Confessional Orthodoxy and Evangelical Union

Anon, A Brief History of Presbytery

Evangelicalism has often been criticized for its lack of creeds and confessions. Yet there has been a consistent assumption, and perhaps assertion, that since evangelicals share a common subjective commitment to the Bible they must share a common commitment to the objective deposit of doctrine and the pattern of sound words in the Bible.

In the recent controversy relating to the triunity of God, one wing of evangelicalism is now holding another wing doctrinally accountable, in brotherly love. But it is becoming clear that the common doctrinal foundation that was assumed to be shared, is not in fact shared. As a result, those being held accountable resent and oppose the accountability as an imposition of a foreign standard to which they have made no commitment. But the standard by which they are being measured is the faith of the church throughout the ages, and this on the doctrine of God. All is not well in evangelicalism, nor has it been.

What to do, then? The church, not the parachurch or the internet-church or even the university or seminary, ultimately needs to enforce orthodoxy. If there are no ecclesiological structures for doctrinal accountability, then there can be no orthodoxy, only ortho-personality. And if there can be no orthodoxy, there are no guards against heterodoxy, only hetero-personalities. A debate about the doctrine of God should not be about “Person vs Person” but “Truth vs Falsehood.”

Consequently, a church (or denomination or association of churches) needs a Confession of Faith defining the fundamental articles of religion, in other words, defining orthodoxy. And the church (or denomination or association of churches) needs to enforce that orthodoxy. Many may not know this, but the declaration of orthodoxy and the enforcement thereof is the context of the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith, published in 1677 but commonly known by the date 1689.

In 1677 the London Particular Baptists had to deal with one of their own, Thomas Collier, who had recently published heterodox views in a book. Collier resisted their attempts to correct and restore him, and persisted in publishing more falsehood, in quantity and quality. All the while, he was known as a Particular Baptist. The London Particular Baptists, who were already liable to slander, misrepresentation, persecution, and accusations of all kinds of heterodoxy, decided to clear their names of these charges in general and any association with Collier in particular.

In the process, they defined a Heretic and applied the definition to Collier. Give attention to the phrase “Fundamental Articles of the Christian Religion.”

We conceive that he is an Heretick that chooseth an Opinion by which some fundamental Article of the Christian Religion is subverted, which Religion before he profest, but now persisteth in this Opinion, contrary thereunto, notwithstanding proper means for his conviction hath been made use of; this description of an Heretick confirmed thus.
1. That it is the choosing of a new Opinion, the signification of the word Heresie doth evince, which is derived from a word that signifieth Election of Choice.
2. That it is not every new Opinion, but that only that is subversive of a fundamental Truth, will easily be granted, otherwise Men must be rejected for every mistake that they are not presently convinced of: which is contrary to the rule of Christ, and that love and forbearance Christians ought to exercise towards one another.
3. He only is properly termed an Heretick, that hath formerly profest the Christian Religion, because such a one is self-condemn’d, though perhaps not always in the present judgment of his Conscience, yet at least by his former Profession.
4. It is the persisting of such a Person in such an Heresie, after proper means hath been used for his conviction, that doth denominate a man to be an Heretick; for a weak Christian may possibly be surprised by Temptation, and the subtilty of Deceivers, into such an Opinion, as obstinately maintained, would destroy the faith of the Person, who yet flies from the Snare as soon as it is discovered to him.

It is somewhat interesting that one of the particular points of heresy the Particular Baptists identified in Collier’s theology was that “He asserts that Christ is the Son of God, only as considered in both Natures, which with other notions in Chap.1. of his Additional Word, doth subvert the Faith concerning the Person of Christ, with respect to his eternal subsisting in the Divine Nature, in the incommunicable property of a Son, as is more abundantly manifest in the answer all ready returned thereunto.” The doctrine of God, whether the doctrine of the triunity of God or the doctrine of the person of the Son, is not to be taken lightly, nor is it merely a matter of academia. It is a fundamental article of the Christian religion.

The above-quoted material was prepared on 2 August, 1677. Later that very month, the Particular Baptists published the Confession of Faith. This Confession followed, word for word in most chapters, the Westminster Confession and the Savoy Declaration. The Particular Baptists explained in an epistle prefacing the Confession that they use the same words as those previous confessions “the more abundantly, to manifest our consent with both, in all the fundamental articles of the Christian Religion.” In other words, they wanted to declare their orthodoxy.

