Engaging With 1689 (1)

Introduction
Recently I had opportunity to engage in a friendly dialogue with some Baptist scholars over the merits of the project proposed in Recovering the Reformed Confession. That project is, as they say, wending through the publication process. Because of space limitations I was unable to do a couple of things, namely, to engage more fully with some of the texts and approaches to Baptist covenant theology (as distinct from Reformed covenant theology). There are approximately 60 million North American evangelicals—by contrast there are probably no more than about 500,000 confessionally Reformed Christians in North America. Virtually all of those evangelicals either assume or consciously confess some version of a Baptist account of redemptive history and some version of a Baptist view of the church and sacraments. Because of the number of variations inherent in any large group any taxonomy would be impossible in a short series of essays. For the sake of the discussion let us say that there are three major views to be engaged, the Generic Evangelical Baptist (GEB) approach, the Older Predestinarian Baptist view (OPB), and the Particular Baptist (PB) view.

The GEB view does not have a highly detailed view of the biblical covenants, if it has a view of them at all. Tom Ascol writes of an “outright rejection of covenantalism by some Baptists.” It thinks of the promises to Abraham as earthly, not spiritual. For most under the influence of the GEB, the great distinction is between the Old Testament and the New. If there is a text that drives their reading of redemptive history it is probably Jeremiah 31:31–33. In this view it is assumed that Jeremiah’s contrast is between the entire OT and the NT. Some in this approach affirm predestination (e.g., the so-called Young, Restless, and Reformed movement) but they do not identify particularly with the Second London [Baptist] Confession of 1689 or other such confessional documents or traditions. Most, however, under this heading reject a predestinarian theology.

In the OPB view, there is more attention to the OT covenants. In this approach, represented by the older generation (post-World War II) “Reformed Baptists” (a designation that, as far as I can tell, only became widely used post-WWII) learned their “Reformed” theology from Presbyterian theologians and institutions and saw themselves as one with them on most things. They affirm the 1689 but arguably read it through the lens of the Westminster Confession of Faith. Thus, their approach to Abraham and the other OT covenants sounds very much like that of their Presbyterian and Reformed fellows. The great difference seemed to be their understanding of the highly eschatological nature of the New Covenant, which distinguished it from the OT, and which precludes the administration to infants of the sign of admission to the New Covenant. They too tended to read Jeremiah 31 in roughly the same way as the GEBs.

In the PB view, the OPBs did not pay sufficient attention to the historical context in which Particular Baptist (the original designation) view developed. It was more or less unaware of Nehemiah Coxe (d. 1689). The brief biography of Coxe by my friend and colleague James Renihan, “An Excellent and Judicious Divine: Nehemiah Coxe” published in Ronald D. Miller, James Renihan, and Francisco Orozco, editors, Nehemiah Coxe and John Owen: Covenant Theology From Adam to Christ (Palmdale, CA: Reformed Baptist Academic Press, 2005), says as much. The PBs, influenced by the recovery of Coxe and other earlier PB theologians, have re-examined the 1689 in light of that recovery and have seen more discontinuity between the 1689 and the Reformed reading of redemptive history. It is adherents to the PB view who have alerted me to the differences, e.g., where the OPBs were quite willing to say with the Reformed that there is “one covenant of grace, multiple administrations,” the PBs are not. For them, as I have previously indicated, the covenant of grace was promised to Adam et al. but it was not actually administered under the types and shadows. There is warrant for this view in the language of the 1689 and we shall look further at Coxe to see he relates to this view. The upshot is that the PB view is rather more radical than the GEB view and the OPB view. Adherents of this view openly describe the Abrahamic covenant as a “covenant of works” not a covenant of grace. They reject the “one covenant, multiple administrations” approach. For them, the covenant of grace only enters history in the New Covenant. In this way, there are some connections between the GEB view and the PB view. The antithesis between the Reformed and PB and GEB views is clearer and greater than with the OPB view.

In light of the manifest discontinuities between each of these three Baptist approaches and Reformed theology since the 1520s, we must reject Michael Haykin’s assertion that the republication of Coxe’s work, “clearly demonstrates that 17th century (sic) Calvinistic Baptists like Coxe—and his modern descendants in this century—are fully a part of that stream of Reformed theology that has come down from the Reformation work of men like Huldreich Zwingli, John Calvin, Heinrich Bulliner, and Théodore de Bèze.” This remarkable assertion is, at best, only partly true. The OPBs and PBs share the general soteriology of the Reformers, salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, sovereign grace, their doctrine of God (e.g., Dolezal’s excellent work), anthropology, and Christology but they obviously did not share the same reading of redemptive history. The Reformed placed great stock in their reading of redemptive history. They worked it out in increasing detail from the 1520s through the 17th century. It was not accidental but essential to their theology. They not only wrote whole volumes on it (e.g., Bullinger’s 1534 De testamento, Olevianus  1585 De substantia, and Cocceius’ De foedere, but they included the substance of the same approach in their systematic works. To the degree our Baptist friends assert that the Abrahamic covenant was a covenant of works, they have sharply departed from the theology of Luther, Zwingli, Bullinger, Calvin, and Beza. Anyone who proposed that theory in Zürich or Geneva would find himself persona non grata. Our Baptist friends did not and do not share the Reformed way of reading Scripture (hermeneutics). At question is whether covenant theology is, as B. B. Warfield said, “architectonic” to Reformed theology. If it is, then Haykin has exaggerated the unity between the Reformed and the Baptists of whom he is thinking.

Part 2: Differences Between the Reformed and PBs on “Administration” and “Substance.”

RESOURCES

A Curriculum For Those Wrestling Through Covenant Theology and Infant Baptism

51 comments

  1. I was raised in a highly-dispensational Baptist setting, very much in the GEB camp. I have since left that setting for a historic Reformed 3-forms confessional setting. This was a very intriguing post and I look forward to future posts!

  2. Amen! Although they want to call themselves, Reformed, some modern Reformed Baptists have a completely different understanding of redemptive history and eschatology. Unlike the Reformers, they see a sharp division between the old and new covenants, where everything in the bible up to the death of Christ is the old covenant and an administration of the law. In their view, the covenant of grace is synonymous to the new covenant, and did not exist until the death of Christ. Anyone who was saved before the death of Christ was saved by anticipation that God would someday establish a new covenant, rather than by believing in the Savior, that the administration of grace, through the old covenant sacrifices, pointed to. I find this deeply disturbing, because it suggests that there was a way of salvation that was based on something other than trusting in the PROMISED ONE.

