. Hence a Distinction Must be Made in the Law Between Strictly Moral and Mosaical (Moral Mingled with Ceremonial and Civil)

  • For whereas some have made no distinction between the Sabbath as moral and as Mosaical, unless it be merely in the change of the day, they have endeavored to introduce the whole practice required on the latter into the Lord’s day (p. 441).

VIII. Summary of the Old Testament Teaching of the Sabbath

  • …It appears that the observation of the seventh day precisely from the beginning of the world belonged unto the covenant of works, not as a covenant, but as a covenant of works, founded in the law of creation; and that in the administration of that covenant, which was revived, and unto certain ends re-enforced unto the church of Israel in the wilderness, it was bound on them by an especial ordinance, to be observed throughout their generations, or during the continuance of their church-state. Moreover, that as to the manner of its observance required by the law, as delivered on mount Sinai, it was a yoke and burden to the people, because that dispensation of the law gendered unto bondage, Galatians 4:24; for it begot a spirit of fear and bondage in all that were its children and subject unto its power. In this condition of things it was applied unto sundry ends in their typical state; in which regard it was “ a shadow of good things to come.” And so also was it in respect of those other additional institutions and prohibitions which were inseparable from its observation amongst them, whereof we have spoken.On all these accounts I doubt not but that the Mosaical Sabbath, and the manner of its observation, are under the gospel utterly taken away. But as for the weekly Sabbath, as required by the law of our creation, and reenforced in the decalogue, the summary representation of that great original law, the observation of it is a moral duty, which by divine authority is translated unto another day (p. 402).

IX. Christ’s New Creation (in His Resurrection) Becomes the New Covenant Paradigm for the Christian Sabbath, or ‘the Lord’s Day’ (Hence the Change from Last to First Day of the Week)

  • As our Lord Jesus Christ, as the eternal Son and Wisdom of the Father, was the immediate cause and author of the old creation, John 1:3, Colossians 1:16, Hebrews 1:2,10, so as Mediator he was the author of this new creation, Hebrews 3:3-4. He built the house of God; he built all these things, and is God. Herein he wrought, and in the accomplishment of it “saw of the travail of his soul, and was satisfied,” Isaiah 53:11; that is, “he rested, and was refreshed.” Herein he gave a new law of life, faith, and obedience unto God, Isaiah 42:4; not by an addition of new precepts to the moral law of God not virtually comprised therein, and distinct from his own positive institutions of worship, but in his revelation of that new way of obedience unto God in and by himself, with the especial causes, means, and ends of it, — which supplies the use and end whereunto the moral law was at first designed, Romans 8:2-3, 10:3- 4, — whereby he becomes “the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him,” Hebrews 5:9. This law of life and obedience he writes by his Spirit in the hearts of his people, that they may be “willing in the day of his power,” Psalm 110:3, 2 Corinthians 3:3,6, Hebrews 8:10; not at once and in the foundation of his work actually, but only in the causes of it. For as the law of nature should have been implanted in the hearts of men in their conception and natural nativity, had that dispensation of righteousness continued, so in the new birth of them that believe in him is this law written in their hearts in all generations, John 3:6. Hereon was the covenant established and all the promises thereof, of which he was the mediator, Hebrews 8:6. And for a holy day of rest, for the ends before declared, and on the suppositions before laid down evincing the necessity of such a day, he determined the observation of the first day of the week; for, — 9. First, on this day he rested from his works, in and by his resurrection; for then had he laid the foundation of the new heavens and new earth, and finished the works of the new creation, “when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.” On this day he rested from his works, and was refreshed, as God did and was from his. For although he “worketh hitherto,” in the communication of his Spirit and graces, as the Father continued to do in his works of providence, after the finishing of the works of the old creation, though these works belonged thereunto, yet he ceased absolutely from that kind of work whereby he laid the foundation of the new creation. Henceforth he dieth no more. And on this day was he refreshed in the view of his work; for he saw that it was exceeding good. Now, as God’s rest, and his being refreshed in his work, on the seventh day of old, was a sufficient indication of the precise day of rest which he would have observed under the administration of that original law and covenant, so the rest of our Lord Jesus Christ, and his being refreshed in and from his works, on the first day, is a sufficient indication of the precise day of rest to be observed under the dispensation of the new covenant, now confirmed and established (pp. 409-410).
  • …The apostle proves, from the words of the psalmist, that there was yet to be a third state of the church, an especial state under the Messiah, which he now proposed unto the Hebrews, and exhorted them to enter into. And in this church-state there is to be also a peculiar state of rest, distinct from them which went before. To the constitution hereof there are three things required :— First, That there be some signal work of God completed and finished, whereon he enters into his rest. This was to be the foundation of the whole new church-state, and of the rest to be obtained therein. Secondly, That there be a spiritual rest ensuing thereon and arising thence, for them that believe to enter into. Thirdly, That there be a new or renewed day of rest, to express that rest of God, and to be a pledge of our entering into it. If any of these, or either of them, be wanting, the whole structure of the apostle’s discourse will be dissolved, neither will there be any color remaining for his mentioning the seventh day and the rest thereof. These things, therefore, we must further inquire into. 19. First, the apostle showeth that there was a great work of God, and that finished, for the foundation of the whole. This he had made way for, chap. 3:4-5, where he both expressly asserts the Son to be God, and shows the analogy that is between the creation of all things and the building of the church, — that is, the works of the old and new creation. As, then, God wrought in the creation of all, so Christ, who is God, wrought in the setting up of this new church-state. And upon his finishing of it he entered into his rest, as God did into his, whereby he limited a certain day of rest unto his people. So he speaks, “There remaineth therefore a sabbatism for the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, he also has ceased from his works, as God did from his own.” A new day of rest, accommodated unto this new church-state, arises from the rest that the Lord Christ entered into upon his ceasing from his works (p. 416).

