Particular Baptist Covenant Theology

by Sam Renihan – Original source here)

The Particular Baptists emerged from the English Puritan movement within England’s parishes and universities. Several of the first-generation Particular Baptists attended Cambridge and Oxford and began their ministerial careers as priests in the church of England. Lay ministers among the Particular Baptists studied and preached Reformed theology. To the Particular Baptists, a consistent application of Reformed theology yielded congregational and Baptist conclusions. This was the case in their covenant theology, which developed within the unity and diversity of the larger branches of the Reformed covenantal family tree.

The heart of Reformed covenant theology is the substantial distinction between the law and the gospel. This foundational distinction was the basis for the more developed expressions of the legal and evangelical covenants, or the covenants of works and grace. The covenant theology of the Particular Baptists joined the law-gospel unity concerning condemnation in Adam and salvation in Christ. They taught the doctrines of the covenants of works and grace clearly.[1]

The Second London Confession of Faith (1677) confesses the covenant of works, moving its details from chapter seven to chapter six.

God created Man upright, and perfect, and gave him a righteous law, which had been unto life had he kept it, and threatened death upon the breach thereof (2LCF 6.1, italics added).
Later in the same chapter, the confession describes Adam’s federal headship. He stood in “the room, and stead of all mankind” who receive his “imputed” guilt and “corrupted nature.” Chapter seven specifically identifies the “law unto life” of chapter six as a covenant. In fact, it states that the “law unto life” can only be a covenant.

The distance between God and the Creature is so great, that although reasonable Creatures do owe obedience unto him as their Creator, yet they could never have attained the reward of Life, but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which he hath been pleased to express, by way of Covenant (2LCF 7.1, italics added).
The Particular Baptists joined the unity of Reformed covenant theology, not only regarding the covenant of works, but also regarding the covenant of grace. Salvation in Christ came by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone throughout all ages. The elect, given to Christ in the covenant of redemption, receive his benefits in the covenant of grace (cf. 2LCF 7.2-3).

The Particular Baptists’ covenantal distinctives derive from diversity already present in paedobaptist thought. A large branch within the Reformed family tree taught that the Mosaic covenant is the covenant of works in substance. A similar but distinct branch viewed the Mosaic covenant as a covenant of works, though distinct from the original covenant of works. Both branches assigned a subservient function to the Mosaic covenant as promoting the progress and revelation of the covenant of grace. A third branch argued that the covenant of works was materially “made known,” “declared,” or “revealed” to Israel, while not formally “made” with them. The Mosaic covenant was not a covenant of works in substance. The distinctive feature of Particular Baptist covenant theology was to apply these tools to the Abrahamic covenant, concluding that it was a legal, earthly, national, and typological covenant.

Using the substance logic of Reformed theology (law-gospel), the Particular Baptists argued that to enjoy the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant one must obey a positive law, circumcision. Disobedience disinherits. Nehemiah Coxe said, “we first meet with an express Injunction of Obedience to a Command (and that of positive Right) as the Condition of Covenant Interest.”[2] This is the nature of a covenant of works.

Based on this foundation, Particular Baptists immediately connected the Abrahamic covenant to the Mosaic covenant. Coxe said:

In this Mode of transacting [the covenant], 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.[3]

The Reformed tradition already made the argument regarding Moses. The Baptists pointed out that the same arrangement (obedience for blessing) was already present with the same parties (Abraham and his descendants) and the same commands (positive laws) long before the expanded giving of the law. The span of time and the difference in the quantity of the laws was the result of the covenant given to nomads as opposed to a people about to enter into a complete kingdom.

The Particular Baptists argued that the Bible assigns to Abraham an earthly offspring and a heavenly offspring, and that it sorts them into two different covenants, an earthly covenant according to the flesh, and a heavenly covenant according to the Spirit. This, they argued, was the intracanonical exegesis of the Bible itself, comparing Galatians 3-4 and Genesis 17. To the Particular Baptists, the paedobaptist model conflated two distinct seeds into one covenant and imposed the typical earthborn national model of Israel on the antitypical heavenborn transnational church.

It was important to the Particular Baptists to maintain a close connection between the old covenant(s) and the covenant of grace. Though they were distinct, they were not to be divided. The old covenant(s) were subservient to the covenant of grace and made its benefits available through typology. But, in and of themselves, they did not grant heavenly blessings. “Notwithstanding the respect this Covenant hath to the Covenant of Grace, it yet remains distinct from it; and can give no more then external and typical Blessings unto a Typical Seed.”[4] The covenant of grace was materially made known in the old covenant(s), but not formally made until Christ shed his blood. The heavenborn people of God began in the garden and extend to all ages. The earthborn people of God began with Abraham and ended with the cross.

Where Reformed covenant theology was united, the Particular Baptists were united with them. Where Reformed covenant theology was diverse, the Particular Baptists lived within that diversity.

