Biblicaltraining.org has announced the release of an online encyclopedia featuring 14,000 academic articles.
The 14,000 articles cover the people, places, events, and ideas from the Bible and Christian history. All of our articles are written using an approach we call Academic Collaborative Publishing:
- It is academic in that we are concerned with high-quality information written by highly-qualified people.
- It is collaborative in that it represents the work of thousands of people.
- It is publishing in that our desire is to share our knowledge with one another.
These are thousands of professionally-written, professionally-edited articles you can trust. We will be instituting an editing policy, but one that guarantees its ongoing accuracy.
We also appended the contents of two qualified public domain resources to many of the articles, including the first edition of ISBE (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia). Our goal is for authoritative people to merge all the content of an article, and if necessary update its contents.
They also have a number of good audio classes that I listened to years ago (including some from Ronald Nash)
The Reformed Forum did a very short review of The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology. My comments can be found on that page.
Also, the new blog aggregator The Confessing Baptist did a two part interview with Pascal Denault about the book. (Haven’t had time to listen yet)
This video contains the audio of the debate between Jeff Johnson (author of The Fatal Flaw and a valued contributor to this blog) and Michael Horton concerning the Credobaptist versus the Paedobaptist view of Covenant Theology. The debate took place at the 2012 Semper Reformanda Conference at Grace Family Baptist Church.
It is a very interesting and helpful discussion between two men who hold to the idea that the Mosaic Covenant is a republication of the Covenant of Works. And I would just add here my special appreciation for Jeff, who has been more to helpful to me in properly understanding Covenant Theology than perhaps any other single person.
After fifteen years of serious historical Jesus study, I still say the creed ex animo; but I now mean something very different by it, not least by the word “god” itself (“Jesus and the Identity of God”).
Does anyone know anything about this book?
Tom Hicks offers a good summary analysis of reformed paedobaptism from a seventeenth century credobaptist position.
I dearly love Presbyterians. These brothers and sisters in Christ are co-laborers in the cause of the gospel. We owe them and their tribe very much for their vital contributions to Christian thought and life. Some of my heroes in the faith are Presbyterians. I have good Presbyterian friends and I value their friendships. I mean no offense to them in this post, but I do mean to outline what I regard to be the fatal errors in their doctrine of infant baptism (or paedobaptism) and respond to them.
Pastor Sam Waldron recently gave a series of lectures at the Deep South Founder’s Conference on baptist covenant theology. He also participated in a moderated debate with a dispensationalist. You can find the lectures here: http://deepsouthfounders.com/ as well as on Sermon Audio (scroll down). I’ve had the pleasure of hearing Dr Waldron speak on several occasions and have always enjoyed it. He’s got a booming, authoritative voice and knows how to use it – which means its fun to hear him when he’s on your side, and maybe not so much when you disagree
Whatever Happened to the Covenant of Works?
- I thought this was a great lecture. He took a solid stand for the absolute necessity of a covenant of works if we are to understand the gospel properly. He discusses his appreciation for Murray’s writings but explains that he is willing to call “the Adamic Administration” the Covenant of Works (while Murray was not). Additionally he answers or deals with several reservations or lingering questions I had, such as whether or not Adam had eaten of the tree of life before being banished from the garden (seemed to me like that was a distinct possibility). I haven’t been able to find these answers before and they satisfied my questions. (Though I’m still not convinced that Scripture teaches that Adam could have earned eternal life for his offspring – but he didn’t address objections to this point). He refers to Nehemiah Coxe as one among several reasons why the LBCF is in full agreement with WCF on this point. All in all, this is a great sermon!
Should You Believe in the Covenant of Grace?
