The New Covenant Constitution of the Church and Arminianism

 

We come now to the third chapter and third major assertion set forth by Sam Waldron in A Reformed Baptist Manifesto, a defense of the New Covenant Constitution of the Church.  In the previous two chapters we looked at the contrasts between Reformed Baptists and 1.) Dispensationalism and 2.) Antinomianism.  Here we turn our attention towards Arminianism.

For those who may be unfamiliar, Arminianism is, generally, the belief that man has free-will to determine his own destiny, i.e. salvation.  It is most often contrasted with God’s sovereignty in salvation, or what is commonly called Calvinism.  For more on this, search either term on this site or head over to monergism.com for more comprehensive articles on the subject and a history of the controversy.  I hope to have a more informative post on the development of Calvinism soon.

Our purposes here will be to examine the arguments set forth by Dr. Waldron in his aforementioned book.  The point of this particular chapter, as set for by Waldron, is that “the origination, building, or source of the Church…through the instrument of the New Covenant” is God “the sole sovereign builder, originator, and author of the Church as a whole, and of its individual members.” Waldron then takes up three major theses to defend this assertion, again turning his attention to Jeremiah 31.

1.     The Sovereign Determination behind the New Covenant

To this point, Waldron examines the contrast between the Old and New Covenant.  Turning to Exodus 19:4-6 we see the stated terms of the Old Covenant:

“4 You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”

What may be obvious in this passage is the simple “if-then” statement used by God in the extension of this covenant to Israel.  “If you obey…then you shall be My own possession.”  In striking contrast the New Covenant, as quoted in Jeremiah 31 contains no if-then statements but rather the dogmatic assurity of the Lord saying, “I will” numerously.  This is what Waldron indicates is the Sovereign determination behind the New Covenant.

2.    The Unbreakable Character of the New Covenant.

In this particular section, we see the emphasis of the breakable nature of the Old Covenant, particularly in Deut. 29:25-28; Ps. 78:10,11; Jer. 11:9,10; 22:6-9; 34:13; Ezek. 44:6-8.  Continuing to focus on the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31, Waldron cites the following passage to note the contrast between the breakable character of the Old Covenant and the unbreakable character of the New Covenant:

31 Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord.”  Jeremiah 31:31,32

The Old Covenant was written on breakable stone, and was broken as we have seen from the passages referenced above.  However, the promise of the New Covenant is that it is inscribed upon the hearts.  Lest one walk away thinking that the Old Covenant was somehow deficient or imperfect, Waldron points out that the real problem with the Old Covenant was with the people with whom it was made.  Citing Hebrews 8:8 he writes, “The Old Covenant did not secure the covenant keeping of those with whom it was made.  That was its fault.  Its fault was simply that it did not enable those with whom it was made to comply with its conditions.”  Conversely, the New Covenant supplies all that it demands through the regeneration of the heart, upon which the Covenant (law) is written and the presence of the Holy Spirit causes believers to walk according to the statutes and commands of God (See Ezek. 36).  Concluding this section, Waldron provides segue by asking, “How can God simply sweep aside the demands of His own justice and make a New Covenant like this with the house of Israel after their sins have brought upon them the fierce overflowing wrath of God?”

3.    The Mediatorial Guarantee of the New Covenant

This section begins with the promise that “God will forget the sins of His people and forgive their iniquities” given in Jeremiah 31:34, Waldron rightly points out this passage does not tell us how God will accomplish this, until Jeremiah 33:14-16, “14 Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15 In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 16 In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’”  Further, the book of Hebrews (see Hebrews 7:22) provides divine commentary and explanation of how God planned to bring about this forgiveness, namely through the work of Jesus Christ particularly His office as “both priest and sacrifice of the New Covenant” which “insures and secures the establishment of the New Covenant and the impartation of its blessings to God’s Israel.”[1]  As Waldron concludes, “Jesus’ priestly sacrifice of Himself, once-for-all, finally, and efficaciously fulfills the demands of God’s law and assures the forgiveness of sins for all who are part of the New Covenant people of God.”[2]

Concluding Lessons

In order to bring to conclusion this chapter, against the incompatibility of Arminianism and the New Covenant, Dr. Waldron briefly summarizes the points of Arminianism, i.e. the “system which teaches that man’s free will is sovereign in salvation.”

  1. God has chosen to save those who believe in Christ and persevere in obedience to Him to the end.
  2. Christ died for each and every man, but only those who believe benefit from His death.
  3. In order for men to believe in Christ, God must work by His grace in their heart.
  4. Though this grace is the source of all good in men, yet they may resist this grace and not be saved by it.
  5. Though God will provide everything that men need to persevere to the end, it is not certain that once a man believes in Christ unto salvation, he will persevere to the end and finally be saved.

He then goes on to contrast each of these points with the doctrines of grace, or what some have termed “Calvinism”.  Some of Waldron’s comments are briefly quoted below.

  1. Total Depravity – “We see the truth of total depravity in the contrast with the Old Covenant mentioned in our passage.  What the Old Covenant demanded was simply faith and obedience.”  However, “Every faculty of man’s soul is polluted with sin.  All men are unable to do anything of any spiritual good.  Even repentance and faith are impossible due to this total depravity and total inability.”
  2. Unconditional Election – “God’s covenant is not made with a nation that has proved itself worthy of His choice.  Rather, God, with sovereign, unchangeable purpose has chosen through the New Covenant to make them worthy of His choice.”
  3. Limited Atonement – “We have seen from the Scriptures that the cross of Jesus Christ is saving because of its connection with this covenant.  Jesus’ whole work was covenant work; His blood covenant blood, His priesthood covenant priesthood, His office as Mediator a covenant office.  The question about the scope, extent, or design of the death of Christ ought not to be answered, therefore, without reference to this covenant.”
  4. Irresistible Grace – “God actually writes His law upon the hearts of His people.”
  5. Perseverance of the Saints – “God remembers their [those in the New Covenant] sins no more” He therefore is faithful to the promises of His covenant.
Dr. Waldron concludes this chapter with several helpful thoughts about what we learn from the doctrines of grace in a practical, straightforward manner.  I hope to take a few posts to explain further the 5 points of Calvinism that Dr. Waldron introduces here.  Again, if you would like to purchase this brief, helpful work on the Reformed Baptist approach to the New Covenant see RPAP.  Also, I also recommend Dr. Waldron’s exposition on the 1689 London Baptist Confession, available on Amazon.


[1] Pg. 55

[2] Pg. 57

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