Friday, January 06, 2012

The Real Turretin on Covenant of Grace and Covenant of Works in the Mosaic Covenant

Kerux, Volume 24, Number 3, p. 76, FN70 (Dennison et al.):
[O]ur editors have summarized Turretin as teaching that “the form of the Mosaic covenant was the covenant of works, but its substance was the covenant of grace” (12). This muddles Turretin’s otherwise careful distinctions regarding the administration of the covenant of grace under Moses, and oversimplifies his rather complex formulation. It is true that Turretin argues that the Mosaic administration contained a restatement of a “form of the covenant of works” to remind Israel of the broken covenant of works and to lead them to Christ (2:263). But Turretin later clarifies that by “form of the covenant of works,” he is referencing “the law in itself” apart from the Mosaic covenant (2:269). This he distinguishes from “the Mosaic covenant itself, in which the law was enacted” (ibid.). This administration included not only this “legal relation” but also an “evangelical relation,” which was “sweeter” in that it led them to Christ (2:227). Thus, Turretin calls this administration a “mixture of both the law and the Gospel” (2:263). As he says elsewhere: “And thus in sweet harmony the law and the gospel meet together in this covenant. The law is not administered without the gospel, nor is the gospel without the law. So that it is as it were a legal-gospel and an evangelical-law; a gospel full of obedience and a law full of faith” (2:268). In short, our editors summary of Turretin’s view of the Mosaic covenant is at best severely truncated, and at worst, misleading. It fails to grapple with Turretin’s own stated definitions, and oversimplifies Turretin’s complex (though very precise) views.

I don't post this comment to endorse it (I haven't carefully enough studied Turretin's relevant writings to form a conclusion), but simply as an interesting point worthy of further consideration. Turretin's careful distinctions are one of his principle advantages and following them is critically important in understanding his writing.



Natamllc said...

TF: "...Turretin's careful distinctions are one of his principle advantages and following them is critically important in understanding his writing."

Me: "Yep!"

Micah Burke said...

Fascinating, I was just explaining the covenants to my wife last night. Thanks!

Natamllc said...


interesting flow of reason there!

You wrote and with it I ask the question, why is it this way? I would be interested in your treatment, "why"?

You wrote: "...Also, some of the slower thinkers in certain internet environments tend to take the lead in policing everybody on this particular subject. ..."

Also, I hope you at at peace with both God and man? After all, Jesus already addressed this issue of false teachers:

Mat 24:3 As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, "Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?"
Mat 24:4 And Jesus answered them, "See that no one leads you astray.
Mat 24:5 For many will come in my name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and they will lead many astray.
Mat 24:6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet.
Mat 24:7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places.
Mat 24:8 All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.
Mat 24:9 "Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake.
Mat 24:10 And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another.
Mat 24:11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.
Mat 24:12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.
Mat 24:13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
Mat 24:14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
and so on and so forth!

resequitur said...

Interesting explanation, where would be a good place to start a basic study of this principle?

turretinfan said...

You mean, aside from Turretin's Institutes? I imagine that Witsius would be a good place to start.

Puritanchristian said...

Personally I've recently found John Colquhoun (ka-HOON) in his A Treatise on the Law and the Gospel (1825) to remarkably stand above the crowd in understanding of this issue. It doesn't overturn what I've written in this thread, but it does put me in a teachable mode on the subject. I've always felt I didn't have complete understanding, or that I wasn't able to completely sort out the issues that get crammed into the Mosaic Covenant, and Colquhoun definitely adds material to be able to do just that. It's still just simple Federal Theology though, and Colquhoun's presentation is simple.

Puritanchristian said...

To answer resequitur directly, it's a good question you ask. Federal Theology itself is Reformed Theology, except you sort of focus in on the spine of the two Adams, Adam in the Garden and the second Adam, Jesus Christ. And you focus on the covenants. And so it is in Turretin, and also in Berkhof, and Bavinck, and aBrakel, and so on, but you kind of have to take the material and put it together. It is classical Covenant Theology, but a way to see Federal Theology is to see it as classical Covenant Theology systematized.

A remarkable book for the overall picture is Thomas Boston's Human Nature in its Fourfold State. I've always felt that the best way to 'see' covenant (or Federal) theology is to first see the plan of redemption via the four states of man, and then to go from there. It's not an easy book to read (although it is understandable, it is just a very tightly packed treatise, very well and completely written, i.e. very worked over by Boston), and I'll be honest and state I've yet to read it cover to cover, but once you know the basic subject you can get a lot from it by reading individual sections. I recently learned from an interview at that it was the best selling book of the 18th century in Scotland. I also knew before that that it was considered a folk classic along with Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress in popularity.

I'm sure Boston's works on the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace are similarly helpful, but I've never owned them. One tricky thing to know about the Scottish theologians is they fold the Covenant of Redemption into the Covenant of Grace and only then talk of two covenants, that of Works and Grace. I don't agree with that. But there you go, you're in the maze of learning about Covenant Theology...

turretinfan said...

I would certainly concur re: Thomas Boston's work.

Puritanchristian said...

Speaking of Colquhoun and Boston:

"John Colquhoun, former pastor New Church in South Leith, Scotland. Educated at Glasgow University. Shortly after his conversion he walked all the way from Luss to Glasgow, a distance in all of about fifty miles, to buy a copy of Thomas Boston's Fourfold State. This book had a moulding influence on his early Christian life. He came to esteem it next to his Bible. The influence of Boston's teaching was later to permeate his ministry and writings."