Form and Matter + Promise and Promulgation = Particular Baptist Federal Theology

In the previous two posts, we have looked at the distinction between form and matter. The first post dealt with this distinction in relation to the republication of the law of the covenant of works in the Mosaic covenant. The second post dealt with this distinction more broadly, and showed the direction that the Particular Baptists would take this distinction in order to say that though the promise of the new covenant (the gospel) was made known in all of redemptive history, it was not formally established as a covenant until Christ’s death.

To refresh, in light of the formal/material distinction, just because the law is present in a given covenant, it does not mean that this covenant is the covenant of works. Conversely, just because the promise (the gospel) is present in a given covenant, it does not mean that this covenant is the covenant of grace.

In this post, I want to continue along similar lines in order to show the differences between Particular Baptist federal theology and that of their Paedobaptist brothers. I want to do this by showing how the same argumentation was employed, only with completely opposite arguments.

Let’s begin with the Paedobaptists.

Peter Bulkley argues that although the law of the covenant of works was revealed to Israel in the Mosaic covenant, the Mosaic covenant was not a covenant of works. Why? Because the Mosaic covenant was established on different terms and conditions than the covenant of works. For Bulkley, the Mosaic covenant was an administration of the covenant of grace. In fact, it was the covenant of grace.
Peter Bulkeley, The Gospel Covenant Opened, 62-63

Notice the argumentation: the law of the covenant of works, i.e. its material basis, was revealed to Israel, but it was not the basis for their covenant.

William Bridge makes the same argument. He begins with the same foundation of the substance/administration distinction. The Mosaic covenant is the covenant of grace.
William Bridge, Christ and the Covenant, 63
William Bridge, Christ and the Covenant, 64

In the Mosaic covenant, the covenant of works is declared, but the covenant of grace is actually made.

The Particular Baptists employed the same argumentation with opposite arguments. They argued that the promises of the new covenant were revealed and made known from Genesis 3:15 onward, but they were not the material basis for a formal covenant until Christ spilled his blood. The new covenant was truly new. No covenant leading up to it had been established on the promise of eternal forgiveness of sins. All of the covenants of the Old Testament contributed to the progressive revelation of the new covenant, but they were not the new covenant in and of themselves. The new covenant was established on better promises, which meant that it was established on different promises which meant that it was a different covenant.

Nehemiah Coxe gives us an example of the covenant of grace being revealed without being formally made or transacted.
Coxe, Discourse, 43

Christopher Blackwood argues that the new covenant is promised but not covenanted in Genesis 17.
Christopher Blackwood, Storming of Antichrist, 2nd Part, 35

Isaac Backus makes the same argument.
Backus Appendix 68-69

This argumentation has been called “promise and promulgation.” The new covenant is promised, but not promulgated in the Old Testament. It exists in its promises alone. This aligns perfectly with the formal/material distinction because both sides will agree that the material basis of another covenant can be revealed and made known independently in a given covenant without becoming a formal covenant. In other words, the law can play a role in the covenant of grace without turning it into a covenant of works for believers. Likewise, the gospel can play a role in the old covenant without turning them into the covenant of grace.

An anonymous Particular Baptist focuses on the betterness of the new covenant’s promises.
Anonymous, Truth Vindicated, 41-42

Samuel Fisher highlights the meliority “betterness” of the new covenant’s promises.
Samuel Fisher, Babism, 153
Samuel Fisher, Babism, 152

These excerpts help to highlight the similarity in argumentation alongside of the dissimilarity in arguments between the Particular Baptists and their Paedobaptist brothers. Both sides argued that the law and gospel run through all of the covenants of the Old Testament.

The Paedobaptists were happy to argue that the law was revealed and made known in certain covenants without those covenants being covenants of works. The Old Testament covenants played roles within the two administrations of the covenant of grace.

The Particular Baptists argued that the old covenant was a covenant of works for life in Canaan. It was a covenant that perfected no one’s conscience because it forgave no one’s sins. The new covenant, revealed from Genesis 3:15 onward, was the covenant of grace formally established on the material basis of the promise of forgiveness of sins in Christ’s blood. It was established on different promises, better promises, everlasting promises.

