1689 Vs. The Westminster Confession (7): On The Fall, The Covenant Of Works, And The Covenant Of Grace

Our comparison and contrast of the WCF with the 2LC continues through chapters 6 and 7, “Of the Fall of Man, of Sin, and of the Punishment thereof” and “Of God’s Covenant with Man.”

WCF 6.1

2LC 6.1

1. Our first parents, being seduced by the subtilty and temptation of Satan, sinned, in eating the forbidden fruit. This their sin God was pleased, according to His wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to His own glory. 1. Although God created Man upright, and perfect, and gave him a righteous law, which had been unto life had he kept it, and threatned death upon the breach thereof; yet he did not long abide in this honour; Satan using the subtilty of the serpent to seduce Eve, then by her seducing Adam, who without any compulsion, did wilfully transgress the Law of their Creation, and the command given unto them, in eating the forbidden fruit; which God was pleased according to his wise and holy Councel to permit, having purposed to order it, to his own glory.

In this series, one theme that has been emerging is that the 2LC, which was produced 31 years after the WCF, was reflecting an apologetic response to issues that intensified in the second half of the seventeenth century. Where the WCF simply begins, “Our first parents…” the 2LC begins with a concessive clause, “Although God created Man upright…”. The 2LC is quite right in what it says. In substance it is the same doctrine as the WCF and rhetorically echoes the Heidelberg (perhaps through Collins’ adaptation of it). Indeed, the clause, “yet he did not long abide in this honor” has echoes of Belgic Confession art. 14. Most of this first section is not in WCF 6.1, however. The words “in this honor…compulsion” are drawn from the 1LC. The intent of the framers seems clear: to emphasize the free choice of our first parents as the proximate cause of the fall.

It is also interesting that where the Savoy deviates from the WCF by beginning 6.1 with “God having made a covenant of works and life, thereupon with [thus far unique to the Savoy] our first parents [common to the Savoy, WCF, and 2LC], the framers of the 2LC chose not to follow the Savoy by introducing the “covenant of works and life.” The substance of the doctrine of the covenant of works is present but the formal category is postponed until 2LC 20.1, which has no parallel in the WCF. Unsurprisingly, where the Savoy has the clause, “and break the covenant” (in eating the fruit) the 2LC omits it.

WCF 6.2

2LC 6.2

2. By this sin they fell from their original righteousness and communion, with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the parts and faculties of soul and body. 2. Our first Parents by this Sin, fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and we in them, whereby death came upon all; all becoming dead in Sin, and wholly defiled, in all the faculties, and parts, of soul, and body.

The 2LC picks up the phrase “our first parents” from WCF 6.1 and follows the WCF. Note that the Savoy adds the federalist note after “by this sin they, and we in them, fell. The 2LC picks up this phrase and combines it with the language of 1LC, “whereby death came upon all…”.

WCF 6.3

2LC 6.3

3. They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed, and the same death in sin and corrupted nature conveyed, to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation. 3. They being the root, and by Gods appointment, standing in the room, and stead of all mankind; the guilt of the Sin was imputed, and corrupted nature conveyed, to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation, being now conceived in Sin, and by nature children of wrath, the servants of Sin, the subjects of death and all other miseries, spiritual, temporal and eternal, unless the Lord Jesus set them free.

The 2LC follows the Savoy by adding the intensifier/clarifier: “and by God’s appointment, standing in the room, and stead of” to strengthen the federalism of the confession.

The clause, “being now conceived…free” is taken nearly verbatim from the 1LC.

Section 4 is identical to that in the Savoy and the WCF. Section 5 is identical with the WCF and the Savoy with the exception of the substitution of “the first” before “motions” whereas the WCF has “and all the motions thereof are truly and properly sin.” It is unclear what effect this revision has. Were the framers making point about the subsequent motions in those who are regenerated?

Perhaps the most striking difference, in this chapter, between the 2LC and (the Savoy and) the WCF is the omission in the 2LC of section 6. Again, what does one make of such omissions? The omission of entire sections, as we will see, does again suggest that the internal differences between the 2LC and the WCF are greater than are sometimes acknowledged.

WCF 7.1

2LC 7.1

1. The distance between God and the creature is go great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto Him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of Him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which He hath been pleased to express by way of covenant. 1. 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 Gods part, which he hath been pleased to express, by way of Covenant.