1. The covenant of works does not feature prominently in Particular Baptist works on covenant theology due to the polemical nature of their covenantal writings. It was not a point of debate. When it arises in their writings, it’s treated as a given. I am not aware of any Particular Baptist who denied the covenant of works in name, or in concept, though I am aware of at least twenty-three unique instances of the covenant of works in seventeenth-century Particular Baptist literature (i.e., individual authors). In addition to these instances, there are many more speaking of Adam as a “public person,” i.e., federal head.
2. Coxe, A Discourse of the Covenants That God made with Men before the Law (London: J[ohn] D[arby], 1681), 104.
3. Coxe, A Discourse of the Covenants, 104.
4. Coxe, A Discourse of the Covenants, 109.

Covenant Theology Is Not Replacement Theology

Article: Covenant Theology Is Not Replacement Theology by R. Scott Clark (original source here)

Recently I had a question asking whether “covenant theology” is so-called “replacement theology.” Those dispensational critics of Reformed covenant theology who accuse it of teaching that the New Covenant church has “replaced” Israel do not understand historic Reformed covenant theology. They are imputing to Reformed theology a way of thinking about redemptive history that has more in common with dispensationalism than it does with Reformed theology.

First, the very category of “replacement” is foreign to Reformed theology because it assumes a dispensational, Israeleo-centric way of thinking. It assumes that the temporary, national people was, in fact, intended to be the permanent arrangement. Such a way of thinking is contrary to the promise in Gen. 3:15. The promise was that there would be a Savior. The national people was only a means to that end, not an end in itself. According to Paul in Ephesians 2:11-22, in Christ the dividing wall has been destroyed. It cannot be rebuilt. The two peoples (Jews and Gentiles) have been made one in Christ. Among those who are united to Christ by grace alone, through faith alone, there is no Jew nor Gentile (Rom. 10:12; Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11).

At least some forms of dispensationalism have suggested that God intended the national covenant with Israel to be permanent. According to Reformed theology, the Mosaic covenant was never intended to be permanent. According to Galatians 3 (and chapter 4), the Mosaic covenant was a codicil to the Abrahamic covenant. A codicil is added to an existing document. It doesn’t replace the existing document. Dispensationalism reverses things. It makes the Abrahamic covenant a codicil to the Mosaic. Hebrews 3 says that Moses was a worker in Jesus’ house. Dispensationalism makes Jesus a worker in Moses’ house.

Second, with respect to salvation, Reformed covenant theology does not juxtapose Israel and the church. For Reformed theology, the church has always been the Israel of God and the Israel of God has always been the church. Reformed covenant theology distinguishes the old and new covenants (2 Cor. 3; Heb. 7-10). It recognizes that the church was temporarily administered through a typological, national people, but the church has existed since Adam, Noah, and Abraham; and it existed under Moses and David; and it exists under Christ.

Third, the church has always been one, under various administrations, under types, shadows, and now under the reality in Christ, because the object of faith has always been one. Jesus the Messiah was the object of faith of the typological church (Heb. 11; Luke 24; 2 Cor. 3), and he remains the object of faith.

Fourth, despite the abrogation of the national covenant by the obedience, death, and resurrection of Christ (Col. 2:14), the NT church has not “replaced” the Jews. Paul says that God “grafted” the Gentiles into the people of God. Grafting is not replacement, it is addition.

It has been widely held by Reformed theologians that there will be a great conversion of Jews. Some call this “anti-Semitism.” This isn’t anti-Semitism, it is Christianity. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). The alternative to Jesus’ exclusivist claim is universalism, which is nothing less than an assault on the person and finished work of Christ. Other Reformed writers understand the promises in Rom. 11 to refer only to the salvation of all the elect (Rom. 2:28) rather than to a future conversion of Jews. In any event, Reformed theology is not anti-semitic. We have always hoped and prayed for the salvation, in Christ, sola gratia et sola fide, of all of God’s elect, Jew and Gentile alike.

Covenant Theology Series

Dr. Derek Thomas – The God of Promise – Understanding Covenant in God’s Plan

Lecture 1 – Do This And Live – God’s Covenant with Adam

Lecture 2 – The Just Shall Live By Faith – God’s Covenant with Abraham

Lecture 3 – Under The Law – God’s Covenant with Moses

Lecture 4 – Not Under Law But Under Grace – God’s New Covenant

Lecture 5 – Questions And Answers

Sunday Sermon – Jesus: Mediator of the New Covenant

Ten Things You Should Know about the Biblical Covenants

by: Thomas R. Schreiner (original source here)

Thomas R. Schreiner (MDiv and ThM, Western Conservative Baptist Seminary; PhD, Fuller Theological Seminary) is the James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation and associate dean of the school of theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

1. Covenants are the backbone of the biblical story.

Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum have argued that the covenants advance the storyline of the Bible in their book Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants, and they are on target. If one understands how the covenants function in the Bible, one will have a good grasp of how the Bible fits together. If we see the big picture in Scripture, we will do a better job of interpreting the details, and the covenant plays a fundamental role in seeing the big picture.

2. Covenant can be defined as follows: a covenant is a chosen relationship in which two parties make binding promises to each other.

