Are the Covenant Promises Definite? A Pædobaptist Discussion

In the debates of credobaptism vs. pædobaptism in the seventeenth century, a great number of books and pamphlets were produced. These, in turn, have led to a corresponding quantity of secondary literature about the two sides of the debate. When looking at the sides as opposites, one of the features that can disappear from view is the diversity of each side.

It has been my experience (and this is a vague generality) that pædobaptists are often unaware or at least disinterested in the diversity of their own tradition. Baptists are equally liable to this deficiency, but in this post I want to present a pædobaptist speaking to pædobaptists in the context of the credo vs. pædo debates.

Joseph Whiston (d.1690), a Congregationalist (or Independent) minister of Lewes, Sussex wrote several works advocating pædobaptism and criticizing credobaptism. He interacted with Henry Danvers (not a Particular Baptist), Edward Hutchinson, Thomas Delaune, and Nehemiah Coxe (all three were Particular Baptists). John Flavel commended Whiston’s contribution to this ongoing debate.

In one such work published in 1676, An Essay to Revive the Primitive Doctrine and Practice of Infant-Baptism, Whiston initiated a discussion about the definiteness of the covenant. Are the promises made definitely or indefinitely to the infant-seed of believers? The context of this discussion was the Baptist criticism of the pædobaptist covenantal system that if the promise is made to the children, and yet not all children come to faith and salvation, then God is unfaithful to his promises and the covenant is not sure.

Whiston’s solution is surprising, and I believe that most, if not all, my pædobaptist friends today would reject it. But what is equally surprising is that for Whiston, the model that I would consider the common position then, and now, is untenable. Whiston considers it indefensible. I am genuinely curious to know how my modern pædobaptist friends would respond to Whiston. And, without desiring to be provocative, I also wonder to what extent my pædobaptist friends have faced the issue Whiston is addressing without retreating to generalities and formulae.

If you read the portions below and more of Whiston’s work itself, you will see that one of the recurring factors of Whiston’s argument is how ministers handle the death of the infants of believers. On what ground do ministers reassure parents of the salvation of their dear deceased little ones? If the covenant is not made definitely with the seed, and if they do not all enjoy the promises made in the covenant, how can ministers speak in this way?

I have transcribed relevant sections below, updated spelling in general, and to some degree divided his paragraphs into more natural divisions (as I read his argument). All bracketed content is mine. You can see the original through the link above.

So, here follows Joseph Whiston’s words as a pædobaptist to pædobaptists regarding the definiteness of the covenant of grace as it is made with the infants of believers. He begins by setting out varying positions, then advocating his own in contrast with the rest.

It may not be unuseful, but seems necessary, that I should give a brief account of the different apprehensions of pædo-baptists themselves about the nature of the covenant and promises, as entered with, and made to the infant-seed of believers, because that they are not all of one mind and judgment about that must be granted. And according to their different apprehensions about the nature of the covenant and promises, they are differently persuaded as to the good accruing to infants by their covenant-interest, and their having the token of the covenant applied to them.

Some conceive that the covenant is entered with the seed of believers only indefinitely, and answerably that the promises appertaining to them are to be interpreted and understood in an indefinite notion; that is, as having a respect to them as generally and collectively considered, but not made to any of them in particular. And of those that go this way, some conceive that the covenant and promises appertain only to the elect, and secure to them only the future enjoyment of all the saving fruits and benefits purchased by Christ; but do not necessarily convey to, or confer upon them any of those fruits or benefits for the present, and consequently, that by the application of the token of the covenant, only jus ad rem [a right to the thing], not jus in re [a right in the thing] is sealed and confirmed.

Others conceive that as the covenant and promises thereof have only an indefinite respect to the seed of believers, so that at least some of them have those saving benefits and blessings actually granted to and conferred upon them, and consequently that they are actually regenerated, and have a full and complete union with Christ, the remission of sins, the love and favor of God, &c. And some having these benefits and blessings actually conferred upon them in their infancy, we are to presume it may be so with each one in particular; and on that ground are to apply the token of the covenant to them universally.

And this opinion, could it be clearly proved from Scripture, would free the controversy about infant baptism from many difficulties it must be confessed it is otherwise attended with: but for the reasons after to be given, I cannot, but at present lay it aside cum pace tantorum virorum [with respect to such great men].

Secondly, others conceive that the covenant is entered with the seed of believers definitely, and answerably that the promises appertaining to them are to be interpreted and understood in a definite notion; and consequently, that as the covenant, as at first established with Abraham, did extend to Ishmael, as well as to Isaac, so is still continued to all believers, and each one of their seed in particular.

And some of these that go this way conceive, that all the infants of believers have true grace, in particular true faith, wrought in them either antecedent to the application of the token of the covenant, or at the time of its application, if not by, yet in a concurrence with it. But this opinion necessarily inferring a possibility to lose, and fall from the truth of Grace, is rejected by the generality of Protestants, especially that bear the denomination of Calvinists.

Yet some grant, yea assert some kind of supernatural operations of the Spirit to antecede, at least accompany the application of the token of the covenant to them, whereby at least a posse agere [an ability to act though not actually acting], or some dispositions facilitating their saving acting of grace are wrought.

But others distinguish of the covenant: it is say they, internum, aut externum, it is either internal, or external: by the internal covenant, they seem to mean the covenant as really and truly entered with the elect, ensuring to them grace and glory: by the external covenant they seem to mean the covenant as visibly appearing to be made with men, whether infants, or adult, when as it is not indeed really entered mutually between God and them. This latter way of God’s entering covenant with men, whether young or old, is expressed by some, by entering covenant with them in or according to an ecclesiastical dispensation, that is, as they express themselves in a visible church way.

