The Petty France Church (Part 1)

The Petty France Church (Part 1)

I am pleased to announce that my first volume on the history of the Petty France Particular Baptist Church is now available. This volume focuses on:

  • The church’s meeting locations and buildings between its founding in 1656 and its merger with the Devonshire Square Particular Baptist Church in 1727
  • A complete transcription of the Church Book, covering the years 1675-1727
  • Biographical chapters on Nehemiah Coxe and his family, including his father, his grandfather, his first wife, his second wife, and a son from each marriage

Many images of signatures and maps are provided to enhance the reader’s grasp of the information presented in this volume.

This is a volume of historical ressourcement, meaning that it reevaluates previous Baptist historiography and provides extensive new, previously unknown and unseen, sources.

It can be purchased here. Check your country’s amazon market for the best availability.

The Table of Contents:


Are the Covenant Promises Definite? A Pædobaptist Discussion

In the debates of credobaptism vs. pædobaptism in the seventeenth century, a great number of books and pamphlets were produced. These, in turn, have led to a corresponding quantity of secondary literature about the two sides of the debate. When looking at the sides as opposites, one of the features that can disappear from view is the diversity of each side.

It has been my experience (and this is a vague generality) that pædobaptists are often unaware or at least disinterested in the diversity of their own tradition. Baptists are equally liable to this deficiency, but in this post I want to present a pædobaptist speaking to pædobaptists in the context of the credo vs. pædo debates.

Joseph Whiston (d.1690), a Congregationalist (or Independent) minister of Lewes, Sussex wrote several works advocating pædobaptism and criticizing credobaptism. He interacted with Henry Danvers (not a Particular Baptist), Edward Hutchinson, Thomas Delaune, and Nehemiah Coxe (all three were Particular Baptists). John Flavel commended Whiston’s contribution to this ongoing debate.

In one such work published in 1676, An Essay to Revive the Primitive Doctrine and Practice of Infant-Baptism, Whiston initiated a discussion about the definiteness of the covenant. Are the promises made definitely or indefinitely to the infant-seed of believers? The context of this discussion was the Baptist criticism of the pædobaptist covenantal system that if the promise is made to the children, and yet not all children come to faith and salvation, then God is unfaithful to his promises and the covenant is not sure.

Whiston’s solution is surprising, and I believe that most, if not all, my pædobaptist friends today would reject it. But what is equally surprising is that for Whiston, the model that I would consider the common position then, and now, is untenable. Whiston considers it indefensible. I am genuinely curious to know how my modern pædobaptist friends would respond to Whiston. And, without desiring to be provocative, I also wonder to what extent my pædobaptist friends have faced the issue Whiston is addressing without retreating to generalities and formulae.

If you read the portions below and more of Whiston’s work itself, you will see that one of the recurring factors of Whiston’s argument is how ministers handle the death of the infants of believers. On what ground do ministers reassure parents of the salvation of their dear deceased little ones? If the covenant is not made definitely with the seed, and if they do not all enjoy the promises made in the covenant, how can ministers speak in this way?

I have transcribed relevant sections below, updated spelling in general, and to some degree divided his paragraphs into more natural divisions (as I read his argument). All bracketed content is mine. You can see the original through the link above.

So, here follows Joseph Whiston’s words as a pædobaptist to pædobaptists regarding the definiteness of the covenant of grace as it is made with the infants of believers. He begins by setting out varying positions, then advocating his own in contrast with the rest.

It may not be unuseful, but seems necessary, that I should give a brief account of the different apprehensions of pædo-baptists themselves about the nature of the covenant and promises, as entered with, and made to the infant-seed of believers, because that they are not all of one mind and judgment about that must be granted. And according to their different apprehensions about the nature of the covenant and promises, they are differently persuaded as to the good accruing to infants by their covenant-interest, and their having the token of the covenant applied to them.