A covenant should be distinguished from a contract because it is a personal relationship which people voluntarily enter. The definition of covenant here is rather broad, but that is because there are many different kinds of covenants in Scripture. Marriage is a good illustration of a covenant, for a man and woman choose to enter into a relationship with one another and make promises to one another. Not all covenants were alike in the ancient world. In some covenants a person with more authority made a covenant with those having less authority and power. Such was the case when a king made a relationship with his subjects.

3. Some definitions of covenant are too narrow and don’t fit every covenant in Scripture.

Some scholars have said that covenants always presuppose an already existing relationship. The Gibeonite story shows that this is not the case, for Israel didn’t have any relations with the Gibeonites before entering into a covenant with them (Josh. 9:3–27). Also, some say that all covenants are enacted with blood, but this isn’t true of the marriage covenant or the covenant between Jonathan and David (1 Sam. 18:1–4). Nor is there evidence of a sacrifice at the inauguration of the Lord’s covenant with David (2 Samuel 7). We need to distinguish, when talking about covenants, about what is often true and what is always the case.

4. Virtually all the covenants have both conditional and unconditional elements.

Since covenant partners obligate themselves to one another with promises and call curses upon themselves if they disobey, we are not surprised to learn that virtually all covenants have both conditional and unconditional elements. There are clearly conditions in the covenant with Israel made at Sinai. Some scholars say that the covenant with Abraham and David are unconditional, but when we look at the text carefully, conditions are clearly present (e.g., Gen. 17; 2 Sam. 7:14). What needs to be investigated is how the conditional and unconditional elements relate to one another. The principle enunciated here, however, also has exceptions. The covenant with Noah, for instance, seems to be unconditional.

5. There are good reasons to believe there is a covenant at creation.

Some scholars doubt whether there was a covenant with Adam, but we have good reasons for seeing a covenant at creation. Even though the word covenant is lacking, the elements of a covenant relationship are present. The word covenant doesn’t need to be present for a covenant to exist since the term covenant isn’t found in the inauguration of the Davidic covenant. The claim that all covenants are redemptive isn’t borne out by the use of the term in the Scriptures. The elements of a covenant were present at creation, for blessing was promised for obedience and cursing for disobedience. Continue reading

Calvinism and Covenant Theology

Article by Tom Hicks: The Five Points of Calvinism and Covenant Theology (original source here)

In recent years, there has been a recovery of the five points of Calvinism among many evangelicals, but there has not been a concomitant revival of the covenant theology of seventeenth century Puritanism as the rich soil in which Calvinistic soteriology grows. This post will not attempt to thoroughly defend every doctrine mentioned, but to show the connection between Calvinism and the theological covenants of covenant theology. The Synod of Dordt listed the five points of Calvinism, not in their contemporary order of “TULIP,” but in the order of “ULTIP,” which is the order I’ll be using here.

1. Unconditional Election. The eternal decree of unconditional election is the foundation of covenant theology and the doctrine of salvation. God chooses to save sinners not because of any foreseen goodness or conditions in them, but merely because of His good pleasure to redeem a people for Himself to bring Him glory. Speaking of unconditional divine election, Paul writes, “So then it depends not on human will or exertion but on God, who has mercy” (Romans 9:16). There are no conditions in God’s choosing individuals for salvation. God’s choice is based entirely upon His sovereign will: “He has mercy on whomever He wills and He hardens whomever He wills” (Romans 9:18).

2. Limited Atonement. Limited atonement might be better termed “particular redemption” or “definite atonement.” It means that Christ’s death is absolutely effective to save, purchasing every life blessing for His chosen people, including new birth, faith, repentance, justification, adoption, as well as an enduring holy life (Rom 8:31-39). Hebrews 9:12 tells us that Christ accomplished salvation for His people, “by means of His own blood, thus securing eternal redemption.” Notice Christ’s blood “secures” redemption. It doesn’t just make redemption possible, but actually secures redemption. His blood secures “eternal” redemption, not temporary redemption. And it secures “redemption.” That is, the blood of Christ actually redeems and doesn’t merely make a provision for redemption. Since only a limited number of people are redeemed, we must conclude that Christ died only to save His chosen people. And this is in fact what the Scriptures teach. Matthew 1:21 says, “He will save His people from their sins.” In John 10:15, Jesus says, “I lay down my life for the sheep.” In John 17:9, Jesus says, “I am not praying for the world, but for those whom you have given me.” Christ’s priestly work of atonement and prayer is limited to the elect alone.

So, what does this have to do with covenant theology? Covenant theology views “limited atonement” as rooted in the eternal “covenant of redemption” between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect. In this eternal covenant (an aspect of the eternal decree), the Father appointed the Son to enter into this world, to fulfill the law of God, to die for His chosen people, and to rise from the dead. The Son agreed to accomplish the Father’s will (John 17:4). A covenant is “an agreement between two or more persons;” therefore, it is proper to view this agreement between the Father and the Son covenantally. Based on this eternal covenant, or agreement, between the Father and the Son, the Son came into the world, kept the law of God and accomplished the redemption of the elect in time (2 Timothy 1:9-10). The whole of Isaiah 53 is about Christ’s temporal obedience to this eternal covenant of redemption, and Isaiah 54:10 explicitly calls it the “covenant of peace.” Continue reading