Why does 2LCF omit WCF 24.5-6 on Divorce?

This is a common question. Why does 2LCF 25 (Of Marriage) omit the paragraphs dealing with divorce in WCF 24 (Of Marriage, and Divorce)? I do not intend to offer a theological answer to this question, but a historical-textual one.

To answer this question, we really should direct it to a different party. The Baptists were not the first ones to remove these paragraphs. They were third. Consider four historical points.

First, remember that the Westminster Assembly was subject to Parliament. It had been called by Parliament to craft a project of religious reform for the national church. Accordingly, it submitted its draft of a Confession of Faith as Advice to Parliament in 1646.

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The Assembly’s Advice contained the paragraphs on divorce and remarriage.

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This version of the Confession of Faith was printed in Scotland and has been known as the Westminster Confession of Faith ever since.

Second, we must realize that Parliament did not approve this version of the Assembly’s Advice. What is commonly known as the “Westminster Confession of Faith” was not officially approved or adopted in England. Parliament required various changes, including the removal of the paragraphs from the chapter on Marriage, and Divorce. (Ironically, they did not change the title of the chapter, though they removed its references to divorce.) Here we see the 1648, Parliament-approved version of the Confession ending chapter 24 without paragraphs five and six.

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Third, we must realize that in 1658 when the Congregationalists collaborated to craft the Savoy Declaration, they used the 1648 Parliament-approved version of the Assembly’s Confession, not the 1646 version proliferated in Scotland. They said this themselves:

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That copy of the [Parliament-approved Confession of Faith] followed by us, is in few men’s hands; the other as it came from the Assembly, being approved of in Scotland, was printed and hastened into the world, before the Parliament had declared their resolutions about it; which was not till June 20 1648, and yet has been, and continues to be the copy (ordinarily) only sold, printed, and reprinted for these 11 years.

In the preface to the Savoy Declaration, the Savoy Divines mentioned various portions of the Westminster Confession which they had omitted, including portions of the chapter on marriage and divorce. The Savoy Divines noted that they agreed with the edits made by Parliament in these cases.

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Also a great part of the 24th chapter of Marriage and Divorce [was omitted]. These [omitted portions] were such doubtful assertions, and so unsuitable to a Confession of Faith, as the Honorable Houses [of Parliament] in their great wisdom thought fit to lay them aside.

It was the Savoy Declaration that changed the title of the chapter to “Of Marriage”, omitting the addition, “, and Divorce.”

Fourth, when 2LCF was published in 1677, it self-consciously drew from the Savoy Declaration and the Westminster Confession (as is commonly known).

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In conclusion, when we arrive at 2LCF 25.1-4 and do not find paragraphs 5 and 6 from WCF 24, we need to remember that the houses of Parliament and the Savoy Divines had already regarded them as unsuitable for a Confession of Faith. The Baptists were not the first, or even second, to omit them. Those paragraphs were never approved in an English Confession of Faith.

It is not my intention to enter into the rationale(s) behind the omission of these paragraphs. To discern each group’s reasons, one must interrogate their own writings and the sources that influenced them.

Acts 14:23 in 2LCF 26.9

2LCF 26.9 states that elders are chosen by “the common suffrage of the church” and ordained by elders. This language is taken directly from the Savoy Declaration’s Platform of Polity. In 2LCF The margin points you to the Greek text of Acts 14:23 to justify this (the Savoy Declaration doesn’t provide textual references). Such “proof texts” in the Confession refer you to the textual tradition of that verse, not the bare text itself.

2LCF 26.9

What can we find in commentaries and treatments of this text, especially ones that deal with the Greek word itself?

To launch our investigation, Nehemiah Coxe’s sermon on Elders and Deacons (1681) also points to the Greek of Acts 14:23 to argue that it means to appoint through suffrage. He appealed to Erasmus and Beza to explain the Greek word, “χειροτονήσαντες.” Here is the marginal note from his published sermon:

Coxe

Theodore Beza, in “Annotationes majores in Novum…Testamentum”, translates this word in Acts 14:23 as “they appointed by suffrage” and argues “It is based on the Greek word for this practice, where decisions are made by raising of hands.”

Beza

Beza’s work had been noticed and used by Baptistic Congregationalists (i.e., early Particular Baptists) at least as far back as the 1650s. In 1656, the Abingdon Association wrote to the church in Petty France about the issue of how elders were to be appointed. Edward Harrison and Samuel Tull, the pastors of the Petty France church, responded and appealed to Beza on Acts 14:23.

