Not Absolutely

Early Particular Baptist history is notoriously murky, and historians are forced to be content with whatever information has survived the passage of time. The paucity of information requires that a degree of tentativeness be inserted into statements based on that information. Consequently, when historians of the Particular Baptists assert that the Particular Baptists do not come from continental Anabaptists, or that they were distinct from the General Baptists, are they speaking absolutely? Absolutely not.

Absolute statements are easy to prove false, or rather, easy to prove not absolutely true. This is especially the case when dealing with broadly defined or undefined terms. What is an Anabaptist? What is a Particular Baptist? What is a General Baptist?

There are connections between the early Particular Baptists and the continental Anabaptists, as well as to the General Baptists. But connections are not causes, necessarily. Analogy is not genealogy. So, what are these connections, and what do they mean? What is their significance? And are there other connections that balance our perspective in other directions?

The Early Particular Baptists Consulted the Dutch Anabaptists Regarding the Mode of Baptism

The most important source for Baptist beginnings is the so-called “Kiffen Manuscript” held in the Angus Library at Regent’s Park College, Oxford. Among other things, it tells the story of the Jacob/Lathrop/Jessey church. As repeated many times elsewhere, a group within this church became convinced of credobaptism. Subsequent to this conviction, the group determined that dipping was the proper and necessary mode of baptism, without which there was no baptism. In other words, those not dipped are not simply improperly baptized, they are simply not baptized.

Already being convinced of the theology of credobaptism, this fledgling church sent a Dutch-speaking emissary to Holland to see how others had administered the ordinance via dipping. The manuscript says (in updated spelling),

May 1640
“being convinced of Baptism, that also it ought to be by dipping the body into the water…None having then so practiced [dipping] in England…and hearing that some in the Netherlands had so practiced [dipping] they agreed and sent over Mr. Richard Blunt (who understood Dutch) with letters of recommendation, who was kindly accepted there and returned with letters from them.”

The group consulted was, according to James Renihan in his book Edification and Beauty, “the Collegiants or Rijnsburgers…a lay movement…[that] practiced baptism by immersion, not as a church ordinance, but in order that it might be provided for those who desired it.” It is important to note, however, that Blunt was not baptized while there. Rather, the church took time to consider all of this and the next year the church took steps to baptize themselves (considering themselves unbaptized to that point). The manuscript says,

1641
“Mr. Blunt baptized Mr. Blacklock that was a teacher amongst them, and Mr. Blunt being baptized, he and Mr. Blacklock baptized the rest.”

As a side note, the theological rationale behind this event was as follows:

  • The legitimacy of baptism does not stem from the baptizer, but from the command given to the church.
  • The church is therefore authorized to appoint a baptizer in order to fulfill the command of baptism.
  • If baptism has been so neglected that in that place there is no baptizer who is already baptized, the first baptizer must, of necessity, be unbaptized.
  • So it was for John the Baptist who began to baptize by virtue of a command, he himself being unbaptized.

Back to the point, note that in the above quote Mr. Blunt was baptized by Mr. Blacklock. He had not been baptized in Holland. This is confirmed later in a separate portion of the manuscript that describes Francis Bampfield’s inquiry into “the methods taken by the Baptists, to obtain a proper administrator of baptism by immersion, when that practice had so long been disused.” Bampfield was told in London that Baptism was recovered by,

“Either a self baptizer…One John Smith…
Or two men according to their principle in their judgment altogether unbaptized before, did baptize one another at the first, and afterwards did baptize others. And so were many of the baptizings in London, reported originally to be in one if not in two instances.”

The second instance is referring to Blunt and Blacklock who are again both described as unbaptized.

These sources clearly establish a connection between the early Particular Baptist movement and the Dutch Anabaptists. But what weight can be laid on this foundation?

  • After the Baptists had already formed their theology of credobaptism, One early  Dutch-speaking Baptist consulted Dutch Anabaptists about the mode of Baptism.