Again others, and sometimes the same men distinguish of the good contained in and conveyed by the promises of the covenant appertaining to the seed of believers: it is, say they, either spiritual and saving, or else only external and ecclesiastical; as membership in the visible church, a right to the outward ordinances and privileges of the church, and the like. And they conceive that the covenant, as containing saving spiritual mercies, only appertains to the elect; but, as containing external ecclesiastical privileges, it appertains to all the seed of believers: hence they call it, as entered with them, a covenant of privileges.

This latter opinion concerning the definiteness of the covenant I take to be according to truth, though to distinguish either of the covenant or the good contained in it, as entered with, or extended to infants, I see no ground, neither do I think it is at all necessary; but I say, as to the nature of the covenant, I doubt not, but that it is entered with, and extended to the infant-seed of believers definitely, and answerably [correspondingly] that the promises appertaining to them are to be interpreted and understood in a definite notion, as appertaining equally and alike to each one in particular: I speak of the covenant and promises, as entered with and made to the seed of believers merely as such.

There are, it’s true, some promises of the covenant appertaining unto them, which are to be interpreted and understood in an indefinite notion, as has been afore declared; but those appertain not to them merely as the seed of such parents, but as members of the visible church. (100-103)

What follows is a part of Whiston’s defense of his position that the covenant is made with the seed of believers definitely.

That which is firstly and primarily ratified sealed and confirmed to infants (and the same is true of the adult) by the application of the token of the covenant to them, is the covenant it self, as more generally and absolutely considered; and consequently, and as the immediate and necessary result thereof, that which is ratified and confirmed is their covenant-state. They are (as I may so speak) solemnly invested and settled in a covenant-state with God; they are absolutely de presenti [in the present] removed from under the first covenant entered with all mankind in Adam, and solemnly invested with, and initiated into a new covenant-state. Hence circumcision (and the same is true of Baptism) is said to be the token of the covenant, as absolutely considered, Gen. 17.11 as the one had, so the other has a first and primary respect and reference to the covenant as absolutely taken; and consequentially to the state of those that are taken into covenant; they are thereby solemnly put, and settled in a new covenant-state and relation Godward: though I deny not, but that the new covenant or covenant of grace is conditionally made with all or rather offered to mankind; there is an offer and tender of Christ with all his benefits to all men upon condition of faith and repentance…

But the seed of Believers are actually received into the covenant of grace, solemnized, ratified, and confirmed by the application of the token of the covenant to them and from this change in their states I conceive a discharge and immunity from the condemning power of original sin, whether originans or originatum [the original sin of Adam, and the pollution of nature resulting from Adam’s sin], does necessarily arise and result unto them.

All those that are actually under the covenant of grace, as definitely entered with them, are de presenti [in the present] freed from [the covenant of works], seeing there is an absolute inconsistency between being under the law, and under grace, at one and the same time. The Apostle, Rom. 6.14 sets these two states in a direct antithesis or opposition the one to the other; whether we understand by law here, the mosaical law, or the law as given at Mount Sinai, wherein there was a revival of the law of works made with Adam in innocency, or that first law or covenant as so made with Adam; yet by grace I conceive we must understand the covenant of grace, and then ’tis all one as to my present purpose: no man can be under two covenants that are in nature or kind directly opposite the one to the other, at one and the same time. Hence I say, the infants of believers, being under the covenant of grace, they must needs be set free from the first covenant in the same sense that all believers are.

And as for the covenant of grace that threatens condemnation against none but either final rejecters of it, as in the case of those that are yet strangers to it, or total and final violators of it, as in case of those that are actually under it, and being free from the sanction of the first covenant, and not under any obligation to suffer future condemnation, either as rejecters, or violators of the second, I conceive their immunity from the condemning power of original sin, yea of whatever sin, whether original or actual they fall under the guilt of, during their pure infant-states, must necessarily ensue, though no express promise of pardon (which I conceive it is not necessary to enquire after) should appertain unto them, cessante obligatione legis & non obligante novo foedere [the threat of the law having ceased, and not under the threats of the new covenant], there can be no condemnation to them on the account of any sin chargeable upon them. (111-114)

At the heart of Whiston’s position is not just the mutual exclusivity of the covenants of works and grace, but also the simple logic of what it means to be in a covenant. He says that we cannot say our children are in the covenant unless we likewise affirm that they enjoy the benefits of the covenant.

Those that have no good, that is of the essence and substance of the covenant, have no present interest in the covenant. but unless infants have that good afore declared, they have no good that is of the essence and substance of the covenant. Ergo. This argument in the whole of it is so obvious to every ordinary understanding, at least [it] will so evidently appear upon a diligent search, that I shall surcease the proof of it. (154)

Similarly, Whiston argued that an indefinite promise to children is an insufficient ground for the application of the token.

And hence, by the way, how can a supposal of [the covenant being made indefinitely with the seed of believers] be a sufficient ground for the application of the token of the covenant, of which the covenant gives no assurance? (177)

Whiston again argues against an indefinite model by answering an objection.

Objection. It will be said, ‘Tis true the infant-seed of believers, and that universally, visibly appear to us, and may be hoped according to a judgment of charity, to have all that good, and all those benefits and privileges afore assigned to them, as they are the seed of such parents, conferred upon and ensured to them by the covenant, as confirmed by the application of the token thereof to them, but that they have all that good, and all those benefits and privileges really and truly actually granted to, and conferred upon them in their pure infant-state, is more than we can affirm; inasmuch as secret things belong to God, but things revealed to us and our chidlren.

