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

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Jeremiah Marsden’s Characterizations of Dissenters in 1683

We interrupt our regular programming (of nothingness) to bring you a portion from Jeremiah Marsden, alias Zacharias Ralphson, An Apology for God’s Worship and Worshipers (London: n.p., 1683), 229-231. You can see a short description of his life, here.

Marsden’s treatise advocates freedom of worship for dissenters of all kinds. My interest is in his description of Presbyterians, Independents, and especially of the Particular Baptists. Marsden knew the Particular Baptists well, being invited to pastor at the Broadmead Bristol church, and being imprisoned with Hercules Collins and Francis Bampfield in 1683. Bampfield’s and Marsden’s deaths in prison were the impetus behind Collins’ publication of Counsel for the Living, Occasioned from the Dead. Marsden was buried in Bunhill Fields with around 5,000 in attendance at his funeral.

Marsden, An Apology, 229-1Marsden, An Apology, 229-230Marsden, An Apology, 230-231Marsden, An Apology, 231

Items of note, regarding the Particular Baptists:

  1. Marsden splits the Anabaptists between those who hold free will and those who do not. This is the standard General/Particular division.
  2. Marsden acknowledges that there is significant doctrinal overlap between the Particular Baptists, the Independents, and the Presbyterians.
  3. Marsden uses the label “partial historians” to refer to those who attach an “odium” to the Particular Baptists by connecting them to continental Anabaptists.

Marsden was prone to extremes himself, being connected with the 5th Monarchy movement. But his comments offer interesting characterizations of these groups. The Presbyterians want to be Anglicans, if only the Anglicans would let them (let the reader understand). The Independents want to be left alone. The Particular Baptists want to be known on their own terms, doctrinally and practically, rather than being viewed through the lens of a false genealogy.

A Young Historian’s Meditation on the Living and the Dead

I spend my days among the dead, the ancient and the old,

I haunt the halls of history, the dusty and the cold.

The pages cannot speak to me, the paper has no face,

The letters cannot laugh with me, the ink gives no embrace.

And yet I love discovery, I live in days gone by,

I love the who, what, where, and when, the whether and the why.

But now that one I dearly love is drawing near to death,

And edging ever closer to her last and final breath,

I find myself rebuked for seeing with the eyes of youth,

And failing to appreciate a plain and simple truth:

That archives, graves, and libraries will never disappear,

But kindred, friends, and family will leave us year by year.

If I should wish to hear the voice of one who’s gone before,

Why would I not give equal time, in fact, why not give more,

To those who live, to those who love, to those that yet remain,

To those we know, to those we see, to those who share our name?

No manuscript or signature, no photograph or note,

Can substitute or replicate a grandpa’s anecdote.

No treasure of the ancient world can rival or replace

The loving tender kindness of a grandma’s smiling face.

No comfort and no luxury will equal or compare,

To simple joys like hearth and home when family is there.

We waste our time with pixeled screens, with that which matters not,

Neglecting those who will, one day, be only in our thoughts.

And if we fail to take the time to spend our days with them,

How poor will be our reminiscing in memoriam?

Begin to know them from the day they leave their mother’s womb,

And stay with them until their body lies within a tomb.

Give honor to the hoary head, give honor to great age;

Give honor to the faithful, and the loving, and the sage.

Do not neglect to know your line, to know your family tree,

Or you will know remorse, regret, toward your ancestry.

So speak to them and be with them, and know their history,

Before they slip away from you into antiquity.

And fill your life with family, with lifelong souvenirs,

With stories, tales, and memories that last throughout the years.

Testamentary Priorities

In the seventeenth century, when people prepared their wills they normally paid someone to write them down, normally a scrivener or notary public. Once written, the testator would sign their name (or make their mark) and add their wax seal. Scriveners often used the same template for the wills they composed, which means that most wills have very similar and generic beginnings. The following will, however, stands out among the many hundreds I have read. And for that reason I commend it to you.

“First, principally, and above all considerations I commend and yield my precious and immortal soul into the hands of almighty God my most merciful Creator that gave it and my body unto the earth from whence it was taken in assured hope and confidence that both body and soul shall be reunited and raised again to life immortal in the world to come for I steadfastly believe that as assuredly as Christ Jesus assumed man’s nature and therein fulfilled all righteousness by his most perfect obedience and being with all spot of sin or iniquity yet was accounted and reputed amongst sinners and had the guilt of all the sins of mankind imputed to him for all which he gave full satisfaction unto the divine justice by his most cruel and bitter death so certainly will God impute unto me (vile dust and ashes) the righteousness of Jesus Christ my Savior and the all-sufficient merits of his obedience whereby that in my self am nothing but sin shall be reputed and accounted righteous in his sight seeing that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners of whom I account my self the chiefest.”

What is your last will and testament, and what does it reveal about your priorities?

 

Sleep in Jesus

I came across a beautiful hymn/poem today. You will enjoy it.