  3. Great! I’ve been looking forward to this.

    Oh, not trying to get you to “jump the gun” on this, Dr. Clark, but don’t 1689ers say something about a “duality” to the Abrahamic Covenant, and cite Meredith Kline or somesuch? I always got a bit confused on that point….

    • Andrew,

      Two PBs recently said the following:

      Therefore, the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic Covenants were national, temporary, and typological covenants that placed Israel in an external relationship with God and in which the new covenant was revealed through types and shadows. On the one hand they are, in their substance and essence, distinct from the covenant of grace, and on the other hand they are related to it through rich typology and historical progression.

      This account of redemptive history is radically different from the Reformed. Though we see the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic as administrations of the covenant of grace, each playing their own role in the gradual unfolding and outworking of salvation, they cannot be so lumped together.

      E.g., in Gal 3, Paul distinguishes Abraham from Moses. Abraham is fundamental to the covenant of grace in a way that Moses is not. Moses can said to have expired in a way that the Abrahamic cannot. All typology is not legal. All typological is not Mosaic. Moses and David, because they administer the national people (there was no “national people” under Abraham) are distinct from Abraham.

      The money quote: “are distinct in their substance…”. This language is utterly contrary to Reformed theology. We confess that there is one covenant of grace variously administered and that the substance of that covenant (Olevianus) was present under each of the typological administrations not merely by promise or anticipation but actually, in history. The Abrahamic covenant was the covenant of grace. It was never a covenant of works (see below). It was a spiritual covenant administered outwardly through Abraham’s seed. For more on all this see the resource page linked above.

      Because the Mosaic covenant Controls both the Abrahamic and the Davidic covenants, it is the primary referent of the New Testament when speaking about the old covenant. However, the Mosaic covenant cannot be divided or disconnected from the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, and thus all three combined to form the old covenant, in every aspect typological of the covenant of grace, yet in every aspect different in substance from the covenant of grace.”

      Again, this is nothing but an attempt to put a Moses mask on Abraham. See above.

      “…in every aspect typological of, yet in every aspect different in substance.”

      This a very clear deviation not only from Reformed theology but from historic Protestant theology, medieval theology, and patristic theology.

      As to Kline, we don’t confess him. We confess:

      For that reason we detest the error of the Anabaptists who are not content with a single baptism once received and also condemn the baptism of the children of believers. We believe our children ought to be baptized and sealed with the sign of the covenant, as little children were circumcised in Israel on the basis of the same promises made to our children.

      Meredith, in Kingdom Prologue came to reject that view. He was wrong.

  4. Interesting. As far as understand PB (from my reading of Pascal Denault and talks with PB friends) understand the Abrahamic covenant to be a dichotomous covenant, i.e. a covenant of grace ‘and’ a covenant of works. Somehow they find support to this claim from Jhon Owen’s view of the mosaic covenant. They link circumcision with the ‘works’ part of it… thus the Abrahamic covenant can not be the covenant of grace and still being able to claim that Abraham is not Moses (since Moses is a primarly a covenant of works in their view).

    I am looking forward to the second part of this article to see how you engage this group which I believe it is growing in popularity.

    Blessings!

    • Eduardo,

      See my reply to Andrew. The PBs are saying more than that. It’s dichotomous, in as much as, for them, Abraham is partly spiritual in its anticipation of the covenant of grace and partly earthly insofar as it’s essentially earthly and an administration of the covenant of works.

      The key point here that I don’t think is sufficiently appreciated, is the PB claim that though the covenant of grace is promised to Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David, it never actually enters history under the typological period. They are following Coxe, who argued that it is “revealed” but not actually present.

      The Reformed confess that the covenant of grace was present actually in history. Covenant households were initiated into the visible administration of the covenant of grace. For the Reformed it was not merely future and certainly not (see above) different in substance from the covenant of grace. The Abrahamic covenant was an administration of the covenant of grace (not merely an anticipation or a promise).

      As to Owen’s views, I disagree with my friend Rich Barcellos. I think my PB friends misunderstand Owen, in part because they read their view of the Mosaic and Abrahamic covenants back into Owen.

    • Chris,

      I’m quoting Sam and Micah below. I read Sam’s post.

      There are difficulties with the language but Sam is confusing the proleptic participation that all the OT saints had by virtue of anticipating the incarnation with the covenant of grace.

      As I’ve already noted, Sam says “different in substance.” Those aren’t my words. Those are his words.

      I’m using historic Reformed categories because this is a space devoted to recovering historic Reformed theology, piety, and practice. “Administration” and “participation” are the words that we have always used. It is good for us to understand that Reformed and Baptist writers use those terms differently but I don’t think Reformed folk will misunderstand what I’m saying.

      Sam (following Coxe) means different things than we mean by those words.

  5. From the 1689 Confession, chapter 7, “Of God’s Covenant”, which describes the “covenant of grace”… “This covenant is revealed in the gospel; first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman, and afterwards by farther steps, until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament…and it is alone by the grace of this covenant that all the posterity of fallen Adam that ever were saved did obtain life and blessed immortality.” To write and comment that for Particular Baptists, “the covenant of grace only enters history in the New Covenant” is slightly misleading. Clearly, PBs confess that the effects of the covenant of grace entered history in the experience of Adam and every generation following. And – I’m guessing now – I suspect that PB theologians would recognise that all those that benefited from the covenant of grace until the “last times” of the new covenant were (duty bound to be) in covenant relation to God through one of the historic covenants. So the covenantal nature of God’s relationship to his people is fully recognised within a PB framework. PBs do not thereby confuse the nature of the covenants the way Reformed theologians do with alarming consistency… John Murray and M Kline being the great 20thC examples, John Owen being the classic all time example!