Similar to the prefatory epistle, the Particular Baptists stated in an appendix, “We have…endeavoured to manifest, That in the fundamental Articles of Christianity we mind the same things, and have therefore expressed our belief in the same words, that have on the like occasion been spoken by other societies of Christians before us.”

This was important because of Collier’s errors. The Confession was published so that anyone who wanted to know what the Particular Baptists believed could learn of it “from our selves (who jointly concur in this work) and may not be misguided, either by undue reports; or by the ignorance or errors of particular persons, who going under the same name with our selves, may give an occasion of scandalizing the truth we profess.”

If an evangelical union is going to exist, it needs to be a union of truth, and a union of churches, not persons. Evangelicals, as churches, therefore, need to confess their faith clearly and then see where their unity truly lies. As Nehemiah Coxe, a Particular Baptist minister, said in his refutation of Thomas Collier, “There can be no Gospel Peace without truth, nor Communion of Saints, without an agreement in fundamental principles of the Christian Religion. We must contend earnestly for the Faith once delivered to the Saints; and mark those that cause divisions among us by their new Doctrines contrary thereto, and avoid them.”

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Nehemiah Coxe (d. 5 May 1689)

Nehemiah Coxe (d. 5 May 1689)

On 2 May 1689, Nehemiah Coxe wrote his will and set his final affairs in order. Three days later, he died of an unknown illness. He was buried in Bunhill fields (quite close to John Owen’s grave) in his in-laws’ vault, joining his son, Edmund, who had been buried there the year before. He left behind a wife, Margaret, and a son, Benjamin. Margaret was his second wife. Benjamin was a son from his first marriage.

His tombstone said:

To Nehemiah Cox M.D. who married Margaret 2d. Daught. of ye sd. Edm[ond] & Eliz[abeth] [Portmans] Ob. May 5th. 1689. Also to Edm[und] only son of the said Nehemiah and Marg[aret] Cox. Ob. Aug. 11th. 1688.

Omnia sunt hominum tenui pendentia filo: Et subito casu, quæ valuere, ruunt.

(“All human things hang on a slender thread: the strongest fall with a sudden crash.” – Ovid, Epistolæ Ex Ponto, IV. 3. 35.)

The locations of the graves in Bunhill Fields have changed over time due to many reasons (including a WWII Bomb-Hit). But if John Owen’s grave remains in its original location (Owen’s is the raised tomb partially covered by the tree in the center of the picture), Coxe’s tomb would have been within this view a bit to the left of Owen’s grave. The surrounding graves are illegible, so there is a very small chance that one of the graves we see here is the family vault of the Portmans within which Coxe was buried. It was a “stone tomb, rais’d on brick,” (like Owen’s or the prominent one in the front left of the photo) not simply a headstone.

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As his tombstone states, he was a Medical Doctor. He obtained this degree in 1684, and was appointed as a fellow of The Royal College of Physicians in 1687.

Apart from his achievements as a physician, Nehemiah Coxe was most well known for his four publications and his pastoral work in the Petty France church alongside of William Collins.

Several authors in his own time, and soon after, called him:

“That great Divine, eminent for all manner of Learning” – Charles Marie Du Veil
“The Learned Mr. N. Cox” – Benjamin Dennis
“A learned writer” – Thomas Grantham
“The late learned Dr. Neh. Coxe” – William Russel
“A very excellent, learned, and judicious divine” – Thomas Crosby

Most of these encomiums were made with reference to Coxe’s work on the covenants. In the seventeenth-century covenantal literature of the Particular Baptists, Nehemiah’s Discourse of the Covenants stood out in many ways, and his peers recognized the value and quality of his writings.

Given the lasting appreciation Baptists have had for Coxe’s theological publications, these words, quoted in his work, A Believer’s Triumph Over Death, are a fitting statement.

Monuments are not to be erected to the Righteous, when deceased; Their Words are their Monuments.

There is much more that could be said about Nehemiah Coxe’s life and legacy, especially about his role in the publication of the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith and his role in James II’s repeal campaign, but on this anniversary of his death, I will leave you with Coxe’s own thoughts on how a believer may and ought to face the end of his life.

The lively hope of Pardon in the Blood of Christ, the Smiles of a reconciled God, and foretastes of heavenly Joy, make the true and sincere Christian more than a Conqueror in this Conflict: He can fear no evil because God is with him, whose presence makes his Sick-bed easie, and gives him Prospect of the greatest Gain in the loss of this Temporal Life.