Sleep in Jesus

Attributed to JC In Anon, A Collection of Divine Hymns, 1694
Also attributed to John Mason (who was an editor of the above work, I believe) here: https://archive.org/stream/lyracons00bona#page/88/mode/2up/search/unawares

Death steals upon us unawares,
And digs our graves unseen,
Whilst we dispute, are full of cares,
What may be, what hath been.

Shall I be bent on vanity?
And rottenness to trust?
Till death shall lay his hand on me,
And crumble me to dust.

What if my sun should set at noon,
If death should call today?
Can’st thou my soul, go off so soon,
Hast thou no scores to pay?

Behold my sands how quick they fall,
How near I am my goal,
Let not my body be undrest,
Till thou hast cloath’d my soul.

That at the Trumpet’s sound I may
Spring from my dusty bed,
Rejoicing at the voice that calls.
“Arise, come forth, ye dead.”

O give me faith and patience, Lord,
Upon a dying bed,
And let my Savior then afford
Supports to heart and head.

Support my weak and tott’ring faith,
If dismal fears annoy:
My Jesus be my strong defence,
My Jesus be my joy.

O Holy Ghost do thou not fail,
At this time to appear,
O let thy Spir’t and faith prevail,
My evidence to clear.

My soul in they sweet hands I trust,
Now can I sweetly sleep,
My body falling to the dust,
I leave with thee to keep.

Confessional Orthodoxy and Evangelical Union

Anon, A Brief History of Presbytery

Evangelicalism has often been criticized for its lack of creeds and confessions. Yet there has been a consistent assumption, and perhaps assertion, that since evangelicals share a common subjective commitment to the Bible they must share a common commitment to the objective deposit of doctrine and the pattern of sound words in the Bible.

In the recent controversy relating to the triunity of God, one wing of evangelicalism is now holding another wing doctrinally accountable, in brotherly love. But it is becoming clear that the common doctrinal foundation that was assumed to be shared, is not in fact shared. As a result, those being held accountable resent and oppose the accountability as an imposition of a foreign standard to which they have made no commitment. But the standard by which they are being measured is the faith of the church throughout the ages, and this on the doctrine of God. All is not well in evangelicalism, nor has it been.

What to do, then? The church, not the parachurch or the internet-church or even the university or seminary, ultimately needs to enforce orthodoxy. If there are no ecclesiological structures for doctrinal accountability, then there can be no orthodoxy, only ortho-personality. And if there can be no orthodoxy, there are no guards against heterodoxy, only hetero-personalities. A debate about the doctrine of God should not be about “Person vs Person” but “Truth vs Falsehood.”

Consequently, a church (or denomination or association of churches) needs a Confession of Faith defining the fundamental articles of religion, in other words, defining orthodoxy. And the church (or denomination or association of churches) needs to enforce that orthodoxy. Many may not know this, but the declaration of orthodoxy and the enforcement thereof is the context of the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith, published in 1677 but commonly known by the date 1689.

In 1677 the London Particular Baptists had to deal with one of their own, Thomas Collier, who had recently published heterodox views in a book. Collier resisted their attempts to correct and restore him, and persisted in publishing more falsehood, in quantity and quality. All the while, he was known as a Particular Baptist. The London Particular Baptists, who were already liable to slander, misrepresentation, persecution, and accusations of all kinds of heterodoxy, decided to clear their names of these charges in general and any association with Collier in particular.

In the process, they defined a Heretic and applied the definition to Collier. Give attention to the phrase “Fundamental Articles of the Christian Religion.”

We conceive that he is an Heretick that chooseth an Opinion by which some fundamental Article of the Christian Religion is subverted, which Religion before he profest, but now persisteth in this Opinion, contrary thereunto, notwithstanding proper means for his conviction hath been made use of; this description of an Heretick confirmed thus.
1. That it is the choosing of a new Opinion, the signification of the word Heresie doth evince, which is derived from a word that signifieth Election of Choice.
2. That it is not every new Opinion, but that only that is subversive of a fundamental Truth, will easily be granted, otherwise Men must be rejected for every mistake that they are not presently convinced of: which is contrary to the rule of Christ, and that love and forbearance Christians ought to exercise towards one another.
3. He only is properly termed an Heretick, that hath formerly profest the Christian Religion, because such a one is self-condemn’d, though perhaps not always in the present judgment of his Conscience, yet at least by his former Profession.
4. It is the persisting of such a Person in such an Heresie, after proper means hath been used for his conviction, that doth denominate a man to be an Heretick; for a weak Christian may possibly be surprised by Temptation, and the subtilty of Deceivers, into such an Opinion, as obstinately maintained, would destroy the faith of the Person, who yet flies from the Snare as soon as it is discovered to him.

It is somewhat interesting that one of the particular points of heresy the Particular Baptists identified in Collier’s theology was that “He asserts that Christ is the Son of God, only as considered in both Natures, which with other notions in Chap.1. of his Additional Word, doth subvert the Faith concerning the Person of Christ, with respect to his eternal subsisting in the Divine Nature, in the incommunicable property of a Son, as is more abundantly manifest in the answer all ready returned thereunto.” The doctrine of God, whether the doctrine of the triunity of God or the doctrine of the person of the Son, is not to be taken lightly, nor is it merely a matter of academia. It is a fundamental article of the Christian religion.