John Smyth, regarded as a founder or progenitor of the General Baptists, was mentioned above. Did the Particular Baptists have a connection to him? No. First, Smyth died in Holland in 1612. Second, Smyth was not practicing dipping. Third, listen to Hercules Collins who argues that the Particular Baptists had no connection whatsoever to him and retrieved credobaptism from the commands of the Scriptures,

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Collins had the advantage of defending his tradition’s history while its earliest pioneers were still alive.

Reviewing this evidence, we see that it indicates that if the early Particular Baptists got anything from the Anabaptists, it was dipping tips. The Dutch Anabaptist connection is small. What would weight our estimation in another direction? Consider two things.

First, the literature published by this group from its earliest stages onward denies a genealogical and/or theological connection to the Anabaptists. One would think that the fruit would match the root. But as the Particular Baptists’ theological commitment to credobaptism had formed quite apart from a group divided from them by geography and language, so their ongoing commitment to credobaptism was defended quite apart from the Hollanders. My previous post provided contextual reasons for why some of the most prominent Particular Baptists arrived at their credobaptist views quite apart from the Anabaptists.

Second, as described in the aforementioned previous post, tracing the actual historical movement of specific Particular Baptists from paedobaptism to credobaptism demonstrates that a core segment of the leadership of the movement began as university-trained, CoE-ordained paedobaptists. They read Reformed theology and interacted with it, approving much and disapproving of the obvious points. Their training and influences are clear.

Are the origins of the Particular Baptists separated from the continental Anabaptists? Not absolutely. Does the evidence suggest that the Particular Baptists developed their theology on the basis of Anabaptist theology?  Absolutely not. There are connections, but no causes of significance. There is an analogy, but not a genealogy.

The Particular Baptists Have Connections to the General Baptists

Before launching into this, you should know that the category “General Baptist” is a broad category including a large range of beliefs. And we have to be careful not to assume the theological commitments of those labeled as “General Baptists.” In some cases, as we will see in a moment, the question dividing the groups was narrowed down to how the gospel should be preached.

Consider two prime examples of the proximity of the early Particular Baptist movement to the General Baptist movement. I say “prime” because they are in the list of early Particular Baptists in my previous post, because they are men who lived and influenced the Particular Baptist movement for many years, and because they published works that give us access to their thought.

Christopher Blackwood, a Cambridge-educated Church of England priest converted to Credobaptism after hearing a General Baptist, Francis Cornwell, assert the error of paedobaptism. But Blackwood never joined the General Baptists. Nor does General Baptist theology appear in his writings. In fact, paedobaptists who read Blackwood said that he sounded like John Cameron.

A more interesting example is Benjamin Coxe who spent time in Thomas Lambe’s church before ending up with the London Particular Baptists. Wright even argues that Coxe actually embraced the theology of the General Baptists. Dealing with Wright’s claim requires more attention than we can offer here, but we know that Coxe spent very little actual time in Lambe’s church, a span of two years during which Coxe was absent and incarcerated for a good amount of time. And we know that Coxe left over a dispute involving predestination.

Lambe said to Coxe, “if you deny that Christ died for the sins of all, what Gospel will you preach to unbelievers?” This indicates that the heart of the issue was how to preach the gospel in such a way that all men are commanded to believe, while knowing that only the elect will actually believe. Coxe came to credobaptist beliefs, eventually joined Lambe’s church, became uncomfortable with the way the gospel was preached, and joined with the Particular Baptists soon after. No imprint was made on him, except perhaps extremes to be avoided.

What weight can we lay on this foundation?

  • The early Particular Baptists had connections to the General Baptists, but not as a source, nor with lasting or significant effects.

Are the origins of the Particular Baptists separated from the General Baptists? Not absolutely. Does the evidence suggest that the Particular Baptists developed their theology on the basis of General Baptist theology?  Absolutely not. There are connections, but no causes of significance. There is an analogy, but not a genealogy.