    • David,

      This is only part 1 of a series. I intend to explain why I write/speak this way. The 1689 itself only says “revealed.” Coxe made much of this. This is why I distinguished between the three different types (broadly) of Baptists. I understand that not everyone who identifies with the 2nd London thinks or speaks this way but there’s good reason to think that when ch. 7 says revealed but doesn’t go one to speak of an administration through types and shadows, that there is a real difference between the the Reformed and the PB.

      When the Reformed talk about administration, we don’t just talk about promises or types or even effects. Further, we certainly wouldn’t say, as some PBs do, that the covenant of grace is different in substance than the covenant of grace. We say that the Abrahamic was a historical of the covenant of grace.

      As to confusing the covenants, you’re entitled to your opinion but this space is dedicated to the historic Reformed theology, piety, and practice as confessed by the Reformed churches.

  6. It is my understanding that Christ, the Promised One who would save His people from there sins IS the substance of the covenant of grace! If PB see Him promised in the old covenant, why this difficulty in seeing the continuity of the covenant of grace that starts with the promise to Adam? I would suggest that it is to divorce baptism from circumcision as the initiating sign of the new covenant. Since there is no proof that infant initiation was abrogated under the new covenant, they must make the case that it is sharply different in substance from the old covenant, and that creates the problem of how people were saved under the old covenant if it is different in substance from Christ, the substance of the new covenant.

  7. At the risk of tooting my own horn, I wrote a series of articles on the biblical covenants which could be seen as representative of the PB view, or at least a PB view. (I can’t speak for everyone on every point, but I can speak for the general trend.)

    We believe that the Covenant of Works consisted only of the covenant made with Adam, and the Covenant of Grace consists only of the covenant made in Christ’s blood, which is the New Covenant. It was given to the OT saints by way of a promise. It was “administered” to the elect in that time in the sense that they were justified by faith. It was not “administered” in the sense that they participated in the outward ordinances. The Abrahamic Covenant stands alone, but contains a foretaste of both the Old and New Covenants. Circumcision, with its command to do this or be cursed, was connected with the Law and Abraham’s physical progeny. The unconditional promise of a seed pointed forward to the establishment of the New Covenant in Jesus Christ and a spiritual progeny. A dinstinctive feature if PB covenant theology is the two progenies if Abraham who were given different covenants and different promises. One was earthly and typological. The other was heavenly and complete. Standard Reformed covenant theology combines the progenies of Abraham and their two covenants. We separate them based on our interpretation of the Apostle Paul’s teachings and the book of Hebrews.

    The main similarity between PBs and those who confess the WCF or 3FU is that we hold to the view of a Covenant of Works/Covenant of Grace dichotomy. Many Baptists do not accept this concept, but not so for the PBs. We are also closer to the Reformed on our views of the Lord’s Supper, the divisions of the Law, and worship.

    • Amy,

      Thank you for this.

      1. I am well aware that modern Particular Baptists are committed to the covenant of works/covenant of grace distinction but I note that the 2nd London doesn’t explicitly teach a covenant of works. 7.2 of the WCF explicitly teaches a covenant of works by name but there is no equivalent language in the 2nd London/1689. I think this is interesting. I don’t know what it means because I don’t know what the debates were in the 1630s and 40s among the Particular Baptists over the (foedus operum) covenant of works among the PBs. I would be happy to be instructed.

      2. You seem to be ratifying what I said above. I sense PBs and the Reformed use the word “administration” very differently. What you call an “administration” we do not. Indeed, I notice that the 1689 uses neither the noun administration nor the verb to administer whereas our confessions (and theologians) do. E.g., Caspar Olevianus’ work, On the Substance of the Covenant of Grace was in two parts, on the substance of the covenant of grace, which he summarized with the Abrahamic formula, “I will be your God to you and to your children,” and its external administration. The 2nd half of De substantia concerns the historical, earthy, administration of the covenant of grace in redemptive history and in the visible church.

      3. We understand that there has always been two kinds of people in the visible covenant community, who participate in the outward administration of the covenant of grace: the elect and the reprobate. Like Baptists, we do not know who are the elect and who are the reprobate, so we operate on the basis of divine promise (see above) and profession of faith. We understand that there were earthly, typological land promises but we also understand from Hebrews that the believers were never looking forward to the land. Had Abraham been looking for an earthly city, he could have had one. Hebrews says something to that effect. So, we don’t “combine them.” We recognize that they are both in the visible covenant community. As Paul says, “not all Israel is Israel” and “a Jew is one who is a Jew inwardly.”

      4. What I do not yet understand is how, in the absence of administration as we understand it, believers such as Abraham received the effects they did. To this Reformed guy the PB version of administration seems like the absence thereof. It seems (I’m not saying that it really is) a little magical.

      On the value of the external administration see:

      What Advantage Has The Jew? Much In Every Way.

    • One of the things that I find troubling about the covenant of works/covenant of grace docotomy of PB is that the covenant of grace is limited to the new covenant and the sacrificial system of the old covenant is not seen as pointing to Christ, the substance of the new covenant, and therefore not to the covenant of grace. That suggests to me that it divides the people of God into two completely different groups. As if God has two different ways of dealing with His people, treating those under the old covenant as a fleshly, earthy people who are looking for earthly rewards, but that those under the new covenant are being treated as a spiritual people being offered a heavenly inheritance through Christ. But how some of these old covenant people could be saved under the new covenant/covenant of grace, which was not in existance, according to PB, and when the sacrifices are not considered to be a picture sermon of Christ, the substance of the covenant of grace, how could they anticipate their salvation, when it seems that the religious practices were not an administration of the promise of salvation offered in the covenant of grace.

  8. Thank you for this very positive dialogue. I appreciate your willingness to engage with the different threads in Baptist thought over the years, some of which are vastly different from one another. I want everyone to study the scriptures for themselves, visit sites such as this one, do their research, pray for the illumination of the Spirit, and then act according to conscience. What I request from my confessionally Reformed brothers and sisters is simply a willingness to engage in a positive and gracious manner, and to make a good faith effort to present our views in an accurate manner. I feel that you are making such an effort here, and I hope that I always reciprocate, as that is my goal.

