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- Publisher: RBAP (May 26, 2015)
- Publication Date: May 26, 2015
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As I did my best to gather my own thoughts from Scripture on God's covenants before consulting the brightest minds, I saw numerous covenants that God made, only one of which was salvific - the new covenant. Yet this wasn't being confirmed in what I read. Thus it was a gust of fresh air when I finally read Owen say: "No man was ever saved but by virtue of the new covenant, and the mediation of Christ in that respect." How was Abraham saved? Was it by the Abrahamic Covenant? No, says Owen. He was saved by the New Covenant, which existed only as a promise until the time of Christ, at which point it became a covenant formally established, governing the worship of God.
Owen's 150+ pages of commentary on Heb 8:6-13 are a tour de force in deductive reasoning. He lays out all possible interpretations and then systematically and logically addresses each, comparing with the rest of what Scripture says, until he reaches his conclusion:
"...Having noted these things, we may consider that the Scripture does plainly and expressly make mention of two testaments, or covenants, and distinguish between them in such a way as can hardly be accommodated by a twofold administration of the same covenant...Wherefore we must grant two distinct covenants, rather than merely a twofold administration of the same covenant, to be intended." Owen was not afraid to reject the conclusions of the Westminster divines, and to state that he was doing so. Many today are eager to downplay or ignore Owen's rejection of the WCF formulation of God's covenants, but Owen himself was very open and clear about it.
One of the greatest contributions of this volume is to make Owen's commentary on Hebrews 8:6-13 available as a separate volume for those who don't own his entire works or his entire commentary on Hebrews. Of course, the other excellent contribution is from Nehemiah Coxe (most likely the editor of the LBC 1677/89). Coxe offers many helpful insights into covenant theology, such as:
"...we cannot from there conclude that the promise is made to Abraham's seed both natural and spiritual in one and the same sense. But only this much will fairly follow from it: that the apostle argues from the carnal seed as typical to the spiritual seed as typified by it. In so arguing he makes special use of the terms in which the promise is made as purposely fitted to its typical respect or spiritual sense. Similarly the prohibition of breaking a bone of the paschal lamb, which was a type of Christ, is applied by John to Christ himself who was typified by it (John 19:36 with Exodus 12:46)."
The introduction/historical background offered by James Renihan was very helpful in setting the stage and explaining why Coxe and Owen were included in the same volume. Richard Barcellos also offers a very helpful refutation of New Covenant Theology's misinterpretation/misuse of Owen. It seems there is much misuse of Owen from many sides. Of course many suggest the baptists who published this volume are guilty of misusing Owen, who was himself a paedobaptist. The only way to know who is and who is not misreading Owen is to read him yourself! (I created an interactive outline of Owen's commentary to aid in that respect. Simply google "John Owen's Commentary on the Old and New Covenants (Outline)")
I offer 4 stars instead of 5 only because in the end, I can't agree with Coxe's view that there were two covenants made with Abraham - though he offers much to consider. I recommend A. W. Pink's treatment of the Abrahamic Covenant over Coxe's.
Update: Pascal Denault's new book "The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology" has helped clarify my understanding of what Coxe said about the Abrahamic covenant. He believed there was only one formal covenant made with Abraham, not two. I highly recommend reading Denault's work alongside this one as it helps greatly with interpretation on a few points.
The author holds that "the mystery of the gospel cannot be thoroughly apprehended by us without some good understanding of the economy of the law and also of the state of things before the law." His theological starting point is that God's transactions with men are federal or covenantal in nature. Therefore, Coxe starts with defining the nature of biblical covenants. Next, he exegetically handles God's covenantal transactions with Adam, Noah, and Abraham. He spends significant space on the relationship of covenantal promises of God to Abraham's spiritual seed and his physical seed. This is the key to the value of Coxe's book. The proper relationship between the spiritual and physical seed of Abraham is vital to a biblical understanding of the correspondence of Israel and the church, baptism and circumcision, law and grace, and defines the nature of salvation and eschatology.
Coxe's work is not the final word on Covenantal theology but it does proffer a vital and significant contribution to it. Coxe himself intended to write an additional volume but believed that John Owen's work on Hebrews 8:6-13 preempted the need. Thankfully, the editors of this present edition of Coxe's work have put Owen's work under the same cover. Together, the reader has a rich explanation and defense of Covenantal theology.
Together, Coxe and Owen could not be more relevant in addressing key contemporary theological issues such as the New Perspective on Paul, Federal Vision Theology and the so-called New Covenant Theology. This edition offers a wonderfully written appendix by Richard Barcellos entitled "John Owen and New Covenant Theology." Barcellos cogently defends Owen's position on the genuine distinctions between the Old and New Covenants from being pirated by those holding to the so-called New Covenant Theology.
A must read for all Baptist who are committed to Covenantal theology. Covenantal theologians of the infant-baptistic persuasion camp will find Coxe's work challenging in a constructive way - more than you might think.
Agree or disagree with Coxe, all those holding to Covenantal theology will be greatly enriched by a careful reading of this edition of his "Covenant Theology from Adam to Christ".
Hakim also said, "At any rate, it seems that Barcellos misunderstands Owen as well..." I took Sinclair Ferguson's view of Owen on the function of the Old Covenant as it relates to the Covenants of Works and Grace. I sent an email to Dr. Ferguson before going into print asking if I had understood him and Owen correctly. He assured me that I had. If you check the footnotes, it's all there.
I recommend that folks read the book for themselves.