Early Particular Baptist origins should be viewed as a series of streams that run together until they form a united river around 1644. Each of these streams has its own context through which it passes along the way to arriving at a greater unity and united identity. The Jacob/Lathrop/Jessey church is the central stream to which others joined, many of them having been trained at Cambridge or Oxford and ordained in the Church of England. They examined the theology of their day, as described in the previous post, and arrived at a common understanding of how that system should be realigned.

This post has attempted to add balance to discussions of Particular Baptist origins and identity by providing the sources that connect the Particular Baptists to traditions from which they commonly are said to be disconnected. Historians should avoid absolute disavowals of Particular Baptist connections to Anabaptists and General Baptists. They should likewise avoid placing a weight on those connections that they will not bear. Are Particular Baptist origins separated from Anabaptists and General Baptists? Not absolutely. Do the Particular Baptists come from these groups? Absolutely not.

These discussions must be guided by evidence distinguishing analogy from genealogy, and guarded by reason distinguishing correlation from causation.

William Twisse, The Doubting Conscience Resolved, 78

 

 

 

 

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Particular Baptist Identity and History

In his ongoing series of posts “engaging” with Particular Baptist history and theology, Dr. R. Scott Clark recently articulated and clarified his angle of approach to the relevant issues and questions. In particular, Dr. Clark has suggested that though the Particular Baptists intentionally identified themselves with Reformed theology and distanced themselves from Anabaptist history and theology, their claim is subject to external scrutiny. And Baptist historians who simply rely on the internal claim are therefore susceptible to blind spots and mistakes if they go no further than repeating the internal history.

Edmund Campion, The Historie of Ireland, 23

Methodologically, this is a valid approach and even a good question. Does the external evidence support the internal history? Dr. Clark indicates that the more one examines the historical record, the more one finds the Particular Baptists’ supposed self-identity to be more an identity than a reality. He says,

The etiology of the Particular Baptist movement also remains problematic. My PB friends consistently deny any connection between the Particular Baptists and the Anabaptists. This assertion seems to be more grounded in their theological self-identity than in actual history.

As an example, Clark points out that Benjamin Keach was formerly a General Baptist, a broad tradition with known connections to continental Anabaptists. For a complete perspective on Keach’s theology and theological influences, please see this book written by Dr. Jonathan Arnold. In this post, I am going to set aside Keach, not only because the book above is a sufficient resource, but also because Keach’s move to Particular Baptist theology in the 1670s is quite removed from the group’s origins in the 1630s-1640s when Keach was not yet born. Furthermore, if one examine’s Keach’s covenant theology, all you will get is Petto, Owen, Coxe, and Cary.

Now, let us consider briefly the “actual history” involved, regarding ideology (the ideas in the context of the early Particular Baptists) and history (the actual historical context of actual individual Particular Baptists). My book From Shadow to Substance presents this information and does not simply “defer”, as Dr. Clark states, to the internal history of the Particular Baptist movement.

Ideological Context

What ideas influenced the development of the Particular Baptists? Whence their credobaptism? They did not come from nowhere.

Surely, it would seem strange if not suspect to locate the origins of the Particular Baptists’ credobaptism in a system that rejects credobaptism, i.e., Reformed theology. And if I may attempt to guess at the presuppositions and predispositions of Dr. Clark in this case, it would seem like a natural bias.

John Owen, A Letter, 6

However, consider the two main branches of argumentation used by Particular Baptists to justify their credobaptism, branches both beginning in the Baptists’ earliest books: an argument from positive law, and an argument from covenant theology. Both arguments have roots in Protestant Reformed Puritan theology. When I say “Puritan” I am referring to the collision of Protestant Reformed theology with the English church which resulted in an internal movement with diverse ideas on how the church should be reformed. I regard “Puritan” as Protestant Reformed theology being worked out in the English context. That movement took many shapes and branched in various directions.