X. A Return to Old Testament Sabbatarianism (Seventh Day) is a Return to the Covenant of Works

  • …So the covenant being changed, and the rest which was the end of it being changed, and the way of entering into the rest of God being changed, a change of the day of rest must of necessity thereon ensue. And no man can assert the same day of rest precisely to abide as of old, but he must likewise assert the same law, the same covenant, the same rest of God, the same way of entering into it; which yet, as all acknowledge, are changed (p. 407).

XI. Summary of the Lord’s Day

  • What account can we give to ourselves and our children concerning our observation of this day holy unto the Lord? Must we not say, nay, may we not do so with joy and rejoicing, that whereas we were lost and undone by sin, excluded out of the rest of God, so far as that the law of the observation of the outward pledge of it, being attended with the curse, was a burden, and no relief to us, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, undertook a great work to make peace for us, to redeem and save us; and when he had so done, and finished his work, even the erecting of the “new heavens and new earth, wherein dwells righteousness,’’ he entered into his rest, and thereby made known to us that we should keep this day as a day of holy rest unto him, and as a pledge that we have again given to us an entrance into rest with God? (p. 450).

XII. Duties of the Lord’s Day

  • All duties proper and peculiar to this day are duties of communion with God (p. 452).
  • The public duties of the day are principally to be regarded. By public duties, I intend the due attendance unto and the due performance of all those parts of his solemn worship which God has appointed to be observed in the assemblies of his people, and in the manner wherein he has appointed them to be observed (p. 457).
  • …The public and solemn worship of God is to be preferred above that which is private. They may be so prudently managed as not to interfere nor ordinarily to intrench on one another; but wherever on any occasion they seem so to do, the private are to give place to the public: for one chief end of the sacred setting apart of this day, is the solemn acknowledgment of God, and the performance of his worship in assemblies. It is therefore a marvelous undue custom, on the pretense of private duties, whether personal or domestic, to abate any part of the duties of solemn assemblies; for there is in it a setting up of our own choice and inclinations against the wisdom and authority of God (pp. 457-458).
  • Refreshments helpful to nature, so far as to refresh it, that it may have a supply of spirits to go on cheerfully in the duties of holy worship, are lawful and useful. To macerate the body with abstinences on this day is required of none, and to turn it into a fast, or to fast upon it, is generally condemned by the ancients. Wherefore to forbear provision of necessary food for families on this day is Mosaical; and the enforcement of the particular precepts about not kindling fire in our houses on this day, baking and preparing the food of it the day before, cannot be insisted on without a re-introduction of the seventh day precisely, to whose observation they were annexed, and thereby of the law and spirit of the old covenant. Provided always that these refreshments be, — First . Seasonable for the time of them, and not when public duties require our attendance on them; Secondly. Accompanied with a singular regard to the rules of temperance; as, (First.) That there be no appearance of evil; (Secondly.) That nature be not charged with any kind of excess, so far as to be hindered rather than assisted in the duties of the day; (Thirdly.) That they be accompanied with gravity, and sobriety, and purity of conversation. Now, whereas these things are, in the substance of them, required of us in the whole course of our lives, as we intend to please God, and to come to the enjoyment of him, none ought to think an especial regard unto them on this day to be a bondage or troublesome unto them.
  • For private duties, both personal and domestic, they are either antecedent or consequent to the solemn public worship, as usually for time it is celebrated amongst us. These consisting in the known religious exercises of prayer, reading the Scripture, meditation, family instructions from the advantage of the public ordinances, they are to be recommended to every one’s conscience, ability, and opportunity, as they shall find strength and assistance for them.