- Point 1: “The theological concept of the covenant of grace cannot be strictly identified with any particular biblical covenant… The covenant of grace is often identified with one or another of the biblical covenants. But unless one adopts the view that all of the divine covenants are really one and the same (you wouldn’t want to do that), then the identification of the covenant of grace with any one of the biblical covenants is, in my view, naive. The reason I say that is, as defined by both the 1689 and the Westminster, the covenant of grace is an overarching covenant embracing all of history after the fall. That’s what it is, as I’ll show you in a second. That’s what they mean by the covenant of grace. Therefore it is seen as encompassing the several divine covenants of Scripture. In other words, all of the divine covenants of Scripture come into being at a certain point in history… But the covenant of grace, as we’ll see, defined by the confessions, is a covenant that is overarching of all history after the fall. The 1689 7.3… The Westminster also makes this point, but is even more clearly made in the Westminster Chapter 7 paragraph 5… Both of those statements make clear that the covenant of grace includes, for the Westminster, both its administration under the old covenant and its administration under the new covenant, what the Westminster calls there the law and the gospel. And the baptist confession makes clear, this covenant is first revealed to Adam. Now, beyond all doubt I think it’s clear to say the theological concept of the covenant of grace cannot be strictly identified with any particular biblical covenant... Unless one is willing, against the testimony of Scripture, to meld all the biblical covenants together, the covenant of grace cannot be identified with any one divine covenant.”
- “The New Covenant is often identified as the covenant of grace, sometimes, I think Spurgeon does this, actually. Hebrews 13:20-21 it is identified as the covenant of grace because it’s the everlasting covenant. Yes, but the point of the everlasting there in Hebrews 13 is that once it begins, it never ends, but the New Covenant begins with the advent of Christ…”
I found this lecture to be rather frustrating, especially in light of reading Denault’s work (which shows that the prevailing view of the signers of the confession was precisely the view that Waldron says cannot be – strictly identifying the covenant of grace with the new covenant, to the exclusion of all other biblical covenants). Of course, that book was published after Waldron’s lecture, so he doesn’t mention or interact with it. But Nehemiah Coxe’s work has been published for several years and Waldron does mention Coxe in his lecture on the covenant of works. In fact, he argues that Coxe’s view of the covenant of works should be given special consideration because he was likely editor of the confession. So if he is familiar with Coxe’s work, why does he completely ignore it and it’s relation to the confession here? Waldron states that the LBCF and the WCF are in complete agreement on this point, while Denault argues from the glaring differences between them that they represent two very different views. If Waldron has read Coxe, he must either think Coxe did not identify the covenant of grace with the new covenant, or that Coxe’s view is not represented in the confession.
I look forward to hearing more from him on this point in the future. This is exactly the kind of confusion I pointed out in my review of Denault’s book. Waldron gave a whole series of lectures at a conference on covenant theology supposedly representing the view of the London Baptist Confession, while in fact there is reason to doubt he has correctly explained the meaning of the confession. But I’m sure this will be discussed at some point after the publication of Denault’s book.
- Point 2: “The 1689 confession regards the new covenant as the definitive revelation of the covenant of grace… Notice the confession does not say the New Testament is the covenant of grace. It is the revelation, the definitive revelation of the covenant of grace. I think that that’s an important distinction.”
- Point 3: “The terminology of the covenant of grace is not as important as the underlying theology.”
- “The __ God to Israel was, according to Exodus 30:12-13, due to the Abrahamic Covenant. While on the other hand, conversely, the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant were dependent upon obedience to the Mosaic Covenant. To inherit the land, they had to obey. But this is the promise of the Abrahamic Covenant… How wrong it is, symplistically at least, to call the Abrahamic Covenant a covenant of grace and the Mosaic Covenant a covenant of works… these covenants are inseparable.”
- I agree
- Thematic unity of the covenants: Ephesians 2:12: the covenants of the promise (plural covenants, singular promise). Though other translations are possible (the covenants of promise). Waldron leans heavily upon this to argue for his overarching covenant with one substance, differently administered view. Benjamin Keach agreed with Waldron’s translation, but not his interpretation:
The Baptists believed that no covenant preceding the New Covenant was the Covenant of Grace. Before the arrival of the New Covenant, the Covenant of Grace was at the stage of promise. According to Benjamin Keach, the expression “the covenants of the promise” that can be found in Ephesians 2:12 refers back to the Covenant of Grace. The promise in question was the Covenant of Grace. If we are talking about a promise, this implies that it was not yet accomplished and was not yet in the form of a testament or a covenant. The Baptists believed that the New Covenant was the accomplishment of the promise, or in other words, the accomplishment of the Covenant of Grace.