In a word,
LBCF 7

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Form and Matter in Covenant Theology

To add a little more to the previous post on formal and material republication, let me fill out how the distinction between form and matter works on a larger scale.

When it comes to justification, the material basis of a covenant is either law or promise. Works/law and grace/promise do not intermingle.
If two parties are committed to each other based on a law, a covenant of works has been established. If two parties are committed to each other based on a promise, a covenant of grace has been established. The matter dictates the form.

In light of this distinction, just because the law is present in a given covenant, it does not mean that this covenant is the covenant of works. Conversely, just because the promise (the gospel) is present in a given covenant, it does not mean that this covenant is the covenant of grace.

James Durham demonstrates the difference between a law, and a law used to established a covenant of works.
James Durham, The Law Unsealed, 5-6

In this line of thinking, Obadiah Sedgwick argues that although the law was present in the Mosaic covenant, it was not a formal covenant of works. This is material republication (as was Durham above).
Obadiah Sedgwick, Bowels of Tender Mercy, 10

This also applies to believers. In the Marrow of Modern Divinity, Edward Fisher wanted to protect the idea that although the law came to believers, it did not come as a covenant of works. Legalism is inevitable if we are convinced that the law necessarily entails a covenant of works.
Fisher, Marrow, 1646, 7-8

Now, how did this play out in Particular Baptist theology? John Owen will be our theologian. Nehemiah Coxe considered Owen’s work on Hebrews to be representative of his own views on covenant theology.

First, Owen is operating within the same ideas and makes the same points made above, that we have to distinguish between the law on its own and the law as a covenant.
Owen, Hebrews 8 (6), 218

The same is true for the promise of the gospel. Just because the promise of the gospel is present from Genesis 3:15 onward, it does not follow that the covenants wherein it appears are the covenant of grace. Owen argues that the covenant of grace was only a promise until its formal establishment in the new covenant. The elect were saved by virtue of the covenant of grace (the promise of the gospel) in all the ages, but it was not formally established until Christ’s death.
Owen, Hebrews 8 (6), 227

The same point is made again, showing how the New Covenant could not be new if it had already been formally established.
Owen, Hebrews 8 (9), 256

The law and the gospel (the promise) are present in the Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and new covenants.

Westminster paedobaptists will argue that all of these covenants were established on the promise of the gospel and thus were covenants of grace, or rather a twofold administration of the covenant of grace. The law played the same role in all of them, namely as a rule of righteousness (more burdensome in the OT). None of those covenants were covenants of works.

Particular Baptists will argue that although the promise of the gospel was present and revealed in all of the OT covenants, they were not the covenant of grace. The old covenant saved no one because it was a covenant of works for life in Canaan. Until the New Covenant was formally established in Christ’s blood, the covenant of grace existed in promise form only. The new covenant is truly new, the fulfillment of everything promised and hoped for in redemptive history. No covenant was formally established on the promise “I will remember your sins no more” until the blood of Christ inaugurated the new covenant.

Formal and Material Republication in the Confessions of Faith

In debates concerning the republication of the covenant of works within the Mosaic covenant, anyone who holds to the Westminster Confession or the London Baptist Confession confesses that the same law that was given to Adam was delivered to Moses. At the very least, then, the confessions teach a republication of the law of the covenant of works. Where things get more complicated is when we discuss how that law functioned. Was the law given to Moses as a covenant of works? That is a much larger statement than simply that the same law given to Adam was given to Moses.

