Thursday, May 17, 2018

"In the time of the law..." (1)

What did the Westminster Divines mean by "in the time of the law" and in what way was the Covenant of Grace administered during that period of redemptive history...

Westminster Confession of Faith. Chapter 7:
4. This covenant of grace is frequently set forth in Scripture by the name of a testament, in reference to the death of Jesus Christ the Testator, and to the everlasting inheritance, with all things belonging to it, therein bequeathed. 
5. This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel: under the law, it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come; which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the old testament. [footnote in original Gal.3:7-9,14]
A.A. Hodge wrote concerning the above: 
"Under the old dispensation the covenant of grace was administered chiefly by types and symbolic ordinances, signifying beforehand the coming of Christ, and thus administration was almost exclusively confined to the Jewish nation with constantly increasing fullness and clearness- (1) From Adam to Abraham, in the promise to the woman (Gen. 3:15); the institution of bloody sacrifices; and the constant visible appearance and audible converse of Jehovah with his people. (2) From Abraham to Moses, the more definite promise given to Abraham (Gen. 17:7; 22:18), in the Church separated from the world, embraced in a special covenant, and sealed with the sacrament of Circumcision. (3) From Moses to Christ, the simple primitive rite of sacrifice developed into the elaborate ceremonial and significant symbolism of the temple service, the covenant enriched with new promises, the Church separated from the world by new barriers, and sealed with the additional sacrament of the Passover."Hodge, A.A., A Commentary on The Westminster Confession of Faith
Is the Mosaic Covenant, strictly speaking, best described as The covenant of grace or better as an administration of the covenant of grace? And is there a difference? Some say no! Some say yes. Part of the problem in answering that question is that, as I and others have pointed out, the term Mosaic Covenant is not a Biblical term nor a confessional term. There was a specific covenant given at Sinai through Moses that Scripture often refers to as the Law (Galatians 3:17). But within the continuing dispensation of the time of the law were different elements which served different functions. In a word, there were both Law and Gospel in the Mosaic economy. Being that they are not the same (Galatian 3:12), they had very different purposes or functions. Yet even those conditional legal elements served to further the unfolding Covenant of Grace in history. And not all elements of the Mosaic economy (the time of the Law from Moses to Christ) were, by any means, included in the Sinai covenant given at Mt. Horeb. Some were. Some were not.

There is plenty of precedent for understanding the Mosaic Economy/Covenant as a mixed covenant (e.g. Hodge, both Charles and A.A.) and also one not strictly or solely of grace or works (see Witsius next post). Of interest to me is that WCF 7.5 does not say the Law was, or even administered, the Covenant of Grace, but rather that "in the time of the law" and "under the law" the Covenant of Grace was administered... by what? By "promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come." Conspicuously absent from this list of administration elements are any conditional legal works references which are nonetheless very prominent during the Mosaic covenant/economy inaugurated at Sinai (e.g. Deuteronomy 28 among many references). 

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