[In] Acts 14 Luke informs us that elders were ordained in every church by lifting up of the hand: so in the original: by election: so it is in the old translation: which must imply the action of the church. Wherein we do agree with the paraphrase of Beza, and others, upon the place.

Abingdon

John Owen made the same argument from the Greek text of Acts 14:23 in his “A Brief Instruction in the Worship of God.”

Owen 1

And in his posthumously published “The True Nature of a Gospel Church” Owen took note of Beza, Erasmus, and others to justify the same translation.

Owen 2

Above, Edward Harrison stated that the “old translation” rendered Acts 14:23 in this way. Owen states the same, that “all our old English Translations” did this. They are referring to pre-King James translations, what is usually known as the “Geneva Bible” first published in 1560.  Here is a 1610 version of such a Bible, with its annotation for Acts 14:23.

Geneva Bible

The text of the annotation reads:

Acts 14:23 The Apostles committed the Churches which they had planted, to proper and peculiar Pastors, which they made not rashly, but with prayers and fastings going before: neither did they thrust them upon Churches through bribery or lordly superiority, but chose and placed them by the voice of the congregation.

And here is a 1638 King James Bible, rendering Acts 14:23

King James Bible

In comparing the two, note the deletion of “by election.” It makes sense that a church ruled by Monarch/Bishop would not be favorable toward the idea of elders being appointed by election.

The Westminster Assembly’s Annotations noted that “χειροτονήσαντες” could be interpreted as suffrage and consent, but agreed with the more modern (King James) rendering.

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We can draw several conclusions from these evidences.

First, it is a helpful reminder not to treat “Proof Texts” in the Confession as merely pointing you to the text of Scripture. 2LCF 26.9 tells you to look at the Greek text. How will that help? Will staring at “the Original” make it all clear? For those trained in the original languages, that might work. But, in reality you are being pointed to resources dealing with the Greek text, that is, commentaries, translations, and other related literature.

Second, we find that the Baptistic Congregationalists’ theology was developed in conversation with the literature of their time, and the literature that preceded them. They weighed, measured, and considered the text with the literature of others in mind. They were taught, persuaded, and instructed by a tradition much larger than their own particular slice of it. They didn’t loot and leave that tradition. They saw themselves living within it. When we see writers like Harrison and Coxe drawing from the Protestant and Reformed tradition, it reinforces the fact that we should read 2LCF as a particular version of a larger heritage (as if the fact that so much of 2LCF was taken from WCF and SD wasn’t enough to prove the point already).

Third, related to the previous point, we see here another evidence of Matt Bingham’s thesis that those whom we ordinarily call “Particular Baptists” are best known as “Baptistic Congregationalists.” They did not arise in a vacuum. What distinguishes John Owen from Edward Harrison or Nehemiah Coxe on this issue? Nothing. What distinguishes the Savoy Declaration and 2LCF on this issue? Nothing. They share congregationalism. But Harrison, Coxe, and 2LCF represent the Baptistic wing of Congregationalism.

Fourth, similar to the previous points, we find that 2LCF 26.9 isn’t “Baptist” at all. (Apostrophe: To be honest, very little of 2LCF is “Baptist” except a very short chapter on Baptism.) The view that elders are to be appointed by elders, with the suffrage of the church, was the standard translation of the text of the Bible in English as far back as 1560, and it had a heritage in scholastic literature. All this was well established long before the Baptistic Congregationalists arose in the 1630s-1640s.

Fifthly, and lastly, when we realize that there was a tradition of interpreting Acts 14:23 as appointment by election, then we realize that the phrase “common suffrage” in 2LCF 26.9 is, in effect, an attempt to embed the words of Scripture in the Confession itself. It is, so to speak, Beza’s rendition of Acts 14:23, “per suffragia creassent”, in English.

This was originally going to be a Twitter thread, but the rabbit hole went pretty deep and I thought it best to put this in a blog post. I hope you find it useful.

Henry Ainsworth, The Confession of Faith, Final Page

 

As a somewhat unrelated extra, Patrick Fairbairn weighed in on the translation of this text in his “Hermeneutical Manual”, again taking note of Erasmus and Beza.

