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,

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:

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:

Thomas Manton on “The Man of Sin”

Thomas Manton, 18 sermons on II Thess, 68-69.

From Thomas Manton’s “18 sermons on the second chapter of the second epistle to the Thessalonians.”

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See also:

David Dickson on the Antichrist in the Westminster Confession of Faith

David Dickson, Truth's Victory Over Error, 255-256

From David Dickson’s commentary on the WCF, “Truth’s Victory over Error.”

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See also:

Thomas Beard on the Pope as the Antichrist

Keep your eyes out for the following: “This man is one in number, at one time, but varying in succession.”

Thomas Beard, Antichrist the Pope of Rome, 1
Thomas Beard, Antichrist the Pope of Rome, 2
Thomas Beard, Antichrist the Pope of Rome, 3
Thomas Beard, Antichrist the Pope of Rome, 4
Thomas Beard, Antichrist the Pope of Rome, 5
Thomas Beard, Antichrist the Pope of Rome, 6
Thomas Beard, Antichrist the Pope of Rome, 7
Thomas Beard, Antichrist the Pope of Rome, 8
Thomas Beard, Antichrist the Pope of Rome, 9

From Thomas Beard’s “The Pope of Rome is Antichrist” (1625).

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See also:

Were the Particular Baptists Anabaptists?

No they were not, but let us allow the pens of their paedobaptist peers to answer the question.

Stephen Marshall says that most Anabaptists he knows could not subscribe to the 1644 London Baptist Confession, that it is the most orthodox Anabaptists confession he has seen, and that it is very unlike the doctrines of the German Anabaptists.
Stephen Marshall, A Defence of Infant Baptisme, 75-76

Daniel Featley says that if the 1644 confession is sincere, those who confess it are tenderhearted Christians who have been sorely abused. But obviously they must be lying.
Daniel Featley Dippers Dipped 177-178

What would he correct in this confession? 1. Possessions are owned by nature, not by grace. 2. Tithing should be enforced. 3. Believers and their children should be baptized. 4. Baptizing includes dipping, washing, and sprinkling. 5. Only authorized ministers may baptize. 6. The nature of the prophecy mentioned in the confession needs to be clarified.
Daniel Featley Dippers Dipped 179-186

Robert Bailie understands that the Particular Baptists reject the name of Anabaptism, claiming similarity only in their mutual rejection of paedobaptism. He also wishes that, taken at face value, the confession would be owned by all others called Anabaptists.
Robert Bailie, Anabaptisme, 47-48

Thomas Edwards (Gangraena) opines that this confession must be hiding their real errors, and that where the Particular Baptists hold to orthodoxy they cannot possibly mean it as the orthodox do.
Gangraena Part 1, 108-109

So then, according to esteemed men, including members of the Westminster Assembly, while the doctrines of the 1644 confession are orthodox (minus their obvious disagreements on Baptism and their small critiques on possession, tithes, and prophecy), the Particular Baptists were Anabaptists because they simply had to be lying.

Did it make a difference that the 1646 confession refined these areas of ambiguity or misunderstanding? No, because they were lying Anabaptists.

On the one hand it is sad that such sinful slander was slathered on those who sought safety among saints of a similar sort. On the other hand it is remarkable that over the years the Particular Baptists were able to say in 1677:
Confession Epistle

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See also,

Stephen Marshall
“And for what you alledge out of the London Anabaptists confession, I acknowledge it the most Orthodox of any Anabaptists confession that ever I read, (although there are sundry Heterodox opinions in it) and such an one as I beleeve thousands of our new Anabaptists will be farre from owning, as any man may bee able to say without a spirit of divination, knowing that their received and usuall doctrines doe much more agree with the Anabaptists in Germany, then with this handfull who made this confession here in London.

Daniel Featley
“Plinie writeth, that if the black humour of the Cutell-fish be mingled with oil in a lamp, the visages of all in the room though never so fair and beautiful, will seem ugly, and of the hieu of Blackamores; so the Proctors for our Anabaptists, would bear us in hand, that all, who of late have preached and written against that Sect, through the black humour of malice, tanquam Sepia atrimento, make it appear much more deformed and odious then it is; for if we give credit to this Confession and the Preface thereof, those who among us are branded with that Title, are neither Hereticks, nor Schismaticks, but tender-hearted Christians: upon whom, through false suggestions, the hand of authority fell heavy, whilest the Hierarchy stood: for, they neither teach free-will, nor falling away from grace with the Arminians, nor deny originall sinne with the Pelagians, nor disclaim Magistracy with the Jesuits, nor maintain plurality of Wives with the Polygamists, nor community of goods with the Apostolici, nor going naked with the Adamites; much less aver the mortality of the soul with the Epicures and Psychophannichists and to this purpose they have published this confession of their Faith, subscribed by sixteen persons, in the name of seven Churches in London.
Of which I may truly say, as Saint Hillary doth of that of the Arians, They offer to the unlearned their fair cup full of venome, anointing the brim with the honey of sweet and holy words, they thrust in store of true positions, that, together with them, they may juggle in the venome of their falsehood: They cover a little rats-bane in a great quantity of sugar, That it may not be discerned; for, among the fifty Three Articles of their confession, there not above six but may passe with a fair construction: and in those six, none of the foulest and most odious positions wherewith that Sect is aspersed, are expressed. What then? are all that have employed their Tongue and pen against them heretofore, no better then calumniatours and false accusers of their brethren?”