 

Genesis 12 in Nehemiah Coxe’s Covenant Theology

In 2005, RBAP modernized and republished Nehemiah Coxe’s 1681 work on covenant theology. This reprint has been very helpful for many as they have studied covenant theology, whether from a systematic standpoint or simply for historical-theological research. One of its strengths is the modern updating of language and style so that it can be read easily by a 21st century reader.

Recently, a helpful question was raised in a Facebook forum about the wording of one particular section of the modernization of Coxe’s work. The question was,

Coxe writes:

“The covenant is said to be mercy to Abraham and truth to Jacob (Micah 7:20). This intimates that the beginning of it with Abraham was of mere grace and mercy, though once made with him, the truth and faithfulness of God was engaged to make it good to its succeeding heirs. The covenant of grace made with Abraham was not the same for substance that had been more darkly revealed in the ages before, but it pleased God to transact it with him as he had not done with any before him.”

When Coxe says, “The covenant of grace made with Abraham was NOT THE SAME FOR SUBSTANCE that had been more darkly revealed in the ages before,” is Coxe differentiating between THE Covenant of Grace which had been promised in Genesis 3:15 and the Abrahamic covenant, which was, in a sense, “a covenant of grace,” since it was undeserved?

This is an important question because it affects the way that one understands Coxe’s entire argument. I have examined the original, compared it with the modernization, and suggested a revision. The results of this brief study can be found by clicking on this link.

To answer the original question here, the modernization is incorrect on this point (though very good everywhere else). The name of Coxe’s chapter is “Of The Covenant of Grace, as Revealed to Abraham.” Coxe’s argument is that based on Galatians 3-4 interpreting Genesis 12, what is found in Genesis 12 is God revealing the covenant of grace to Abraham and making Abraham a paradigm of belief (a father of believers). All who desire to be members of the covenant of grace must be Abraham’s children, i.e., they must believe as he did. So then, Coxe is saying that Genesis 12 contains the same covenant of grace for substance (there is only one) as found before and after this passage of Scripture, but it was made known to Abraham in a special way unlike any other example in the Bible.

And just a note of clarification. When Coxe says that the covenant was “made” or “transacted” with Abraham, he is saying that God stipulated the promises of the gospel to Abraham, and Abraham restipulated with faith. Thus the covenant is “made” with him, as it would be for any and all believers. Coxe is clear that Abraham was not a federal head in the covenant of grace, and that the covenant was not established itself or “filled up with ordinances” until Christ’s death and resurrection. The promises of salvation were simply made known by God and believed by Abraham.

 

Updated Resources Page

Updated Resources Page

On this page I keep a collection of all known copies of Particular Baptist literature that are publicly available. These are few in number. Most of the Particular Baptists’ books are available through Early English Books Online, but this requires access to an institution with a paid subscription to the EEBO database. One might think that EEBO has the rights to all these books. In fact, they only have rights to the digital scans in their database. Thus, the only way to get literature like this into the hand of the public is for libraries to scan their own copies of these books and make them available. It would seem that the British Library is in the process of doing so, because I have recently found (through their online library catalog) that they have made several of their own books available to the public. Some of these copies have been rebound, and perhaps they were digitized at that time, given that photography is easier when there is less pressure to preserve the original binding.

Whatever the reason, we can all benefit from their work now. I have made an initial search of their Particular Baptist literature and added links to the page linked above, marking out the copies from the British Library, which are in color! The copies marked “Google Books” are the same books as the British Library scans, but in black and white. The British Library has many more Particular Baptist books than what they have digitized thus far, but it seems that over time more and more should be added to the corpus of public access material.

The crown jewel of these scans, in my opinion, is the 1695 Baptist Catechism, though readers may enjoy Nehemiah Coxe’s Vindiciae Veritatis or Hercules Collins’ The Temple Repair’d. Another special addition is Benjamin Keach’s The Child’s Delight which is the book he was famously put in the stocks for. This book was hard to get a hold of for a long time, partly because it was ordered to be destroyed. Now anyone can read it. Note also two works by Keach on the covenants, digitized and made available from J.I. Packer’s library. Their quality is exceptional.

If you find any more resources like these, or if you have any trouble with the links, please let me know.

Enjoy!