Some conceive that the covenant is entered with the seed of believers only indefinitely, and answerably that the promises appertaining to them are to be interpreted and understood in an indefinite notion; that is, as having a respect to them as generally and collectively considered, but not made to any of them in particular. And of those that go this way, some conceive that the covenant and promises appertain only to the elect, and secure to them only the future enjoyment of all the saving fruits and benefits purchased by Christ; but do not necessarily convey to, or confer upon them any of those fruits or benefits for the present, and consequently, that by the application of the token of the covenant, only jus ad rem [a right to the thing], not jus in re [a right in the thing] is sealed and confirmed.

Others conceive that as the covenant and promises thereof have only an indefinite respect to the seed of believers, so that at least some of them have those saving benefits and blessings actually granted to and conferred upon them, and consequently that they are actually regenerated, and have a full and complete union with Christ, the remission of sins, the love and favor of God, &c. And some having these benefits and blessings actually conferred upon them in their infancy, we are to presume it may be so with each one in particular; and on that ground are to apply the token of the covenant to them universally.

And this opinion, could it be clearly proved from Scripture, would free the controversy about infant baptism from many difficulties it must be confessed it is otherwise attended with: but for the reasons after to be given, I cannot, but at present lay it aside cum pace tantorum virorum [with respect to such great men].

Secondly, others conceive that the covenant is entered with the seed of believers definitely, and answerably that the promises appertaining to them are to be interpreted and understood in a definite notion; and consequently, that as the covenant, as at first established with Abraham, did extend to Ishmael, as well as to Isaac, so is still continued to all believers, and each one of their seed in particular.

And some of these that go this way conceive, that all the infants of believers have true grace, in particular true faith, wrought in them either antecedent to the application of the token of the covenant, or at the time of its application, if not by, yet in a concurrence with it. But this opinion necessarily inferring a possibility to lose, and fall from the truth of Grace, is rejected by the generality of Protestants, especially that bear the denomination of Calvinists.

Yet some grant, yea assert some kind of supernatural operations of the Spirit to antecede, at least accompany the application of the token of the covenant to them, whereby at least a posse agere [an ability to act though not actually acting], or some dispositions facilitating their saving acting of grace are wrought.

But others distinguish of the covenant: it is say they, internum, aut externum, it is either internal, or external: by the internal covenant, they seem to mean the covenant as really and truly entered with the elect, ensuring to them grace and glory: by the external covenant they seem to mean the covenant as visibly appearing to be made with men, whether infants, or adult, when as it is not indeed really entered mutually between God and them. This latter way of God’s entering covenant with men, whether young or old, is expressed by some, by entering covenant with them in or according to an ecclesiastical dispensation, that is, as they express themselves in a visible church way.

Again others, and sometimes the same men distinguish of the good contained in and conveyed by the promises of the covenant appertaining to the seed of believers: it is, say they, either spiritual and saving, or else only external and ecclesiastical; as membership in the visible church, a right to the outward ordinances and privileges of the church, and the like. And they conceive that the covenant, as containing saving spiritual mercies, only appertains to the elect; but, as containing external ecclesiastical privileges, it appertains to all the seed of believers: hence they call it, as entered with them, a covenant of privileges.

This latter opinion concerning the definiteness of the covenant I take to be according to truth, though to distinguish either of the covenant or the good contained in it, as entered with, or extended to infants, I see no ground, neither do I think it is at all necessary; but I say, as to the nature of the covenant, I doubt not, but that it is entered with, and extended to the infant-seed of believers definitely, and answerably [correspondingly] that the promises appertaining to them are to be interpreted and understood in a definite notion, as appertaining equally and alike to each one in particular: I speak of the covenant and promises, as entered with and made to the seed of believers merely as such.

There are, it’s true, some promises of the covenant appertaining unto them, which are to be interpreted and understood in an indefinite notion, as has been afore declared; but those appertain not to them merely as the seed of such parents, but as members of the visible church. (100-103)

What follows is a part of Whiston’s defense of his position that the covenant is made with the seed of believers definitely.