    As for the differences between the Westminster Confession of Faith and the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, I would encourage your readers to visit this webpage, which compares the two documents side-by-side: http://www.proginosko.com/docs/wcf_lbcf.html. One of the key differences that is sometimes ignored comes in point 6 of chapter one. The WCF says the whole counsel of God is “either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture”. The LBCF says it is “either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture”. The difference is subtle, but likely reflects the belief of the drafters of the LBCF that the Presbyterian/Reformed view of the covenants and baptism required an extra logical step.

    As for the Covenant of Works, you will note in Chapter VI, Point 1 of the LBCF that it refers to a “a righteous law, which had been unto life had he kept it, and threatened death upon the breach thereof”. This was an addition to the wording of the WCF in that same section, and it seems to clearly connect with the Covenant of Works. On point 3 of this section, the LBCF adds again to the WCF by saying that our first parents were “standing in the room and stead of all mankind”. This establishes the principle of federal headship. Chapter VII, Point 1 of the LBCF again affirms of Adam and Eve that “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”, implying that apart from a covenant, humans had no way of attaining eternal life. This would include the original Covenant of Works given to Adam, which offered eternal life in exchange for perfect obedience.

    Why the drafters of the LBCF then decided to skip over a more explicit mention of the Covenant of Works in Chapter VII, I do not know. I suspect there are people who do know, but I am not, as they say, in the know. I can tell you that “1689 Federalism”, as we are now calling it, consists not only of the 1689 LBCF, but also the writings of various Particular Baptist theologians of that time, preeminent among whom is Nehemiah Coxe, as you mentioned. One resource that is very important in this regard is Benjamin Keach’s Baptist Catechism, from which I will now quote:

    “Q. 16. What special act of providence did God exercise towards man, in the estate wherein he was created?
    A. When God had created man, He entered into a covenant of works with him, upon condition of perfect obedience, forbidding him to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, upon pain of death. (Gen. 2:16,17; Gal. 3:12; Rom. 5:12)”

    Here we have a clear teaching of the Covenant of Works. The general opinion among Particular Baptist theologians of that time, and the universal one among Particular Baptists today, is that a Covenant of Works was indeed established with Adam. Dr. Richard Barcellos has just published a book on this topic called “Getting the Garden Right” that could be of benefit to Presbyterian and Reformed readers in addition to Particular Baptists. Therefore, I think we can conclude that the absence of one line notwithstanding, the Particular Baptists had a clear concept of the Covenant of Works.

    When I referred to the P&R combining Abraham’s progeny, I was not meaning to paper over the visible/invisible Church distinction. This is an essential element of Reformed theology in the Westminster and Three Forms tradition. We too see such a distinction, but firmly believe that the persons you refer to as being merely in the visible Church are not in the Church at all, nor are they in the New Covenant. We believe the New Covenant was made only with Abraham’s spiritual seed, whereas the Old Covenant was made with his physical seed. For the confessionally Reformed, the difference is not one of physical vs. spiritual, but rather those who only have the administration and those who have the substance. Very importantly, we believe that Gentiles are not connected to Abraham by anything but faith. The confessionally Reformed teach that children of believers are connected to Abraham irrespective of personal faith. This is another difference between us.

    Finally…I chuckle at your use of the term “magical” to refer to our understanding of the New Covenant, as this is how I have heard Lutherans refer to our understanding of the Lord’s Supper (by which I mean both my view and yours). I understand why this seems to outsiders to be an oddity. It is one of the questions raised by Particular Baptist covenant theology, without a doubt. However, I do not find it to be as much of a difficulty as some portray it. Consider, for example, that both of our systems must account for the fact that the payment made at Calvary was applied, as it were, before the fact. We both believe that the substance of the Covenant of Grace was granted to the Old Testament saints before the deed that made it possible actually occurred in chronological history. How could this be? Well, for your part, you say that it was administered under covenants instituted in the blood of animals. We do not believe any covenant instituted in animal blood can save, but only that which Christ called “the New Covenant IN MY BLOOD”. Therefore, we take Paul’s word when he said the greater things were given to Abraham by means of a promise.

    Again, how can this be? How could someone be saved without the formal inauguration of a covenant? The answer, I would argue, is rooted in eternity past. In Chapter VIII of the LBCF, we read, “It pleased God, in His eternal purpose, to choose and ordain the Lord Jesus, his only begotten Son, according to the covenant made between them both, to be the mediator between God and man.” This is a clear reference to the Covenant of Redemption. This was a covenant made outside of linear time, in which the eternal nature of the Godhead is revealed. Since the eternal God does not change, when the Father gave the Son a people to be His own, it was as good as done. We see this playing out within linear time. We know the atonement took place at a particular point on the timeline. However, from the eternal perspective of God, He sees only His eternal love for us in which we were predestined for salvation. He has declared our end at the beginning, and in so doing, He passed over in forbearance the sins of those Old Testament saints until such a time as His redemption was revealed.

    I apologize for this very long reply. I hope that I have provided something in the way of an answer to your questions. All the best to you and M.G. : )

    • When I sketch the PB view on the whiteboard, I draw an arc from Adam to the cross to represent the PB view. To diagram the Reformed view I would draw a line through Noah, Abraham, etc.

      So, yes, Abraham et al received the benefits of Christ, in whom they believed, whom the apprehended by faith, in the midst of the typological administration of the covenant of grace. Of course the sacrifices were of value only insofar as they anticipated Christ’s sacrifice.

      For us the covenant of grace was not merely future for Noah et al. It was actually present. It wasn’t the new administration but it was a real administration of the one covenant of grace.

    • Dr. Clark and Amy, thank you for this dialogue, it is very helpful.
      Though I am Baptist, I am having trouble seeing how the benefits of the CoG can be administered in the OT if it does not substantially exist yet in history. Amy, you suggested the answer lies in the Covenant of Redemption. However, doesn’t the CoR address election in eternity, while the issue is how the benefits of the CoG are administered temporally? The issue being temporal, I would suggest that the CoR is not a means of understanding the administration of the benefits of the CoG.

      Looking forward to this series!

      Blessings

    • I appreciate your comment, Alex. God uses means, but if the religious practices of the old covenant were not meant as an administration of the covenant of grace, because it did not exist according to PB, how did the saints of the old covenant come to be saved under the nonexistent covenant of grace/new covenant?

    • As well as 19.6, CoW is also mentioned in the 2LCF in 20.1, and is clearly there conceptually in a few other places (6.1, 7, 19.1).