Fairbairn

The Tree-fort

Oh, the internet. The social sphere and shopping mall of the modern world, where Christian brothers and sisters can go to…spew snark, sarcasm, snide comments, and condescension at each other. Isn’t it great? No, it isn’t, because our hearts are wicked. And from the wicked fullness of our hearts, our thumbs tweet. We are all guilty, to varying degrees.

John Clark, Phraseologia, 9

Permit me for a short while to express where I am coming from, and where I think many others are coming from, as a Particular Baptist (adherent to the 1677 2LCF), often called a Reformed Baptist, interacting regularly online with those in the Reformed denominations on various issues. I would like to appeal to my Presbyterian and Reformed brothers and sisters to acknowledge that 2LCF (1677) and those who confess it belong in the diversity of the Reformed Family Tree.

Accept, for the sake of reading this charitably, that the seventeenth-century Particular Baptists of 2LCF (1677) share a historical and theological heritage with the Reformed churches, and that their use of the Savoy Declaration and the Westminster Confession to edit/compose 2LCF was sincere. If you accept this, then those who embrace 2LCF in modern times will view the modern Independents as their elder brother (alas, I don’t know any), and the Presbyterians as their eldest brother.

If you accept the previous, how will modern Particular Baptists respond to Presbyterian and Reformed brethren who often (in my experience) dismiss and distance the 2LCF Baptists? To the Particular Baptist, it feels like condescension, ignorance, and unnecessary unkindness from our closest theological relatives. Oh no! Our feelings! Yes, our feelings. The internet may be a virtual reality, but it is a reality. It is the modern social sphere where real people interact with real people, where real Christians spend real time with real Christians through a virtual medium. So, these things do matter. And we should do everything, whether in word or deed, in the name of our Lord Jesus (Colossians 3:17). The virtual nature of the internet doesn’t exempt us from guarding our words (which are actions).

Perhaps in this post we can gain some clarity and direction for better interacting with each other as Particular (Reformed) Baptists and Presbyterian and Reformed brothers and sisters in Christ.

What do Particular Baptists not want? If I may speak for myself, and perhaps others, 

  • We do not want all Presbyterian and Reformed persons to forfeit their views and convert to 2LCF 1677 views. When Particular Baptists want to be acknowledged as a branch of the Reformed family tree, it is not a desire to combine all the branches into one trunk. It is not a desire for the Presbyterian and Reformed brethren to say “You are exactly the same thing as we are.” We want our place among the diversity already present in their midst to be recognized.
  • We do not want all Presbyterian and Reformed persons to cease criticizing or challenging baptistic theology. Christian brotherhood should involve iron-sharpening and mutual edification. Addressing errors can be done charitably and winsomely.

What do we want?