Answer. I confess, most that have pleaded for Infant-baptism upon this ground, viz. their interest in the covenant, do too commonly express themselves to this purpose, but it seems past all rational doubt, and is so to me, that what they visibly appear to have by virtue of their interest in the covenant, that they have in reality and truth. (181)

Natural questions arise, of course, as to how Whiston’s definite covenant model handles the children of believers that abandon the faith. He argues that though the infant seed of believers are freed from original sin’s guilt and pollution, they are not necessarily regenerated, nor do they have the Holy Spirit.

For that which may yet further be pleaded, namely, the improbability that any should be in covenant with the Holy Spirit, and yet have no benefit by him, either in regard of any saving, no, nor any common operations that have a direct conducency [leading connection] to their future salvation. To that I would say in the general, that how improbable soever this may seem to be, yet no sound argument can be drawn therefrom, to prove the conclusion inferred in the forementioned objection. God may receive the infant-seed of believers into covenant with himself, and that universally, and vouchsafe them all the good and all the privileges afore assigned to them, and yet it will not necessarily follow from thence, that any such operations of the Spirit should be granted to them. (168)

The covenant doth not assure any of regeneration in their infancy, as they are Elect, for then all the elect seed of believers should be regenerated in their infancy; the contrary whereunto is evident, in that many of the seed of believers, in whom there is not the least shew or appearance of grace from their very infancy till they come to full age, yea possibly till they come to old age, are yet at last converted and brought to a saving close with Christ. (178)

And when the children of believers come of age, they can “willfully sin away their mercies.” (180) This is possible, Whiston says, because “The covenant of grace is immutable, when the Spirit, which renders it so, is actually given.” (185)

The extent to which Whiston represents anyone beyond himself is an important question, though he does appeal to “the generality, if not the universality of all the ancients, and many of our modern divines, as the Lutherans, the Divines of the Synod of Dordt, with many others” to support his argument for the “immunity from the condemning power of original sin” for the infants of believers (117).

But I bring his writing to light as a way of reorienting the polarity of polemics. Whiston’s criticisms of the indefinite model of how God covenants with the children of believers are based on the same premises used by the Particular Baptists to make similar arguments. For example, Nehemiah Coxe said,

Nehemiah Coxe, A Discourse, 129

And Hercules Collins argued that if pædobaptists will only go so far as saying that their children are externally or visibly in the covenant, and the rest is left to God, that is, if the covenant is only made indefinitely…

“If we ask what they mean by Infants of Believers being in the Covenant of Grace? They answer, they are in the External part of the covenant; if you ask, what is that? They say, the Administration of the Covenant; if you ask, what is that? They will tell you it is Baptism; so that the whole amounts to no more than this, such children they ought to be baptized, because they ought to be baptized.”

This discussion is the same context for the Particular Baptists’ criticisms of the Westminster catechism’s description of baptism and the covenant of grace relative to union with Christ and the relation of infants to the same.

So, I query, is the covenant made definitely or indefinitely with the infant seed of believers? If we grant the formula “I will be a God to you and your children” to be a general formula belonging to all believers, is this formula and promise definite or indefinite?

 

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Lost Presbyterian Lenses

Lost Presbyterian Lenses

When contending that Reformed theology, in the context of early seventeenth-century Puritanism, is the most significant influence on Particular Baptist origins and theology, this question naturally arises: If the Particular Baptists were so similar to the Reformed tradition, why is it that those in the Reformed tradition viewed the early Particular Baptists as something so different?

Given that the Particular Baptists emerged just before and during the time of the Westminster Assembly, how did the Westminster divines view the Particular Baptists and what did they say about them? To answer these questions, we need to ensure that we understand as much as possible the context in which the Westminster divines were introduced to, and responded to, the Particular Baptists.

Particular Baptists Through Presbyterian Lenses

If you were a Presbyterian divine in the Westminster Assembly commissioned by the government (Parliament) to establish a government-backed national uniformity of religion, what would a Particular Baptist look like to you in the early 1640s? You would likely not know what a Particular Baptist was, at least not clearly. But several of their tenets would be highly repulsive. How so? Consider the following from the perspective of a Westminster divine:

First, you believe that in matters of religion, the civil magistrate has the right to compel the conscience.

They who upon pretense of Christian liberty, shall oppose any lawful power…whether it be civil or ecclesiastical, resist the ordinance of God. (WCF 20.4)

And, for their publishing of such opinions, or maintaining such practices, as are contrary…to the known principles of Christianity…they may lawfully be called to account, and proceeded against by the censures of the church, and by the power of the civil magistrate. (WCF 20.4)

Second, you believe that the civil magistrate is responsible to enable the true church to exist and to disable all opposition.

It is [the civil magistrate’s] duty to take order that unity and peace be preserved in the church, that the truth of God be kept pure, and entire; that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed; all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented, or reformed; and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administered, and observed. (WCF 23.3)

Third, you believe that this national uniform church should include a form of hierarchical government.

Fourth, you have been commissioned by Parliament to begin this process.

A Particular Baptist (though you would not know him by that name) believes that the conscience cannot be forced in matters of religion, that the civil magistrate has no right whatsoever to establish, enable, or enforce a national church, and that all authority and power for the government of churches resides in the churches themselves, subject to no higher power as a church power. If the Particular Baptist is right about this, the Westminster Assembly’s very existence and purpose are invalidated.

If this were not enough, there are some in England who are apparently baptizing themselves, forming their own congregations, ordaining their own officers, and publishing literature advocating their positions while criticizing yours on these points. Their existence is antithetical to yours, to the church you envision, and to the mission your government has given to you. And now, some of the university men and clergy are joining them! This Anabaptism must be stopped.