That which is firstly and primarily ratified sealed and confirmed to infants (and the same is true of the adult) by the application of the token of the covenant to them, is the covenant it self, as more generally and absolutely considered; and consequently, and as the immediate and necessary result thereof, that which is ratified and confirmed is their covenant-state. They are (as I may so speak) solemnly invested and settled in a covenant-state with God; they are absolutely de presenti [in the present] removed from under the first covenant entered with all mankind in Adam, and solemnly invested with, and initiated into a new covenant-state. Hence circumcision (and the same is true of Baptism) is said to be the token of the covenant, as absolutely considered, Gen. 17.11 as the one had, so the other has a first and primary respect and reference to the covenant as absolutely taken; and consequentially to the state of those that are taken into covenant; they are thereby solemnly put, and settled in a new covenant-state and relation Godward: though I deny not, but that the new covenant or covenant of grace is conditionally made with all or rather offered to mankind; there is an offer and tender of Christ with all his benefits to all men upon condition of faith and repentance…

But the seed of Believers are actually received into the covenant of grace, solemnized, ratified, and confirmed by the application of the token of the covenant to them and from this change in their states I conceive a discharge and immunity from the condemning power of original sin, whether originans or originatum [the original sin of Adam, and the pollution of nature resulting from Adam’s sin], does necessarily arise and result unto them.

All those that are actually under the covenant of grace, as definitely entered with them, are de presenti [in the present] freed from [the covenant of works], seeing there is an absolute inconsistency between being under the law, and under grace, at one and the same time. The Apostle, Rom. 6.14 sets these two states in a direct antithesis or opposition the one to the other; whether we understand by law here, the mosaical law, or the law as given at Mount Sinai, wherein there was a revival of the law of works made with Adam in innocency, or that first law or covenant as so made with Adam; yet by grace I conceive we must understand the covenant of grace, and then ’tis all one as to my present purpose: no man can be under two covenants that are in nature or kind directly opposite the one to the other, at one and the same time. Hence I say, the infants of believers, being under the covenant of grace, they must needs be set free from the first covenant in the same sense that all believers are.

And as for the covenant of grace that threatens condemnation against none but either final rejecters of it, as in the case of those that are yet strangers to it, or total and final violators of it, as in case of those that are actually under it, and being free from the sanction of the first covenant, and not under any obligation to suffer future condemnation, either as rejecters, or violators of the second, I conceive their immunity from the condemning power of original sin, yea of whatever sin, whether original or actual they fall under the guilt of, during their pure infant-states, must necessarily ensue, though no express promise of pardon (which I conceive it is not necessary to enquire after) should appertain unto them, cessante obligatione legis & non obligante novo foedere [the threat of the law having ceased, and not under the threats of the new covenant], there can be no condemnation to them on the account of any sin chargeable upon them. (111-114)

At the heart of Whiston’s position is not just the mutual exclusivity of the covenants of works and grace, but also the simple logic of what it means to be in a covenant. He says that we cannot say our children are in the covenant unless we likewise affirm that they enjoy the benefits of the covenant.

Those that have no good, that is of the essence and substance of the covenant, have no present interest in the covenant. but unless infants have that good afore declared, they have no good that is of the essence and substance of the covenant. Ergo. This argument in the whole of it is so obvious to every ordinary understanding, at least [it] will so evidently appear upon a diligent search, that I shall surcease the proof of it. (154)

Similarly, Whiston argued that an indefinite promise to children is an insufficient ground for the application of the token.

And hence, by the way, how can a supposal of [the covenant being made indefinitely with the seed of believers] be a sufficient ground for the application of the token of the covenant, of which the covenant gives no assurance? (177)

Whiston again argues against an indefinite model by answering an objection.

