I will be a God to you and to your children

Before reading this post, please see here.

The Paedobaptist Argument

One of the most common arguments for the practice of the baptism of infants is the appeal to the phrase “I will be a God to you and to your children.” The argument is that the covenant of grace is repeatedly declared in these terms, or terms similar to it, such as “I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Therefore apart from God’s removal of this promise, it persists.

Passages in the New Testament are appealed to as a confirmation of the persistence of this promise. For example, Peter declared in Acts 2:39 that “The promise is for you and for your children.” Jesus blessed children and said that “of such is the kingdom of heaven.” Households were baptized in the book of Acts. Paul declared that the children of believers are “holy” in 1 Corinthians 7 and taught children to obey their parents “in the Lord” in Ephesians 6.

The argument is sometimes presented to say that the substance of the covenant of grace is summed up in the phrase “I will be a God to you and to your children.” For example, in this post, Dr. R. Scott Clark states,

The substance of the covenant, i.e., that without which there is no covenant, that which is of the essence of the covenant is the promise in v. 7 [Genesis 17:7]: “to be Elohim (God) to you and to your offspring after you.” That promise, “and I will be their God” is repeated after the land promise in v. 8.

[Side note: Dr. Clark, has a much better definition of the substance of the covenant, limiting it to justification and sanctification in this post.]

By equating the substance of the covenant with this promise, the Reformed paedobaptist is able to say that though there are numerous outward changes in the transition from the old covenant to the new, this promise remains the same. It is the substance. It is what the covenant is, in itself. For what could be more gracious than for God to be the covenant-God of a people after the fall? The denier of infant baptism, say they, destroys the unity of the covenant throughout history and disinherits those whom God himself has claimed, the children of believers.


The Reformed Baptist Critique

Allow me to interact with this argument, which I have summarized. Elsewhere you can find ample reading or listening in defense of this particular piece of the grounds of infant baptism.

Counter-argument 1: A Generic Covenant Formula

The promise “I will be their God, and they will be my people” is a generic covenant formula and carries in itself no specific details regarding the promises God provides in covenant, or the obedience he requires in covenant. It cannot, therefore, be correlated to, or equated with, automatically, the covenant of grace which has specific promises and precepts.

In John Owen’s comments on Hebrews 8’s quotation of Jeremiah 31, he discusses this promise. Owen notes that it is is a general phrase for any covenant between God and a people.

John Owen, A Continuation, 278a

Owen argues that this is merely a general covenantal formula because Jeremiah 31 invokes this promise in the context of the new covenant not being like the old covenant. For Owen, the old and new covenants are substantially distinct, but this phrase is used in reference to both. Therefore, this phrase cannot be used to equate two covenants, automatically. Owen notes that the specifics of the covenant must be considered. He comments, immediately after the previous quote:

John Owen, A Continuation, 278b

So, when one finds a formula such as this, one must consider (1) the specific grounds upon which the covenant is founded and (2) that which God specifically promises to his covenant people as well as the response which he specifically requires of them (i.e., the “mutual actings”). Owen identifies the grounds of the new covenant in the mediatorial work of Jesus Christ. And he describes the “mutual actings” in more detail here:

John Owen, A Continuation, 280

The focus and conclusion of this consideration is simply that the phrase “I will be their God, and they will be my people” is a generic covenant formula whose instances in the Scriptures cannot  be equated automatically with one another apart from proof that the  specific grounds of the covenant, the specific parties of the covenant, and the specific precepts and promises of the covenant are actually the same.

The Westminster Confession (as well as 2LCF) affirms the validity of good and necessary consequences. Consequences are necessary conclusions from clear and certain premises. The premises necessitate the conclusion. Covenants are not natural, but supernatural, that is, covenants between God and man exist only when God initiates them, and are what they are based only on what God makes them to be. Considering, therefore, that this formula is generic, not specific, then it follows that there is no necessity in the phrase itself that would permit us to conclude, theologically, the specific content of the generic phrase apart from additional context. Nor is there a sufficient necessity in the phrase itself to equate it with any other covenant, even if the same phrase, or a similar one, appears elsewhere. One would have to align all the specifics.