Jonathan Edwards on the Covenant of Works

This post contains a compilation of several Jonathan Edwards quotes on the subject of the Covenant of Works. Several ‘miscellanies’ also reveal his position on the Mosaic covenant as, in some sense, a repetition of it (though it is, at one and the same time, a part of the Covenant of Grace) . All quotations (most of which come from The “Miscellanies“) are taken from the website of The Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University and contain specific links to the website. Let me commend that website to anyone interested in Edwards, as this list would have been quite difficult to compile without their searchable database.
The Covenant of Works is Still in Force: It is an Everlasting Covenant
30. COVENANT.
With reference to what has been before spoken of the covenant [No. 2]. Covenant is taken very variously in Scripture, sometimes for a divine promise, sometimes for a divine promise on conditions. But if we speak of the covenant God has made with man stating the condition of eternal life, God never made but one with man to wit, the covenant of works; which never yet was abrogated, but is a covenant stands in full force to all eternity without the failing of one tittle. The covenant of grace is not another covenant made with man upon the abrogation of this, but a covenant made with Christ to fulfill it. And for this end came Christ into the world, to fulfill the law, or covenant of works, for all that receive him (Miscellanies, HERE).
The Covenant of Works Must be Fulfilled by a Federal Head: Adam or Christ
35. COVENANT.
Towards the rectifying of what has been already said about the covenants [Nos. 2, 30]. The covenant of grace or redemption (which we have showed to be the same) cannot be called a new covenant, or the second covenant, with respect to the covenant of works; for that is not grown old yet but is an eternal immutable covenant, of which one jot nor tittle will never fail. There have never been two covenants, in strictness of speech, but only two ways constituted of performing of this covenant: the first constituting Adam the representative and federal head, and the second constituting Christ the federal head; the one a dead way, the other a living way and an everlasting one (Miscellanies, HERE).
The Law is a Covenant of Works Meant to Graciously Lead Israel to Christ
 250. COVENANT.
I think really that the covenant that God made with the children of Israel was the covenant of works. He still held them under that covenant; that is, what is required in that covenant is to them particularly deciphered, and many additional positive commands which answer to the precept concerning the forbidden fruits and God proposes this covenant to them as the condition of his favor, and gives them to understand that none of those promises he had made could be challenged without perfect obedience: but yet gives them to understand so much of his merciful nature and his inclination to pity them and to accept of a propitiation for them, that they, finding that they could not challenge anything from those promises [on the ground] of obedience, trusted only to the mere undeserved mercy of God and were saved by grace, and expected life only of mere mercy.We are indeed now under the covenant of works so, that if we are perfectly righteous we can challenge salvation. But herein is the difference betwixt us and them: to us God has plainly declared the impossibility of obtaining life by that covenant, and lets us know that no mortal can be saved but only of mere grace, and lets us know clearly how we are made partakers of that grace. All ever since the fall were equally under the covenant of grace so far, that they were saved by it all alike, but the difference is in the revelation: the covenant of works was most clearly revealed to the Israelites, to us the covenant of grace. The church, which was then in its infant [state], could not bear a revelation of the covenant of grace in plain terms; and so with them the best way to bring them off from their own righteousness was to propose the covenant of works to them, and to renew the promise of life upon those conditions. God did with them as Christ did with the young man that asked what he should do for eternal life: Christ bids him keep the commandments. And in that sense they were under the covenant of works, that it was proposed to them as the condition of life, that they might try. To us it is not so.The covenant of grace was indeed insinuated to them and proposed under covert, but ’twas to that they were all forced to fly. The promises seem to be so contrived as to give them to see that they can’t challenge anything except they perform a perfect obedience, if God will be strict, but yet that he will of his mere mercy accept them into his favor if they perform a sincere obedience proceeding from the true love and fear of him; so that the fruits of faith are proposed instead of faith itself. But by this, none but such as had faith could hope for life; and by God’s contrivance of that dispensation they were led not to depend on these as works, but as a disposition to receive, as so many manifestations of repentance and submission; and they depended on them as such only, for life (Miscellanies, HERE).
Outward Blessings of Mosaic Covenant ‘Entirely Legal’