The first articles are substantially identical except where the 2LC follows the Savoy by changing “fruition of him as their blessedness” to “could never have attained the reward of life…”. All three documents use the expression, “voluntary condescension,” which is an appeal to the freedom of the divine will rather than to grace per se. This subtle difference is often overlooked.

The most noticeable difference is the omission of 7.1 in the 2LC. To be sure, 2LC 7.1 affirms a prelapsarian covenant but the omission of WCF and Savoy 7.2 is striking nonetheless. As I have pondered this, I have noticed that the 1LC, which is considerably different from the WCF, the Savoy, and the 2LC, makes no explicit reference to the covenant of grace nor to the covenant of works. If I have missed something, I am confident that my Baptist friends will correct me. I wonder, however, if those omissions influenced the framers of the 2LC? Was there a hesitancy among the early Particular Baptists about the doctrine of the covenant of works? Why that would be is not obvious since the 1LC seems to contain a fairly clear allusion to the pre-temporal covenant of redemption (pactum salutis), which developed formally rather later than the covenant of works.

The next section in the 2LC is the equivalent of WCF and Savoy 7.3.

WCF 7.3

2LC 7.2

3. Man by his fall having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace; wherein He freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in Him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life His Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe. 2. Moreover Man having brought himself under the curse of the Law by his fall, it pleased the Lord to make a Covenant of Grace wherein he freely offereth unto Sinners, Life and Salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them Faith in him, that they may be saved; and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal Life, his holy Spirit, to make them willing, and able to believe.

The revision in 2LC 7.2 has (again) an apologetic character to it: “Moreover man having brought himself…” (emphasis added). The language of the WCF and the Savoy, “Man by his fall having made himself incapable…” is missing. This is not to suggest that the Baptists rejected the WCF’s doctrine of depravity but it does point to the apologetic concerns animating the 2LC.

The 2LC omits WCF and Savoy 7.4 which addresses the biblical use of “testament” and “testator” relative to covenant. Does this omission signal anything? Perhaps the next section begins to answer the question.

WCF 7.5

2LC 7.3

5. This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel: under the law, it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all fore-signifying Christ to come: which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called, the Old Testament. 3. 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, untill the full discovery thereof was compleated in the new Testament; and it is founded in that Eternal Covenant transaction, that was between the Father and the Son, about the Redemption of the Elect; and it is alone by the Grace of this Covenant, that all of the posterity of fallen Adam, that ever were saved, did obtain life and a blessed immortality; Man being now utterly uncapable of acceptance with God upon those terms, on which Adam stood in his state of innocency.

WCF 7.6, which explains the superiority of the New Covenant (“the gospel” as distinct from, in historical terms, “the law”) has no exact parallel in the 2LC. This omission might also reflect the theological differences to be discussed just now.

Here, especially comparing and contrasting WCF 7.5 with 2LC 7.3, we see some fundamental differences between the Reformed and the Baptist confessions. The Reformed  (e.g., the WCF and the Savoy) confess that there is one covenant of grace in the history of redemption “variously administered.” The Baptists, however, confess that the covenant of grace, which is the antecedent of “this covenant,” was “revealed.” It is my contention that there is a world of difference between “administered” and “revealed.” The revelation of the covenant of grace is certainly essential to its administration but the revelation of the (for the Baptist, future) covenant of grace is not all that is intended by the Reformed affirmation of “administered.” It is the difference between, “I will send a cake” and “you can taste the cake now but, when the cake is fully baked, there will be  a great improvement in quality and quantity.” According to the Reformed understanding of the history of redemption, the covenant of grace was not merely revealed under the types and shadows. It was actually present, as I have been saying, in, with, and under those types and shadows. According to the Reformed we are in substantially the same covenant of grace as was Adam (after the fall), Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and the Prophets. They were not merely anticipating the arrival of the covenant of grace. They were in it. The types and shadows all signified the coming Redeemer but all the Reformed understood that, in important ways, the Redeemer had already been present with them in his pre-incarnate presence. See the resources below for more on this. The 2LC noun “discovery” picks up the idea of revelation but not the idea of administration. It is true that, according to the 2LC, all the saints were saved by the “grace of this covenant” but for the Baptists, it was only by anticipation. For the Baptists, there is not one covenant of grace variously administered through the whole history of redemption but one covenant of grace that was announced under the types and shadows but only arrived in history in the New Covenant. These two are not the same understandings of the history of redemption.