Counter-argument 2: A Specific Covenant Promise

Proceeding under the notion that generic covenant formulae must be explained by their specific covenant details, we can consider the argument for infant baptism that appeals to the covenant promise in Genesis 17:7, “I will be a God to you and to your children.”

This promise has specific, unique, individual referents. It is a promise to Abraham himself and his descendants, according to the flesh. Consider the simple grammar of Genesis 17:7.

And I will establish my covenant between me and you (2nd person masculine singular) and your (2nd person masculine singular) offspring after you (2nd person masculine singular) throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you (2nd person masculine singular) and to your (2nd person masculine singular) offspring after you (2nd person masculine singular).

The parties are specified clearly–Abraham and his offspring according to flesh (his descendants after him). What are the specific promises? These descendants, according to the flesh, will multiply and possess Canaan. And from Abraham’s descendants, according to the flesh, will be born the one who blesses the nations. This means that Abraham’s offspring, by virtue of being his offspring, possess:

  • The land of Canaan
  • A relation according to the flesh to the one who will bless the nations

God placed a specific demand on these specific parties, a demand which must be kept or these specific promises will be lost. Abraham and his descendants, according to the flesh, must keep the covenant or they will be disinherited on an individual basis (Genesis 17:10, 14). God will guarantee that the covenant does not fail, corporately (Genesis 15), but individuals and families can be cut off and disinherited (such as the wilderness generation).

Considering the specific details of this covenant, on what ground do we connect these specific details with any other covenant? Is there another covenant made with Abraham and his offspring, according to the flesh, which they must keep or they will be disinherited? This is where numerous parties distinguish themselves.

  • Option 1: The Westminster Confession

The Westminster Confession recasts the details of Genesis 17 and abstracts the specifics of Abraham and his descendants according to the flesh to believers and their children. A believer can insert their own name into the second person masculine singular referents of Genesis 17:7. Certainly, they believe they have exegetical reason to do so, as mentioned at the beginning of this post. Nevertheless, the result is that in such a view the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and new covenants are the same covenant, the covenant of grace, made with believers and their children, requiring only a consequent obedience of gratitude, and being threatened only with fatherly discipline and chastisement.

  • Option 2: Formal Republication

Others in Reformed theology follow the previous option, except the Mosaic covenant is distinct in substance from the Abrahamic covenant and new covenant (like Owen, above). Such persons agree that the Mosaic covenant is made with the same parties as the Abrahamic and new covenants, but it dealt only with life in Canaan and must be obeyed and kept in order to be enjoyed. The end result is that the covenant of grace is made with believers and their children now, as it was then.

  • Option 3: Reformed (Particular) Baptist, or at least my position and the position of most seventeenth-century Particular Baptists

When we consider the specifics of Genesis 17 (and from Genesis 12 up to that point), we find that the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants are made with the same parties (Abraham and his offspring according to the flesh), with the same promises (blessed life in Canaan and the birth of the one who blesses the nations), with the same precepts (moral and ceremonial obedience), and the same threats ( qualified disinheritance).

The Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants are not the new covenant, but carry in them the new covenant, in at least two ways. First and foremost, God promised that the one who blesses the nations would be born from their midst. This means that the old covenant(s) can never be considered as divested of a connection to Christ Jesus and his covenant. From the first moment the Abrahamic covenant was introduced (Genesis 12), this was the purpose. Second, God designed Israel from the ground up to be a typical foreshadowing and preparation for the birth of Christ so that his mission would make sense when he came. Again, this means that the old covenant(s) can never be detached from pointing to Christ and preparing the world for him. Positively, the gospel of Christ, and therefore the new covenant, were woven into the fabric of everything Israel was, and did.