“First, against those words in the Thirty one Article, Whatsoever the Saints of any of them do possesse or enjoy of God in this life, is by Faith. This passage savours rank of that errour of Heresie (call it which way you please) imputed to Armacanus, who is said to have taught that the right of all possessions and goods or temporall blessings, is founded in grace, not in Nature.
Secondly, I except against those words in the 38, Article, that the due maintenance of the officers of the aforesaid should be the free and voluntary communication of the Church, and not by constraint to be compelled from the people by a forced Law.
These words may carry a double sense: if their meaning be, that all religious ought freely to contribute to the maintenance of the Ministery, and should not need any law to inforce them; we embrace their good affection to the Church and Church-men: But if their meaning be, that the maintenance ought to depend upon the voluntary contribution of their Parishioners; and that in case the flock should deny their Shepheards either part of their milk or fleece, that the Pastours should have no assistance of Law to recover them, this their opinion is most impious and sacrilegious, and directly repugnant to the Law of God, which assigneth Tithes for the maintenance of the Priests: and that the Law of God in the Old Testament is not abrogated in the New, but rather confirmed, at least in the equity thereof;
Thirdly, I except against the 39 Article. viz. that Baptisme is “an Ordinance of the New Testament, given by Christ to be dispensed only upon persons professing faith, or that are disciples, or taught; who upon a profession of faith ought to be baptized.” Here they lispe not, but speak out plain their Anabaptisticall doctrine; whereby they exclude all children of the faithfull, from the Sacrament of entrance into the Church.
Fourthly, I except against the fortieth Article, viz. “The way and manner of dispensing this Ordinance, the Scripture holds out to be a dipping or plunging the whole body under water; it being a sign, must answer the thing signified, which are these; 1 The washing of the whole soul in the blood of Christ. 2. That interest the Saints have in the death, buriall, and resurrection of Christ. 3. Together with a confirmation of our faith, that as certainly as the body is buried under water and riseth again; so certainly shall the bodies of the Saints be raised by the power of Christ, in the day of the resurrection to reign with Christ.” This article is wholly sowred with the new leaven of Anabaptism. I say the new leaven, for it cannot be proved that any of the antient Anabaptists maintained any such position, there being three wayes of baptizing, either by dipping, or washing, or sprinkling, to which the Scripture alludeth in sundry places: the Sacrament is rightly administered by any of the three; and whatsoever is here alledged for dipping, we approve of, so farre as it excludeth not the other two.
Fifthly, I except against the 41 Article, viz. “the persons designed by Christ to dispense this Ordinance, the Scriptures hold forth to be a preaching Disciple, it being no where tyed to a particular Church Officer or Person.” If the eye be darknesse, how great is that darknesse? If there be confusion in order it selfe, how great must the confusion needs be? If all be Pastours, where are their Flocks? If all be Teachers, where are their Scholars?
Sixthly, I except against the 45. Article. “That such to whom God hath given gifts, being tryed in the Church, may and ought by the appointment of the congregation to prophesie.”
When Muncer, a seditious Anabaptist, first set a broach their doctrine at Mulchus, and took upon him to reform many things in Church and State; Luther advised the Senate to demand of him what calling he had to do such things he did; and if he should avouch God for the author of his calling, then they should require of him to prove that his calling from God by some evident sign; for whensoever it pleaseth God to change the ordinary course, and to call any man to any office extraordinary, he declares that his good will and pleasure by some evident sign. If the calling of the Anabaptisticall Teachers be ordinary, let them demonstrate it by Scripture; if extraordinary, let them prove it by miracle. For the prophesie they speak of, let them distinctly declare, what kind of prophesying they mean, and whom they esteem Prophets; for prophesying is taken in a double sense in holy Scripture; sometimes according to the propriety of the Greek derivation, for the prediction of things future: sometimes in a large sense, for reavealing the mysteries of God, and expounding his Oracles, either concerning things past, present, or to come.
But now, sith I have set up a light upon the bank, and clearly discovered both them, and their errours, I hope we shall see no more of their Frog-galliards, nor hear their harsh croaking and coaxation, either in the Pulpit or the Presse.”

Robert Baillie
“Tell the English Anabaptists now of the Doctrine and practises of their fathers in Munster and elsewhere, they are ready with passion to deny all affinity, all consanguinity with such monstrous Hereticks: They will be nothing lesse then Anabaptists, the furthest they will professe to maintain is but a simple Antipaedobaptisme. How ever this will be found a very grosse and dangerous errour, yet we wish that all our questions with that generation of men were come to so narrow an issue; we are loth to force upon any man the errours which he is willing to disallow;
How ever the tenets which the most of them are likely to acknowledge, be these which seven of their best Churches did offer in print to the Parliament, as their common sense: We wish that all these who go under the name of Anabaptists in England, were resolved to stand to the articles of that confession without any further progresse in errour: but how farre the very prime Subscribers are from any such resolution, it will appear anon.”

Thomas Edwards
“There is a Book lately printed, and that with license, (as the Title of the Book expresses, and now the time is come, that all kind of Errors are Printed cum privilegio) call’d a Confession of Faith, of seven Churches of Christ in London, which are commonly (but unjustly) call’d Anabaptists, Dedicated to the High Court of Parliament, and given into the hands of many Members, which came not to my hand till Feb. 13. or else I would now have given some animadversions upon it; but for the present thus much, there are many dangerous opinions and practises, which to my knowledge by Books in Print, and discourses of theirs, some of those whose hands are subscribe’d to the Confession of Faith, hold, but are concealed other points of their confession express’d generally, and doubtfully, not holding them as Reformed Churches do.”