Thus, the Reformed must dissent rather vigorously when Baptists (and others) class the 2LC among the Reformed confessions. It is certainly a confession influenced by Reformed theology and Reformed confessions (e.g., WCF and the Savoy) but it also diverges from them on points that the Reformed consider important and even essential. Our Baptist friends disagree that these points are essential and that is their right but they do not get to re-write or re-define the Reformed confession. This is one reason why we should all want to Make Baptists Great Again. The Particular Baptist tradition is a related tradition and even, in significant ways, an allied tradition to the Reformed, but here, and in other places, it departs from the consensus of the Reformed churches. I have argued this in more detail in the essay, “A House of Cards? A Response to Bingham, Cribben, and Caughey,” in Matthew Bingham, Chris Caughey, R. Scott Clark, Crawford Gribben, and D. G. Hart, On Being Reformed: Debates Over a Theological Identity (London: Palgrave-Pivot, 2018), 69–89.

One other note: In place of the Reformed account of the history of redemption, the Baptists substitute the doctrine of pre-temporal covenant of redemption, to which I alluded earlier. In the Baptist confession, Pre-history replaces redemptive history. To be sure, the Reformed affirm the covenant of redemption. On this see, e.g., R. Scott Clark and David VanDrunen, “The Covenant Before the Covenants,”in R. Scott Clark, ed. Covenant, Justification and Pastoral Ministry: Essays by the Faculty of Westminster Seminary California (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2006), 167–196. See also John Fesko’s volumes on the covenant of redemption. We might debate the confessional status of the pre-temporal  covenant of redemption. It is arguably clearer in the Baptist confession than in the Reformed but that the pre-temporal covenant of redemption swallows up the progressive revelation and administration of the covenant of redemption in, with, and under the types and shadows seems rather clear.

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.


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  1. This helps explain the differences as to how Reformed and Baptists see the covenant of grace, and why Baptists do not seem to distinguish between Abraham and Moses. They are merely being consistent with their roots. And I can better understand their position as to baptism—they don’t see the natural connection between circumcision and infant baptism. This has been invaluable to me in providing a framework to discuss these issues with my Baptist friends. If I had a cowbell, I would ring it for a full minute. Thank you.

  2. Dr. Clark,

    Thanks again for this walk-through comparison and commentary.

    Chapter 7 does highlight some of the differences between the Particular Baptists and the Reformed. I found it interesting that in Pascal Denault’s book he says in a footnote “In his course, Baptist Symbolics, James Renihan explains that the focal point of chapter 7 of the Baptist Confession of Faith is not exactly covenant theology, but rather the salvation of the elect. This chapter was edited so that all of the emphasis was put on the plan of salvation.” (pg. 30, The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology) This might point in the right direction as to why the 2LC adjusted its doctrine of the covenant in Chapter 7. Could the different focal point be the reason for the different statements and omissions in Chapter 7?

    Though he wasn’t a 17th century Particular Baptist, John Gill was a notable Particular Baptist theologian and pastor. Gill’s congregation was previously pastored by Benjamin Keach and would later on be pastored by Charles Spurgeon. In his Body of Divinity, Gill strongly emphasizes the fact that the covenant of grace is an eternal covenant made between the persons of the Trinity to redeem the elect. There is a strong emphasis on the eternality of the covenant of grace. Gill also points out that the covenant of grace was made prior to the covenant of works with Adam. Gill’s emphasis on the covenant of grace made with the elect in Christ in eternity seems to harmonize in some respects with the focus upon God’s salvation of the elect in 2LC Chapter 7. If I can quote Gill,

    “Now all this, proves the antiquity of the covenant of grace; nor is it any objection to it, that it is sometimes called the “second” and “new” covenant, (Hebrews 8:7, 8, 13, 9:15, 12:24) for it is so called, not with respect to the covenant of works made with Adam, as if it was the second to that, and newer and later than that; for it was made long before that, even in eternity, as has been shown; but the distinctions of “first” and “second”, “old” and “new”, respect the different administrations of the same covenant of grace in time: the first administration of it began immediately after the fall of Adam, and continued under the patriarchs, and under the Mosaic dispensation, unto the coming of Christ; and then a new administration of it took place, which made the first old, and is called the second, with respect to that; and yet both, for substance, are the same covenant, made in eternity, but variously administered in time.