Notwithstanding the connection the old covenant(s) have to Christ, they are not the new covenant. Their parties, promises, and precepts are distinct. Christ rejected Abrahamic paternity as sufficient grounds for inclusion in his kingdom, he rejected the idea that Canaan would be the realm of his kingdom, and he rejected the continuance of the Abrahamic/Mosaic laws.

The new covenant is the blessing for the nations, a people born from above. It forgives sins and perfects the conscience. It grants an everlasting inheritance in the new creation. It enables its people to believe and obey. It is for Jew and Greek, all who call on the name of the Lord.

The question at hand, though, is this: considering the details of Genesis 17:7, can the phrase “I will be God to you and to your offspring after you” be abstracted to “believers and their children”? Can it be equated with the new covenant?

Many would appeal to Romans 4 and Galatians 3 at this point. Those passages deserve separate treatment. For now, however, if one does appeal to Genesis 17:7, and if it is the pattern, the paradigm, for the covenant of grace, then several questions are raised:

  • Do the children of believers belong to the covenant according to the flesh, as the descendants of Abraham after him did?
    • If yes, does this last their whole life? Or, does their continuance in the covenant transfer at some point from the relation they have to their parents to their individual relation to Christ the head of the covenant?
    • If yes, does the covenant extend to the third and fourth generation and beyond, whether any in that generation believe? If it runs in the flesh, it runs in the flesh. Does a wilderness generation disinherit its children?
    • If yes, are the children instructed that the covenant is of no advantage to them unless they believe its promises? (And at that point, how are they different from the children of unbelievers in such a view?)
    • Does the threat of disinheritance connected with circumcision apply to them if baptism is the new outward form of the same covenantal ordinance and paradigm established in Genesis 17?
  • Do the children of believers belong to the covenant according to the Spirit, as believers are described to be?
    • If yes, why do some fall away?
    • If no, then you hold that they are the children of the covenant only according to the flesh and the previous set of questions apply.
    • If no, how does that fit with the fact that all of Abraham’s descendants, after Ishmael, had a right to the promises of the covenant, but your children do not have a right to the promises because they do not belong to the covenant inwardly?

Genesis 17 declares a definite promise for the offspring of Abraham. It is theirs. All of his descendants have a right to it and in it. Based on this fact, the foregoing sets of questions press the issue of whether the covenant is definite or indefinite to the children of believers, an issue of disagreement among paedobaptists.

To sum up the argument, too many appeals to Genesis 17:7 are vague and general appeals to something quite specific. And given that paedobaptism is practiced as religious worship unto God, it requires a more careful foundation. A conscience desiring to worship God aright must have answers to these questions before acting. Do the specifics of this verse apply to me and my child? Can I substitute myself and my children into Genesis 17:7?


Counter-argument 3: The Problem of Faithfulness and the Eschaton

It is a mistake to equate the substance of the covenant of grace with the promise “I will be God to you and your children” because such a promise will not extend into the consummation of all things (the eschaton). Revelation 21:3 assures us of the blessed comfort that God will be our God, and we will be his people, forever. But, following Owen’s method, what are the specifics of this promise?

The parties are clear. The elect of God alone behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. So, in eternity will the promise persist that God is a God to us and our children? No, the promise that persists, the substance of the covenant that lasts into the eschaton, is that God will be merciful unto us and remember our sins no more (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Certainly, by God’s grace some of our children will join us in that precious covenant promise. And God will be their God, but not because of any relation to us.

If we say that the promise that God will be a God to us and our children will persist into the consummation, then we must ask, is God unfaithful? We know that not all our children will be there. If the promises of the covenant depend on God’s sovereign grace and faithfulness, and God cannot lie or fail, and yet some of those to whom he has promised to be God fail to behold his glory in the face of his Son, is God unfaithful?