252. COVENANT.
The covenant that God made with the children of Israel with respect to outward blessings was entirely legal, a covenant of works (Miscellanies, HERE).
Impossibility of Keeping the Covenant Was Meant to Cause them to Seek Grace and a Mediator
439. COVENANTS. TESTAMENTS.
The covenant that God made of old with the children of Israel is spoken of in Scripture as different from that which he makes with his people in these gospel times. We will consider what difference there was. And here, 1. God proposed a covenant to them that was essentially and entirely different, which was the covenant of works: he promulgated the moral law to them, together with many positive precepts of the ceremonial and judicial law, that answered to the prohibition of eating the forbidden fruit; which God proposed to them with the threatening of death, and the curse affixed to the least defect in obedience. If it be inquired, in what sense God gave this covenant to them more than to us, I answer, that although it was as much impossible for them to be saved by it as it is for us, yet it was really proposed to them as a covenant for them, for their trial (Exodus 20:20), that they might this way be brought to despair of obtaining life by this covenant, and might see their necessity of free grace and a Mediator. God chose this way to convince them, by Proposing the covenant of works to them, as though he expected they should seek and obtain life in this way, that everyone, when he came to apply it to himself, might see its impracticableness; as being a way of conviction to that ignorant and infantile state of the church. God did with them as Christ did with the young man, when he came and inquired what he should do to inherit eternal life: Christ bid him keep the commandments. There was this difference also: the law, or covenant of works, was more fully and plainly revealed to them than the gospel, or covenant of grace, was… (Miscellanies, HERE).
Explicit Moral Law Unnecessary for the Righteous
611. COVENANT OF WORKS,
why the moral law was not expressly given to our first parents, as well as the precept of not eating the forbidden fruit, see note on 1 Timothy 1:9 (Miscellanies, HERE).
The “Blank Bible” note on 1 Timothy 1:9 states, “This may be given as a reason why the precepts of the moral law were not expressed by God to our first parents, as well as that positive precept of not eating the forbidden fruit. There is not that need of God’s expressly and particularly forbidding these and those immoralities to one that is perfectly righteous.”
  • …understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers (1 Tim. 1:9)

The Covenant of Works Offers Life for Obedience; Romans 1-3 Represents the Covenant of Works

1074. THE COVENANT WITH ADAM.
That there was not only a threatening of death for disobedience, but a promise of immortal and more glorious life for obedience given to Adam in his first estate, is argued by Dr. Watts in his Ruin and Recovery, not only from the history of that affair in Genesis, but from several other things in Scripture.

1. From Romans 2:7, where he supposes “the Apostle is rather representing the terms of the covenant of works, than the terms of the covenant of grace. God will render ‘indignation and wrath, [tribulation and anguish,] upon every soul of man that doth evil’ Romans 2:8–9]; but eternal life, with glory, honor and peace ‘to them who, by patient continuance in well doing, seek for glory, honor and immortality’ Romans 2:7], and Romans 2:10, ‘glory, honor and peace to every man that worketh good.'” Dr. Watts supposes it to be agreeable to the design of the Apostle in these three first chapters of the Romans here to represent the terms of the covenant of works, and show how all men are brought under condemnation by the law.

2. He observes that “’tis the covenant of works, with the terms of it, as expressed in the books of Moses, which is cited by St. Paul, Galatians 3:12, ‘The man that doth the commands shall live in or by them’; and Romans 10:5. This is called ‘the righteousness of the law,’ i.e. that which entitles a man to the promise of life. And Romans 7:10, ‘The commandment of the law which was ordained to life,’ shows that life and immortality would have been the reward of obedience to it.”