    There are several time covenants made with men; as with Adam, Noah, Abraham, the children of Israel, Phinehas, David, etc. But the covenant made with Christ, and the elect in him, was not made in time, but in eternity. It is a notion that commonly obtains, that God makes a covenant of grace with men when they believe, repent, etc. but it is no such thing; the covenant of grace does not then begin to be made, only to be made manifest; it then openly takes place, its blessings are bestowed, its promises applied, its grace is wrought in the hearts of men, when God puts his fear there, gives a new heart, and a new spirit, and puts his own Spirit there, to work faith, repentance, and every other grace; but then the covenant is not new made, but all this is done in virtue and in consequence of the covenant of grace made in eternity, and according to the tenor of that.” (Body of Divinity, Book II, Chapter XV)

    Gill (like myself) is comfortable utilizing the Reformed terminology of “administrations”. He argues that the eternal covenant of grace is the same for substance under both the Old and New administrations. However, he also argues that the ‘several time-covenants made with men’ (Adam, Noah, Abraham, etc.) are not necessarily synonymous with the covenant made with Christ in eternity. This is probably where Gill sounds somewhat like the 17th century Particular Baptists. Because Gill so strongly emphasizes that the covenant of grace is an eternal Trinitarian covenant, it is not ‘made’ in time (it was ‘made’ or contracted in eternity). Rather, these time-covenants ‘manifest’ this eternal covenant of grace. Perhaps Gill gives some insight into the thinking of some Particular Baptists and the reasons for these changes? Though, I do admit, Gill wrote this some time later in the 18th century.

    One last thought that comes to mind is the conversation between Carl Trueman and Graeme Goldsworthy over the relationship between systematic theology and biblical theology. I wonder whether those who argue for ‘1689 Federalism’ (as it is so-called) are emphasizing a redemptive-historical approach to the covenant while the WCF adopts a perspective that (while not denying a redemptive-historical reading of the covenant) also is attempting to give a systematic perspective on the covenant. I’m not sure what to think of this, but this does come to mind.

    Thanks again, Dr. Clark!


    • Spencer,

      I address Gill briefly in my “Engaging 1689” article.

      Is it clear to you that by “administrations” he means what the Reformed mean? I don’t think that the Reformed think that the administration of the covenant of grace, in history, whether under the types & shadows or the New Covenant, is coterminous with the pre-temporal pactum salutis.

      Gill’s appeal to the PS is more evidence that the PS essentially replaces, in Baptist theology, the history of redemption, i.e., the Reformed notion that the covenant of grace was present and externally administered in, with, and under the types and shadows.

      In that prior essay and in this series I have acknowledged the moderate Baptist position that sees more continuity between the types & shadows and the New Covenant. That view, however, seems to be giving way to the rather more radical position implied by the 2LC. I don’t think “revealed” can be transmitted to “administered.”

      Some Baptists who twenty years ago held the moderate view have now adopted the more radical view that the Abrahamic covenant (like all the OT covenants) was a covenant of works and not a covenant of grace.

    • Dr. Clark,

      I don’t exactly how Dr. Gill would define “administrations”, though I do think that defining the verb (“administer”) and the noun (“administration”) are vital to this discussion. As I understand it, the verb ‘administer’ is refers to conveying, giving out, or dispensing something. When he uses the word ‘administration’, Gill uses it in reference to redemptive history. I don’t think I would agree that the PS essentially replaces the history of redemption. Perhaps it would be better to say that the PS governs Gill’s reading of redemptive history in a way that is different from the Reformed. Part of this discussion relates to the way in which the PS is related to the covenant of grace. I’m aware that some Reformed theologians (Thomas Boston maybe?) more closely integrate (maybe even combine) the PS and the covenant of grace, while there are others who draw more of a distinction between the PS (covenant of redemption) and the covenant of grace. I would guess that the Particular Baptists more closely integrated the PS and the covenant of grace.

      • Spencer,

        1. The nature of “administration” is a key question in the controversy between the two traditions.

        2. It was claimed by some Baptists, after I published the “Engaging” essay that Gill dud not subscribe the 2LC. Do you know if this is true?

        3. The distinction between “governs” and “replaces” is tricky if, in the end, it means that the new covenant is substantially different from the covenant of grace as it existed under the types and shadows. As I say, there have been Particular Baptists who affirm a substantial continuity but for whom the New Covenant is so much more eschatological that the initiation of infants into it externally is no longer possible. Even in that case, however, does that new eschatological quality create a substantial discontinuity?