Objection. It will be said, ‘Tis true the infant-seed of believers, and that universally, visibly appear to us, and may be hoped according to a judgment of charity, to have all that good, and all those benefits and privileges afore assigned to them, as they are the seed of such parents, conferred upon and ensured to them by the covenant, as confirmed by the application of the token thereof to them, but that they have all that good, and all those benefits and privileges really and truly actually granted to, and conferred upon them in their pure infant-state, is more than we can affirm; inasmuch as secret things belong to God, but things revealed to us and our chidlren.

Answer. I confess, most that have pleaded for Infant-baptism upon this ground, viz. their interest in the covenant, do too commonly express themselves to this purpose, but it seems past all rational doubt, and is so to me, that what they visibly appear to have by virtue of their interest in the covenant, that they have in reality and truth. (181)

Natural questions arise, of course, as to how Whiston’s definite covenant model handles the children of believers that abandon the faith. He argues that though the infant seed of believers are freed from original sin’s guilt and pollution, they are not necessarily regenerated, nor do they have the Holy Spirit.

For that which may yet further be pleaded, namely, the improbability that any should be in covenant with the Holy Spirit, and yet have no benefit by him, either in regard of any saving, no, nor any common operations that have a direct conducency [leading connection] to their future salvation. To that I would say in the general, that how improbable soever this may seem to be, yet no sound argument can be drawn therefrom, to prove the conclusion inferred in the forementioned objection. God may receive the infant-seed of believers into covenant with himself, and that universally, and vouchsafe them all the good and all the privileges afore assigned to them, and yet it will not necessarily follow from thence, that any such operations of the Spirit should be granted to them. (168)

The covenant doth not assure any of regeneration in their infancy, as they are Elect, for then all the elect seed of believers should be regenerated in their infancy; the contrary whereunto is evident, in that many of the seed of believers, in whom there is not the least shew or appearance of grace from their very infancy till they come to full age, yea possibly till they come to old age, are yet at last converted and brought to a saving close with Christ. (178)

And when the children of believers come of age, they can “willfully sin away their mercies.” (180) This is possible, Whiston says, because “The covenant of grace is immutable, when the Spirit, which renders it so, is actually given.” (185)

The extent to which Whiston represents anyone beyond himself is an important question, though he does appeal to “the generality, if not the universality of all the ancients, and many of our modern divines, as the Lutherans, the Divines of the Synod of Dordt, with many others” to support his argument for the “immunity from the condemning power of original sin” for the infants of believers (117).

But I bring his writing to light as a way of reorienting the polarity of polemics. Whiston’s criticisms of the indefinite model of how God covenants with the children of believers are based on the same premises used by the Particular Baptists to make similar arguments. For example, Nehemiah Coxe said,

Nehemiah Coxe, A Discourse, 129

And Hercules Collins argued that if pædobaptists will only go so far as saying that their children are externally or visibly in the covenant, and the rest is left to God, that is, if the covenant is only made indefinitely…

“If we ask what they mean by Infants of Believers being in the Covenant of Grace? They answer, they are in the External part of the covenant; if you ask, what is that? They say, the Administration of the Covenant; if you ask, what is that? They will tell you it is Baptism; so that the whole amounts to no more than this, such children they ought to be baptized, because they ought to be baptized.”

This discussion is the same context for the Particular Baptists’ criticisms of the Westminster catechism’s description of baptism and the covenant of grace relative to union with Christ and the relation of infants to the same.

So, I query, is the covenant made definitely or indefinitely with the infant seed of believers? If we grant the formula “I will be a God to you and your children” to be a general formula belonging to all believers, is this formula and promise definite or indefinite?


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.


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.


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


Nehemiah Coxe on the Relationship between the Abrahamic Covenant and the Mosaic Covenant

Referring to Genesis 17, Nehemiah Coxe writes:

“It is observable, That in this Transaction of God with Abraham we first meet with an express Injunction of Obedience to a Command (and that of positive Right) as the Condition of Covenant-Interest…And in this Mode of transacting it, the Lord was pleased to draw the first Lines of that Form of Covenant-Relation, which the natural Seed of Abraham, were fully stated in by the Law of Moses, which was a Covenant of Works, and its Condition or Terms, Do this and Live.”


