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Quakers : George Fox | Margaret Fell (Fox) | Isaac Penington


PRETERIST UNIVERSALISM | MODERN PRETERISM | PRETERIST IDEALISM

Herman Witsius (Wits)
(1636-1708)

 

The Economy of the Covenants between God and Man

 

Google Books | Exercitationes sacrae in symbolum quod Apostolorum dicitur et in Orationem

Preterist Commentaries By Historicist / Continuists

(On Matthew 11:23)
"See chap. x. 15. What is said in this and the following verse, concerning a calamity which the city should suffer, has manifest relation to a punishment to be endured in the present life.' (Com. in loc.)

(On 2 Peter 3:7-10)
"It certainly cannot be denied, that the manner of speaking, used by the holy prophets and apostles, countenances the opinion of those who call the Messiah's kingdom the beginning of the new world, or age. Thus, according to the prophet Haggai ii. 6, God says, when he shall send him who is the desire of all nations, mil he shake the heavens, the earth, the sea, and the dry land. Likewise, according to Isaiah Ixv. 17, God says, Behold, I will create new heavens, and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. Again he says, Ixvi. 22, The new heavens and the new earth which I will make, shall remain before me. This agrees with Rev. xxi. 1, where we read — And I saw a new heaven, and a new earth; for the former heaven and the former earth had passed away: and there was no more sea. Nor does St. Peter differ from this, when he says, in his second epistle, iii. 13, Nevertheless, we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth. All these passages mean that a new scene of affairs was to be introduced into the world, by the Messiah, so that it might be considered the beginning of a new world or age.

I cannot persuade myself to withhold from the readers of this dissertation a learned comment, which that most eminent man, John Owen, offers upon this last named passage in St. Peter. He observes that the apostle, in vs. 5, 6, 7, mentions two worlds:

(1) the old one, which had perished by water, and, (2,) that of the then present time, which was to be consumed by fire. Then, in the 13th verse, he announces a third world, to succeed the destruction of the last; according to his promise, we look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. It is not the visible heavens, and the material earth, of which the apostle treats in either passage ; because that old world of which he speaks had been already destroyed by water, and yet the material heavens, together with the material earth, still remained. By that world, therefore, must be understood, mankind living in the world. They having been destroyed by the deluge, there was founded another world, for the proper observance of the worship of God. The foundation of this world God placed in the family of Noah ; but the 'whole fabric was completed by the organization of the Jewish church. And this was the world which St. Peter, in that passage, predicted, according to the prophetic style, should be destroyed by fire. To this purport, we read in Isaiah li. 15, 16, lam the Lord thy God, that divideth the sea, whose waves roared; the Lord of hosts is his name. And I have put my words in thy mouth, and have covered thee in the shadow of my hand, that I may plant the heavens, and lay the foundations of the earth, and say unto Zion, thou art my people.

At the time, therefore, when God, dividing the sea, and leading forth his people out of Egypt, entrusting to them his word, or his law, with the solemn appointment of his worship, thus forming them into a church for himself, then it was that he instituted and finished this new world, the heavens and (he earth spoken of. And, at the time when Peter wrote, this world, i. e., the Jewish church, now apostatized, was about to be destroyed by fire, after the same manner in which that old world had perished in the deluge. It was by the conflagration of the temple and of the city, that the system of that world was dissolved. And the apostle commands the believers to look for another world, for new heavens and a new earth, according to the promise of God. That promise is found in Isaiah Ixv. 17, and likewise, in the same words, in chapter Ixvi. 22 : Behold., says he, I will create new heavens, and a new earth, neither shall the former be remembered, nor come into mind. In these passages, the prophet describes the state of the church after the advent of Christ, when, as it is expressed in the 21st verse of the last chapter, God should take of the Gentiles for priests and Levites, or, in other words, when he should institute the gospel ministry. This state of the church, therefore, was wont to be designated, before the conflagration of that second world, as the age to come, or the future world; even as St. Paul teaches us, in the epistle to the Hebrews, ii. 5, saying, for unto the angels  hath he not put into subjection the world to come, of which we speak; and likewise in chap. vi. 5, where he says, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come. Therefore that first or old world perished by a deluge of water ; the second, or that existing in the apostle's time, he declares should perish by fire; but the future, he intimates, was to endure even to the consummation of time. Thus far Owen in Theologuminis, Lib. iii. cap. 1.