        4. Most Reformed theologians from the mid-to-late 17th century integrated the pactum salutis into their understanding of the history of redemption. I don’t think Boston is exceptional in that regard. For my part I say that there are two aspects to the pactum salutis: it is a covenant of works for the Son and a covenant of grace for us. The covenant of works reflected the one aspect and the the covenant of grace reflected the other. That presence of the covenant of grace in, with, and under the types and shadows is the penetration of the PS into redemptive history. I think that was Cocceius’ approach, Olevianus’ approach, and the approach of more than a few others. So, I doubt that the Particular Baptists more closely integrated the PS into redemptive history/the covenant of grace.

    • Dr. Clark,

      1. I’m not sure of the role the 2LC played in Particular Baptist life in the 18th century and I don’t know Gill’s relationship to the 2LC. Gill’s church had previously been previously pastored by Benjamin Keach. In 1697, Keach published “A short confession of faith containing the substance of all the fundamental articles in the larger confession put forth by the elders of the Baptist churches, owning personal election and final perserverance”. It is fascinating that though Keach’s congregation wished to show their unity with other Particular Baptists, they also published their own shorter confession of faith that had unique elements (for instance, Keach’s conviction that Laying on of Hands of believers is an ordinance). It’s interesting that they didn’t simply republish the 2LC, but instead adopted this shorter confession for their specific congregation. Later on, Gill’s church did have a Confession of Faith (Declaration of the Faith and Practice of the Church of Christ) which was written around 1729. The Confession is short and compact and does not really address the history of redemption. As expected, the Confession is thoroughly Trinitarian and Predestinarian, emphasizes the Particular redemption accomplished by Christ, and adheres to a Baptist ecclesiology. Gill is interesting because he is the most notable Particular Baptist theologian of the 18th century and could be considered as a candidate for the most notable theologians the PB’s have ever produced. And yet, he seems to be willing to utilize more conventional Reformed terminology to describe redemptive history, such as a two-fold temporal administration of the covenant of grace. He even recommended Witsius’s Economy of the Covenants. I don’t know what this means for his relationship to the 2LC, but I do think that Gill moved closer to the Reformed covenant theology (at the very least with terminology).

      2. Your question concerning whether or not a “new eschatological quality create a substantial discontinuity” is a good one. Like you say, there is one PB perspective that argues that the New Covenant is substantially distinct from previous redemptive-historical covenants. Without speaking for anyone else, I would think the question relates to how we define the substance of the covenant and how it is distinguished from the administration of the covenant. My understanding is that the substance (what makes it what it is) is distinct from its administration (the method of giving the substance to the elect). The substance of the covenant of grace is the gracious salvation of God’s elect in (and for the sake of) Christ and effectually applied by the Holy Spirit. This is an eternal covenant (made outside of time and space) that is temporally administered (given to and ‘handed over’) to sinners through the redemptive-historical covenants. The Holy Spirit effectually applies this salvation to elect sinners through the administration. The administration can vary but the substance is always the same. I can see how from the Reformed perspective the lack of an external initiation could be interpreted as a substantial discontinuity. From my perspective, it would be an administrative discontinuity, not a substantial discontinuity. In every administration, Christ and all his benefits are freely offered to sinners of mankind in common (to use John Colquhoun’s wording). The same substantial Gospel is offered to sinners of mankind in common (including the children of believers) in every administration. The children of believers (from my PB perspective) do have the covenant administered to them from the beginning of their lives through the preached Word of Christ and His benefits. Christ and His benefits was fully and freely offered to those who heard the Gospel under the Old Administration. The same Christ still offers those same benefits under the New Administration. This is a longwinded way to say that I don’t think the moderate PB position necessarily demands a substantial discontinuity, but it does demand an administrative discontinuity.


      • Spencer,

        I’m guilty of unintentionally using “substance” in two ways here at the same time.

        1. Yes, Christ and his benefits are the substance of the covenant.

        2. It is Baptists, however, who have said to me that they think they New Covenant is substantially distinct from what was present in the types and shadows. Here, the question is one of the substance of the nature of the covenant. A covenant is, by definition a relationship, and that relationship must be administered outwardly. When my wife serves me a wonderful Sunday lunch that is an external administration of our relationship but it is essential as far as I’m concerned. Without it my life would be substantially different. It would have been formally an administrative matter had I refused to talk to my children until they met some condition but it would have made a substantial difference in our relationship. To announce, as one leading Baptist did, on the internet, that one’s small children are reprobate is formally an administrative act but to say it was only that fails to capture something rather important.