      As Amy said, in Getting the Garden Right, Richard Barcellos lays out the teaching of CoW in the 2LCF very well.

    • One of the key differences that is sometimes ignored comes in point 6 of chapter one. The WCF says the whole counsel of God is “either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture”. The LBCF says it is “either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture”. The difference is subtle, but likely reflects the belief of the drafters of the LBCF that the Presbyterian/Reformed view of the covenants and baptism required an extra logical step.

      It is not a key difference, if even a real difference at all however misunderstood. Good and necessary consequence is all about deducing (deducting) the minor from the major premise, not adding to it, with the major premise in WCF1 being Scripture.

      But if the major does not “contain” the minor, it is an illogical/unreasonable argument, i.e. it is not “contained in Scripture”; it is a non sequitur, it does not follow.

      There are no “extra logical steps”. If they are “extra”, they are illogical and speculative; they are neither G&N consequences, nor are they contained in Scripture.

      IOW regardless if the LBC agrees with the WCF or not that Scripture contains the doctrine of infant baptism, the “necessarily contained” of the LBC still amounts to the same thing as the “good and necessary consequences” of the WCF.

      If not, the differences the LBC has with the WCF, are far more serious and fundamental than agreeing or disagreeing with the P&R on the nature of the covenants in Scripture. If men do not have reasonable souls aka minds, we are not made in the image of God nor are we even capable of making a confession of faith, however incoherent, never mind P&R or Baptist.

      cheers

    • As has been noted, the the LBC does mention the covenant of works in ch. 19 and implies it in ch.7. Thanks to all who addressed this question. The affirmation of a covenant of works is nothing but a “good and necessary” inference from Scripture, in which our PB friends make just as many “logical jumps” as we Reformed do.

    • Alex, I wanted to briefly interact with one of your statements:

      “Though I am Baptist, I am having trouble seeing how the benefits of the CoG can be administered in the OT if it does not substantially exist yet in history.”

      I am somewhat confused with what you mean by “substantially exist”. As the Reformed and Particular Baptists *both* believe, the substance of the Covenant of Grace is Jesus Christ. I’m curious as to your thought process behind how the substance, being Jesus Christ, “substantially existed”?

      Amy, yes the 2LBC does explicitly teach a “Covenant of Works”. Not only is it explicitly stated in Chapter 19 (using the exact same language as the WCF), but as you pointed out it is also implicitly discussed at several points.

    • Chris,

      As the quotations from Sam and Michah Renihan and the Amy’s helpful comments make clear, there are two different definitions of “administration” at work here. The Reformed see the covenant of grace being concretely administered through the typological administration of the covenant of grace whereas the PBs seem to think of the promise as suspended completely until the end of the typological administration. We agree that Christ was apprehended sola gratia, sola fide but we understand the historical process very differently.

    • Amy, This was a very helpful reply to Scott for the purpose of clarity. One point of interest I have though is your understanding of “either expressly set down or necessarily contained,” in chapter 1 of LBCF. I asked Dr. Jim Renihan about this when he was doing a training for our elders. He said he does not believe it is intended to be a substantial change to WCF chapter 1 language. He had a long and well-argued reason for that. I wish he was on social media to provide it here. Anyway, I brought it up because of my concern for the Socianian turn taking by many Baptists in the 18th century. I asked whether that form of biblicism had the ground work laid there. He argued that it is “essentially” the same statement being made in WCF. You ought to have that conversation with him.

    • Chris, thanks for your reply. I’m pretty new to the world of covenant theology, so I may not have used terminology correctly in my previous comment. What I am trying to get at is that it seems difficult to maintain that the benefits of the CoG can be administered while the covenant had not yet been inaugurated in redemptive history. Christ certainly existed as God the Son in all eternity, I am not denying that in any way. What I am saying is, since the incarnation and work of Christ happened at a specific point in chronological history, and PBs are saying that the CoG was not inaugurated until the work of Christ was accomplished, how can those benefits be applied to those in the OT? It seems like the covenant itself would actually have to extend back to Abraham, or further back to Gen. 3:15.

    • Alex, that is exactly the point of Reformed covenant theology. Before all ages, Christ covenanted with the Father to save a people that the Father had given Him. When Adam sinned, thereby deserving death for all mankind as their represenative, God promised to send a Savior to save His people from their condemnation in Adam. Christ, the promised one would be the second Adam or representative who would suffer for their sins and provide the perfect obedience to the law that they were no longer capable of after the fall. Adam broke the covenant of works makmg it impossible for us to obey the law perfectly as God requires. For those who believe in Him, Christ provides that perfect righteousness and suffers the death curse in their stead. That is the covenant of grace first revealed to Adam. The OT progressively reveals more and more through the prophets and through the sermon pictures of the sacrifices that point to the suffering and dying Savior. This is why the Retormed see the covenant of grace administered from Adam onward and culminating in the NT with the inauguration of the new covenant with the death and resurrection of Christ. The PB want to see the covenant of works only, in force throughout history until the death of Christ. They only see the covenant of grace as synonymous with the new covenant. Thus it is a mystery to me too, how they want to maintain that OT saints could be saved if they were under a religious system that only preached the law, as an administration of the covenant works. They suggest the answer lies in the covenant of redemption. My question is, did they have some kind of special revelation, and if so where are the scriptural texts for that?

  9. “One resource that is very important in this regard is Benjamin Keach’s Baptist Catechism, from which I will now quote:

    “Q. 16. What special act of providence did God exercise towards man, in the estate wherein he was created?
    A. When God had created man, He entered into a covenant of works with him, upon condition of perfect obedience, forbidding him to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, upon pain of death. (Gen. 2:16,17; Gal. 3:12; Rom. 5:12)””

    With all due respect, this is not Benjamin Keach Catechism but the Westminster Shorter Catechism (Q/A # 12).

    http://www.shortercatechism.com/resources/wsc/wsc_012.html

    • With all due respect, Keach realized how good the WSC was presented and used it as the basis for the Baptist Catechism. This is how the 2LBC framers also felt about the WCF and Savoy. This is also what Hercules Collins did with the Heidelberg Catechism. The point of all these things that the 17th Century Particular Baptists were doing was spelled out in the preface to the 2LBC. Rather than showing a great divergence from our Reformed Brethren, we wanted to show just how much unity there was between all of our groups.