Common to this movement was an insistence on limiting faith and practice to God’s word and thus removing unscriptural traditions. English university students considered or reconsidered their theological system afresh, and priests reconsidered not just their system, but their actual practice. Some of them began to deny the Lord’s Supper to parishioners who made no profession of faith beyond their infant baptism, and who lived lives evincing no spiritual fruit. When English students and priests are attempting to align their credenda and agenda with Scripture, and when they get as far as limiting the ongoing sacrament of spiritual life to professing and persevering believers, it is no stretch, ideologically, to see how the same context and influences produced a reevaluation of the sacrament of new life, baptism, and limited it to professing believers. They didn’t need to look to Holland or Germany to have these questions pressed on them. Nor did they need to look overseas to find the answers to those questions.

Regarding the details of the Protestant, Reformed, and Puritan provenance of the Particular Baptists’ argument for credobaptism based on positive law, see this lecture and the handout available on that page.

As to the Protestant, Reformed, and Puritan roots of the Particular Baptists’ argument for credobaptism based on covenant theology, my book deals with this as comprehensively as I was able, and I refer you to it. Key to this is the presentation and examination of the unity and diversity of Reformed covenant theology, so as to locate the Particular Baptists’ relationship to the same. Considering the matter without considering the diversity of the Reformed tradition indeed makes it perplexing if not preposterous to claim that a covenantal system that concludes in credobaptism derives from a covenantal system that rejects credobaptism. Given the scope of such a question, I again refer you to the book.

The Protestant, Reformed, and Puritan roots of these two branches of argumentation are not just a model that I, or others, have created to assert an identity. It is what you find in the Particular Baptists’ writings. Whether you agree with them or not, you will find  Particular Baptists regularly and favorably quoting Reformed sources in support of their arguments. You simply won’t find an appeal to Anabaptist theology for credobaptism. A connection to Anabaptist theology as a contextual ideological influence must be supposed and imposed on Particular Baptist literature. It cannot be found there.

Historical Context

Here we needn’t deal with abstractions. We can be quite concrete. So, consider the actual historical context of individual first-generation Particular Baptists, in other words the actual historical context of the origins of the Particular Baptists. Where did they come from? Where were they getting their ideas?

Name: Education: CoE Ordination: Contextual Influences:
Henry Jacob (never became credo),

John Lathrop (never became credo),

Henry Jessey (became credo c.1644)

All 3 BA/MA, 1 Oxford, 2 Cambridge All 3 Cambridge/Oxford theology (1580s-1620s)

Jessey’s friends consulted before switching to credo: Nye, Goodwin, Burroughs, Greenhill, Cradock, Carter, Jackson, Bolton

Spilsbury & Kiffen (Spilsbury publishes credo argument in 1643, Kiffen with Knollys and Coxe in 1645) No university No Jacob/Lathrop/Jessey
Andrew Ritor (publishes credo argument in 1642) Unknown No Cites: Jerome, Augustine, Zanchius, Vermigli, Whitaker, Origen, Erasmus, Eckius, Bellarmine, Luther, Bohemius, Cassander
Christopher Blackwood (publishes credo argument in 1644) BA/MA Cambridge Yes Cambridge theology (1620s)

Fathers cited: Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Origen, Clemens Alexandrinus, Tertullian, Basil, Chrysostom, Cyprian, Bernard

Councils cited: Council of Trullo, Council of Carthage, Council of Laodicea

Authors cited: Melanchthon, Zanchius, Vermigli, Polanus, Bucanus, Greenham, Willet, Musculus, Trelcatius

Hanserd Knollys (publishes credo argument with Coxe and Kiffen 1645) Cambridge “Literate” (studied but did not graduate) Yes Cambridge theology (1620s)
Benjamin Coxe (publishes credo argument with Kiffen and Knollys in 1645) BA/MA Oxford Yes Oxford theology (1610s)

His Father was an Oxford-trained CoE clergyman

Edward Harrison (publishes credo argument in 1646) BA Cambridge/MA Oxford Yes Cambridge/Oxford theology (1630s)

What this “actual history” tells us is that many of the leaders, and first publishers, of the first generation of Particular Baptists were trained in the English Universities and ordained in the Church of England during a time when Reformed theology was impacting and influencing those institutions. They were paedobaptists, often parish priests, whose personal histories and writings support the self-identity and internal history referred to above. They emerged from Reformation theology in early seventeenth-century England.