  • We want Presbyterian and Reformed persons to realize who 2LCF Baptists are.
    • They are the modern confessors of 2LCF. That is painfully obvious, but what I mean is that many Baptist churches confess 2LCF without any changes from its original publication. You could walk into a Particular Baptist church in 1689 or 2019, 330 years later, and you should get the same theology.
    • This matters because one of the ways in which our Reformed brethren are dismissive of us is to lump 2LCF Baptists into the generic common criticisms of Baptists. It is unhelpful and misguided.
  • We want Presbyterian and Reformed persons to acknowledge the historical and theological roots of the Particular Baptists.
    • Historically, Particular Baptists emerged from the collision of Reformed theology with the Church of England in the early seventeenth century, the same as Ball, Burgess, or Marshall. It is historically and factually wrong to locate the Particular Baptists’ origins among the continental Anabaptists. See this post.
    • Theologically, the Particular Baptists intentionally and sincerely employed Reformed theology to edit/compose 1LCF (1644) and 2LCF (1677). See this work. Read this book.
    • Discussion:
      • P&R Response: 1LCF and 2LCF may incorporate Reformed theology, and that at a high percentage. But, the deviations are sufficient to invalidate the category “Reformed” being applied to the finished product.
      • Particular Baptist Response: But in the context of 1646 WCF and 1677 2LCF, let us consider the “deviations”: Church government, liberty of conscience, role of civil magistrate, subjects of baptism, and mode of baptism. To begin, the modern WCF reduces these differences down to church government, subjects of baptism, and mode of baptism. So, the P&R brethren must recognize that since 1646, they have moved closer to us (at least in the case of Westminster Presbyterians).
      • Now that the differences reside in ecclesiology and baptism, let it be remembered that the Dissenting Brethren and some Continental churches practiced Congregationalism, and are just as much a part of the Reformed Tradition by most judgments. See this book and its two reviewers.
      • So, now the boundaries of our shared Reformed heritage are only divided by the subjects and mode of baptism. But isn’t that precisely what the label “Reformed Baptist” implies?
      • Ultimately, what is desired here is to acknowledge roots, origin, and provenance. One may think that the Particular Baptists went too far (and again, the only criteria left for modern Presbyterians are the subjects and mode of baptism), but where they came from should be acknowledged.
  • We want Presbyterian and Reformed persons to acknowledge that the idea or version of “Reformed theology” that they promote, as a means of opposing Baptist theology, is not accurate. Specifically, modern P&R brethren need to realize that their Reformed heritage contradicts some of their common criticisms of Baptists, and that infant baptism has diverse views and justifications associated with it, views rarely believed today. Such as:
    • It is common for P&R Christians to argue that Baptism is God’s word to us, in opposition to the “Baptist” idea that it is our profession to God. This is convenient for upholding infant baptism. But it is not accurate, as far as historical theology is concerned. Baptism is not just God’s word to us, but also our word to God and the world (and I emphatically agree that it is both, and Baptists who limit it to one side are liable to criticism just as much as paedobaptists who limit it to the other side).
      • John Calvin: A sacrament is “a testimony of God’s favor towards us confirmed by an outward sign, with a mutual testifying of our godliness toward him.” [The Institvtion of Christian Religion, IV. 13. 1. Cf. also IV. 13. 13-14.] In fact, Calvin says that a sacrament is commonly known as a pledge sworn by a soldier to his captain, and therefore the burden of proof lies on showing that a sacrament is not just our word to our Superior, but a word from our Superior to us.
      • William Perkins: “Baptism serves to be a pledge unto us in respect of our weakness, of all the graces and mercies of God, and especially of our union with Christ, of remission of sins, and of mortification. Secondly, it serves to be a sign of Christian profession before the world, and therefore it is called ‘the stipulation or interrogation of a good conscience,’ 1 Pet. 3:21.” [A Commentarie or Exposition, upon the five first Chapters of the Epistle to the Galatians, 249.]
    • Infants of believers have the habit or seed of faith. (Cornelius Burgess and others)
    • That Jesus Christ died for a mixed or “inchoate” body – to explain why all infants of believers are of the covenant of grace, but only some persevere. (John Ball)
    • Owen and others believed that children have a right to the public profession of baptism by virtue of being the children of believers, but cannot join the church as members until they make their own profession of faith.
      • If Owen and the Independents are not cut out of the “Reformed” label for this, then it too must be jettisoned when dealing with Particular or Reformed Baptists.
    • The previous points are important because most modern-day Presbyterian and Reformed persons that I know (thinking of the OPC, PCA, and URC here) reject or neglect various of these diverse views.
      • This matters because the infant baptism they are left with affirms:
        • Their children are not necessarily regenerate by virtue of being the children of believers.
        • Their children need to be evangelized.
        • Their children are holy in a general sense, meaning simply that they belong to the church outwardly.
      • At that point, the only difference between the Reformed Baptist’s children, and the Presbyterian’s children is that the children of the one were baptized, and the children of the other were not. Both will be catechized and evangelized.
  • We want Presbyterian and Reformed persons to read charitably the literature of the Particular Baptist tradition and its historiography, not just John Gill and Charles Spurgeon.
    • I’ll be the first to say that there is a great deal of Baptist literature that is so overwhelmingly and obnoxiously Baptist that even I don’t want to read it. So, here I am not talking such books, but about serious scholarly thoughtful, and yet intentionally Baptist, literature.

What is the desired result?

  • Speaking for myself, because the internet is a social sphere I want to be able to “spend time” with P&R brethren, i.e., occupy the same digital spaces, without being told regularly, but wrongly, that I am something worlds apart from the P&R heritage, and being treated as such. You be you. I’ll be me. And we’ll be a happy Reformed family.
  • More importantly, I want to be able to defend and protect, mutually, our shared heritage.
    • Within the modern Reformed world, there are serious theological threats to the biblical, classical, confessional Reformed heritage–especially on the doctrine of God.
    • Personal connections, networking, and the dispersal of ideas through social media can be a useful tool (supplemental to scholarly work in seminaries and pastoral fidelity in pulpits and presbyteries) to lock arms and hold the line.