The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology, Pascal Denault, 63
- Conclusion of Point 1: “We must not too quickly simply identify the Covenant of Grace with the New Covenant. We must not be guilty of that.” I don’t think the seventeenth century baptists did so quickly or simply, but I do think they did so.
Are the New and the Old Covenants Really One And the Same?
- I really enjoyed this lecture. It’s basically a summary of certain parts of the Reformed Baptist Manifesto. I thought he did a great job of showing the problems with the paedobaptist interpretation of Jeremiah 31. His use of John 6 was tremendous. Definitely recommend giving it a listen.
- There was one section that I found particularly interesting in light of the previous lecture (re: overarching covenant of grace with different administrations). “There is a clear difference between old covenant adoption and new covenant adoption. There was an old covenant adoption and there is a new covenant adoption and they are strikingly different. In Romans 8:14-16, to be an adopted son of God means that you’re led by the Spirit of God and an heir of glory. Whereas Romans 9:3-5 teaches that many were adopted in the old covenant sense who knew nothing of the Spirit of God… Romans 8:14-16… That’s clear, isn’t it? To be a child of God, to be adopted, is to be saved, to be an heir of glory, as v17 goes on to say. Romans 9:3-5… But Paul, you just prayed for their salvation! You just said that they were lost and separated from Christ? How can they be adopted sons of God? Well they can’t be, and they aren’t, in the New Covenant sense. But they were in the Old Covenant sense. There’s a difference between old covenant adoption and new covenant adoption. Becoming one of God’s people in the Old Testament was based on the flesh, but becoming one of God’s adopted sons in the New Covenant sense is based on the work of the Spirit. This is the difference between the old and the new covenant.”
- I think this is an excellent point! But I fail to see how it is consistent with the rest of what he believes about the old and new covenants. Were Abraham, Moses, or David adopted sons of glory, led by the Spirit? If so, then they must have been members of the New Covenant, because as Waldron says, that was not true of Old Covenant adoption. To be adopted in the New Covenant sense is to be saved. To be adopted in the Old Covenant sense is outward and of the flesh. So if any old testament saint was an heir of glory, led by the Spirit, saved, they must have been so by virtue of the New Covenant and not the Old Covenant. I would be very curious to hear how Dr. Waldron explains that in light of his view.
Debate: Covenant Theology vs Dispensationalism
- Overall I thought this was a decent debate. I wish they had gotten into it a bit more, had more examination time. But that’s usually the case with most debates. Give it a listen!
- One interesting question came during the cross-examination when Dr. Johnson was pressing Dr. Waldron on the use of a theological covenant in distinction from the biblical covenants. He said, “What do I lose by not calling Gen 3:15 a covenant?” Dr. Waldron’s answer was basically “Nothing, if you retain the meaning of the covenant of grace.” That question is central to the view of seventeenth century baptists. Nehemiah Coxe said (regarding Gen 3:15) “It must also be noted that although the covenant of grace was revealed this far to Adam, yet we see in all this there was no formal and express covenant transaction with him.” (57) Coxe and his contemporary baptists held to a revealed/concluded view of the covenant of grace instead of a substance/administration view. The covenant of grace was revealed as a promise prior to Christ, and then it was formally concluded as the New Covenant.
- One last note: I’m excited to hear 1689 federalism enter the dialogue with NCT and Dispensationalism
I know very little of T. David Gordon beyond his essays in “By Faith Alone: Answering the Challenges to the Doctrine of Justification” and “The Law is Not of Faith”. From these essays I gather that he is someone who speaks his mind, and perhaps bombastic (he compares John Murray to the drunk uncle no one wants to talk about). The main thrust of his essays is that Murray departed from the reformed tradition by not acknowledging great discontinuity between the Mosaic and New covenants. He makes several good points, but he tends not to realize that he is not arguing against Murray so much as the WCF tradition.