This historical context does not magically insulate the Particular Baptists from continental Anabaptist ideas or theology. Though it is certain that they were trained against anabaptism in the universities. The point is that many of the early Particular Baptist leaders have the same credentials and context as men like John Ball, Anthony Burgess, or John Owen. So, whatever is said about the broad-brush context of these Particular Baptists will be equally true of the rest of the “Reformed” men in the English context at that time.

Their confessions reflect and augment the evidence of a Reformed origin. The men just listed composed 1LCF in 1644 primarily from the 1596 True Confession likely penned by Henry Ainsworth and William Ames’ Body of Divinity. With many of those same men still alive, 2LCF was composed in 1677 primarily from the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Savoy Declaration, and 1LCF. The doctrinal overlap and family connection of these Baptist and paedobaptist confessions is so strong and intentional that it takes a fair amount of opposite force and intent to try to separate them.

The question of identity and origins is not one without historical evidence, nor need it be discussed in the abstract. Indeed, there is more to offer than what I have written here. If one wishes to say something about the Particular Baptists’ origins, just get specific and offer your evidence. Unless I have missed it, Keach’s early days as a General Baptist are the only evidence brought forth by Dr. Clark so far.

I have pointed to resources offering evidence for the ideological context of the Particular Baptists’ credobaptism as argued on two fronts. And I have provided evidence of the historical context of many of the first-generation Particular Baptists. In light of this evidence, I contend that it is Dr. Clark’s posts that suffer from the problem of supposed/imposed identity vs. actual history.

John Owen, A Short and Plain Answer, 21

The Reformed Theology of Benjamin Keach

Benjamin Keach is perhaps the most famous Particular Baptist of the seventeenth century. He published more than the rest of his peers, and consequently there has been much more written about Keach in secondary literature than about other Particular Baptists. Finding quality in that quantity of literature can be difficult, but this book is unquestionably among the best (if not the best currently written).

This is not a complete biography of Keach nor an extensive presentation of his thought, but rather an examination of key areas of his theology worthy of attention in light of the gaps or faults in previous Keachean studies (to borrow Dr. Arnold’s term). If you want to know what Keach thought about theology proper, covenant theology, justification, and eschatology, as well as where his views came from and why he held them, this book provides well-researched presentations of the same.

Written in an accessible yet academic style, this book is an excellent and necessary resource for all those interested in Benjamin Keach.

To order this book for £25, please contact Larry Kreitzer of Regent’s Park College, Oxford at: larry.kreitzer@regents.ox.ac.uk

 

Keach CoverKeach BackKeach ToC

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.

FStSFront

FStSBack

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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.

We All Have Our Types

We All Have Our Types

In a previous post, I offered three clarifications about historical Particular Baptist covenant theology as a response to Dr. R. Scott Clark’s post dealing with the same matters. Dr. Clark posted a second article continuing the dialogue, and I found it to be a helpful article in that it mined down deeper and thus portrayed more precisely, I think, the details and differences of the parties referenced here (Particular Baptists and the broad Reformed tradition).

Since I am the primary pen being referenced in Dr. Clark’s post, I thought it would be helpful to continue this discussion in an attempt to further the cause of mutual understanding.

Before I quote and respond to a few pieces of Dr. Clark’s recent post, I want to propose to the reader, whether a proponent or opponent of Particular Baptist covenant theology, two things for their consideration before and during discussing or debating these issues.