The Westminster Assembly sent a recommendation to Parliament in Aug-Sep of 1644 advising legislation for the suppression of Anabaptism. The Assembly sent out a call for Anabaptists to submit their reasons against infant baptism to the Assembly. The next month, October, the Particular Baptists published their first Confession of Faith.

If you were one of those divines and you received a copy of the Baptists’ Confession, what would you think? The title of this Confession of Faith oddly claims that they are called Anabaptists falsely. And they, the falsely-called Anabaptists, address the Confession not only to their countrymen, but also to “those that think themselves much wronged, if they be not looked upon as the chief Worthies of the Church of God, and Watchmen of the City.”

So, apparently a group of Anabaptists that say that they are not Anabaptists, but also don’t mind telling us (the Westminster Assembly) that we are somewhat conceited, have published a Confession of Faith. What do they believe? Who are these people? Listen to the divines responding to the 1644 1LCF.

Stephen Marshall said,

I acknowledge it the most Orthodox of any Anabaptists confession that ever I read, (although there are sundry Heterodox opinions in it) and such an one as I believe thousands of our new Anabaptists will be far from owning.

So, in Stephen Marshall’s opinion most Anabaptists would never come close to calling this confession their own. To the contrary, it’s the most orthodox Baptist theology he’s read. But it has unorthodox opinions.

Robert Baillie said,

Tell the English Anabaptists now of the Doctrine and practice of their fathers in Munster and elsewhere, they are ready with passion to deny all affinity, all consanguinity with such monstrous Heretics…the furthest they will profess to maintain is but a simple antipaedobaptism…We wish that all our questions with that generation of men were come to so narrow an issue; we are [reluctant] to force upon any man the errors which he is willing to disallow.
We wish that all these who go under the name of Anabaptists in England, were resolved to stand to the Articles of that confession without any further progress in error.

In Baillie’s mind, the only connection to the Anabaptists that the Baptists of this Confession will acknowledge is that they both reject paedobaptism. And he wishes that the scope of their disagreement was so limited with all Baptists.

When credobaptism is placed within the context of 1640s England, one can appreciate the dilemma to which Baillie alludes. He says that they do not wish to attribute errors to those who deny them. He is looking at a Baptist confession full of Reformed theology, and yet coming from a group whose distinctives are antithetical to a Westminster Presbyterian. If they say that they aren’t Anabaptists, but they’re opposite to Presbyterians in key ways, what are they? It was easy to continue calling them Anabaptists. It was a lazy label, even a label that Marshall and Baillie acknowledged didn’t quite fit, but ultimately it was a convenient label for use by a government-backed ecclesiastical structure because it created instant marginalization and exclusion.

The Difficulties and Oddities of the Discussion in a Modern Context

We have seen several contextual historical and theological reasons for why the 1640s Presbyterians viewed the Particular Baptists as so different from themselves. What we must be careful to do is to read the Presbyterian reception of Particular Baptists through their own lenses. But the difficulty is that modern Presbyterians are so different today. Few of them hold the original views on liberty/compulsion of conscience and the role of the civil magistrate in the same.

Consequently, when you put the modern inheritors of WCF with the modern inheritors of 1LCF (who now confess 2LCF, 1677), several of the key pieces of Particular Baptist theology that were considered so dangerous and repugnant to the Presbyterians of the 1640s are now codified elements of revisions of the Westminster Confession itself. We could add to this the fact that though Presbyterians today still reject congregationalism, it must be perfectly acceptable within Reformed theology because everyone gives Owen and the Dissenting Brethren a pass into the “Reformed” world. The differences in doctrine between modern Particular Baptists and Presbyterians are therefore significantly narrowed by the Presbyterians’ confessional moves closer to the Baptists. The Baptists have not changed their confession since its original composition in 1677.*

Ironically, this means that many modern Presbyterians are at odds with key features of their own tradition because as noted above, if the state cannot and should not establish national religion, the Westminster Assembly should never have been called for the purpose that it was called. Strangely, the American Westminster Confession essentially invalidates the reasons for the existence of the original Westminster Confession.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the purpose of this post was to address the question: If the Particular Baptists were so similar to the Reformed tradition, why is it that those in the Reformed tradition viewed the early Particular Baptists as something so different?

We have seen Westminster divines remarking on the orthodoxy of 1LCF. We have also seen them dismissing it in the context of a uniform national state church which is utterly opposed to Baptist congregationalism. And we have noted that appropriating 1640s responses to the Particular Baptists in a modern context is strange and difficult given that the premises of the 1640s Presbyterians’ criticisms are no longer shared by modern Presbyterians. This should caution us all to make sure we understand the contextual motivation and argumentation of older sources, especially if we want to apply those sources to modern contexts.

Nathaniel Wyles, Comfort for Believers, 37

*Meaning not that there has never been an edited version of 2LCF, but that its modern inheritors confess it in its pristine originality.

Not Absolutely

Early Particular Baptist history is notoriously murky, and historians are forced to be content with whatever information has survived the passage of time. The paucity of information requires that a degree of tentativeness be inserted into statements based on that information. Consequently, when historians of the Particular Baptists assert that the Particular Baptists do not come from continental Anabaptists, or that they were distinct from the General Baptists, are they speaking absolutely? Absolutely not.

Absolute statements are easy to prove false, or rather, easy to prove not absolutely true. This is especially the case when dealing with broadly defined or undefined terms. What is an Anabaptist? What is a Particular Baptist? What is a General Baptist?