To help understand how this issue works, we need to understand how the distinction between form and matter was applied to covenant theology. The formal nature of a covenant depended on its material basis. Think of matter and form. If you make something from clay (a kind of matter), then you will get a clay object (a form). Likewise for wood or stone. Different materials produce different forms. A union of form and matter is a substance. In covenant theology, if a covenant was established on the basis of law, the covenant was a covenant of works. If a covenant was established on promise, the covenant was a covenant of grace. The covenant partner would respond accordingly, with obedience to the law and reception/belief of the promise. Nehemiah Coxe shows this difference.
Coxe, Discourse of the Covenants, 9

Law and promise are contradistinguished matters that produce contradistinguished forms. Because a union of form and matter is a substance, covenants that differ in substance are covenants that differ in form and matter. This is a complicated way of saying that a covenant of works and a covenant of grace are two different things. A covenant of works is built on law. A covenant of grace is built on promises. They differ in matter, form, and thus substance. Any formal covenant of works cannot be a covenant of grace.

In light of this, some have spoken of material republication and formal republication. Material republication indicates that the matter of the covenant of works, i.e. the law, was delivered to Moses. Both confessions confess this. Formal republication indicates that not only was the matter of the covenant of works delivered to Moses, but it was also the basis upon which Moses’ covenant was established. Thus the law was materially and formally republished, meaning that the Mosaic covenant was a covenant of works.

With all of this in mind, there is a significant difference between the Westminster Confession and its sister documents, the Savoy Declaration and the London Baptist Confession.

Here is WCF 19.1-2
WCF 19.1-2

Notice the red text above: “as such.” This limits the nature of the function of the law as it was given to Moses. It was given to Moses “as a rule of righteousness“. Formal republication is of course built on material republication. But material republication, i.e. the presence of the law in the Mosaic covenant, does not necessarily entail formal republication. Just because the law is there, it doesn’t mean that the law is functioning as a covenant of works. The Westminster Confession does not go beyond material republication to formal republication. In fact, this clause “as such” specifically limits the role of the law delivered to Moses to a “rule of righteousness.” This is very consistent with the view that the Mosaic covenant is a covenant of grace (as WCF confesses). God redeemed Israel and gave them the law as the path for their grateful obedience.

The Savoy Divines and the Particular Baptists did not agree. Both confessions delete the phrase “as such.”

Savoy Declaration 19.1-2
Savoy 19.1-2

LBCF 19.1-2
LBCF 19.1-2

Why would they make such a deletion? Well, speaking only for the Particular Baptists, there are two fundamental reasons:

1. They believed that the old and new covenants differed in substance, not just administration. In other words, the old covenant is something other than the covenant of grace. Why did they believe that? They believed that the old covenant differed in substance because it was a covenant of works, contradistinguished from the covenant of grace. The covenant of works and the covenant of grace were materially and formally distinct, and thus substantially distinct. Andrew Ritor makes this point:
Andrew Ritor Covenant Substance

2. We already mentioned the second reason for the change in the confession, namely that the Particular Baptists believed that the law was delivered to Moses, not just as a material republication of the universal moral law of righteousness to which all men are obligated, but also as a the basis for a formal covenant of works. Clarification needs to be added here that different Particular Baptists took this in somewhat different directions. Some confined the Mosaic covenant of works to temporal life in Canaan, meaning that the Mosaic Covenant did not offer eternal life. Others, however, spoke of the Mosaic covenant as being the original covenant of works itself delivered to Israel.

Coxe is another helpful example of the former direction:
Coxe Republication

In conclusion, I want to make a few brief points.
1. Regarding the London Baptist Confession, the deletion of the phrase “as such” is not so much a positive affirmation of formal republication as it is an opening of the door wide open for it. Chapter 19 is not about the Mosaic covenant; it’s about the law. So the London Baptist Confession’s removal of the phrase “as such” is simply a refusal to restrict the giving of the law to Moses to a rule of righteousness.

2. Conversely, the WCF does not allow for formal republication. Why did so many Westminster Divines hold views beyond material republication, then? We have to remember the context of the Westminster Confession. It was a government-ordered project. It was designed to be a public standard of preaching and teaching, not to be contradicted. It was not designed for some of the subscriptional standards used by Presbyterian denominations today. To argue that since certain divines held to formal republication (or other variants thereof), the confession must allow for those views, is anachronistic. They held contradictory views, but were not to publicly contradict the confession. In an age of ever-shifting government and an ever-shifting state church, one must be careful to take the context into account. In England, the WCF as we know it did not have the impact that it had in Scotland because its final approved form had to please an Independent-controlled Parliament. The answer to the diversity of the views of the divines is not necessarily that “they must all fit within the confession because it was a consensus document.” This is especially true when many Westminster divines would gladly use the magistrate to punish those whom they deemed heretics (as they did). The London Baptist confession assigns the promotion of peace and justice as well as lawful war-waging to the civil magistrate. But the Westminster Confession assigned further powers of suppressing blasphemies, heresies, and reforming the worship of the church. Keep that in mind.

