OT Union with Christ

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Puritan Board Freshman
I’ve been told that OT saints were saved by faith but not indwelt by the Spirit. Instead, the Spirit was upon them. Furthermore, OT saints were not united to Christ. This is a distinctly post-ascension phenomenon.
It seems to me that this undermines the essence of covenant theology. How else would OT saints be in a substantially gracious covenant if not through their union with Christ by Spirit wrought faith?


Puritan Board Freshman
A few short posts on the question of indwelling of the Spirit in the OT

If OT saints were not united to Christ, then they did not receive the benefits of Christ.

However, there is a large grain of truth in the idea that union and the indwelling of the Spirit are post-ascension phenomenon. Union with Christ depends upon the death and resurrection of Christ, which had not yet occurred in the OT. Pentecost was the official pouring out of the Spirit as a result of Christ's death and resurrection. And yet OT saints received these benefits prior to their legal/covenantal establishment in history. They received them in advance. We must recognize these are benefits of the New Covenant, but we must not deny them to OT saints.

"Christ can work out of that finished work in the future because it has been decreed and ordained. So the Holy Spirit can be active according to ordo salutis even in advance of the historia salutis pouring out."
-Camden Bucey, Christ the Center 700 Redemption Accomplished and Applied

Old Testament believers enjoyed the benefits of union with Christ and His imputed righteousness prior to His earthy ministry. The covenantal-legal agreement of the pactum [i.e., the Covenant of Redemption] was sufficient in and of itself due to the Trinity’s utter trustworthiness to carry out its covenant-oaths. In other words, the stipulations of the pactum, an inherently legal arrangement, are the foundation for the application of redemption in covenant of grace.
— J.V. Fesko, The Trinity and the Covenant of Redemption, 347

“[W]hatever spiritual gifts the fathers obtained, they were accidental as it were to their age; for it was necessary for them to direct their eyes to Christ in order to become possessed of them… There is yet no reason why God should not have extended the grace of the new covenant to the fathers. This is the true solution of the question."
-Calvin (Commentary Hebrews 8:10)

There are clear passages indicating that ‘the forgiveness of sins’ is unique to the New Covenant (“remember their sins no more”; Jer 31:34)… Kuyper seems to confirm this conclusion. He argued that the energies of the Spirit at Pentecost worked retroactively in the lives of OT saints.
-Horton, Rediscovering the Holy Spirit, p152ff

[T]he work of Christ is the source of all human salvation from sin: the salvation of Adam and Eve, of Noah, of Abraham, of Moses, of David, and of all of Godâ’s people in every age, past, present, or future. Everyone who has ever been saved has been saved through the new covenant in Christ. Everyone who is saved receives a new heart, a heart of obedience, through the new covenant work of Christ. So though it is a new covenant, it is also the oldest, the temporal expression of the pactum salutis… The New Covenant does have a temporal inauguration… the shedding of Jesus’ blood, a datable historical event, is the substance of the New Covenant, the Covenant that purifies, not only the flesh, but the conscience, the heart. Nevertheless, as we saw earlier, the efficacy of the New Covenant, unlike that of previous covenants, extends to God’s elect prior to Jesus’ atonement. When believers in the Old Testament experienced “circumcision of the heart,” or when they were Jews “inwardly,” they were partaking of the power of the New Covenant.
-John Frame, Systematic Theology, p. 79-81

“[T]he happy persons, who even in that early age [the Old Testament] were by the grace of God taught to understand the distinction now set forth, were thereby made the children of promise, and were accounted in the secret purpose of God as heirs of the New Testament; although they continued with perfect fitness to administer the Old Testament to the ancient people of God.”
-Augustine, A Work on the Proceedings of Pelagius, 189

“These pertain to the new testament [covenant], are the children of promise, and are regenerated by God the Father and a free mother. Of this kind were all the righteous men of old, and Moses himself, the minister of the old testament, the heir of the new . . . Let us, therefore, choose whether to call the righteous men of old the children of the bondwoman or of the free. Be it far from us to say, of the bondwoman; therefore if of the free, they pertain to the new testament [covenant] in the Holy Spirit, whom, as making alive, the apostle opposes to the killing letter. For on what ground do they not belong to the grace of the new testament [covenant]?”
-Augustine, A Treatise Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, 406-407

although the Old Law contained precepts of charity, nevertheless it did not confer the Holy Ghost…
the New Law is chiefly the grace itself of the Holy Ghost, which is given to those who believe in Christ…
Nevertheless there were some in the state of the Old Testament who, having charity and the grace of the Holy Ghost, looked chiefly to spiritual and eternal promises: and in this respect they belonged to the New Law…
As to those under the Old Testament who through faith were acceptable to God, in this respect they belonged to the New Testament: for they were not justified except through faith in Christ, Who is the Author of the New Testament…
No man ever had the grace of the Holy Ghost except through faith in Christ either explicit or implicit: and by faith in Christ man belongs to the New Testament. Consequently whoever had the law of grace instilled into them belonged to the New Testament… at all times there have been some persons belonging to the New Testament, as stated above.”
-Aquinas Summa Theologica I-II, 106-107

"There were . . . under the regimen of the Old Covenant, people who possessed the charity and grace of the Holy Spirit and longed above all for the spiritual and eternal promises by which they were associated with the New Law… [E]ven though the Old Law prescribed charity, it did not give the Holy Spirit, through whom “God’s charity has been poured into our hearts.”"
-Catechism of the Catholic Church, quoting Aquinas (1964)

"The grace and blessings of the new covenant were given and ensured to Abraham for himself.”
Coxe (75)

“All believers, who lived under the Old Testament, were saved by the covenant of grace, which Christ was to establish.”
Keach, “The Display of Glorious Grace” in The Covenant Theology of Benjamin Keach (Conway: Free Grace Press, 2017), 110.