There are connections between the early Particular Baptists and the continental Anabaptists, as well as to the General Baptists. But connections are not causes, necessarily. Analogy is not genealogy. So, what are these connections, and what do they mean? What is their significance? And are there other connections that balance our perspective in other directions?

The Early Particular Baptists Consulted the Dutch Anabaptists Regarding the Mode of Baptism

The most important source for Baptist beginnings is the so-called “Kiffen Manuscript” held in the Angus Library at Regent’s Park College, Oxford. Among other things, it tells the story of the Jacob/Lathrop/Jessey church. As repeated many times elsewhere, a group within this church became convinced of credobaptism. Subsequent to this conviction, the group determined that dipping was the proper and necessary mode of baptism, without which there was no baptism. In other words, those not dipped are not simply improperly baptized, they are simply not baptized.

Already being convinced of the theology of credobaptism, this fledgling church sent a Dutch-speaking emissary to Holland to see how others had administered the ordinance via dipping. The manuscript says (in updated spelling),

May 1640
“being convinced of Baptism, that also it ought to be by dipping the body into the water…None having then so practiced [dipping] in England…and hearing that some in the Netherlands had so practiced [dipping] they agreed and sent over Mr. Richard Blunt (who understood Dutch) with letters of recommendation, who was kindly accepted there and returned with letters from them.”

The group consulted was, according to James Renihan in his book Edification and Beauty, “the Collegiants or Rijnsburgers…a lay movement…[that] practiced baptism by immersion, not as a church ordinance, but in order that it might be provided for those who desired it.” It is important to note, however, that Blunt was not baptized while there. Rather, the church took time to consider all of this and the next year the church took steps to baptize themselves (considering themselves unbaptized to that point). The manuscript says,

1641
“Mr. Blunt baptized Mr. Blacklock that was a teacher amongst them, and Mr. Blunt being baptized, he and Mr. Blacklock baptized the rest.”

As a side note, the theological rationale behind this event was as follows:

  • The legitimacy of baptism does not stem from the baptizer, but from the command given to the church.
  • The church is therefore authorized to appoint a baptizer in order to fulfill the command of baptism.
  • If baptism has been so neglected that in that place there is no baptizer who is already baptized, the first baptizer must, of necessity, be unbaptized.
  • So it was for John the Baptist who began to baptize by virtue of a command, he himself being unbaptized.

Back to the point, note that in the above quote Mr. Blunt was baptized by Mr. Blacklock. He had not been baptized in Holland. This is confirmed later in a separate portion of the manuscript that describes Francis Bampfield’s inquiry into “the methods taken by the Baptists, to obtain a proper administrator of baptism by immersion, when that practice had so long been disused.” Bampfield was told in London that Baptism was recovered by,

“Either a self baptizer…One John Smith…
Or two men according to their principle in their judgment altogether unbaptized before, did baptize one another at the first, and afterwards did baptize others. And so were many of the baptizings in London, reported originally to be in one if not in two instances.”

The second instance is referring to Blunt and Blacklock who are again both described as unbaptized.

These sources clearly establish a connection between the early Particular Baptist movement and the Dutch Anabaptists. But what weight can be laid on this foundation?

  • After the Baptists had already formed their theology of credobaptism, One early  Dutch-speaking Baptist consulted Dutch Anabaptists about the mode of Baptism.

John Smyth, regarded as a founder or progenitor of the General Baptists, was mentioned above. Did the Particular Baptists have a connection to him? No. First, Smyth died in Holland in 1612. Second, Smyth was not practicing dipping. Third, listen to Hercules Collins who argues that the Particular Baptists had no connection whatsoever to him and retrieved credobaptism from the commands of the Scriptures,

Untitled

Collins had the advantage of defending his tradition’s history while its earliest pioneers were still alive.

Reviewing this evidence, we see that it indicates that if the early Particular Baptists got anything from the Anabaptists, it was dipping tips. The Dutch Anabaptist connection is small. What would weight our estimation in another direction? Consider two things.

First, the literature published by this group from its earliest stages onward denies a genealogical and/or theological connection to the Anabaptists. One would think that the fruit would match the root. But as the Particular Baptists’ theological commitment to credobaptism had formed quite apart from a group divided from them by geography and language, so their ongoing commitment to credobaptism was defended quite apart from the Hollanders. My previous post provided contextual reasons for why some of the most prominent Particular Baptists arrived at their credobaptist views quite apart from the Anabaptists.

Second, as described in the aforementioned previous post, tracing the actual historical movement of specific Particular Baptists from paedobaptism to credobaptism demonstrates that a core segment of the leadership of the movement began as university-trained, CoE-ordained paedobaptists. They read Reformed theology and interacted with it, approving much and disapproving of the obvious points. Their training and influences are clear.

Are the origins of the Particular Baptists separated from the continental Anabaptists? Not absolutely. Does the evidence suggest that the Particular Baptists developed their theology on the basis of Anabaptist theology?  Absolutely not. There are connections, but no causes of significance. There is an analogy, but not a genealogy.

The Particular Baptists Have Connections to the General Baptists

Before launching into this, you should know that the category “General Baptist” is a broad category including a large range of beliefs. And we have to be careful not to assume the theological commitments of those labeled as “General Baptists.” In some cases, as we will see in a moment, the question dividing the groups was narrowed down to how the gospel should be preached.

Consider two prime examples of the proximity of the early Particular Baptist movement to the General Baptist movement. I say “prime” because they are in the list of early Particular Baptists in my previous post, because they are men who lived and influenced the Particular Baptist movement for many years, and because they published works that give us access to their thought.