First, covenant theology, whether considered exegetically or historical-theologically, defies simplification and summary. It deals with, necessarily and unavoidably, the forest and the trees. It covers the entire Bible. Its scope is all of redemptive history. It seeks to explain the purpose of all God’s actions. It is a subject that requires micro and macroscopic perspectives. Not only is this true in the case of studying covenant theology exegetically, but when one adds to this the history of the church’s attempts to handle the subject, i.e., historical theology, the plot thickens considerably. It is therefore a subject whose grammar and vocabulary must be sufficient for the task of dealing with trees and forests. One must exercise great caution and patience in studying a subject of such a scope. And it is therefore a subject not well suited for Twitter, Facebook, and Blogs (like this one).

Second, the Disciples/Apostles got this wrong at first and for some time after the ascension and Pentecost. The Jews got this wrong. Many early Christians got this wrong, provoking church councils and many apostolic epistles in our New Testaments. The Reformed tradition has a great deal of diversity on how the pieces fit together (without denying considerable unity in parts of the subject as well). Tread lightly. Take your time. Don’t be in a rush. Don’t go to war in your first year of marriage.

Now, on to an attempt to offer brief responses of a clarifying nature.

Dr. Clark said,

the PBs do not envision the same sort of administration of spiritual benefits through the external administration of the types and shadows, the various Old Testament administrations of the covenant of grace as the Reformed understand things.

Similarly,

that reception [of the benefits of Christ] has little to do with the actual, external, historical administration of the covenant of grace through types and shadows. For them, the substance of the covenant grace is not the divine promise to be a God to us and to our children but only Christ

As a Particular Baptist, I find these words somewhat confusing. Let me offer the reply, then the explanation. The reply is that we believe that the benefits of Christ are made known and received specifically through the types and shadows. How else were they revealed, received, and enjoyed if not through the Israelite system? So to say “the PBs do not envision the same sort of administration of spiritual benefits through the external administration of the types and shadows” does not fit right, to me.

What’s the explanation? It has to do with one’s view of typology. Particular Baptists believe that types and antitypes are two different, but related, things. God tells us in Hebrews 10:1-4,

1 For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. 2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? 3 But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. 4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Animal sacrifices are not the blood of Christ and cannot take away sin. But they do teach God’s people about penal substitutionary atonement. And they do make the people long for a more perfect sacrifice by reminding the participants of their sin, i.e., not cleansing their consciences. So then, the animal sacrifice is not the substance of the covenant of grace. It is not the sacrifice of Christ. But it reveals the sacrifice of Christ. And the people of God, combining this with other revelation in other types and shadows trusted in a sacrifice not-yet-offered for them, and enjoyed its conscience-cleansing benefits through the animal sacrifices but not by the animal sacrifices. These verses were what convinced John Owen that the old covenant was not the new covenant, in substance. A covenant that does not take away sins is not the covenant of grace, however much it subserves the covenant of grace.

Furthermore, not only are types not antitypes, but types had their own particular meaning and function in their own original context. When ceremonially unclean, animal sacrifices really and truly restored you to holiness, an outward holiness granted by the old covenant. To skip this initial meaning of a type and jump straight to the revealed antitype is to flatten out typology and transform the old covenant into the new in an unbiblical way. When typology is flattened into outward differences alone, accidental difference, it paves the way for the importation of old covenant practices and details into the new, such as the use of circumcision to justify paedobaptistm. The new is merely the old renewed.

Particular Baptists treat all types the same way (well I do, anyway, and the 17th-century PBs did). Types are not their antitypes. They cannot be their antitypes. They are not the antitypes in a lesser form. They are not the antitypes in an older version. They are not the antitypes in a different outward arrangement. But types are never not types. They exist to reveal antitypes. Though the old covenant can never be the new covenant, it can never stop revealing the new covenant, either.