"Whatever be thought of this exposition, which we give to be considered by the learned, it is certain that all these prophecies describe to us the kingdom of the Messiah ; but there are various grades and periods in their progress to completion. The time when God began to shake the heavens and earth, was when he abolished the profane idolatry of the Gentiles, producing a universal commotion in the world, by the preaching of the gospel, and rousing mankind to a new hope — when he overthrew Jerusalem and the temple, where had been the THRONE OF HIS GLORY — when he shook the laud of beauty by his anathema, and dissolved the weak and beggarly elements of the former world — when he introduced that state, in which neither circumcision avails any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature, and all nations, without distinction, enjoy the privileges of the spiritual kingdom ; in one word, when old things are passed away, and all things become new, 2 Cor. v. 17." (Hermanni Witsii Dissertat. de Seculo hoc etfuturo, Sect. 25, 26, 27 ; inter J. G. Meuschenii Novum Testamentum ex Talmude illustratum, pp. 1179, 1180.)

 


The Decalogue:
Covenant of Works or Covenant of Grace

by Dr. Herman Witsius
Taken From “Economy of the Covenants”, Pages 182ff 

Now concerning this covenant, made upon the ten commandments, it is queried, Whether it was a covenant of works, or a covenant of grace? We judge proper to premise some things, previous to the determination of this question. And first, we observe, that, in the Ministry of Moses, there was a repetition of the doctrine concerning the law of the covenant of works. For both the very same precepts are inculcated, on which the covenant of works was founded, and which constituted the condition of that covenant; and that sentence is repeated, "which if a man do he shall live in them," Lev. xviii. 5. Ezek. xx. 11, 13. by which formula, the righteousness, which is of the law, is described, Rom. x. 5. And the terror of the covenant of works is increased by repeated comminations; and that voice heard, "cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them," Deut. xxvii. 26. Now the apostle declares, that this is the curse of the law, as the law is opposed to faith, or the covenant of grace, Gal. iii. 10, 12. Nay, as the requirement of obedience was rigid under the ministry of Moses, the promises of spiritual and saving grace were more rare and obscure, the measure of the Spirit granted to the Israelites, scanty and short, Deut. xxix. 4. and on the contrary, the denunciation of the curse frequent and express; hence the ministry of Moses is called, "the ministration of death and condemnation," 2 Cor. iii. 7, 9. doubtless because it mentioned the condemnation of the sinner, and obliged the Israelites to subscribe to it.

Secondly, we more especially remark that, when the law was given from mount Sinai or Horeb, there was a repetition of the covenant of works. For, those tremendous signs of thunders and lightnings, of an earthquake, a thick smoke and black darkness, were adapted to strike Israel with great terror. And the setting bounds and limits round about the mount, whereby the Israelites were kept at a distance from the presence of God, upbraided them with that separation, which sin had made between God and them. In a word, "Whatever we read," Exod. xix. (says Calvin, on Heb. xii. 10.) "is intended to inform the people, that God then ascended his tribunal, and manifested himself as an impartial judge. If an innocent animal happened to approach, lie commanded it to be thrust through with a dart; how much sorer punishment were sinners liable to, who were conscious of their sins, nay, and knew themselves indited by the law, as guilty of eternal death." See the same author on Exod. xix. 1, 16. And the apostle in this matter, Heb. xii. 18-22. sets mount Sinai in opposition to mount Zion, the terrors of the law to the sweetness of the gospel.