Christopher Blackwood, a Cambridge-educated Church of England priest converted to Credobaptism after hearing a General Baptist, Francis Cornwell, assert the error of paedobaptism. But Blackwood never joined the General Baptists. Nor does General Baptist theology appear in his writings. In fact, paedobaptists who read Blackwood said that he sounded like John Cameron.

A more interesting example is Benjamin Coxe who spent time in Thomas Lambe’s church before ending up with the London Particular Baptists. Wright even argues that Coxe actually embraced the theology of the General Baptists. Dealing with Wright’s claim requires more attention than we can offer here, but we know that Coxe spent very little actual time in Lambe’s church, a span of two years during which Coxe was absent and incarcerated for a good amount of time. And we know that Coxe left over a dispute involving predestination.

Lambe said to Coxe, “if you deny that Christ died for the sins of all, what Gospel will you preach to unbelievers?” This indicates that the heart of the issue was how to preach the gospel in such a way that all men are commanded to believe, while knowing that only the elect will actually believe. Coxe came to credobaptist beliefs, eventually joined Lambe’s church, became uncomfortable with the way the gospel was preached, and joined with the Particular Baptists soon after. No imprint was made on him, except perhaps extremes to be avoided.

What weight can we lay on this foundation?

  • The early Particular Baptists had connections to the General Baptists, but not as a source, nor with lasting or significant effects.

Are the origins of the Particular Baptists separated from the General Baptists? Not absolutely. Does the evidence suggest that the Particular Baptists developed their theology on the basis of General Baptist theology?  Absolutely not. There are connections, but no causes of significance. There is an analogy, but not a genealogy.

Early Particular Baptist origins should be viewed as a series of streams that run together until they form a united river around 1644. Each of these streams has its own context through which it passes along the way to arriving at a greater unity and united identity. The Jacob/Lathrop/Jessey church is the central stream to which others joined, many of them having been trained at Cambridge or Oxford and ordained in the Church of England. They examined the theology of their day, as described in the previous post, and arrived at a common understanding of how that system should be realigned.

This post has attempted to add balance to discussions of Particular Baptist origins and identity by providing the sources that connect the Particular Baptists to traditions from which they commonly are said to be disconnected. Historians should avoid absolute disavowals of Particular Baptist connections to Anabaptists and General Baptists. They should likewise avoid placing a weight on those connections that they will not bear. Are Particular Baptist origins separated from Anabaptists and General Baptists? Not absolutely. Do the Particular Baptists come from these groups? Absolutely not.

These discussions must be guided by evidence distinguishing analogy from genealogy, and guarded by reason distinguishing correlation from causation.

William Twisse, The Doubting Conscience Resolved, 78

 

 

 

 

Particular Baptist Identity and History

In his ongoing series of posts “engaging” with Particular Baptist history and theology, Dr. R. Scott Clark recently articulated and clarified his angle of approach to the relevant issues and questions. In particular, Dr. Clark has suggested that though the Particular Baptists intentionally identified themselves with Reformed theology and distanced themselves from Anabaptist history and theology, their claim is subject to external scrutiny. And Baptist historians who simply rely on the internal claim are therefore susceptible to blind spots and mistakes if they go no further than repeating the internal history.

Edmund Campion, The Historie of Ireland, 23

Methodologically, this is a valid approach and even a good question. Does the external evidence support the internal history? Dr. Clark indicates that the more one examines the historical record, the more one finds the Particular Baptists’ supposed self-identity to be more an identity than a reality. He says,

The etiology of the Particular Baptist movement also remains problematic. My PB friends consistently deny any connection between the Particular Baptists and the Anabaptists. This assertion seems to be more grounded in their theological self-identity than in actual history.

As an example, Clark points out that Benjamin Keach was formerly a General Baptist, a broad tradition with known connections to continental Anabaptists. For a complete perspective on Keach’s theology and theological influences, please see this book written by Dr. Jonathan Arnold. In this post, I am going to set aside Keach, not only because the book above is a sufficient resource, but also because Keach’s move to Particular Baptist theology in the 1670s is quite removed from the group’s origins in the 1630s-1640s when Keach was not yet born. Furthermore, if one examine’s Keach’s covenant theology, all you will get is Petto, Owen, Coxe, and Cary.

Now, let us consider briefly the “actual history” involved, regarding ideology (the ideas in the context of the early Particular Baptists) and history (the actual historical context of actual individual Particular Baptists). My book From Shadow to Substance presents this information and does not simply “defer”, as Dr. Clark states, to the internal history of the Particular Baptist movement.

Ideological Context

What ideas influenced the development of the Particular Baptists? Whence their credobaptism? They did not come from nowhere.

Surely, it would seem strange if not suspect to locate the origins of the Particular Baptists’ credobaptism in a system that rejects credobaptism, i.e., Reformed theology. And if I may attempt to guess at the presuppositions and predispositions of Dr. Clark in this case, it would seem like a natural bias.

John Owen, A Letter, 6

However, consider the two main branches of argumentation used by Particular Baptists to justify their credobaptism, branches both beginning in the Baptists’ earliest books: an argument from positive law, and an argument from covenant theology. Both arguments have roots in Protestant Reformed Puritan theology. When I say “Puritan” I am referring to the collision of Protestant Reformed theology with the English church which resulted in an internal movement with diverse ideas on how the church should be reformed. I regard “Puritan” as Protestant Reformed theology being worked out in the English context. That movement took many shapes and branched in various directions.