So then, when Dr. Clark speaks of the external administration of the covenant of grace, we look at typology as the Bible defines it and we say that what he and others call the old external administration of the covenant of grace was actually a distinct but subservient covenant, the old covenant. And yet, because of typological subservience, we agree that the same benefits of the one covenant of grace were revealed, received, and enjoyed by OT saints through the old covenant, but not by the old covenant.

And for this reason I do not recognize this statement, quoted before, “reception [of the benefits of Christ] has little to do with the actual, external, historical administration of the covenant of grace through types and shadows.” It has everything to do with that. But types are not antitypes. Goat and bull blood is not the blood of the Son of God.

Typology deserves and demands a much more detailed treatment. But alas, we are currently trapped in blogland. Moving on, Dr. Clark says,

There is not a single Reformed theologian of whom I am aware, certainly not in the classical (confessional) period, who affirm the doctrine that there is a substantial difference between the New Covenant and the covenant of grace as administered in Old Testament types and shadows.

This brush is too broad to be helpful in this case. Why? First, there were (and are) many Reformed theologians who affirmed that there is a substantial difference between the new covenant and the Mosaic covenant. So then, the “not a single Reformed theologian” language is a cloak covering an inconvenient diversity. Granted, I am likewise not aware of Reformed theologians who affirmed that the new covenant is distinct from the Abrahamic covenant in substance. But that is quite different from the language used above. Second, the language is unhelpful in that it seems to imply that Particular Baptists believed in a substantial difference between the new covenant and the covenant of grace in the old testament. That just wouldn’t make sense. So then, while the language sets out to portray two distinct parties, neither description really fits as far as I can see.

Dr. Clark says,

So here is a difference between the PB and the Reformed. For the PBs, the OT covenants are not the covenants of grace as much as they are witnesses to the covenant of grace. For the Reformed the OT covenants are earthly, historical, real, external, administrations of the one covenant of grace through types and shadows. Through those administrations God the Spirit gave more than “external and typical” (typological) blessings. God the Spirit was sovereignly operating within his people through the sacrifices, through the ceremonies, through the prophetic Word, to bring the elect to new life and to true faith in Jesus the Messiah. This is our understanding of Hebrews 11 when it says that Moses preferred Christ—not typical and external blessings—to the riches of Egypt (Heb 11:24–26). Abraham was looking for a city whose builder and maker is God (Heb 11:10). Had he wanted “earthly and typical” blessings, he could have had them.

My explanation of typology above applies to these comments. So all I want to say here is that it seems odd to me to state the Reformed view of the OT saints’ enjoyment of the benefits of Christ as though that is somehow different or distinct from the Particular Baptists’. There is no difference on that point, as mentioned in my previous post and above in this post. So, to raise it as an apparent difference sends strange signals that will likely be interpreted wrongly by those who see the post as a critique of Baptists and the operative differences between us.

Dr. Clark says,

For the Reformed the OT covenants were more than witnesses to and revelations of the covenant of grace, they were administrations of the substance of the covenant: “I will be a God to you and to your children,” the fulfillment of which was Christ, in whom all the promises of God are yes and amen (2 Cor 1:20).

Here is a difference between us is in regard to identifying and defining the substance of the covenant. Insofar as the substance of the covenant of grace is defined as “I will be a God to you and your children” we disagree strongly (and I would argue that this definition does not represent the fullness of Reformed covenant theology). The substance of the covenant of grace is “I will remember your sins no more.”

In conclusion, there is a need for more work on both sides, especially in being slow to speak and quick to listen. Particular Baptists need to publish more literature in exegetical theology and historical theology. Paedobaptists need to read that literature as we read theirs. And both sides need to pursue verity more than victory.

Henry Ainsworth, The Confession of Faith, Final Page

As a student of the debate in the seventeenth-century, I lament the divide. Whenever I hear of someone moving from one side to the other, I am sad the divide exists. There can be no victory parade when brethren are the “enemies.” Woe is me, woe is us. Thomas Manton remains quotably helpful.

Untitled

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