If an appeal is made to Paul’s discussion of Israel’s faithful remnant as evidence of God’s faithfulness, then one must be willing to say that God is a God to us and our children, so long as we persevere in the covenant, and God has not promised to preserve us all. And therefore, at the end one can say that yes, the promise to be God to us and our children lasts into the eschaton, because God never promised to save them all and the unfaithful ones have already been cut off. Now, such a position involves many preceding arguments and/or suppositions with which I strongly disagree. But I regard it as an unavoidable dilemma (and conclusion) of making the formula “I will be a God to you and your children” the substance of the covenant of grace.


In conclusion, when someone appeals to the formula, “I will be their God, and they will be my people,” or the formula, “I will be a God to you, and to your offspring after you,” it is necessary that the specifics of these general formulas be investigated and explained carefully.

  • This is a general formula, what are its specifics?
    • What are the grounds of this covenant?
    • Who are the parties?
    • What does God promise?
    • What does God require?

I will conclude with more of Owen’s comments on the precious promise of Jeremiah 31:33 quoted in Hebrews 8:10, that God will be our covenant God, and we will be his covenant people.

John Owen, A Continuation, 280-1

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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.

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John Clark, Phraseologia, 265-1

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

Genesis 12 in Nehemiah Coxe’s Covenant Theology

In 2005, RBAP modernized and republished Nehemiah Coxe’s 1681 work on covenant theology. This reprint has been very helpful for many as they have studied covenant theology, whether from a systematic standpoint or simply for historical-theological research. One of its strengths is the modern updating of language and style so that it can be read easily by a 21st century reader.

Recently, a helpful question was raised in a Facebook forum about the wording of one particular section of the modernization of Coxe’s work. The question was,

Coxe writes:

“The covenant is said to be mercy to Abraham and truth to Jacob (Micah 7:20). This intimates that the beginning of it with Abraham was of mere grace and mercy, though once made with him, the truth and faithfulness of God was engaged to make it good to its succeeding heirs. The covenant of grace made with Abraham was not the same for substance that had been more darkly revealed in the ages before, but it pleased God to transact it with him as he had not done with any before him.”

When Coxe says, “The covenant of grace made with Abraham was NOT THE SAME FOR SUBSTANCE that had been more darkly revealed in the ages before,” is Coxe differentiating between THE Covenant of Grace which had been promised in Genesis 3:15 and the Abrahamic covenant, which was, in a sense, “a covenant of grace,” since it was undeserved?

This is an important question because it affects the way that one understands Coxe’s entire argument. I have examined the original, compared it with the modernization, and suggested a revision. The results of this brief study are in a PDF below.

To answer the original question here, the modernization is incorrect on this point (though very good everywhere else). The name of Coxe’s chapter is “Of The Covenant of Grace, as Revealed to Abraham.” Coxe’s argument is that based on Galatians 3-4 interpreting Genesis 12, what is found in Genesis 12 is God revealing the covenant of grace to Abraham and making Abraham a paradigm of belief (a father of believers). All who desire to be members of the covenant of grace must be Abraham’s children, i.e., they must believe as he did. So then, Coxe is saying that Genesis 12 contains the same covenant of grace for substance (there is only one) as found before and after this passage of Scripture, but it was made known to Abraham in a special way unlike any other example in the Bible.

And just a note of clarification. When Coxe says that the covenant was “made” or “transacted” with Abraham, he is saying that God stipulated the promises of the gospel to Abraham, and Abraham restipulated with faith. Thus the covenant is “made” with him, as it would be for any and all believers. Coxe is clear that Abraham was not a federal head in the covenant of grace, and that the covenant was not established itself or “filled up with ordinances” until Christ’s death and resurrection. The promises of salvation were simply made known by God and believed by Abraham.

Coxe on the CoG Revealed to Abraham

 

How to Read Logos’ Baptist Covenant Theology Collection

How to Read Logos’ Baptist Covenant Theology Collection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Few Thoughts for Consideration in the Modern Republication Debate

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

For those contra republication:

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

For those pro republication:

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

For both groups:

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