Common to this movement was an insistence on limiting faith and practice to God’s word and thus removing unscriptural traditions. English university students considered or reconsidered their theological system afresh, and priests reconsidered not just their system, but their actual practice. Some of them began to deny the Lord’s Supper to parishioners who made no profession of faith beyond their infant baptism, and who lived lives evincing no spiritual fruit. When English students and priests are attempting to align their credenda and agenda with Scripture, and when they get as far as limiting the ongoing sacrament of spiritual life to professing and persevering believers, it is no stretch, ideologically, to see how the same context and influences produced a reevaluation of the sacrament of new life, baptism, and limited it to professing believers. They didn’t need to look to Holland or Germany to have these questions pressed on them. Nor did they need to look overseas to find the answers to those questions.

Regarding the details of the Protestant, Reformed, and Puritan provenance of the Particular Baptists’ argument for credobaptism based on positive law, see this lecture and the handout available on that page.

As to the Protestant, Reformed, and Puritan roots of the Particular Baptists’ argument for credobaptism based on covenant theology, my book deals with this as comprehensively as I was able, and I refer you to it. Key to this is the presentation and examination of the unity and diversity of Reformed covenant theology, so as to locate the Particular Baptists’ relationship to the same. Considering the matter without considering the diversity of the Reformed tradition indeed makes it perplexing if not preposterous to claim that a covenantal system that concludes in credobaptism derives from a covenantal system that rejects credobaptism. Given the scope of such a question, I again refer you to the book.

The Protestant, Reformed, and Puritan roots of these two branches of argumentation are not just a model that I, or others, have created to assert an identity. It is what you find in the Particular Baptists’ writings. Whether you agree with them or not, you will find  Particular Baptists regularly and favorably quoting Reformed sources in support of their arguments. You simply won’t find an appeal to Anabaptist theology for credobaptism. A connection to Anabaptist theology as a contextual ideological influence must be supposed and imposed on Particular Baptist literature. It cannot be found there.

Historical Context

Here we needn’t deal with abstractions. We can be quite concrete. So, consider the actual historical context of individual first-generation Particular Baptists, in other words the actual historical context of the origins of the Particular Baptists. Where did they come from? Where were they getting their ideas?

Name: Education: CoE Ordination: Contextual Influences:
Henry Jacob (never became credo),

John Lathrop (never became credo),

Henry Jessey (became credo c.1644)

All 3 BA/MA, 1 Oxford, 2 Cambridge All 3 Cambridge/Oxford theology (1580s-1620s)

Jessey’s friends consulted before switching to credo: Nye, Goodwin, Burroughs, Greenhill, Cradock, Carter, Jackson, Bolton

Spilsbury & Kiffen (Spilsbury publishes credo argument in 1643, Kiffen with Knollys and Coxe in 1645) No university No Jacob/Lathrop/Jessey
Andrew Ritor (publishes credo argument in 1642) Unknown No Cites: Jerome, Augustine, Zanchius, Vermigli, Whitaker, Origen, Erasmus, Eckius, Bellarmine, Luther, Bohemius, Cassander
Christopher Blackwood (publishes credo argument in 1644) BA/MA Cambridge Yes Cambridge theology (1620s)

Fathers cited: Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Origen, Clemens Alexandrinus, Tertullian, Basil, Chrysostom, Cyprian, Bernard

Councils cited: Council of Trullo, Council of Carthage, Council of Laodicea

Authors cited: Melanchthon, Zanchius, Vermigli, Polanus, Bucanus, Greenham, Willet, Musculus, Trelcatius

Hanserd Knollys (publishes credo argument with Coxe and Kiffen 1645) Cambridge “Literate” (studied but did not graduate) Yes Cambridge theology (1620s)
Benjamin Coxe (publishes credo argument with Kiffen and Knollys in 1645) BA/MA Oxford Yes Oxford theology (1610s)

His Father was an Oxford-trained CoE clergyman

Edward Harrison (publishes credo argument in 1646) BA Cambridge/MA Oxford Yes Cambridge/Oxford theology (1630s)

What this “actual history” tells us is that many of the leaders, and first publishers, of the first generation of Particular Baptists were trained in the English Universities and ordained in the Church of England during a time when Reformed theology was impacting and influencing those institutions. They were paedobaptists, often parish priests, whose personal histories and writings support the self-identity and internal history referred to above. They emerged from Reformation theology in early seventeenth-century England.

This historical context does not magically insulate the Particular Baptists from continental Anabaptist ideas or theology. Though it is certain that they were trained against anabaptism in the universities. The point is that many of the early Particular Baptist leaders have the same credentials and context as men like John Ball, Anthony Burgess, or John Owen. So, whatever is said about the broad-brush context of these Particular Baptists will be equally true of the rest of the “Reformed” men in the English context at that time.

Their confessions reflect and augment the evidence of a Reformed origin. The men just listed composed 1LCF in 1644 primarily from the 1596 True Confession likely penned by Henry Ainsworth and William Ames’ Body of Divinity. With many of those same men still alive, 2LCF was composed in 1677 primarily from the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Savoy Declaration, and 1LCF. The doctrinal overlap and family connection of these Baptist and paedobaptist confessions is so strong and intentional that it takes a fair amount of opposite force and intent to try to separate them.

The question of identity and origins is not one without historical evidence, nor need it be discussed in the abstract. Indeed, there is more to offer than what I have written here. If one wishes to say something about the Particular Baptists’ origins, just get specific and offer your evidence. Unless I have missed it, Keach’s early days as a General Baptist are the only evidence brought forth by Dr. Clark so far.

I have pointed to resources offering evidence for the ideological context of the Particular Baptists’ credobaptism as argued on two fronts. And I have provided evidence of the historical context of many of the first-generation Particular Baptists. In light of this evidence, I contend that it is Dr. Clark’s posts that suffer from the problem of supposed/imposed identity vs. actual history.