        We could say that the question is whether there is a substantially different administration but that isn’t strong enough. It is not mere administration to say that the Abrahamic promise is no longer operative in the New Covenant. The Reformed hold that the New Covenant is a new administration of the covenant of grace, that God still says to believers, “I will be a God to you and to your children.” The Baptists deny the same. That is a substantial change in the nature of the covenant of grace and/or between the New Covenant and the typological administrations of the covenant of grace.

        3. According to the Baptists, children are no longer to be included, even outwardly, in the administration of the covenant of grace until such time as they demonstrate that they are elect. The promises are no longer said to them nor to they apply to them in any special way. For Baptists, just as the PS replaces the actual history of the administration of the covenant of grace under the types and shadows so too in the New Covenant there is no actual (as we understand it) administration. The process by which God has ordained to bring his elect to new life & true faith is replaced by election and recognition. The elect are recognized but but they are excluded from the administration until they demonstrate that they are elect.

        4. Arguably, from a Reformed pov, the Baptist movement is a kind of war against the external administration of the covenant of grace.

    • Dr. Clark, it is very interesting that you note that the Reformers saw the PS is a covenant of grace for the elect, but a covenant of works for the Son. It seems that Reformers saw this as essential to the Reformed understanding of the continuity of the covenant of grace throughout redemptive history, under different administrations. Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday and forever. Heb. 13:8. He is always the way of salvation, before his death, administered through the preaching of the Word, and visual bloody sacraments of circumcision and the sacrifices that pointed to His ultimate Sacrifice, and after his death, through the preaching of the Word, baptism and communion that point the fulfillment. But always, the unchanging God deals with humanity on the basis of what God established in the PS.

    • Dr. Clark,

      1. You are right that there are Baptists who will say that the New Covenant is substantially distinct from what was present in the types and shadows. I disagree with them. In real sense, the person of Christ is the covenant. Christ either is or is not personally present (His person can’t be divided). Speaking for myself, Christ was personally present in the covenant with Abraham and Moses and David (albeit He was present through types, shadows, promises, prophecies, etc.). I don’t know how many Baptists today would agree with this but to me it seems quite clear. Obviously, when saying this, we don’t mean that Abraham knew all the details about Christ’s person and work, but He was trusting in the Seed of the Woman who was also the Seed of Abraham.

      2. It is true that Baptists will say that God is not the God of believers and their children (Genesis 17:7). Perhaps the question revolves what it means when God says that he will be the God of Abraham and his children (“seed”). I know this question has been discussed time and again, and we probably won’t come to a resolution between the traditions any time soon! However, the seed to whom God will be a God to refers initially to Isaac, then to Christ, and then lastly to all those in Christ (believers). You might be able to guess that I stole this from Witsius!

      However, I do believe that the promise to be a God to someone is in essence an offered promise. In Genesis 17, God in Christ was offering Himself to be their God. In his Treatise on the Law and the Gospel, Colquhoun says, “He is their God in grant or offer. He offers Christ the blessed Mediator to them, in common with all the other hearers of the gospel, and he also offers Himself to them, to be in Christ their God. In the preface to the ten commandments, he saith to every hearer of the gospel, “I am the Lord thy God;” I am, as if he had said, thy God in offer: and in the first commandment, as was observed above, he requires every one, to believe the gracious offer with application to himself, saying, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”

      So, when God in Christ comes to Abraham in Genesis 17, he is saying, “I am your God in offer and the same offer applies to your children.” As Colquhoun points out, God is either our God in offer or in possession, I do not know of a third category between offer and possession (though I suppose we could say he was the God of Israel in a national sense as well under the Mosaic Covenant).

      The Abrahamic promise of Genesis 17 is repeated as the preface to the Decalogue, “I am the Lord your God”. God in Christ is telling Israel from Mt. Sinai, “I am your God in offer, believe upon me.” This same Abrahamic promise is given to believers and their children in the New Testament, “Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, you and your household” that is, “The Lord Jesus is your Savior in offer, and the Savior in offer to your whole household. Believe on him and you will be saved.” This gift and grant of salvation was not universally published under the Old Administration (though there were Gentiles who were saved under the Old Administration). It was a great privilege that the natural offspring of Abraham had Christ present to them through the prophecies, types, and shadows. Now, under the New Administration, the Abraham promise (I will be your God in offer to you and your children) is published abroad to the nations.