3. He produces to the same purpose that in Romans 3:23, “‘all have sinned and come short of the glory of God,’ i.e. have lost all hope of that glory of God, that glorious state in immortality which God promised, and to which man would have been entitled by his obedience, as Romans 2:7, before cited.”

4. “Hosea 6:7, ‘They like men have transgressed the covenant.’ But in the original it is, ‘they have transgressed the covenant like Adam’; which imports that Adam was under a covenant of life, as well as a law that threatened death: for there must be a promise of life, as well as a threatening of death, to make a law become a covenant” (Miscellanies, HERE).

Christ Declares the Blessing of Obedience to the Covenant of Works; He Knew the Terms
1152.The original MS resumes here. The part of the original MS page on which JE wrote No. 1152 (as well as a brief section of No. 1150) was cut out at some point; the fragment is now at the Library of Congress. COVENANTS. PERFECT OBEDIENCE. CHRIST’S RIGHTEOUSNESS.
So it is most natural to understand that [saying] of Christ, John 12:50, “And I know that his commandment is life everlasting,” that obedience to the commands of God the Father is the grand, unalterable condition of eternal life to all his subjects universally. See the context (Miscellanies, HERE).
The Thunder and Lighting of Sinai Point to the Law as a Covenant of Works
III. The next thing done towards the work of redemption, is God’s giving the moral law in so awful a manner at mount Sinai. This was another new step taken in this great affair. Deut. iv. 33. “Did ever people hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as thou hast heard, and live?” And it was a great thing, whether we consider it as a new exhibition of the covenant of works, or given as a rule of life.
The covenant of works was here exhibited as a schoolmaster to lead to Christ, not only for the use of that nation, under the Old Testament, but for the use of God’s church throughout all ages of the world. It is an instrument that the great Redeemer makes use of to convince men of their sin, misery, and helpless state, and of God’s awful and tremendous majesty and justice as a lawgiver, in order to make men sensible of the necessity of Christ as a Saviour. This work of redemption, in its saving effect on men’s souls, in all its progress, is not carried on without the use of this law delivered at Sinai.

It was given in an awful manner, with a terrible voice, exceedingly loud and awful, so that all the people in the camp trembled; and even Moses himself, though so intimate a friend of God, said, “I exceedingly fear and quake. “ The voice was accompanied with thunders and lightnings, the mountain burning with fire to the midst of heaven, and the earth itself shaking and trembling. This was done in order to make all sensible how great that authority, power, and justice were, that stood engaged to exact the fulfilment of this law, and to see it fully executed. Here might he understood, how strictly God would require the fulfilment; and how terrible his wrath would be against every transgressor. Men, being sensible of these things, might thoroughly prove their own hearts, and know how impossible it is for them to obtain salvation by the works of the law, and be assured of their absolute need of a mediator.

If we regard the law given at mount Sinai—not as a covenant of works, but—as a rule of life, it is employed by the Redeemer, from that time to the end of the world, as a directory to his people, to show them the way in which they must walk, as they would go to heaven: for a way of sincere and universal obedience to this law is the narrow way that leads to life (From A History of the Work of Redemption, 4:3 HERE).

A Case for Infant Baptism from Covenantal Lordship

In this post I present several quotes that I have found helpful over the years in clarifying and expressing my views on baptism. I have wanted to record these quotes in one place for future reference for quite some time and have finally gotten around to doing it. In summary, I have outlined the quotes to present an argument for infant baptism based upon the doctrine of Christ’s covenantal lordship, and his delegation of that lordship in Christian families.

The two authors quoted below are Meredith Kline, who was a paedo-baptist, and Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who was a credo-baptist. Kline’s book, By Oath Consigned has been instrumental for my understanding of the doctrine of baptism. I do not agree with every element of the book. I am not sold on his teaching about New Covenant covenantal curses. But, I should point out, Kline reportedly tweaked his own teaching on baptism in later years and decided to bring the book out of print. Despite this, however, Kline’s teaching on suzerain-vassal treaties and the import of the theme of lordship within covenant structures, ceremonies, and signs is extremely illuminating. It is this line of thought from the book that I use.

As for the Doctor, years ago I spent a good deal of time reading his commentaries on Ephesians. In his sermons on the family in Ephesians 6 and baptism in Ephesians 4, I found some striking statements that have served to help me express my own contentions about the role of Christ’s lordship in baptism and general family life.