See also:
https://pettyfrance.wordpress.com/2013/03/14/confessional-subscription-and-the-westminster-assembly/
https://pettyfrance.wordpress.com/2013/06/20/the-textual-history-of-the-westminster-confession-of-faith/

3. Behind all of this is the Subservient Covenant, from John Cameron to Samuel Bolton to John Owen to the Particular Baptists. But that’s another story (and perhaps a dissertation…).

More on this here: http://contrast2.wordpress.com/2010/09/05/wcfsdflbc-19-12-and-republication/

Covenantal Merit in The Confession of Faith

Recently I have been reading this excellent work by Andrew Woolsey. In one section on the primary sources behind the Westminster Confession of Faith, Woolsey shows the strong influence of John Ball on the confession in general and chapter seven in particular. What I want to point out is the concept of covenantal merit at play in paragraph one of the Westminster Confession and the London Baptist Confession. The two confessions are very similar here.

WCF 7.1
WCF 7.1

LBCF 7.1
LBCF 7.1

The Westminster Confession speaks broadly by saying that God’s creatures, though they be obligated to obey God as creatures unto their Creator, could expect no reward whatsoever for their obedience. Yet because God voluntarily condescended to make promises to men, he did so by way of covenant. The London Confession follows the Savoy Declaration by narrowing the focus to the reward of life in particular. But the same principle is operative in both, the principle of covenantal merit. In other words, man’s natural obedience due to God according to the law of nature in no way obligated God to give anything to man. Man’s natural obedience was not intrinsically meritorious. The texts cited in support of this are significant.

Luke 17:10 “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'”
Job 35:7 “If you are righteous, what do you give to him? Or what does he receive from your hand?”

You can’t give anything to the Creator that does not already belong to him, thus he has no obligation to give anything back to you. But when he does, it is a condescension, and God’s condescension takes the form of covenants.

Nehemiah Coxe expressed this well.

Coxe, Discourse of the Covenants, 7

Later Coxe discusses man’s restipulation of the covenant. Restipulation refers to man’s response to God’s introduction/imposition of the covenant. If God places man under a covenant of works, man must work. If God places man under a covenant of grace, man must receive and/or believe the promises given to him.

Coxe, Discourse of the Covenants, 9

Now, it would be easy to overlook but Coxe makes a brief mention of covenantal merit with respect to a covenant of works. He stated parenthetically that in a covenant of works when man fulfills the obligation he can expect the reward by debt, but this is a debt of compact, not absolute debt. Debt considered absolutely (i.e., on its own), would be something that automatically or intrinsically deserves or demands something. Coxe is saying that our works are not like that. They are not meritorious in and of themselves. But by way of compact, that is, according to some set of terms, a given obligation becomes worthy of a given reward. This is covenantal merit. God says, “Do this and receive that,” and there it is. Apart from God’s sovereign initiative and condescension, the work would earn nothing (even though it is demanded of us all the same).

Coxe goes on, explaining this further.
Coxe, Discourse of the Covenants, 10

What are some of the takeaways from this?
1. The confessions confess the concept and principle of covenantal merit. God is so beyond man, the Creator so beyond the creature, that nothing could ever be performed by the creature in such a way that it would obligate the Creator to reward him. However, God has condescended to man by way of covenant, and has made promises to him.
2. Narrowing our focus to the London Confession, the confession confesses that God promised the reward of life to man through covenant. There was no other way man could have earned it. In other words, chapter seven confesses the covenant of works. Trace the reward of life in chapters 6, 19, and 20 and you will find this assertion further substantiated.