      3. I would disagree with the statement that children are not included, even outwardly, in the administration of the covenant of grace. The public reading and preaching of the Word is part (even the primary one) of the administration of the covenant of grace. The children of Baptists are under the administration of the covenant. The process by which the covenant is administered is the preaching and reading of Scripture (whereby the Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts) which is followed by Baptism and the Lord’s Supper (whereby the Holy Spirit confirms the Gospel). While Baptists do not give the confirming ordinances to their children, they do administer the converting ordinances (the Word preached and read) to their children. Though some Baptists might fall into a trap of looking only for election and recognition, I would argue that there is a Baptist administration of the covenant (though it obviously differs from the Reformed). Far from excluding the elect from the administration until they demonstrate that they are elect, Baptists administer the covenant (the offer and grant of Christ and all His benefits) to anyone and everyone who hears the Gospel message preached and read. What better promise can be given to the child of believers than that God is their in offer? We just do not see that the Scriptures give us warrant to go administer baptism to anyone but those who profess to have received the offered Christ. This is because of the PB commitment (which is shared with the Reformed) to the second commandment.

      I can see how the Reformed could argue that the Baptist movement is a war against the external administration of the covenant of grace. Some Baptists may contribute to that perspective more than others. However, I do think that (whatever any Baptist might say) they do believe in some form of an external administration of the covenant of grace (at least under the New Testament).


      • Spencer,

        You will understand the spirit in which I say this, I intend it in the friendliest possible way: you do not seem like a very good Baptist to me!

        I’ve read and had so many discussions with Baptists who dispense with Abraham and who even dispense with the types and shadows and even that the Son was not personally present in/with/under the types and shadows. Some of these are known Baptist theologians. So, when you ask how many Baptists would agree with you, I think that’s a good and important question.

        Re: Gen 17 & Witsius, Amen. Again, your tenure as a Baptist must be in doubt now. I don’t see Witsius’ view is at all coherent with a Baptist account of the history of redemption.

        When we say “administration” we mean, for one thing, that the promise God made to Abraham and to his children is also made to us. David claimed it for his son who was taken from him in infancy—and thus the Synod of Dort invoked these places specifically to address the status of covenant children dying in infancy (CD 1.17).

        Obviously, God’s special providence in election is a mystery and not all covenant children are elect and thus not all come to faith and yet we are convinced that the promise is genuine and that it means the same thing to us that it meant to Abraham. God really has promised to be a God to believers and to their children and so we include them externally in the visible covenant community—to exclude them outwardly, by refusing to circumcise them brought judgement on Moses & Zipporah and it brought judgment on Israel at Gilgal. After all, pagans can sit in our services with us. We encourage it! We want them to hear and believe but we don’t include them outwardly in the visible covenant community. We don’t “cut them off” from the world and say to them, “the name of the Triune God has been placed on you, child. You have been set apart. You belong to Christ. You need to trust and thereby receive all that was promised to you in your baptism.” We may even say to the covenant child who rebels, “You are under a special wrath since you were included in the visible covenant people. You were not treated like an outsider.” Here I’m thinking of Ephesians 2, where, for Paul, being externally included in the visible covenant community is a big deal.

        So, there is a distinction between the covenant child and the unbaptized pagan sitting in the same service, hearing the same gospel.

        Here we disagree about how and whether unbaptized children are included. Practically, perhaps they are included (we hope—we hope that people are not calling their children reprobates etc) but the formality is important. “What advantage has the Jew? Much in every way!” So it is with our children.

        We agree that (often we hope) Baptist practice is better than Baptist theology.

    • Dr. Clark,

      I receive your comment in the friendliest way possible! I appreciate your interaction here and I will continue to think through and wrestle with these issues.


    • Dr. Clark and Pastor Spencer, I cannot comment on the way in which John Gill Particular Baptists of the 1600s and 1700s did or did not subscribe to the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith, but when noting the practice of Gill’s church to have an additional local doctrinal statement, I do think it’s important to be aware of the role of local church covenants in Congregationalism of that same period.