I enjoyed his response to the oft-used argument that paedobaptists use: For God to say he will be God to someone necessarily implies a soteriological relationship.
Murray (and his followers) implicitly believe that the only relation God sustains to people is that of Redeemer (which, by my light, is not a relation but an office). I would argue, by contrast, that God was just as surely Israel’s God when He cursed the nation as when He blessed it. His pledge to be Israel’s God, via the terms of the Sinai administration, committed him to curse Israel for disobedience just as much as to bless her for obedience. In being Israel’s God, he sustained the relation of covenant suzerain to her; he did not bless or curse any other nation for its covenant fidelity or infidelity. In this sense, he was not the God of other nations as he was the God of Israel. (p 120 “By Faith Alone”)
But a more interesting comment comes later in a footnote:
I would like to indicate that I think his [Murray's] view ought to be given due and serious consideration because of Murray’s stature within the Reformed tradition, and because of his otherwise orthodox views on most matters. For this reason, while I think his view is unbiblical, and therefore confuses our effort to understand the Bible, and while I think he has retained the wrong thing and jettisoned the right thing from the tradition, I think we should discuss his views for a few generations.*
*I am perfectly happy with retaining the covenant of works, by any label, because it was a historical covenant; what I am less happy with is the language of covenant of grace, because this is a genuinely unbiblical use of biblical language: biblically covenant is always a historic arrangement, inaugurated in space and time. Once covenant refers to an over-arching divine decree or purpose to redeem the elect in Christ, confusion is sure to follow. Thus, in my opinion, Murray kept what ought to be discarded and discarded what ought to be kept.
(p 121 “By Faith Alone”)
No objection here. Let’s call the covenant of grace what Scripture does: the new covenant!
I actually finished a book. I have a terrible track record of reading several books at a time and never finishing any of them. I just read Paul Tripp’s “A Quest for More” and wanted to share a few quotes.
The book is an explanation of what it means to seek first the kingdom of God. Tripp explains this seeking in terms of a constant battle between seeking the expansive, transcendant kingdom of God and the constricting, deadly kingdom of self. It’s a heart issue, which means you can be outwardly seeking the kingdom of God (studying the bible, serving others in the church, evangelism, etc) while inwardly seeking the kingdom of self (doing all those things to glorify and please yourself, not God).
I won’t provide a full review, just some good quotes. I recommend the book.
The problem is that most of us don’t think in kingdom terms. You know, you just rather thoughtlessly get up in the morning and go to work, or get the kids ready for school, or take the dog for a walk, or read the morning paper. You and I don’t live with a ready sense of our intentions or allegiances. And this is precisely how we get ourselves into trouble. Without knowing it, we can reduce the promises of Scripture down to a hope that God’s grace will ensure the success of our little kingdoms.
Every day is shaped by the blueprints, laws, policies, structures, plans, politics, relationships, goals, purposes, and actions of some kind of civilization. If you are a human being you cannot escape this work…No one ever says, “I have decided to forsake the glories of the kingdom of God to pursue the self-oriented glories of my own kingdom.” Instead, because of the blindness of sin and the fact that we exist in little moments, so much of our kingdom building takes place without conscious intentionality. And because we have defined biblical morality as the keeping of a set of rules, rather than the ownership of our hearts by the Lord, much of the conflict of kingdoms goes unnoticed. As a result, our lives end up being shaped by a confusing mix of big kingdom rules (the kingdom of God) and little kingdom rules (the kingdom of self). In the home, dad doesn’t only get angry when God’s law is broken, but when his law is broken as well. Mom isn’t only dedicated to seeing her children internalize God’s standards; she wants them to internalize the rules of her civilization as well. The child’s experience is that breaking the little kingdom rules get as much attention as breaking the big kingdom rules, and sometimes even more. In the blender of the frenetic schedule of the average modern Christian family, these two systems of law get so mixed up it becomes hard to separate one from the other. We say we are serving God, but there is another civilization that is shaping every intention, decision, and action. When it comes to which kingdom we are building, it is very easy to be blind and confused. We say we embrace the transcendent, but where the rubber meets the road in our daily lives, our living shrinks to the field of our personal concerns. We don’t forsake the faith, but the real kingdom we are building, where we live and work each day, is a kingdom of one.