Thirdly, We are not, however, to imagine, that the doctrine of the covenant of works was repeated, in order to set up again such a covenant with the Israelites, in which they were to seek for righteousness and salvation. For, we have already proved (B. 1. chap. ix. section 20) that this could not possibly be renewed in that manner with a sinner, en account of the justice and truth of God, and the nature of the covenant of works, which admits of no pardon of sin. See also Hornbeck.Theol. Pract. tom. 2. p. 10. Besides, if the Israelites were taught to seek salvation by the works of the law, then the law bad been contrary to the promise, made to the fathers many ages before. But now says the apostle, Gal. iii. 17. "the covenant that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect." The Israelites were, therefore, thus put in mind of the covenant of works, in order to convince them of their sin and misery, to drive them out of themselves, to show them the necessity of a satisfaction, and to compel them to Christ. And so their being thus brought to a remembrance of the covenant of works tended to promote the covenant of grace.

Fourthly, There likewise accompanied this giving of the law the repetition of some things belonging to the covenant of grace. For, that God should propose a covenant of friendship to sinful man, call himself his God (at least in the sense it was said to the elect in Israel), take to himself any people, separated from others, for his peculiar treasure, assign to them the land of Canaan as a pledge of heaven, promise his grace to those that love him and keep his commandments, and circumscribe the vengeance denounced against despisers within certain bounds, and the like; these things manifestly discover a covenant of grace: and without supposing the suretiship of the Messiah, it could not, consistently with the divine justice and truth, be proposed to man a sinner. Judiciously says Calvin on Exod. xix. 17. "by these words we are taught, that these prodigies or signs were not given, to drive the people from the presence of God; nor were they struck with any terror, to ex. asperate their minds with a hatred of instruction: but that the covenant of God was no less lovely than awful. For, they are commanded to go and meet God, to present themselves with a ready affection of soul to obey him. Which could not be unless they had heard something in the law besides precepts and threatenings." See also Tilenus Syntagm. p. 1. Disp. 33. Section 18, 19, 20, 28, 29.

Having premised these observations, I answer to the question. The covenant made With Israel at mount Sinai was not formally the covenant of works, 1st. Because that cannot be renewed with the sinner, in such a sense as to say, if, for the future, thou shalt perfectly perform every instance of obedience, thou shalt be justified by that, according to the covenant of works. For, by this, the pardon of former sins would be presupposed, which the covenant of works excludes. 2dly. Because God did not require perfect obedience from Israel, as a condition of this covenant, as a cause of claiming the reward; but sincere obedience, as an evidence of reverence and gratitude. 3dly. Because it did not conclude Israel under the-curse, in the sense peculiar to the covenant of works, where all hope of pardon was cut off, if they. sinned but in the least instance.

However the carnal Israelites, not adverting to God's purpose or intention, as they ought, mistook the true meaning of that covenant, embraced it as a covenant of works, and by it sought for righteousness. Paul declares this, Rom. ix. 31, 32. "but Israel which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness; wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law,; for they stumbled at that stumbling-stone." To the same purpose it is, that, Gal. iv. 24, 25. he compares to the Ishmaelites Israelites,while they tarried in the deserts of Arabia, which was the country of the former, who are born to bondage of their mother Hagar, or the covenant of mount Sinai, and being destitute of true righteousness, shall, with Ishmael, be at length turned out of the house of their heavenly Father. For, in that place, Paul does not consider the covenant of mount Sinai as in itself, and in the intention of God, offered to the elect, but as abused by carnal and hypocritical men. Let Calvin again speak: "The apostle declares, that, by the children of Sinai, he meant hypocrites, persons who are at length cast out of the church of God, and disinherited. What therefore is that generation unto bondage, which he there speaks of? It is doubtless those, who basely abuse the law, and conceive nothing concerning it but what is servile. The pious fathers who lived under the Old Testament did not so. For, the servile generation of the law did riot binder them from having the spiritual Jerusalem for their mother. But they, who stick to the bare law, and acknowledge not its pedagogy; by which they are brought to Christ, but rather make it an obstacle to their coming to him, these are Ishmaelites (for thus, and I think rightly, Morlorat reads) born unto bondage." The design of the apostle therefore, in that Place, is not to teach us, that the covenant of mount Sinai was nothing but a covenant of works, altogether opposite to the gospel-covenant; but only that the gross Israelites misunderstood the mind of God, and basely abused his covenant; as all such do, who seek for righteousness by the law. See again Calvin on Rom. x. 4.