The primary Scriptures referenced for this argument are the ‘Great Commission’ of Matthew 28:18-20:

  • Matthew 28:18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

And the following statements of the Apostle Paul from his Epistle to the Ephesians:

  • Ephesians 4:5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism
  • Ephesians 6:1 ¶ Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.
  • Ephesians 6:4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

In addition to these texts, Kline points us to the texts and context of the institution and import of circumcision in Genesis. And we also might point to various texts dealing with baptism such as 1 Peter3:21, which, Kline notes, may be translated that baptism is ‘a pledge of good will to God’ (that is, a pledge of allegiance) (By Oath Consigned, p. 67) or 1 Corinthians 10:2, which we discuss below. The ‘household’ baptisms of Acts and 1 Corinthians 1:16, as well as Paul’s statement concerning the ‘consecration’ of children in 7:13, come into play, but I will not discuss those texts in this post. I will only say in passing that the doctrine of covenantal lordship set forth below sheds tremendous light on each of those texts. Read this post, then read those texts, and see if they do not begin to make sense.

Each quote referenced by Kline comes from the book By Oath Consigned. And with those preliminaries covered, I give you my outline:

1. In the Old Testament, God is Lord of his covenants

Now since in certain notable instances, particularly but not exclusively in the Mosaic covenants, it pleased the Lord of Israel to describe his covenant relationship to his people according to the pattern of these vassal treaties, no other conclusion is warranted than that ‘covenant’ in these instances denoted at the formal level the same kind of relationship as did the vassal covenants on which they were modeled. That is, covenant in these divine-human transactions denoted a law covenant and hence was expressive of a lordship that could satisfy the terms of the covenant by stretching forth its sceptre in either blessing or curse (Kline, pp. 21-22).

2. He ordains signs in order to display his lordship over his people

The oath whose curse sanction circumcision symbolized was an oath of allegiance. It was an avowal of Yahweh as covenant Lord, a commitment in loyalty to him. As the symbolized curse which sealed this pledge of allegiance, circumcision partook of the import of an oath. It was, therefore, a sign of consecration. Hence Israel is commanded: ‘Circumcise yourselves to the Lord’ (Jer. 4:4) (Kline, p. 43).

3. Those who receive those signs are dedicated to his lordship by oath

Hence, by circumcision, the sign of the consecratory oath of the Abrahamic Covenant, a man confessed himself to be under the juridical authority of Yahweh and consigned himself to the ordeal of his Lord’s judgment for the final verdict of his life (Kline, p. 48)

4. In the New Covenant, Jesus Christ is declared to be the Lord of the Covenant, and Baptism is Declared to be the Sign of Entrance into the Covenant

Now if the covenant is first and last a declaration of God’s lordship, then the baptismal sign of entrance into it will before all other things be a sign of coming under the jurisdiction of the covenant and particularly under the covenantal dominion of the Lord. Christian baptism is thus the New Covenant sign of consecration or discipleship (Kline, p. 79).

5. Therefore the sign of baptism is an oath-sign dedicating the one baptized to the lordship of Christ

Now if the covenant is first and last a declaration of God’s lordship, then the baptismal sign of entrance into it will before all other things be a sign of coming under the jurisdiction of the covenant and particularly under the covenantal dominion of the Lord. Christian baptism is thus the New Covenant sign of consecration or discipleship.

It is immediately evident in the great commission that consignment under the authority of Christ is the chief thing in Christian baptism. For there baptizing the nations takes its place alongside the teaching them to obey Christ’s commandments in specification of the charge to disciple them to him who has been given all authority in heaven and earth. Of similar significance are a concatenation like Paul’s ‘one Lord, one faith, one baptism’ (Eph. 4:5) and the common confession of Jesus as Lord or Christ in baptismal formulae (Acts 2:28; 8:16, 19:5; I Cor. 1:13ff; cf 1 Pet. 3:21; Rom. 10:9). The related baptismal phraseology of ‘in (or into) the name of Jesus Christ’ (or ‘of the Lord’ or of the Trinity) also expresses the nature of baptism as confirmation of an authority or ownership relationship, judging from analogous usage in the Old Testament…Further evidence is the representation of baptism as a seal, in the sense of a token of authority or mark of ownership…

The incorporation of disciples into the jurisdiction of the new Covenant by baptismal confession of Christ as Lord is in clear continuity with the tradition of the initiatory oath of allegiance found in Old Testament covenant engagements….
As an oath-sign of allegiance to Christ the Lord, baptism is a sacrament in the original sense of sacramentum in its etymological relation to the idea of consecration, and more particularly in its employment for the military oath of allegiance…(pp. 79-81).

