The Reformed Theology of Benjamin Keach

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

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

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

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

 

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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

Nehemiah Coxe (d. 5 May 1689)

Nehemiah Coxe (d. 5 May 1689)

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

His tombstone said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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,
LBCF 7

Of Antichrist, the Man of Sin

Bunyans Works, 471
Bunyans Works, 471(1)

John Bunyan introduces a discussion of the Antichrist in his works (published in 1692).

Note that “the one Man of Sin” is comprised of many antichrists. Many who take exception to the 2nd London Baptist Confession in relation to the Pope being “that man of sin” do so because they view it as an over-committed or over-specific claim of eschatology. While not arguing that this snippit is the say-all/end-all in understanding that clause, at least take it into consideration as historical data among the Particular Baptist context showing the language of the “man of sin” being used more broadly and moderately than some might think.

Click the image for a larger version.

The old covenant of works and the new covenant of grace

The covenant of grace is the new covenant.

Hutchinson, A Treatise Concerning the Covenants, 93

From Edward Hutchinson’s “A Treatise Concerning the Covenant and Baptism Dialogue-wise…”

Click the image for a larger version.

Transcription:

Poed. But pray Sir what think you of the covenant made to Abraham and his natural seed, what kind of Covenant was it?
Bap. I confess there are various opinions about it; some say it was a Covenant of grace; others, a Covenant of works, others, a mixt Covenant: But surely that Covenant made with Abraham, and his natural seed called the Covenant of Circumcision, or Covenant of the Law was not the Covenant of Eternal life and salvation, which was made with all the elect in Christ upon the condition of faith: but a distinct Covenant of it self concerning the worship and service of God, and so may be called a Covenant of works, rather then a Covenant of grace; though there was also grace in it, as there was in all the Covenants that God ever made with men—yet we say, it was a distinct Covenant, and therefore called the old Covenant, and the Covenant of grace the new Covenant.