Nor was it formally a covenant of grace: because that requires not only obedience, but also promises, and bestows strength to obey. For, thus the covenant of grace is made known, Jer. xxxii. 39. 41 and I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear me for ever." But such a promise appears not in the covenant made at mount Sinai. Nay; God, on this very account, distinguishes the new covenant of grace from the Sinaitic, Jer. xxxi. 31-33. And Moses loudly proclaims, Deut. xxix. 4. "yet the Lord hath not given you a heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to 'hear, unto this day." Certainly, the chosen from among Israel had obtained this. Yet not in virtue of this covenant, which stipulated obedience, but gave no power for it: but in virtue of the covenant of grace, which also belonged to them.

What was it then? It was a national covenant between God and Israel, whereby Israel promised to God a sincere obedience to all his precepts, especially to the ten words; God, on the other hand, promised to Israel, that such an observance would be acceptable to him, nor want its reward, both in this life, and in that which is to come, both as to soul and body. This reciprocal promise supposed a covenant of grace. For, without the assistance of the covenant Of grace, man cannot sincerely promise that observance; and yet that an imperfect observance should be acceptable to God is wholly owing to the covenant of grace, It also supposed the doctrine of the covenant of works, the terror or which being increased by those tremendous signs that attended it, they ought to have been excited to embrace that covenant of God. This agreement therefore is a consequent both of the covenant of grace and of works; but was formally neither the one nor the other. A like agreement and renewal of the covenant between God and the pious is frequent; both national and individual. Of the former see Josh. xxiv. 22. 2 Chron. xv. 12. 2 Kings xxiii. 3. Neh. x. 29. Of the latter, Psal. cxix. 106. It is certain, that in the passages we have named, mention is made of some covenant between God and his people. If any should ask me, of what kind, whether of works or of grace? I shall answer, it is formally neither: but a covenant of sincere piety, which supposes both.

Hence the question, which is very much agitated at this day, may be decided: namely, Whether the ten words are nothing but the form of the covenant of grace? This, I apprehend, is by no means an accurate way of speaking., For, since a covenant strictly so called, consists in a mutual agreement, what is properly the form of the covenant should contain the said mutual agreement. But the ten words contain only a prescription of duty fenced on the one band by threatenings, taken from the covenant of works; on the other, by promises, which belong to the covenant of grace. Hence the scripture, when it speaks properly, says that a covenant was made upon these ten words, or after the tenor of those words, Exod. xxxiv. 27. distinguishing the covenant itself, which consists in a mutual agreement from the ten words, which contain the conditions of it. The form of the covenant is exhibited by those words, which we have already quoted from Exod. xix. 5, 6, 8. I deny not, that the ten commandments are frequently in scripture called the covenant of God. But at the same time, no person can be ignorant, that the term covenant has various significations in the Hebrew, and often signifies nothing but a precept, as Jer. xxxiv. 18, 14. Thus Moses explains himself on this head, Deut. iv. 13. "And he declared unto you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, even ten commandments." They are therefore called a covenant by a synecdoche, because they contain those precepts, which God, when he set his covenant before them, required the Israelites to observe, and to which the said Israelites bound themselves by covenant.

The ten words, or commandments, therefore, are not the form of a covenant properly so called, but the rule of duty: much less are they the form of the covenant of grace: because that covenant, in its strict signification, consists of mere promises and, as it relates to elect persons, has the nature of a testament, or last will, rather than of a covenant strictly speaking, and depends on no condition; as we have at large explained and proved, B. III. chap. I. sect. 8. etc. And. Jeremiah has shown us, that the form of the covenant of grace consists in absolute promises, chap. xxxi. 33. and xxxii. 38-40. In like manner, Isa. liv. 10.