    • Except on baptism! That is why the PB cannot, will not, see a continuity of the covenant of grace from Adam through the all of the OT covenants culminating in Christ, the substance of the covenant of grace, that has existed since Adam! If they cannot establish a sharp distinction between the old covenant and its practice of infant initiation, they cannot claim that that the new covenant is so radically different so that infant initiation must be abrogated in order to ensure the purity of the church.

  10. Dr. Clark,

    Thank you for your careful delineation of the different stances our Baptist brothers take with regard to redemptive history. I found this quite helpful as I continue to think through the complexities of Covenant Theology as a Westminster-sympathizer in a 2nd LBC church. Your comment about the subtle difference in wording between WCF 1.6 and the corresponding article in LBC was particularly thought provoking. It reminded me that the gap between P&R theology and Baptist theology is hermeneutical in nature, which seems to help explain why we can agree on so many other fundamental doctrines – God, Salvation, etc. – yet disagree rather sharply when it comes to redemptive history.

    However, while I want to affirm the legitimacy of Westminster federalism as the proper reading of Scripture, the idea of making covenant theology “architectonic,” the sine qua non of Reformed theology, bothers me in that it seems to ground Reformed theology in a hermeneutic (for which there is no foundation) rather than a first principle. Aside from the argument that this is the historic norm among the Reformed, and aside from the desire to avoid Baptist theology or Romanist theology, what reasons would you give to support the idea that covenant theology ought to occupy the position of architectonic knowledge for the rest of Reformed theology?

    • Hi Eric,

      Good to hear from you. Thanks for putting up with me on the coast.

      Warfield is right for several reasons. You rightly recognize the centrality of hermeneutics to this discussion and when the Reformed say talk about how to interpret the Bible, they are talking about covenant theology. Your comment seems to relegate covenant theology to an accidental feature but, for us, it is essential. It is the way God deals with us. Caspar Olevianus wrote that Christ “clothed himself” in the covenant of grace. The only God we know is the God who made the covenant of works and the covenant of grace (and behind them the covenant of redemption). He does not come to us, relate to us, nor reveal himself to us apart from these covenants. It is not as if we can look behind or around them to something more fundamental. The covenants are the warp and woof of God’s self-revelation to us.

      Here is a section of my paper on infant baptism that touches on the importance of covenant in Scripture:

      The term covenant is a very frequent word in the Bible. In fact, God’s covenant with believers is so important that it is nearly impossible to correctly understand the Bible while ignoring it.15 The covenant of grace describes the way God relates to his people. It involves a binding oath between the LORD and his people in which he promises his people to be their God and his people, in response to God’s grace, swear complete fidelity to the LORD. The covenant of grace was signed and sealed in blood.

      God made a covenant of grace with Adam, after the fall, in the garden.16 He made a promise to save and preserve Noah through the flood and us after it.17 He promised to be a God to Abraham and his children.18 With each the promise God attached conditions. The first is saving faith, which God works in us (Romans 4:3). The second is to make use of the covenant signs and seals. In Genesis 17 the LORD spoke to Abraham about his covenant:

      I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner-those who are not your offspring….My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.19

      The LORD gave a bloody mark as a sign to Abraham that he and his children belonged to the LORD. Similarly, in Exodus 12:1-13; vv.21-29, 43-51; God remembered his covenant with Abraham.20

      The LORD also instituted an annual celebration to remind his people how he mercifully and graciously redeemed his people from bondage in Egypt. 21 As a sign and seal of his saving grace he instituted the sacrament of Passover along with many other feasts. 22

      The Passover had many of the same characteristics as the circumcision. Both were bloody and associated with God’s covenant promises. Passover (like the other feasts) differed from circumcision, however, in the same way that baptism and the LORD’s supper differ: circumcision, the first covenant sign was applied to infants and adults alike, and was a mark of entrance into God’s covenant people.

      The Passover feast was restricted to those who are able to understand God’s redeeming acts because it was a sign designed to nurture and lead to growth. It was not a sign of entrance into visible covenant assembly of God’s people, but served as a means of renewing the covenant of grace.

      Is There Still A Covenant of Grace?

      Just as God made a covenant with Abraham, he promised a new covenant to come later. 23 He made this new covenant in the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The Lord Jesus consciously and specifically established “the new covenant.” 25 The Apostle Paul said he was “a servant of the new covenant.” 26 How can this be if there is but one covenant of grace? The new covenant is new, as contrasted with Moses, but not as contrasted with Abraham or Adam. 27

      This is the point of Galatians 3:1-29; 4:21-31, and 2 Corinthians 3:7-18 where Paul says that the glory of the Old Covenant was fading but the glory of the New Covenant is permanent. The message of Hebrews chapters 3-10 is that the Old Covenant (under Moses) was preparatory to the New Covenant. The fundamental theme of Hebrews 11 is that Abraham had a new covenant faith, that is, he anticipated a heavenly city and to the redemption which we have in Christ. 28

      The Promise Remains, The Circumstances Change

      Now that the promise of the covenant of grace has been fulfilled the circumstances of the covenant have changed. We who live on this side of the cross view things differently because we live in the days of fulfillment. In biblical terms, we live in the “last days.” 29 We have the completed Bible and the gift of the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit. 30

      The old covenant was designed to direct attention forward to the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. 31 The old signs like Passover and circumcision along with the other bloody sacrifices and ceremonies have been replaced. Yet we still live in covenantal arrangement with God, and the bloody pictures of Christ have been replaced with bloodless signs (reminders) and seals.

      Why is the Covenant of Grace Important?

      Because it is a comprehensive category in Scripture, without which the Bible cannot be understood rightly. For example, because God administers his salvation through the covenant, and because there is but one Covenant of Grace, there is one salvation, one gracious promise (Christ) and people of God. Thus, the covenant of grace unifies all of Scripture. 32 God made a salvation promise to Adam and Eve. 33 He repeated the promise to Abraham, whom Paul called “the father” of all believers. 34 All believers are saved because of God’s faithfulness to his covenant promise. 35

      The covenant of grace is important because it also explains the Christian life. The God we serve is he who graciously and sovereignly saved us. Just as the way of salvation for Adam was the same as for us (faith in the finished work of Christ), the moral standards of the Christian life are substantially the same from age to age.

