Featley: The Sweet Dipper (Part 1)

In this series I intend to consider what was perhaps the earliest Reformed response to the Particular Baptist movement, a treatise by the Anglican theologian and Westminster Divine, Daniel Featley (1582–1645), which recounts a disputation (think of a debate) between Featley, an anonymous Scot, and a rather younger Particular Baptist theologian, William Kiffin (1616–1701). The text that we will consider was published as Καταβαπτισται καταπτιστοι or the dippers dipt, or, The anabaptists duck’d and plung’d over head and eares, at a disputation in Southwark: together with a large and full discourse of their 1. Original. 2. Severall sorts. 3. Peculiar errours. 4. High attempts against the state. 5. Capitall punishments, with an application to these times. (London, 1645).1

The significance of this text, for the purpose of this series, is not necessarily the arguments that Featley made against the Baptist position, but rather how Featley (and the Reformed in the 1640s) received the Baptists (both Particular and General). This is significant because it has become widely held by Baptists over the last twenty-five years that since they identify as Reformed they are Reformed.2 This is a poor way to define a term with a five-hundred year history; but for the sake of discussion, if this is how we are going to proceed, then it seems worthwhile to examine how the Baptist movement was originally received by the Reformed.

Before we turn to the 1640s and to this text, we need to set the theological and historical background. Let us begin with an overview of the theological differences that lie behind the practical and ecclesiological differences.

For many in the Particular Baptist tradition it is a given that they are Reformed and that they ought to be recognized as such. It is considered rude or uncouth to object to the implied redefinition of the adjective Reformed as appropriated by the Particular Baptist tradition. That redefinition necessarily excludes the Reformed understanding of the history of redemption, which is that there is one covenant of grace which has been administered variously under the types and shadows and has been brought to a more complete reality in the new covenant. The historic Reformed view is that the covenant of grace was present in, with, and under the types and shadows of the Adamic, Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic administrations of the covenant of grace.3 Here is how the Reformed articulated this view at the Westminster Assembly:

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 foresignifying 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.

Under the gospel, when Christ, the substance, was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper: which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity, and less outward glory, yet, in them, it is held forth in more fullness, evidence and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the new testament. There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations. (WCF 7.5–6)

When the Divines said “under the law,” they meant Moses. The covenant that was administered under Moses was the covenant of grace. According to the Divines, the covenant of works was also administered under the law (WCF 7.2), which many classic Reformed writers described as the republication of the covenant of works.4 Nevertheless, it is essential for understanding Reformed theology (as distinct from Baptist theology) to understand what the Divines meant by administered. They meant to say that the same grace, which was realized in the new covenant, was already present in, with, and under the types and shadows of the Old Testament. This is what the Divines meant when they spoke of “promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews.” For many, but not all, Particular Baptists, the covenant of grace is only thought to be present by anticipation—not actually or objectively. The Westminster Divines intended to say that the same covenant of grace we have in the New Testament was already objectively—not merely subjectively (by apprehension)—present under the types and shadows. That is why those types and shadows were, “for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct,” etc. The Spirit worked through the types and shadows to bring the elect to new life and true faith. He was operating in, with, and under the types and shadows because that is what the Holy Spirit does in his church: operate through means to bring his elect to new life and true faith in Jesus.

The church under types and shadows (“under age,” WCF 19.3) was still the church, the Christ-confessing covenant community. They were looking forward to the realities that we have, namely the incarnation of God the Son. The church has always believed in Jesus (Jude 5; 1 Cor 10:1–4). It has always had a real, spiritual communion with Christ. It was Jesus who led them out of Egypt, and the Rock who travelled with them in the wilderness was Christ. Moses considered the “reproach of Christ of greater wealth than the riches of Egypt” (Heb 11:26; emphasis added).

When the confession says “under the gospel,” it is speaking in historical, not theological terms. The message of the gospel, free salvation through faith alone, was present under the types and shadows. God the Son promised to crush the head of the serpent even as he knew the serpent would strike his heel (Gen 3:15). In the new covenant “the substance” of the covenant of grace was “exhibited” (emphasis added). Where, under the types and shadows, the covenant was administered through bloody sacrifices, other types, shadows, and multiple sacraments, under the new covenant it is administered by the “preaching of the Word and administration of the sacraments” of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. There was less outward glory in the new covenant administration, but “more fullness, evidence and spiritual efficacy.” Where, under the types and shadows, the covenant was administered outwardly mainly to one people (the Jews), it is now administered “to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles.” But whatever the differences in administration, there “are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations.”

We have the framework in which the Reformed, as distinct from the Baptists, understand the essential difference between the shadows and the fulfillment. But in WCF 9.6, they further addressed the question:

Although the work of redemption was not actually wrought by Christ till after his incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy, and benefits thereof were communicated unto the elect, in all ages successively from the beginning of the world, in and by those promises, types, and sacrifices, wherein he was revealed, and signified to be the seed of the woman which should bruise the serpent’s head; and the Lamb slain from the beginning of the world; being yesterday and today the same, and forever. (emphasis added)

The essence of the continuity of the covenant of grace, comprised of the “virtue” (power), efficacy (effect), and benefits (Christ, justification, sanctification, and salvation), is the same under both administrations.