You cannot be Christ-centered without becoming cross-centered.
Sam was a Christian, but his faith lacked zeal and direction. He did all the right things, but they seemed empty and without energy. At work, however, he took on a completely different personality. He was positive, driven, interactive, and zealous. He arrived early to get a jump on his day, not because he was forced to but because he wanted to. Often he was the last person to head for home. In his walk with the Lord and his life with his church, he appeared neither excited nor engaged. Yet at work he was alive, every pore opened. Why the contrast? What was missing?
Here’s what happens. When Christ isn’t central in the life of a Christian, his Christianity will always get reduced to theology and rules. It will cease to be the central organizing principle of his life. It will give way to other powerful motivations and move to the fringes of his life. I think this is the experience of many Christians. Their Christianity is missing Christ! It then becomes little more than an ideology with an accompanying set of ethics. What is incredibly dangerous about this is that if Christ isn’t central in our hearts, something else will be. Christianity as theology and rules will allow self to be at the center. It is only Christ who can free you and me from bondage to the little kingdom. Functionally, Sam’s faith had been reduced to beliefs and commands. But Christianity gutted of Christ is devoid of both its beauty and its power. Only love for Christ has the power to incapacitate the sturdy love for self that is the bane of every sinner, and only the grace of Christ has the power to produce that love.
…There really is no place for Christ in many people’s Christianity. Their faith is not actually in Christ; it is in Christianity and their own ability to live it out. This kind of “Christianity” is really about the shadow glories of human knowledge and performance. It does not require the death of self that must always happen if love for Christ is going to reign in our hearts.
…What does it mean to live a Christ-centered existence? It means that the fear of the Lord, more than fear of anything else, sets the agenda for our actions, reactions, and responses. This is the essence of big kingdom living. The kingdom of self is driven by all kinds of other fears: fear of man, fear of discomfort or difficulty, fear of failure, fear of not getting my own way, etc. The principle here is that if God doesn’t own the fear of our hearts, he will not own our lives. You and I are always living to avoid what we dread. If we dread displeasing God more than anything else, because our hearts have been captured by a deep, worshipful and loving awe of him, we will live in new ways.
…When I live this lifestyle I find joy in telling Jesus, day after day, that I need what he did in his life, death, and resurrection. This lifestyle is about growing to acknowledge that in some way, every day, I give evidence to the fact that the cross was necessary. And this lifestyle of forgiveness makes my daily attitude one of heartfelt gratitude and joy.
Our thoughts can be so dominated by the necessary tasks of the day, by the difficulties we face, or by the people around us, that we lose our consciousness of the Lord of Glory who has drawn us into his transcendent purposes for the universe. Or our day can be kidnapped by anxious cravings and all the “what ifs” that worry is able to generate. Big kingdom living really does start with remembering the King. This isn’t some mystical spiritual exercise for the super spiritual. It is street-level worship.
Once again, the problem is not that Kat is dissatisfied with her relationships. In fact, she is way too easily satisfied. Kat has woven a fabric of little kingdom relationships around her. These relationships have little or nothing to do with God, his will for Kat, and his plan on earth. They are part of a quest for an unencumbered, low-demand, entertaining, happy life. Kat seems utterly blind to the transcendent glories that could be hers as she experiences the travails of pursuing relationships that are driven more by the purposes of God’s kingdom than by little kingdom desires. Kat’s short-sighted satisfaction is exposed by the fact that when she looks at her relationships, she does not groan. If you pursue God’s plan for your relationships, you will groan, because you will be confronted with how far you and others are from what God says is good and best. Pursuit of big kingdom relationships will bring you to the end of yourself and make you cry out for the help that only God can provide. Like Kat, you are too easily satisfied by fun and casual relationships.
