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 are in a PDF below.

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.

Coxe on the CoG Revealed to Abraham

 

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How to Read Logos’ Baptist Covenant Theology Collection

How to Read Logos’ Baptist Covenant Theology Collection

With the release of Logos’ Baptist Covenant Theology Collection (17 vols.) I thought it would be helpful and important to offer a few tips for those who are diving into these books.

If you are like me, it’s exciting to spend time in the writings of the Particular Baptists. Every now and then you feel like Indiana Jones looking for the lost Ark. There are even Nazis (Daniel Featley and Thomas Edwards) trying to kill you. This excitement and nostalgia, combined with your desire to find what you seek, may lead you astray in your reading of the sources. So, if this is your first foray into 17th century writings in general, and those of the Baptists in particular, then you should keep in mind at least the following things:

1. Keep in mind that you are from the 21st century. They are from the 17th century (except Isaac Backus, he’s from the 18th century). Their world was similar to yours, but also very different. Many of the debates, ideological shifts, philosophical currents, and other intellectual factors that we take for granted today were not a part of their lives. Surely they dealt with problems in their own time, battling the currents of thought in their day, but the point of this reminder is to realize that the questions you may be asking may not be the questions that they were asking. Read them on their own terms, following their own questions and their own arguments. Don’t read them anachronistically, reading into their thoughts the categories and ideas that you think are important due to your own modern concerns (however valid they may be).

2. Keep in mind the context in which the authors are writing. Why did the authors write these works? Most of them serve a polemic purpose. What the authors say and what they do not say are important. Think about the Reformers. They wrote extensive exegetical and systematic works. Subsequent generations often made summary reference to those works, but did not go into as much detail. Why is that? Is it because later generations were less committed to the truth, or did they disagree? Certainly not. To the contrary, they were relying on the work of their predecessors, assuming that they would continue to be read and taught. However, did later generations go into considerable detail about peculiar topics when the situation demanded it (i.e. controversy, disagreement, or pastoral concern)? Most assuredly.

So then, what will you NOT find much of in the Particular Baptists’ covenantal writings? You will not find comprehensive treatments of covenant theology that take on the topic from beginning to end. Why not? Because they agreed with much of the macrostructure and interpretation of their paedobaptist brothers. Where did they go into detail? They went into detail on the relationship between the covenant of grace and the Abrahamic covenant and other related questions. (Nehemiah Coxe holds a special place because he discusses the building blocks of covenant theology in more detail than other Particular Baptists. In fact, in his preface he says that he is intentionally avoiding approaching the topic in the standard polemic fashion, though he has polemical purposes.)

The danger here is that if we reduce the Particular Baptists’ covenant theology merely to these writings, thinking that this exhausts their views, we will have a very skewed and incomplete picture of their beliefs in this area. It may also cause us to overemphasize and misrepresent the similarities and differences between the Particular Baptists and their paedobaptist brothers.

3. Keep in mind that some of the authors later abandoned the faith. Paul Hobson and Samuel Fisher became Quakers. That does not make their writings useless or wrong. But it should at least raise some flags in our mind. Don’t assume uniformity in these writings, and read each author on his own terms before comparing him to others.

4. Keep in mind that just because Baptist A held X belief, it does not mean that all Baptists, or any other Baptist held X belief. You have to read them in concert. Benjamin Keach and the Anonymous author of “Truth Vindicated in Several Branches” denied the covenant of redemption. Keach was aware that this set him apart from others.
Benjamin Keach, The Display of Glorious Grace, iv

5. Keep in mind that there are other works on covenant theology from the Particular Baptists. This is just a reminder that these works do not comprise the whole of Particular Baptist thought on covenant theology. That being said, this is a good start.

6. Keep in mind that some of these authors are not Baptists, though their works support Baptist principles and the Baptists appealed to them. Little is known about Andrew Ritor. He may not have been a Baptist. Writing in 1642, the Particular Baptists were in their infancy, so to speak. Once again, this means reading him in his context on his own terms. Henry Lawrence was not a Baptist. However, both of these works were appealed to by Particular Baptists and played a role in the debates of the day. So they remain quite useful.