Least of all can it be said, that the ten words are nothing but the form of the covenant of grace, since we may look upon them as having a relation to any covenant whatever. They may be considered in a twofold manner. 1st. Precisely, as a law. 2dly. As an instrument of the covenant. As a law, they are the rule of our nature and actions, which HE has prescribed, who has a right to command. This the were from the beginning, this they still are, and this they will continue to be, under whatever covenant, or in whatever state man shall be. As an instrument of the covenant they point out the way to eternal salvation; or contain the condition of enjoying that salvation: and that both Under the covenant of grace and of works. But with this difference; that under the covenant of works, this condition is required to be performed by man himself; under the covenant of grace it is proposed, as already performed, or to be performed by a mediator. Things, which those very persons, with whom we are now disputing, will not venture to deny.

 

 

WHAT OTHERS HAVE SAID

Hermann Witsius (Herman Wits or in Latin Hermannus Witsius) (February 12, 1636 - October 22, 1708), Dutch theologian, was born at Enkhuisen, North Holland, and studied at Groningen, Leiden and Utrecht. He was ordained in the ministry, becoming the pastor of Westwoud in 1656 and afterwards at Wormeren, Goesen, and Leeuwaarden, and became professor of divinity successively at the University of Franeker in 1675 and then at the University of Utrecht in 1680. In 1698 he was appointed to the University of Leiden as the successor of the younger Friedrich Spanheim (1632-1701), where he died.

While in his theology Witsius aimed at a reconciliation between the reigning orthodoxy and Covenant Theology (also known as federalism), he was first of all a Biblical theologian, his principal field being systematic theology. His chief work is entitled The Economy of the Covenants between God and Man (originally published in Latin: De oeconomia foderum Dei cum hominibus, Leeuwarden, 1677). He was induced to publish this work by his grief at the controversies between Voetians and Cocceians. Although himself a member of the federalistic school, he was in no way blind to the value of the scholastically established dogmatic system of the Church. In the end, he did not succeed in pleasing either party.
Besides his principal work he published
:

  • Judaeus christianizans circa principia fidei et SS. Trinitatem (Utrecht, 1661)

  • Diatribe de septem epistolarum apocalypticarum sensu historico et prophetico (Franeker, 1678)

  • Exercitationes sacrae in symbolum quod apostolorum dicitur et in orationem Dominicam (Franeker, 1681)

  • Miscellanea sacra

Of his minor works, there have appeared in English A Treatise on Christian Faith (London, 1761); On the Character of a True Theologian (Edinburgh, 1877); and The Question: Was Moses the Author of the Pentateuch Answered in the Affirmative (1877).

External links

  • A summary of Witsius' The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man by C. Matthew McMahon

  • Introduction to The Economy of the Covenants by J. I. Packer

The Voetian-Cocceian conflict

During Witsius' professorship at Franeker, tension between the Voetians and the Cocceians escalated. Gisbertus Voetius (1589-1676), a renowned Reformed scholastic theologian and professor at Utrecht, represents the mature fruit of the Nadere Reformatie (Dutch Second Reformation), much as John Owen does for English Puritanism. Voetius unceasingly opposed Johannes Cocceius (1603-1669), the Bremen-born theologian who taught at Franeker and Leiden, and whose covenant theology, in Voetius’s opinion, overemphasized the historical and contextual character of specific ages. Voetius believed that Cocceius’s new approach to the Scriptures would undermine both Reformed dogmatics and practical Christianity. For Voetius, Cocceius’s devaluing of practical Christianity culminated in his rejection of the Sabbath as a ceremonial yoke no longer binding on Christians. The Voetian-Cocceian controversy racked the Dutch Reformed Church until long after the death of both divines, splitting theological faculties into factions. Eventually both factions compromised, agreeing in many cities to rotate their pastors between Voetians and Cocceians.

 

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