Make no mistake. Baptists themselves have their own part to play in this. For every instance of condescension on the part of a P&R Christian, there is an instance of some similar, or other, extreme on the part of a Baptist Christian. This is a two-sided, two-party, problem. We would do well to learn from the Appendix to the 2LCF.

2LCF Appendix

In closing, imagine a tree-fort, a really great and wonderful tree-fort. Imagine an elder brother, we’ll pick a random name for him–Presbyterian. Imagine a younger brother, we’ll pick a random name for him, too–Particular Baptist. Imagine that Presbyterian is playing in the family tree-fort and every time Particular Baptist wants to come up and play, Presbyterian pulls the ladder up. This isn’t kind. Presbyterian says, “Go away, you don’t belong here.” Particular Baptist says “It’s the family tree-fort! I want to play, too!” Presbyterian refuses to provide the ladder, so Particular Baptist goes looking for the middle brother, let’s call him…John Owen. But he’s nowhere to be found, so Particular Baptist just gets cranky and annoying, while Presbyterian smugly enjoys the tree-fort.

Mom comes out, we’ll call her Geneva Anglicana. She says, “Presbyterian, that tree-fort doesn’t belong to you. Drop the ladder for your younger brother! And Particular Baptist, stop being a pain in the neck to your older brother! Play nicely, both of you!”

Then Mom says, “And where’s John Owen?”

Particular Baptist replies with tears, “I don’t know, but I miss him.”

Then Presbyterian remarks, “Why? You know, he’s a paedobaptist.”

And Mom says, “Boys! Stop it!”

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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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

Kiffen 2 CoverKiffen 2 ReverseKiffen 2 ToC

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.

Soft Rain on Tender Grass

Soft Rain on Tender Grass

In a recent blog post that introduces a forthcoming series of posts on the relationship of the Second London Baptist Confession (1677 2LCF) to the recovery of Reformed confessionalism (if I understand the purpose correctly), Dr. R. Scott Clark raises the issue of covenant theology as a significant topic to be addressed in this discussion. He is certainly right to raise this issue, and it is worth investigation and further interaction. I had no part in the “friendly dialogue” to which Dr. Clark refers, so my comments should not be regarded as participating in or being privy to its content.

I’d like to offer three corrections of a clarifying nature to help those who desire sincerely to think through these issues. The first is historical, the second is theological, the third is historical-theological.

First, historical clarification:

This is not especially important, but I’ve seen it happen here and there. The post uses the date 1688 for Nehemiah Coxe’s death. Nehemiah Coxe died 5 May 1689. His second son died in 1688 and Nehemiah has been associated incorrectly with this date through internet resources.

Second, theological clarification:

Dr. Clark refers to modern inheritors of the 1677 2LCF as PB’s and speaks of their covenant theology. I assume that the 1689 Federalism project and Pascal Denault’s book are in view here. Perhaps more. While I will be quick to say that many should stop debating these topics because there is a need for more care and precision in articulating certain truths, and Baptists have often not helped themselves by diving headlong into this discussion with only an introduction to it, yet sufficient material has been articulated that some of Dr. Clark’s statements should appear to the reader to express Baptist views in a way that we would consider misrepresentation. I am not making an accusation of intentional misrepresentation. That is sin. I am saying that Dr. Clark’s comments need to be clarified for the sake of those that would consider them to be an accurate representation of PB (to use Dr. Clark’s term) covenant theology.

There are two statements I have in view:

“the covenant of grace was promised to Adam et al. but it was not actually administered under the types and shadows.” “The covenant of grace only enters history in the New Covenant.”

The problem underlying this misunderstanding and misrepresentation does not originate with Dr. Clark at all. It is the problem of the very language used in these debates, and it has been a problem ever since the debates began. The problem is the language of substance and administration.

To administer, in a covenantal context, can refer to receiving benefits, or it can refer to outward ordinances. The Particular Baptists of the seventeenth century, and the inheritors of their covenant theology today, affirm that the benefits of the covenant of grace, i.e., the substance, were appropriated by the elect in the Old Testament as they were made known in promises and types. In this sense, the Particular Baptists affirm that the substance of the covenant of grace was administered to the elect. And because of this, to say that PBs of then or now believe that the covenant of grace “was not actually administered” in the Old Testament is incorrect and takes the discussion in an extremely unhelpful, and I dare say heavily prejudiced, direction.