From “A Discourse of the Covenants…”

Form and Matter + Promise and Promulgation = Particular Baptist Federal Theology

In the previous two posts, we have looked at the distinction between form and matter. The first post dealt with this distinction in relation to the republication of the law of the covenant of works in the Mosaic covenant. The second post dealt with this distinction more broadly, and showed the direction that the Particular Baptists would take this distinction in order to say that though the promise of the new covenant (the gospel) was made known in all of redemptive history, it was not formally established as a covenant until Christ’s death.

To refresh, in light of the formal/material distinction, just because the law is present in a given covenant, it does not mean that this covenant is the covenant of works. Conversely, just because the promise (the gospel) is present in a given covenant, it does not mean that this covenant is the covenant of grace.

In this post, I want to continue along similar lines in order to show the differences between Particular Baptist federal theology and that of their Paedobaptist brothers. I want to do this by showing how the same argumentation was employed, only with completely opposite arguments.

Let’s begin with the Paedobaptists.

Peter Bulkley argues that although the law of the covenant of works was revealed to Israel in the Mosaic covenant, the Mosaic covenant was not a covenant of works. Why? Because the Mosaic covenant was established on different terms and conditions than the covenant of works. For Bulkley, the Mosaic covenant was an administration of the covenant of grace. In fact, it was the covenant of grace.
Peter Bulkeley, The Gospel Covenant Opened, 62-63

Notice the argumentation: the law of the covenant of works, i.e. its material basis, was revealed to Israel, but it was not the basis for their covenant.

William Bridge makes the same argument. He begins with the same foundation of the substance/administration distinction. The Mosaic covenant is the covenant of grace.
William Bridge, Christ and the Covenant, 63
William Bridge, Christ and the Covenant, 64

In the Mosaic covenant, the covenant of works is declared, but the covenant of grace is actually made.

The Particular Baptists employed the same argumentation with opposite arguments. They argued that the promises of the new covenant were revealed and made known from Genesis 3:15 onward, but they were not the material basis for a formal covenant until Christ spilled his blood. The new covenant was truly new. No covenant leading up to it had been established on the promise of eternal forgiveness of sins. All of the covenants of the Old Testament contributed to the progressive revelation of the new covenant, but they were not the new covenant in and of themselves. The new covenant was established on better promises, which meant that it was established on different promises which meant that it was a different covenant.

Nehemiah Coxe gives us an example of the covenant of grace being revealed without being formally made or transacted.
Coxe, Discourse, 43

Christopher Blackwood argues that the new covenant is promised but not covenanted in Genesis 17.
Christopher Blackwood, Storming of Antichrist, 2nd Part, 35

Isaac Backus makes the same argument.
Backus Appendix 68-69

This argumentation has been called “promise and promulgation.” The new covenant is promised, but not promulgated in the Old Testament. It exists in its promises alone. This aligns perfectly with the formal/material distinction because both sides will agree that the material basis of another covenant can be revealed and made known independently in a given covenant without becoming a formal covenant. In other words, the law can play a role in the covenant of grace without turning it into a covenant of works for believers. Likewise, the gospel can play a role in the old covenant without turning them into the covenant of grace.

An anonymous Particular Baptist focuses on the betterness of the new covenant’s promises.
Anonymous, Truth Vindicated, 41-42

Samuel Fisher highlights the meliority “betterness” of the new covenant’s promises.
Samuel Fisher, Babism, 153
Samuel Fisher, Babism, 152

These excerpts help to highlight the similarity in argumentation alongside of the dissimilarity in arguments between the Particular Baptists and their Paedobaptist brothers. Both sides argued that the law and gospel run through all of the covenants of the Old Testament.