      The covenant of grace is central to our self-understanding as Christians. God is covenant making and keeping God, and we are his covenant people.

  11. Dr. Clark,

    Your boldness is appreciated and quite timely for me. This has been the very topic I have been studying recently. As a member and former RE if a Presbyterian congregation I have seen the elephant in the room when no one else seems to notice. Over the decades I have seen the desire for unity outweigh truth in love. Due to a lack of “Reformed” Baptist congregations in our area, many who are drawn to our fellowship worship with us and some even join our Church. Eventually they all leave. Covenant Theology is the deal breaker, but is often not understood up front. I don’t understand how they can attend upon an infant baptism, having their own children watch, listen and wonder. They watch as their friends receive the sacrament of the Supper (not paedo but credo}, and commune with Christ and their family in Him. Seems a little abusive. Daughters raised to believe the promises of God to them and to their seed are wed to men who are supposedly “reformed Baptists” and then forced to choose which law of God to obey; submit to husband or to Christ. I love these believers with all my heart. However as Elders, are we loving them by allowing these doctrinal differences to be of second or third tier issues? Maybe I digress into minutia. Right now it seems huge.

    • William,

      1. See my reply to Eric re the importance of covenant theology.

      2. The Reformed churches confess that there are three marks of the true church: “the pure preaching of the gospel,” “the pure administration of the sacraments,” and “the use of church discipline” (Belgic Confession art. 29). The denial of infant baptism is a manifest corruption of the marks of the church. It is not the “pure administration” of the sacrament of baptism.

      3. I don’t accept the premise of the objection that brides or grooms are “forced” to choose which law to obey. They should obey both. If folk do not agree on baptism they should probably not contract a marriage. That is something to be worked out in pre-marital counseling since it will necessarily create a crisis once covenant children are born.

      4. The question: Is God still saying, “I will be your God and your children’s God?” is a question of great importance. Peter says, “for the promise is to you and to your children.” In the Reformed churches, to deny that promise, to deny the administration of the sign of admission to the visible covenant community, is no small thing.

      5. Evidently my Baptist friends think it is a great question. They regard me as unbaptized and thus, formally, outside the visible church.

      6. These differences need to be faced squarely. My confessional Lutheran friends will not commune me because I am, as they confess, a “subtle sacramentarian” (Book of Concord) because I do not confess that the body of Christ is literally “in,” “with,” and “under” the elements of the Supper.

      7. We can be gracious and kind to each other. We should hear each other out but we should not seek to make these very real differences go away. It is an act of love to discuss them openly and charitably. I think such a discussion is happening here.

  12. Hopefully this will be my last comment. I hear the comments about how the Covenant of Grace could exist before it was formally inaugurated, how the atonement could work backwards without an external administration, etc. Perhaps part of the difficulty lies in the diverse ways in which Particular Baptists and Presbyterian/Reformed Christians understand the sacraments.

    First of all, we do not believe that the rituals of the Mosaic Law were sacraments. They were types. They absolutely pointed forward to the atoning work of Christ. They absolutely had real pedagogical significance. They did not represent a separate path to salvation. There has only ever been one path to salvation, and that is through the Covenant of Grace. We do not envision two separate tracks to salvation like certain Dispensationalists. We absolutely reject this view. However, we do not believe that the typological rituals of the Old Testament – whether sacrifices or circumcision – administered the substance or the benefits of the Covenant of Grace. We do not believe that animal sacrifices have the power to save, but only the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. That is why we do not believe that any covenant not made in the blood of Christ can save. Confessional Reformed believers state that these typological rituals were, for the time in which they existed, sufficient and efficacious. They really did administer the benefits of the Covenant of Grace. This is simply a point of disagreement.

    Second, the P&R generally seem to put a higher emphasis on what I will call the external administration of the Covenant of Grace through the sacraments. Now, I do not want anyone to mistake me, and I am sorry if I am not being clear. Baptism is for the confessionally Reformed the entrance into the New Covenant. For us, regeneration of the Holy Spirit and justification by faith marks the entrance into the New Covenant. I suspect this might be part of why the P&R focus so much on the need for sacraments in the Old Testament to allow a person to enter the Covenant of Grace and receive that substance. It seems to me that we are perceiving two different modes of entrance, and that is why we can conceive of the CoG existing and its substance being administered by means of a promise, while our P&R brothers and sisters need that physical manifestation through the sacraments.

    Remember, we both agree that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ was being applied before the fact. We both agree that God was passing over those sins and dispensing (as it were) forgiveness before the event that made that possible occurred in linear time. Therefore, it seems to me that this does not actually come down to an issue of timelines, but rather how one receives the benefits of the covenant and enters into that covenant. We say you enter by faith, even as we believe Paul teaches that Abraham’s belief in the promise allowed him to be justified by faith (through the Covenant of Grace). That is our opinion. I am sure some will disagree, but that it what we believe.

    • I make an amendment to my comment. I think I used the wrong language. I think rather than speaking of “entering” the New Covenant, we should speak of having the “seal” of the New Covenant. We believe that the Holy Spirit serves as the seal of this covenant, whereas the confessionally Reformed speak of baptism as a “sign and seal” of the New Covenant. I think you would be hard pressed to find a Particular Baptist who would ever refer to baptism as a “seal”. We believe that Paul’s description of the Holy Spirit as the seal of our redemption indicates that this is the sure pledge of our status in Christ. I am sorry if I muddied the waters earlier.