The promise of salvation in Christ is carried along throughout the Old Testament, a promise of a future deliverance that is not established in history until the death of Christ and the inauguration of the new covenant. This is a way of thinking and teaching in no way particular to Baptists. John Ball, following John Cameron, distinguished the covenant of grace into a pre-Messianic covenant of promise, and a post-Messianic covenant of promulgation, i.e., legal enactment.

The difference, and difficulty, arises when we discuss administration in the sense of ordinances. Were the ordinances of the Abrahamic covenant and Mosaic covenant the ordinances of the covenant of grace in older forms, or were they ordinances of covenants distinct from, yet subservient to and revelatory of, the covenant of grace? Because the Particular Baptists denied that the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants were the covenant of grace, they denied that they were administrations, i.e., an older form of ordinances, of the covenant of grace. But they did not deny that those covenants administered the grace of the new covenant.

The grand difference was so wonderfully summarized by John Owen in his discussion of the Mosaic covenant. Saints were saved under, not by, the old covenant. Owen distinguished via typology between the earthly old covenant with its ordinances, and the antitypical  new covenant realities to which those ordinances and promises pointed. The uniqueness of the Particular Baptists was to apply the same hermeneutics to the Abrahamic covenant. The earthly ordinances and promises pointed to antitypical realities. So the Abrahamic covenant itself is not the covenant of grace, nor is it an outward administration of the covenant of grace, yet by typology it inwardly administered the grace of the new covenant. Saints were saved under, not by the Abrahamic covenant.

Paul’s repeated arguments in the New Testament are that the new covenant was not a plan B, or a new direction, but had been made known and was always the intended destination of the Israelite covenants. Paul doesn’t tell the Galatians that the entire nation of the Jews were in the covenant of saving grace the whole time and they just didn’t know it. He tells the Galatians that the covenant of grace was present the whole time in the promises of Christ, and those who believe in Christ as Abraham did, in all ages, are the children of Abraham’s faith, born from above, the free citizens of Heaven, belonging to Christ and his new covenant. And any Jew that tries to make the old covenant something other than that which points to Christ is not truly Jewish in that sense.

To put it awkwardly, types are never not types. In other words, the Old Testament covenants may be regarded rightly as earthly in and of themselves, but they can never be regarded as divested of new covenant relation and meaning. They never existed apart from the ultimate intent to unite all peoples in one new covenant under Christ. They were designed to bring about the Christ and make his mission visible and legible! They were designed to bring about the blessing for all nations. But it was only by faith that they, then or now, would ever belong to Christ and his covenant. The purpose of the old covenant was to bring about the new covenant. But subservience is not identity.

My desire is not to prolong or provoke a discussion on these points, but to clarify the PB position and alert the reader to issues in Dr. Clark’s representation of it.

Did/do the PBs believe that the grace of the new covenant was administered under the old covenant(s) but not by the old covenant(s)? Yes.

Did/do the PBs believe that the old covenant(s) were older outward forms (an old administration) of the covenant of grace? No.

Third, historical-theological clarification:

Dr. Clark states,

“Our Baptist friends did not and do not share the Reformed way of reading Scripture (hermeneutics).”

While it is certainly true that the Particular Baptists’ view of the Abrahamic covenant distinguished them from their paedobaptist brethren (that is the fundamental difference, after all), in order to say things like Dr. Clark has, one must first appreciate the unity and diversity of Reformed covenant theology itself, then second understand the Particular Baptists’ historical and theological relation to that unity and diversity, in order to third make an informed statement about these complicated relationships.

Obviously, blog posts are not ideal places for such work. My recent book deals with this subject at length. Nevertheless, I want to alert the reader to the fact that the picture presented by Dr. Clark of the unity of Reformed covenant theology does not address its diversity, and it is precisely within the context of the unity and the diversity that the relation of the Particular Baptists to the Reformed tradition is clarified.

Rather than get into that content here, I simply want to say that apart from serious engagement with the breadth of Particular Baptist seventeenth-century literature (beyond just Nehemiah Coxe), and apart from citation of actual sources, one should postpone all judgments on others’ historical-theological descriptions of the Particular Baptists. Keep asking, “can you show this to me from the sources?”

Conclusion:

I am glad that these discussions are happening. And I am hopeful for future mutual understanding and iron-sharpening. I’ll conclude with an exhortation to us all from Thomas Manton:

Thomas Manton, Words of Peace, 35

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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