      The “Independent” movement in British nonconformist circles, for much of the Cromwellian period and for some time thereafter, didn’t always make a clear distinction between Congregationalists and Baptists (a fair number of churches and pastors tried to “straddle the fence”) and the result was that the debates within Congregationalism of the 1600s and 1700s over the role of ruling elders and the role of local church covenants and confessional subscription have close parallels in Baptist churches of that same period. Unlike today where Baptists and baptistic evangelicals largely set the agenda for Bible-believing evangelical churches not only in the United States but in much of the world, Baptists of that era were a distinct minority and were taking their cues from debates in Presbyterian and Congregational circles.

      Confessional subscription without an authoritative body that is a “higher court” or “broader assembly” necessarily works differently than what would be found when a presbytery can depose a minister who is a member of the presbytery and not the local church, or when a Dutch Reformed classis can (depending on polity) either depose a local consistory or “set a church outside the federation,” which is the maximum extent of authority of a classis in the URC.

      For most of the better part of Congregational history, a practice very similar to what the URC church order prescribes, i.e., breaking fellowship with an errant church, was the way in which Congregationalists dealt with serious doctrinal error by a pastor or by a church. The 1648 Cambridge Platform explains that process. While the Cambridge Platform predates the creation of associations of churches in New England, as communications and travel conditions improved in the colonial era, most of the time, that involved a vote by a local association to declare that a pastor or local church was erring so seriously that it could no longer remain a member of the association. The process, though differing in important details, looked quite similar to what we would see in a presbytery or classis meeting.

      But that’s not the full story.

      With regard to local church membership, most Congregational churches recognized that it was simply unrealistic to ask every member to subscribe to the Savoy Declaration or several subsequent New England modifications of it. While the Dutch Reformed have historically practiced confessional church membership, most modern Presbyterians require much less from private church members than is required of elders or pastors. I know details differ from denomination to denomination, but I don’t think it’s unfair to say that confessional church membership, as commonly practiced in the Dutch Reformed world, is quite different from requiring a credible profession of faith and agreement to submit to elder authority as conditions of church membership.

      The Congregational practice was to regard both practices as errors. Congregationalists were quite aware of Dutch Reformed practices, given that numerous men who later became leaders in Congregationalism were living in the Netherlands during the Arminian controversy, the Synod of Dordt, and subsequent discipline of the Remonstrants, and of course, the Congregationalists were quite familiar with Presbyterian church membership practices, and polemicized against them as a remnant of Anglican parish church practices.

      What developed in Congregationalism in both England and New England was that local churches, responding to local needs and circumstances, would produce a local church covenant that addressed the most significant issues of doctrine and life being faced at that time in the local church, and used it as a test of membership, while still requiring full confessional subscription for elders and pastors and (usually) for deacons.

      In an ecclesiastical system where synods and councils are called only for extraordinary situations, many matters get handled at the local level that in Presbyterian or Dutch Reformed churches would be handled by an overture to presbytery or classis followed by a decision by the general assembly or by synod. If a church were to decide — for example — that not only elders and ministers but also each and every local church member must reject four-point Amyraldianism to be a candidate for church membership, that would be done by amending the local church covenant rather than asking the whole association, regional conference, or the national denomination to make that a requirement for membership in all churches.

      I would not be surprised if the cited document from Gill’s church functioned that way as a test for local church membership, even if Gill’s church subscribed to the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith. Having a local church covenant with a doctrinal standard is in no way inconsistent with subscribing to a more broadly accepted confessional standard. Without a presbytery or classis, I think a good case can be made that having a local covenant is the most efficient way to deal with local problems as they arise, rather than going through the extremely slow and cumbersome process of calling an extraordinary synod or council, which only rarely happened in either England or New England, and then only for the most urgent matters that required the churches to speak together and with a unified voice.

    • Darrell,

      Good point about the function of congregational covenants in the life of Congregational and Baptist churches. As you point out, the Independent movement in the Cromwelliam period didn’t clearly distinguish Particular Baptists from Congregationalists. In fact, I have heard that the first person to use the phrase “the Congregational way” was William Kiffin (a Particular Baptist) who also wrote a preface to one of Thomas Goodwin’s publications. The two traditions (Congregationalism and Particular Baptist) really are quite kindred. In fact, I found one quote from an 18th century writer who said that “the Anabaptist [I’m assuming referring to the English Baptists] is but an Independent under Water”!


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