7. Anyone who reads through Samuel Fisher’s work in its entirety deserves an award. I feel very sorry for the person who had to transcribe his book. You should see it…

P.S. This is Sam Fisher, but not Samuel Fisher the Baptist-turned-Quaker…
4346068-6257921355-tom-c

Newly Discovered Work by Nehemiah Coxe on Covenant Theology!

Newly Discovered Work by Nehemiah Coxe on Covenant Theology!

If you’ve read Nehemiah Coxe’s work on Covenant Theology, you probably read or browsed the preface. Coxe says some important things in it, such as:
Nehemiah Coxe, A Discourse, Preface-0

Ok, Nehemiah, you’ve got my attention. Go on.

Nehemiah Coxe, A Discourse, Preface-1

That sounds like a great idea, Nehemiah. I can’t wait for it to be published.

Nehemiah Coxe, A Discourse, Preface-2

I don’t like where this is going.

Nehemiah Coxe, A Discourse, Preface-3

Wait, WHAT? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

Nehemiah Coxe, A Discourse, Preface-4

Very funny, Nehemiah. VERY FUNNY. “Happily prevented?” I think not.

Y U DO DIS

Seriously though…

A Few Thoughts for Consideration in the Modern Republication Debate

These thoughts are directed primarily at members in the OPC and PCA.

For those contra republication:

  1. The view that the Mosaic covenant was a covenant of works is a view found among Reformed divines in the 17th and 16th centuries.
  2. The Westminster Confession of Faith is not the exclusive expression or boundary of Reformed orthodoxy.

For those pro republication:

  1. The fact that a given divine at the Westminster Assembly held to a given view does not mean that the Confession itself either reflects, includes, or accounts for their view. They debated many things. The conclusion of the debates was a majority vote in one direction, not a unanimous vote.
  2. A covenant of works and a covenant of grace are as different as wood and stone. They are different “substances.” If the Mosaic covenant is a formal covenant of works (not just containing a remembrance of Adam’s covenant) it cannot be the covenant grace. See John Ball, A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace (London: Printed by G. Miller, 1645), 93-95. Ball is discussing John Cameron’s view that the Mosaic covenant (the old covenant) is neither the covenant of works nor the covenant of grace but a legal covenant for the nation of Israel to live life in the land of Canaan. Ball concludes that this view makes the old covenant differ from the new in substance. See also John Owen, A Continuation of the Exposition of the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews (London: Printed for Nathaniel Ponder, 1680), 324-42. Owen considers the majority view as expressed in the WCF and rejects it because he views the Mosaic covenant as a works covenant for life in the land. This is the result of the simple logic of substance as applied to covenant theology.

For both groups:

  1. The Westminster Confession was originally intended to be used as a government-backed, fueled, and promoted public standard of teaching and preaching in England, a standard not to be contradicted. Its limited function means that divines could participate in its making, and even live with its final form, so long as they did not overturn the status quo. In England, the Confession of Faith never got off its feet. The Independent-controlled government edited its proposed form in key ways, and the restoration of Charles II neutered any force the confession would have had. Scotland was another story. See https://pettyfrance.wordpress.com/2013/03/14/confessional-subscription-and-the-westminster-assembly/ and https://pettyfrance.wordpress.com/2013/06/20/the-textual-history-of-the-westminster-confession-of-faith/
  2. How your church uses the Westminster Confession of Faith may be quite different from its original intent and design. Whereas its original function may have permitted the flavors of Reformed theology to coexist, the function that your church is assigning to it may not. You have to deal with that. If you are another “flavor” than the WCF but your view was found among the Westminster divines or Reformed theology in general, that still does not mean that your church’s use of the WCF permits you within its boundaries.
  3. You’re probably not using the term “administration” correctly or accurately.
  4. Vindiciae veritatis preface

 

 

Nehemiah Coxe on the Relationship between the Abrahamic Covenant and the Mosaic Covenant

Referring to Genesis 17, Nehemiah Coxe writes:

“It is observable, That in this Transaction of God with Abraham we first meet with an express Injunction of Obedience to a Command (and that of positive Right) as the Condition of Covenant-Interest…And in this Mode of transacting it, the Lord was pleased to draw the first Lines of that Form of Covenant-Relation, which the natural Seed of Abraham, were fully stated in by the Law of Moses, which was a Covenant of Works, and its Condition or Terms, Do this and Live.”

 

From “A Discourse of the Covenants…”