See also:
https://pettyfrance.wordpress.com/2013/09/19/covenantal-merit-definite-atonement-and-republication/

https://pettyfrance.wordpress.com/2013/06/25/the-covenant-of-works-in-the-1677-london-baptist-confession-2/

For those interested, here are some statements from John Ball that are pertinent to the language seen in the Westminster Confession
John Ball, A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace, 6
John Ball, A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace, 7
John Ball, A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace, 7-8
John Ball, A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace, 9
This one is quite significant, especially in light of the text used as proof.
John Ball, A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace, 10

The Best Preachers, Sermons, Worship, and Books EVER!

There is nothing new under the sun. The errors of our day are the errors of days gone by because the common thread that runs through every age is the sin of the human heart that lies within us all. Isaac Watts provides some helpful critiques of these common errors.

On one side, many Christians are content with a “dead orthodoxy” in which all that matters is intellectual accuracy.
Isaac Watts, Works Published by Himself, 637
For others, all that matters is what feels right.
Isaac Watts, Works Published by Himself, 637-638
But the reality is that true doctrine will produce true doxology.
Isaac Watts, Works Published by Himself, 638
What are the dangers of an imbalance in this area? When our emotions are in control, we pursue Christian celebrities.
Isaac Watts, Works Published by Himself, 684
And this in turn can cause us to identify the worth of a sermon with our emotional loyalty to the preacher. Instead of coming to hear the word of Christ from the ministers of Christ to the people of Christ, we come to hear So-and-so who tickles our fancies.
Isaac Watts, Works Published by Himself, 684(2)
Our emotions can cause us to think that the right worship is that which makes me feel a certain way. How can it be bad when it feels so good? Ask Uzzah.
Isaac Watts, Works Published by Himself, 684(3)
We may love the singing more than the song (the words). This is an interesting insight coming from so worthy a hymn-writer.
Isaac Watts, Works Published by Himself, 691
If that’s the way we operate, we will begin to innovate according to our whims.
Isaac Watts, Works Published by Himself, 684 (1)
And many, carried away by their emotions, become very poor testimonies for the truth because they are only babies spiritually speaking but they desire to walk and run and talk as adults.
Isaac Watts, Works Published by Himself, 685
Still others will read anything that pleases them. The internet is very good at satisfying such theological prostitution, but sadly even “christian” bookstores are sources of plentiful emotional fluff.
Isaac Watts, Works Published by Himself, 686

The moral of the story?
If you give a mouse a cookie
The solution?
Isaac Watts, Works Published by Himself, 639

From Isaac Watts’ Discourse of the Love of God and the Use and Abuse of the Passions.

Click the images for larger versions.

Isaac Watts’ Rules for Christians on the Internet

This is the 200th post for Particular Voices. That doesn’t mean much, but it sounds nice.

Anyway, recently Tom Chantry has posted some helpful thoughts on the divide between Baptists and Paedobaptists in which he offers not only critiques of the situation but also directives towards a more healthy relationship (especially in our online age). It is sad how the internet, which is neither good nor bad in and of itself, has been abused. We would expect this from natural man who corrupts that which is good and suppresses that which is true, but the extent to which Christians have used the internet as an occasion for their own corruption and suppression is distressing. By way of complement to Tom’s proposals, let me add the voice of Isaac Watts who wrote extensively on Christian Internet Etiquette (well…maybe not).

I strongly recommend reading the entirety of what he says below (click the images if you need to read them at a larger size). If you implemented everything he has to say and put it into practice, what effect would it have on your behavior on the internet? See for yourself.

Isaac Watts, Works Published by Himself, 623-624
Isaac Watts, Works Published by Himself, 624
Isaac Watts, Works Published by Himself, 625
Isaac Watts, Works Published by Himself, 626
Isaac Watts, Works Published by Himself, 629-630
Isaac Watts, Works Published by Himself, 631-633

From Isaac Watts’ Treatise of the Passions in a collection of his works.

Click the images for larger versions.