John Owen, A Short and Plain Answer, 21

The Reformed Theology of Benjamin Keach

Benjamin Keach is perhaps the most famous Particular Baptist of the seventeenth century. He published more than the rest of his peers, and consequently there has been much more written about Keach in secondary literature than about other Particular Baptists. Finding quality in that quantity of literature can be difficult, but this book is unquestionably among the best (if not the best currently written).

This is not a complete biography of Keach nor an extensive presentation of his thought, but rather an examination of key areas of his theology worthy of attention in light of the gaps or faults in previous Keachean studies (to borrow Dr. Arnold’s term). If you want to know what Keach thought about theology proper, covenant theology, justification, and eschatology, as well as where his views came from and why he held them, this book provides well-researched presentations of the same.

Written in an accessible yet academic style, this book is an excellent and necessary resource for all those interested in Benjamin Keach.

To order this book for £25, please contact Larry Kreitzer of Regent’s Park College, Oxford at: larry.kreitzer@regents.ox.ac.uk

 

Keach CoverKeach BackKeach ToC

From Shadow to Substance

I am pleased to announce the release of my work on seventeenth-century Particular Baptist covenant theology, From Shadow to Substance: The Federal Theology of the English Particular Baptists (1642-1704), available through Amazon in the USA, UK, and EU markets.

From Shadow to Substance approaches Particular Baptist covenant theology chronologically, tracing the origins and development of the Particular Baptists’ covenant theology in dialogue with the Church of England, Presbyterian, and Independent paedobaptists of their day. A chronological approach reveals not only where the Particular Baptists and their paedobaptist counterparts agreed and disagreed, but it also reveals the ways in which later Particular Baptists built on the work of earlier Particular Baptists.

From Shadow to Substance is a lightly edited version of my Ph.D. dissertation, meaning it includes minor corrections and additions. It addresses issues such as the covenant of works in Particular Baptist literature, the importance of noting the polemical genre of their covenantal writings, the covenant of redemption in Particular Baptist literature, and reasons why the Particular Baptists appealed to John Owen’s covenant theology in relation to their own.

Based on my archival research, the book also offers new and relevant biographical and contextual information about the Particular Baptists. Chief among these is a narrative of the events leading up to the publication of the Second London Baptist Confession in 1677. Other interesting and previously unknown (or unconfirmed) details are provided, such as Nehemiah Coxe’s confirmed age, details of his Medical Degree, and a special new fact related to Coxe’s time at John Bunyan’s church. Additional new discoveries include William Collins’ age,  Hercules Collins’ probate inventory, and other records. [I have much more material on Coxe, Collins, and the Petty France church they pastored, but those are planned for separate volumes.]

To order in the USA, click the link above. To order in the UK, click here.

For those of you who ordered the book in its first printing, you now own a first-edition limited release of the book (if that matters to you). It has been reformatted for distribution through Amazon, resulting in slight modifications to appearance.

For more details, see the images below.

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FStSBack

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John Clark, Phraseologia, 265-1

William Kiffen and his World

William Kiffen and his World

If you think that seventeenth-century English Baptist History is an empty mine whose precious stones have all been uncovered, cataloged, and put on display, you will be glad to know that that is entirely opposite to the truth. Indeed, the contrary is the case. And the proof of this is in the six volumes on William Kiffen (with more planned) produced by Dr. Larry Kreitzer, of Regent’s Park College, Oxford. These volumes provide a unique perspective on Baptist History in several ways.

First, they provide complete transcriptions and contextual explanations of primary source documents. Think of it as history where footnotes reign supreme in the best of ways. You are not directed to the sources, you are given the sources in toto. There is nothing more “ad fontes” than that. And you are not left alone with the sources. They are explained to you.

Second, because Kiffen’s life intersects with many other Baptists, this means that one can read the same documents transcribed by Dr. Kreitzer and derive a completely separate, but related, benefit. In other words, you get more than just Kiffen, you get “William Kiffen and his World.” A name mentioned in passing may mean a great deal to another researcher.

Third, (and perhaps most helpful to me) these volumes provide a pattern to be followed. Pick a Particular Baptist, go to the archives that Dr. Kreitzer lists, look in similar places, look for similar documents, and see what you find. Utilize his methods of research, follow his trails, and branch off into other mineshafts. Speaking from personal experience, you will find plentiful material. I was honestly shocked at what was available to me with simple searches when I first visited the National Archives and the London Metropolitan Archives in London. And my deeper digging has been even more rewarding. If you’re thinking, “That’s nice, but I don’t live in the UK”, I hope to publish future posts on the accessibility of UK archival records through the internet. There is a great deal of primary source research that can be conducted by distance.

These are research-oriented academic volumes that not only set an excellent example of historiography, but also tell interesting and important stories. I commend Dr. Kreitzer’s volumes to you. The entire six-volume set is currently available for £140, which is an excellent price. To order, contact Dr. Kreitzer directly at larry.kreitzer@regents.ox.ac.uk.

See the details of each volume below:

William Kiffen and his World Part 1

Kiffen 1 Cover
Kiffen 1 Back
Kiffen 1 ToC

William Kiffen and his World Part 2

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William Kiffen and his World Part 3

Kiffen 3 CoverKiffen 3 ReverseKiffen 3 ToC

William Kiffen and his World Part 4

Kiffen 4 CoverKiffen 4 ReverseKiffen 4 ToC

William Kiffen and his World Part 5

Kiffen 5 CoverKiffen 5 ReverseKiffen 5 ToC

William Kiffen and his World Part 6

Kiffen 6 CoverKiffen 6 ReverseKiffen 6 ToC

These images are used with the permission of Dr. Larry Kreitzer.