Jonathan Edwards on Biblical Hermeneutics and the “Covenant of Grace” by J. David Gilliland
Jonathan Edwards vs. Westminster Covenant Theology
This short booklet is written from a New Covenant Theology perspective (published by New Covenant Media), and is a critique of one of the central components of Covenant Theology, the “one covenant of grace – two administrations” system. (from the forward) Gilliland shows from Edwards’s writings that his view of the covenants was different that that of the Westminster view, and the implications of this difference for “the nature of the local church, the meaning and significance of the ordinance of water baptism, the relationship of law and grace, and the extent of the atonement.” (fwd.)
Gilliland’s main source of material is Edwards’s Concerning The Qualifications Requisite to A Complete Standing and Full Communion In The Visible Christian Church, written in the midst of the controversy surrounding the “half-way” covenant, though he also quotes from A History of the Work of Redemption, Gerstner’s The Rational Biblical Theology of Jonathan Edwards, and Bogue’s Jonathan Edwards and the Covenant of Grace. Gilliland shows that for Edwards the Covenant of Redemption and the Covenant of Grace regard the same people – contra the Westminster view. The traditional Covenant view allows for unregenerate members to enter into the CoG via infant baptism, at odds with the CoR which is toward the elect only. Edwards explicitly resists this, though he never comes to the necessary conclusion for himself – scuttling the entire Covenant Theology formulation.
Gilliland is strict on the extent of the Atonement. Even “sufficient for all, efficient for the elect” is the “first step in the easy descent of error” towards Amyraldianism. (5) This formulation, which the traditional Covenant theologians deny, is nevertheless implicit in their system, which puts the CoR at odds with the CoG.
Gilliland also explains Edwards’s hermeneutic – interpreting the OT in light of the New, and uses Edwards’s own answers to objections to argue against infant baptism.
He concludes by saying that Covenant Theology fails to deal with Edwards’s hermeneutical distinctives, emphasizes external religion to justify infant baptism, and that Reformed Baptists in particular are wrong to follow the same “One CoG – Two Dispensations” formula as their paedo-baptist brethren.
He concludes with this:
“There is no exegetical evidence for the “one covenant of grace – two dispensations” system. Edwards, although giving us the hermeneutical principles that expose its error, left the system intact. He successfully confronted the errors of the Half-way Covenant with answers that can only be provided by a biblical hermeneutic. He laid the foundation, we need to build upon it – for the sake of the Gospel, and for the sake of the Church. Sola Scriptura!” (37)
Thankfully, the recent resurgence in “Biblical Theology” and Biblical hermeneutics is doing just that. I recommend this booklet is a fascinating look at how Edwards relates to these big subjects.