The Covenant of Grace is either promised or promulgated and established. Promised to the Fathers, first to Adam, and afterwards to the Patriarchs, and lastly to the people of Israel, and before their coming into the land of Canaan, and after their returne from the Babylonish captivity. Promulgated, after the fulnesse of time came. And hence the Covenant of Grace is distributed into the Covenant of Promise, or the New Covenant, so called by way of excellency. For the Foundation and Mediatour of the Covenant of Grace is our Lord Jesus Christ, but either to be incarnate, crucified, and raised from the dead, or as already incarnate, crucified, and raised from the dead, and ascended into Heaven. For there was never sin forgiven but in him alone, who is the same yesterday, and today, and forever. Therefore although before the Incarnation, Christ was only God, he was our Mediatour, yet not simply as God, but as the divine person, who should take our flesh, and in it should finish all the Mysterie of our Redemption, and therefore he is called the Lambe of God slaine from the beginning of the world, and the Fathers by his grace were saved, even as we. In the acts of Mediation three things may be considered.
[1.] Reconciliation, by which we are accepted of God.
[2.] Patronage, by which we have accesse unto the Father.
[3.] Doctrine, whereby God hath made himselfe knowne unto men by a Mediatour.
This third act might be done before he assumed our flesh, and indeed was done: but the two first did require his coming in the flesh, although the fruit of them was communicated to the Fathers under the Old Testament, by force of the divine Promise, and certainty of the thing to come with God...

If it be objected that the cause is before the effect, and therefore the incarnation and death of Christ must goe before the communication of the fruit and benefit thereof unto the Fathers.

The answer is, That in naturall causes [i.e. physics] the Proposition holds true, but in morall causes the effect may be before the cause: and so the fruit and vertue of Christ’s death was communicated to the Fathers before his Incarnation. But although the Sonne of God before he was manifested in the flesh, was our Mediatour with God (to whom future things are present) because he should be, and therefore for his sake sinnes were remitted, men did teach and learne by his Spirit, the Church was governed by him: yet the manner and reason of that Mediation was proposed more obscurely, the force and efficacy of it was lesse, and did redound to fewer.

The Covenant of Promise then was that Covenant which God made with Adam, the Fathers and all Israel in Jesus Christ to be incarnate, crucified and raised from the dead: And it may be described the Covenant, whereby God of his meere grace and mercy in Jesus Christ to be exhibited in the fulnesse of time, did promise forgivenesse of sinnes, spirituall adoption and eternall life, unto man in himselfe considered a most wretched and miserable sinner, if he should embrace and accept this mercy promised, and walke before God in sincere obedience. God the Father of his meere and free grace and mercy looking upon man in Jesus Christ, in whom he is reconciled, is the Author and cause of this Covenant (Deut 9:5; Gal 3:18; Luk 1:54, 55). He hath holpen his servant Israel in remembrance of his mercy, as he spake to our Fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed forever. Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, your Fathers dwelt on the other side of the floud in old time, even Terah the Father of Abraham, and the Father of Nahor, and they served other gods. And I took your Father Abraham from the other side of the floud, and led him throughout all the Land of Canaan, and multiplied his seed, and gave him Isaac. (Josh 24:2)

-John Ball Treatise of the Covenant of Grace (27-29)

Jerusalem Blade

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Hello @brandonadams,

In the second and third paragraphs of the first article of Tom Nettles you posted, he says this,

...in John 7 Jesus speaks of the Spirit’s coming in the fulfillment of the New Covenant, creating a people as a community, not by circumcision but by the new birth, creating a fellowship whose common trait is forgiveness of sins and the sanctifying operations of the Spirit. Israel was not that community, for they were marked off by ceremonies, particularly the ceremony of circumcision of males, not by the moral and spiritual perceptions peculiarly the mark of those called and sanctified by the Spirit. [Emphasis added]​
The Spirit had not yet been given in that way, as the creator of the community, but he had been given to individuals among the remnant of Israel and even to those elect among other peoples.​

The impression I get from this is that Nettles thinks the individuals comprising the remnant in the OT were not an intact community, but scattered among the unregenerate of Israel. I think that, although not a distinct and cohesive community such as we have in the NT, they of the remnant knew and treasured one another, even as we do today in our NT covenant communities. The view that they of old didn't may be derived from a baptistic view of the true OT church indicated by the highlighted sentence above.

This passage from Malachi illustrates what I mean:

Then they that feared the LORD spake often one to another:
and the LORD hearkened, and heard it,
and a book of remembrance was written before him
for them that feared the LORD, and that thought upon his name.
And they shall be mine, saith the LORD of hosts,
in that day when I make up my jewels;
and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him (Mal 3:16,17).


Puritan Board Freshman
Steve, I think that Tom is simply making the point that the organizing structure of Old Covenant Israel (the congregation of Israel) was not the Spirit and union with Christ, but rather circumcision and federal union with Abraham. He's not commenting on the subjective experience or actions of the remnant in Israel. In contrast to the Old Covenant, the organizing structure of the New Covenant is the Spirit and union with Christ. Yes, baptists and paedobaptists may view this matter differently.


Puritan Board Freshman
Thank you for pointing that out Steve, I honestly think I missed it from my reading. And thank you Brandon for all the quotes. They were very helpful.
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