    • You admit that Abraham,”was justified by faith (through the Covenant of Grace)” Yet you maintain that it did not exist, because the new covenant did not yet exist. You even say that the sacrifices were typological and pedalogical, yet you will not admit that they were a manifestation of Christ, the substance of the covenant of grace. You say that the blood of animals could not save. That is a red herring. The reformed, by saying that the old covenant was an administration of the covenant of grace are not saying that the blood of animals could forgive sins. The blood of animals was a picture of the blood of the promised One! It was by trusting in the blood of the promised one, pictured in the blood of the sacrifices, that those in the old covenant came to saving faith. That is also what bloody circumcision pointed to. Just as God promised Abraham that He would keep all the stipulations of the covenant of grace, and suffer all the consequences of our covenant breaking, while Abraham was in a helpless stupor, as God alone passed through the slaughtered animal pieces. That is why circumcision and baptism are given to helpless infants, not as a means of making them recipients of covenat of grace by the mere sign, but as a means of a sign that pictures God’s grace offered to helpless infants WHEN and IF they believe the promise it represents. Circumcision and baptism do not automatically make the recipients receivers of the saving benefits of the covenant of grace unless they believe the promise.

    • As far as the seal is concerned, the Reformed see faith as sealing the covenant sign to the believer. Faith is what certifies the promise to the individual. Baptism only applies to the individual when it is sealed by faith. Only then does the individual become a covenant member in an inward or saving way. Until then, it only brings the infant into outward inclusion, as one who has received the sign offering salvation.

    • “Confessional Reformed believers state that these typological rituals were, for the time in which they existed, sufficient and efficacious. They really did administer the benefits of the Covenant of Grace.”

      Of course, only in the same way the sacraments of the New covanent are sufficient and efficacious, when apprehended and performed through faith. They received grace the same way we receive it; what other way is there?

    • That is the perplexing position of the PBs. They want to maintain that the covenant of grace did not exist in the old covenant. According to them the CG is synonymous with the NC. Therefore all the OC covenants were covenants of works and could not administer the means of grace. So how could the OT saints be saved? It seems to me that this alone is proof that the PB position is wrong. The OC covenants had to be part of the administration of the covenant of grace as proven by the fact that there were true believers in the OC. How else could they come to saving faith? The idea that God has two people, one he deals with as earthly, having no hope of eternal salvation, and another He deals with as spiritual people under grace is a kind of dualism that suggests that there is a dualism in God where He is cruel and vengeful in the OC but gracious and kind in the NC. Wasn’t there a heresy, that was condemned by the early church, that taught something like that?

    • We believe that the Holy Spirit serves as the seal of this covenant, whereas the confessionally Reformed speak of baptism as a “sign and seal” of the New Covenant. I think you would be hard pressed to find a Particular Baptist who would ever refer to baptism as a “seal”. We believe that Paul’s description of the Holy Spirit as the seal of our redemption indicates that this is the sure pledge of our status in Christ. I am sorry if I muddied the waters earlier.

      Amy

      When Rom. 4:11 tells us that Abraham received the ” sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith”, I suppose one could claim that Muddy Waters is a baptist, but for my money I might not want to get to particular about it.

      Further if you find the Abrahamic covenant to be the hardest of the covenants to understand as we are told in your comments under pt. 2, the reply seems to be that the Book of Hebrews is getting played off against the Book of Romans to the latter’s detriment, if not that it is getting pretty much ignored.

      cheers

  13. (Quote) ‘Until then, it (baptism) only brings the infant into outward inclusion, as one who has received the sign offering salvation.’ (unquote)
    But surely what has occurred, as it has with Finneyistic ‘revivalist’ evangelism, is that the outward inclusion has translated into lifetime membership without any real repentance ever occurring in the individual, with all the obvious ‘mixed multitude’ effects.

  14. Angela, I have a question of clarification from you with regards to your comment on the other page where you stated that:

    “It is good that we be deferential to each other, there is no point in fighting with the PBs, but they are just wrong, wrong, wrong. Sorry, I could not extend the hand of fellowship because I think that they have a completely different understanding of the faith that does not square with Reformed theology at all.” (https://heidelblog.net/2018/02/engaging-with-1689-2/#comment-487885)

    And I have somewhat of a problem in lining that up with your comment here where you stated that:

    “Richard Barcellos has some very thought provocing things to say about the Sabbath, and why it is the only holy day for Christians in his new book, Getting the Garden Right. He says God’s rest on the Sabbath is indicative of the state of glorification that Adam’s race would have obtained, if he bad obeyed God. The Christian Sabbath is indicative of of the glorified state that the second Adam, Christ earned through his obedience, and His vindication by resurrection in glory, for His people. That is why only the Sabbath can be a holy day.”
    https://heidelblog.net/2018/02/owen-contra-lent-easter-and-the-normative-principle-of-worship/#comment-487948

    It would seem to me that you have read Getting the Garden Right (an excellent work). I may be different from you in this respect, but it’s not very often that I would purchase, read, and publicly recommend the assertions made in a theology book by someone with whom “I could not extend the hand of fellowship because I think that they have a completely different understanding of the faith.”

    Furthermore, I have a true concern for you in that it seems that you are going well beyond what we should do as believers in making the judgment that others are not even worthy of fellowship together because of a difference in their view of Covenant Theology. This has even more ramifications as you begin to take this stance with our Christian brothers and sisters who existed prior to the Reformation. I’m not making this comment lightly to you as I do see this as a concern in your polemical approach.

    I am also concerned with the fact that none of your other P&R brothers and sisters have questioned this statement of yours that Particular Baptists should not be even given the hand of fellowship. I waited to let this slide for the week in the hopes that someone would even question this, but I have not seen such a sentiment from the commenters on this blog post. I hope that we can get beyond this and at least treat each other as if we are all brothers and sisters in Christ and at least deserving of a generic hand of fellowship.

    • I think you assume that folks are reading her comments all the way through and feeling compelled to reply when they disagree. I actually didn’t read any of her comments until your came in my email. I would bet our P&R brothers likely didn’t even know she thought they shouldn’t extend the hand of fellowship.

    • I think it might be helpful here to distinguish between one’s personal judgment and the public ecclesiastical judgment. I think of my Baptist friends and brothers and sisters. Ecclesiastically, we receive Baptist baptisms as Christian baptisms. We don’t have ecclesiastical fellowship but neither have we, to my knowledge, pronounced a judgment on them.

      We should be gracious with one another. I understand that, in American evangelicalism, the Reformed theology, piety, and practice is a minority view and can be surprising to evangelicals (who are predominantly Baptist) but I think we can be gracious without giving up our convictions.

      So there is a kind of informal fellowship that we can and do have. A formal, ecclesiastical fellowship is another matter.

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