That substance was progressively revealed, but that does not mean that the covenant was progressively present. The substance of the covenant was exhibited and revealed because it was present. These differences are not imaginary. I have previously surveyed some of the differences between the Reformed and Baptist confessions on these very points. In that work I observed fundamental differences between WCF 7.6 and the Second London Confession (1677/89) 7.3. Where the WCF and the Savoy confess that there is one covenant of grace in the history of redemption “variously administered,” the Second London characterizes the covenant of grace only as “revealed.” There is a considerable 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.” As I explained in that prior essay, 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.” The Second London speaks of “discovery” but not of administration.

As noted in that earlier essay, this tendency manifests itself in the way the Baptist Confession relates the covenant of redemption to the covenant of grace. Where the Reformed walk through the history of redemption, the Baptists substitute for the history of redemption the doctrine of the pre-temporal covenant of redemption (pactum salutis). Thus, in the Baptist confession, 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.

Notes

  1. Daniel Featley, Καταβαπτισται καταπτιστοι or the dippers dipt, or, The anabaptists duck’d and plung’d over head and eares, at a disputation in Southwark: together with a large and full discourse of their 1. Original. 2. Severall sorts. 3. Peculiar errours. 4. High attempts against the state. 5. Capitall punishments, with an application to these times (London, 1645). I am calling Featley the “Sweet Dipper” in jest because Richard Sibbes (1577–1635) was known as the “Sweet Dropper,” because of the sweetness of his gospel preaching. It is also a play on the English subtitle of Featley’s treatise, The Dippers Dipt. The original English translation of the Greek title is polite. It could be translated as “The Opponents of Baptism Spat Upon.” The adjective καταπτυστος is onomatopoetic. Katabaptist (or catabaptist) was a synonym for Anabaptist.
  2. The expression Reformed Baptist only became widely used in the late 1990s, peaking in about 2000. This is according to Google Ngram results when filtered for actual usage. The terms Reformed and Baptist occur in the nineteenth century, but they are not used together often (once in 1823, in an obscure newspaper reference).
  3. See R. Scott Clark, “One Important Difference Between The Reformed And Some Particular Baptists: God The Son Was In, With, And Under The Types And Shadows.”
  4. For more on this question see “Resources On The Republication Of The Covenant Of Works.”

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.

You can find this whole series here.


RESOURCES

Heidelberg Reformation Association
1637 E. Valley Parkway #391
Escondido CA 92027
USA
The HRA is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization


Subscribe to the Heidelblog today!


5 comments

  1. So, um, only paedo-baptists are reformed?
    Really?
    Reformed baptists consider paedo-baptists reformed.
    Differences over how one interprets the covenants, and thus administers baptism, is the litmus test?
    Soteriology, Christology, Trinitarian beliefs, the historic creeds, ie Nicea, let’s say the more critically substantive beliefs are secondary to differences on the covenants as to disqualify one from Reformed “membership”?

    • Hi Gary,

      This is the reaction I often get from Baptists (not that you are necessarily). I understand how it looks to them but this is an important thing for the Reformed.

      I discussed last night at length with Keith Foskey and the interview is to be published tomorrow. That might help but the short version of the story is that the adjective Reformed meant great lot of things, a view of Scripture, God, man, Christ, salvation, church, and yes, sacraments, as well as last things.

      Baptist means something too. We baptize hitherto unbaptized professing believers but we aren’t allowed to call ourselves Baptists. Why not? Because the word Baptist means something and has since 1611. Well, the word Reformed has meant certain things since the 1540s. Baptists don’t some of those things, e.g., our reading of redemptive history, i.e., the unity of the covenant of grace, which we regard as essential to the faith.

      Of course Baptists would say that they aren’t essential and so some seek to redefine the adjective Reformed in a radically minimalist way. What if we said believers only baptism is non-essential? No Baptist (except John Bunyan—whom Kiffen et al excoriated) would accept that.

      It’s just incoherent to say that Reformed can mean A, B, & C and NOT A, B, & C. That’s a more Alice in Wonderland than Calvin’s Institutes.

      For the record (and the 1,000th time) originally Baptists who identified with aspects of Reformed theology called themselves Particular Baptists. They knew they weren’t Reformed. The phrase “Reformed Baptist” is rather new and, as I say, quite inaccurate.

      Please take a look at these resources:

      1) Resources On Defining Reformed

      2) Resources On Reformed Covenant Theology & Baptism

      • I am baptist, and yes I do prefer particular to precede baptist rather than reformed.
        I’m not sure we would all agree with your assessment that there’s absolutely no continuity in the covenant of grace from OT to NT.
        O Palmer Robertson’s The Christ of the Covenants and Covenant Theology by Nehemiah Coxe with John Owen’s views are quite good on this.
        I’m just tired of all the caste systematizing that goes on, like their’s these different levels of spiritual purity, bit that particular baptists themselves haven’t contributed to it all.

        I’d still vote for you for POTUS

        • Gary,

          There are some Baptists who see a fair bit of continuity in the covenant of grace between e.g., Abraham and the New Covenant but they seem to be a diminishing minority in the Baptist world. The hot view right now seems to me to be a fairly radical view, that the covenant of grace was not present in redemptive history until the New Covenant. Sam Renhian has argued this in recent years. Certainly that view is far outside the pale of the Reformed umbrella. So is his defense of the limbus patrum.

          I give a taxonomy of Particular Baptist views in Engaging With 1689

Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments are welcome but must observe the moral law. Comments that are profane, deny the gospel, advance positions contrary to the Reformed confession, or irritate the management are subject to deletion. Anonymous comments, posted without permission, are forbidden.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.