Though Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was not a paedo-baptist, he expressed the idea of baptism as a sign of the Lordship of Christ quite well in his commentary on Ephesians 4:5 (‘one Lord, one faith, one baptism’):

Baptism does represent the washing away of sins, but having done so, it goes on into something infinitely more important. We note that the term used is ‘baptized into’ or ‘baptized unto’. This gives us the key to a true understanding of this ‘one baptism’. It means ‘in reference to Christ’, or ‘into the realm of Christ’, or ‘into the sphere of influence which is exercised by Christ’ (Christian Unity: An Exposition of Ephesians 4:1-16, p. 124).

He notes 1 Cor. 10:1-2, which says,

  • 1 Corinthians 10:1 ¶ I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea

He comments,

That statement can have but one meaning. They were baptized into the leadership, the sphere of influence, of Moses. They had become identified with Moses and all he stood for, and the cause that was represented by Moses. In other words, they were separated from the Egyptians, amongst whom they had been living…There was now a division between them and all who belonged to the realm of Pharaoh…Baptism therefore represents and signifies our being put into the realm and into the sphere and into the influence of the Lord Jesus Christ (Ibid, p. 125).

The Doctor also helpfully points out that the record of the Book of Acts that baptism was performed ‘in the name of Jesus’ makes perfect sense in light of this teaching. If baptism is primarily a symbol of the lordship of Jesus, then Luke (the author of Acts) is making a statement of doctrinal significance by describing the baptisms of the early church in this way (Ibid).

6. The Christ-Given, Christ-Representing Authority of Parents as the Basis for Infant Baptism

Returning to Lloyd-Jones, though again, he was not a paedo-baptist, he makes a statement which helps us understand the covenantal authority of parents in this regard:

The parents should be living in such a way that the children should always have a feeling that they themselves are under Christ, that Christ is their Head (Life in the Spirit in Marriage, Home and Work: An Exposition of Ephesians 5:18-6:9, p. 299, emphasis mine).

In the covenantal workings of the family, under the New Covenant, the task of Christian parents is to represent the lordship of Christ in the household. They are to essentially live out the relationship of Christ and the church. That is, they are to emulate Christ, by the help of the Spirit, in all family relationships:

A. Husbands/Fathers

  • Ephesians 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her
  • Ephesians 5:28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body.
  • Ephesians 6:4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

B. Wives

  • Ephesians 5:22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

C. Children

  • Ephesians 6:1 ¶ Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.

Ephesians 6:1 and 4 are absolutely vital to the discussion of the covenantal headship of parents, and particularly of fathers in 6:1. Notice in 6:1 that children are commanded to obey their parents in the Lord. In light of the teaching of the New Testament in regards to headship, it would seem clear that the idea behind the phrase ‘in the Lord’ is that covenant-children are to obey their Christian parents because their parents are exercising the authority of Christ over them. To paraphrase Lloyd-Jones (quoted above), in honoring the authority of their Christian parents, children are honoring the authority of the Christ who is over their parents.

6:4 describes such parenting: the parent is carrying out the ‘discipline and instruction’ or ‘nurture and admonition of the Lord.’ When parents are truly parenting under the authority of Christ in this way, children are obligated to obey based upon the authority of Christ as declared in the great commission:

  • Matthew 28:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.

In summary, then, the children of Christian parents are disciples of their parent or parents who are disciples of Christ. Indeed, the covenantal authority of Christ is delegated to the parent for the proper discipling (i.e. ‘making disciples of”) children. In light of this, and the other points of the argument, it  only seems logical that the children of believers should receive baptism as a sign of their position under the disciple-making authority of the covenant-Lord Jesus Christ.

We therefore conclude with Kline:

…Though the confession of faith has this primacy in the administration of baptism it is not the exclusive principle regulative of this rite. For the one who confesses Christ is required to fulfill his responsibility with respect to those whom God has placed under his parental (if not household) authority; exercising that authority to consecrate his charges with himself to the service of Christ. The basis for the baptism of the children of believers is thus simply their parents covenantal authority over them (Kline, p. 102).