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

Advertisements

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…”

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

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