The above-quoted material was prepared on 2 August, 1677. Later that very month, the Particular Baptists published the Confession of Faith. This Confession followed, word for word in most chapters, the Westminster Confession and the Savoy Declaration. The Particular Baptists explained in an epistle prefacing the Confession that they use the same words as those previous confessions “the more abundantly, to manifest our consent with both, in all the fundamental articles of the Christian Religion.” In other words, they wanted to declare their orthodoxy.

Similar to the prefatory epistle, the Particular Baptists stated in an appendix, “We have…endeavoured to manifest, That in the fundamental Articles of Christianity we mind the same things, and have therefore expressed our belief in the same words, that have on the like occasion been spoken by other societies of Christians before us.”

This was important because of Collier’s errors. The Confession was published so that anyone who wanted to know what the Particular Baptists believed could learn of it “from our selves (who jointly concur in this work) and may not be misguided, either by undue reports; or by the ignorance or errors of particular persons, who going under the same name with our selves, may give an occasion of scandalizing the truth we profess.”

If an evangelical union is going to exist, it needs to be a union of truth, and a union of churches, not persons. Evangelicals, as churches, therefore, need to confess their faith clearly and then see where their unity truly lies. As Nehemiah Coxe, a Particular Baptist minister, said in his refutation of Thomas Collier, “There can be no Gospel Peace without truth, nor Communion of Saints, without an agreement in fundamental principles of the Christian Religion. We must contend earnestly for the Faith once delivered to the Saints; and mark those that cause divisions among us by their new Doctrines contrary thereto, and avoid them.”

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Nehemiah Coxe (d. 5 May 1689)

Nehemiah Coxe (d. 5 May 1689)

On 2 May 1689, Nehemiah Coxe wrote his will and set his final affairs in order. Three days later, he died of an unknown illness. He was buried in Bunhill fields (quite close to John Owen’s grave) in his in-laws’ vault, joining his son, Edmund, who had been buried there the year before. He left behind a wife, Margaret, and a son, Benjamin. Margaret was his second wife. Benjamin was a son from his first marriage.

His tombstone said:

To Nehemiah Cox M.D. who married Margaret 2d. Daught. of ye sd. Edm[ond] & Eliz[abeth] [Portmans] Ob. May 5th. 1689. Also to Edm[und] only son of the said Nehemiah and Marg[aret] Cox. Ob. Aug. 11th. 1688.

Omnia sunt hominum tenui pendentia filo: Et subito casu, quæ valuere, ruunt.

(“All human things hang on a slender thread: the strongest fall with a sudden crash.” – Ovid, Epistolæ Ex Ponto, IV. 3. 35.)

The locations of the graves in Bunhill Fields have changed over time due to many reasons (including a WWII Bomb-Hit). But if John Owen’s grave remains in its original location (Owen’s is the raised tomb partially covered by the tree in the center of the picture), Coxe’s tomb would have been within this view a bit to the left of Owen’s grave. The surrounding graves are illegible, so there is a very small chance that one of the graves we see here is the family vault of the Portmans within which Coxe was buried. It was a “stone tomb, rais’d on brick,” (like Owen’s or the prominent one in the front left of the photo) not simply a headstone.

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As his tombstone states, he was a Medical Doctor. He obtained this degree in 1684, and was appointed as a fellow of The Royal College of Physicians in 1687.

Apart from his achievements as a physician, Nehemiah Coxe was most well known for his four publications and his pastoral work in the Petty France church alongside of William Collins.

Several authors in his own time, and soon after, called him:

“That great Divine, eminent for all manner of Learning” – Charles Marie Du Veil
“The Learned Mr. N. Cox” – Benjamin Dennis
“A learned writer” – Thomas Grantham
“The late learned Dr. Neh. Coxe” – William Russel
“A very excellent, learned, and judicious divine” – Thomas Crosby

Most of these encomiums were made with reference to Coxe’s work on the covenants. In the seventeenth-century covenantal literature of the Particular Baptists, Nehemiah’s Discourse of the Covenants stood out in many ways, and his peers recognized the value and quality of his writings.

Given the lasting appreciation Baptists have had for Coxe’s theological publications, these words, quoted in his work, A Believer’s Triumph Over Death, are a fitting statement.

Monuments are not to be erected to the Righteous, when deceased; Their Words are their Monuments.

There is much more that could be said about Nehemiah Coxe’s life and legacy, especially about his role in the publication of the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith and his role in James II’s repeal campaign, but on this anniversary of his death, I will leave you with Coxe’s own thoughts on how a believer may and ought to face the end of his life.

The lively hope of Pardon in the Blood of Christ, the Smiles of a reconciled God, and foretastes of heavenly Joy, make the true and sincere Christian more than a Conqueror in this Conflict: He can fear no evil because God is with him, whose presence makes his Sick-bed easie, and gives him Prospect of the greatest Gain in the loss of this Temporal Life.