The Paedobaptists were happy to argue that the law was revealed and made known in certain covenants without those covenants being covenants of works. The Old Testament covenants played roles within the two administrations of the covenant of grace.

The Particular Baptists argued that the old covenant was a covenant of works for life in Canaan. It was a covenant that perfected no one’s conscience because it forgave no one’s sins. The new covenant, revealed from Genesis 3:15 onward, was the covenant of grace formally established on the material basis of the promise of forgiveness of sins in Christ’s blood. It was established on different promises, better promises, everlasting promises.

In a word,

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:

Covenantal Merit in The Confession of Faith

Recently I have been reading this excellent work by Andrew Woolsey. In one section on the primary sources behind the Westminster Confession of Faith, Woolsey shows the strong influence of John Ball on the confession in general and chapter seven in particular. What I want to point out is the concept of covenantal merit at play in paragraph one of the Westminster Confession and the London Baptist Confession. The two confessions are very similar here.

WCF 7.1
WCF 7.1

LBCF 7.1
LBCF 7.1

The Westminster Confession speaks broadly by saying that God’s creatures, though they be obligated to obey God as creatures unto their Creator, could expect no reward whatsoever for their obedience. Yet because God voluntarily condescended to make promises to men, he did so by way of covenant. The London Confession follows the Savoy Declaration by narrowing the focus to the reward of life in particular. But the same principle is operative in both, the principle of covenantal merit. In other words, man’s natural obedience due to God according to the law of nature in no way obligated God to give anything to man. Man’s natural obedience was not intrinsically meritorious. The texts cited in support of this are significant.

Luke 17:10 “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'”
Job 35:7 “If you are righteous, what do you give to him? Or what does he receive from your hand?”

You can’t give anything to the Creator that does not already belong to him, thus he has no obligation to give anything back to you. But when he does, it is a condescension, and God’s condescension takes the form of covenants.

Nehemiah Coxe expressed this well.

Coxe, Discourse of the Covenants, 7

Later Coxe discusses man’s restipulation of the covenant. Restipulation refers to man’s response to God’s introduction/imposition of the covenant. If God places man under a covenant of works, man must work. If God places man under a covenant of grace, man must receive and/or believe the promises given to him.

Coxe, Discourse of the Covenants, 9

Now, it would be easy to overlook but Coxe makes a brief mention of covenantal merit with respect to a covenant of works. He stated parenthetically that in a covenant of works when man fulfills the obligation he can expect the reward by debt, but this is a debt of compact, not absolute debt. Debt considered absolutely (i.e., on its own), would be something that automatically or intrinsically deserves or demands something. Coxe is saying that our works are not like that. They are not meritorious in and of themselves. But by way of compact, that is, according to some set of terms, a given obligation becomes worthy of a given reward. This is covenantal merit. God says, “Do this and receive that,” and there it is. Apart from God’s sovereign initiative and condescension, the work would earn nothing (even though it is demanded of us all the same).

Coxe goes on, explaining this further.
Coxe, Discourse of the Covenants, 10

What are some of the takeaways from this?
1. The confessions confess the concept and principle of covenantal merit. God is so beyond man, the Creator so beyond the creature, that nothing could ever be performed by the creature in such a way that it would obligate the Creator to reward him. However, God has condescended to man by way of covenant, and has made promises to him.
2. Narrowing our focus to the London Confession, the confession confesses that God promised the reward of life to man through covenant. There was no other way man could have earned it. In other words, chapter seven confesses the covenant of works. Trace the reward of life in chapters 6, 19, and 20 and you will find this assertion further substantiated.

See also:

For those interested, here are some statements from John Ball that are pertinent to the language seen in the Westminster Confession
John Ball, A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace, 6
John Ball, A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace, 7
John Ball, A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace, 7-8
John Ball, A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace, 9
This one is quite significant, especially in light of the text used as proof.
John Ball, A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace, 10