Relationships take commitment. Relationships demand time. Relationships require perseverance. Relationships call us to sacrifice. At its core, biblical faith is not a commitment to an ideology; it is an undeserved welcome into a relationship. It is Christ making us the “apple of his eye” and calling us to love him more than anything or anyone else in our lives. Can you imagine a man declaring his love for a woman, telling her that she is more important than anything else in his life, and yet finding little time to deepen their communion and love? It is possible for us to declare ourselves to be Christians, to say that we love the Lord more than we love anything else, and yet to have no time for Christ!
…It is frighteningly easy to find so much satisfaction in the things we are doing that we have little time or energy to find satisfaction in Jesus. The problem is that few of the things we are pursuing are harmful in themselves. We can give ourselves valid reasons for being involved in all of them. And so the distractions in our lives don’t trouble us. They occupy our schedules with logic and plausibility, even though they prevent us from pursuing this one central romance that is meant to be the unchallenged source of our meaning, identity, purpose, and hope…
…When we examine our lives closely, it becomes clear that our problem is not our schedules. It is not that God has put more on our plates than we can possibly accomplish in seven, twenty-four-hour days. Our problem is our fickle hearts that wander away from this one central romance and so easily give our affection to another. The Bible calls this “love of the world.” And the Bible tells us that if we love the world, the love of the father is not in us. (See 1 John 2:15—17.)
…Our problem is not that we fail to be satisfied. Our problem is that we are too quickly satisfied. When we are not lonely, it is because present lovers have stolen our affection away, and for the moment, we are satisfied.
He also has a great chapter on anger that very helpfully distills the issue into kingdom anger: anger about disruptions to our kingdom of self or to the kingdom of God. It’s not about being quiet and passive and free of anger. It is about being angry at the right things:
This new anger is an unquenchable zeal for God’s cause and an uncompromising distaste for sin. It is the anger of compassion that cannot help but seek to relieve people who are suffering from sin’s damage. It is the anger of mercy that responds to the foolishness of sin with understanding and grace. It is the anger of restoration that refuses to condemn, but believes that lost rebels can be rebuilt into the likeness of Jesus. It is the anger of service that finds delight in helping burdened pilgrims bear their load. It is the anger of peace that hates the division that sin has birthed in our world and does everything that can be done to restore harmony. It is the anger of forgiveness that hates sin’s guilt and despises its shame.
The problem is that when you elevate your little kingdom desires to “needs,” you no longer live with guarantees. But God has not promised to deliver all the things you have hoped, desired, and convinced yourself that you cannot live without… when these things control your heart and command your hopes, you will tend to judge God’s faithfulness, not by whether he has been true to his promises, but by whether he has given you the things that you have set your heart on. But this is right where the redemptive quandary lies. If God gives you the things that are playing a role in your life that only he is supposed to play, wouldn’t he be encouraging in you the very addictions from which his grace is meant to free you?
so there you go
I am now able to sleep at night: Pascal Denault has written the book I’ve been looking for.
Someone has finally put in print an analysis of what 17th century particular baptists believed about covenant theology. As amazing as it sounds, no other book has done this. Of the now numerous books published on baptist covenant theology, none of them have done what Denault has done. None of them endeavored to explain what the editors and signers of the 1689 London Baptist Confession meant when they modified Chapter 7 of the LBCF. Some have written how they personally interpret Chapter 7, but not necessarily how the London baptists did. Many reformed baptists have labored hard to reconcile their credobaptism with covenant theology, but for the most part they went back to the drawing board to do so, rather than standing on the shoulders of those who came before.
But, I don’t blame them. It’s not like you can find these primary sources on Amazon, or even in your library. For the most part, they’re just not in print. Reformed Baptist Academic Press did a great service in publishing Nehemiah Coxe’s treatise on covenant theology, but before that it wasn’t available in print. And still most of the other writings are not available. Denault notes: “I spent weeks communing with seventeenth-century theologians through their writings; sometimes reading them with a magnifying glass when only the original edition existed.”
The result is a unique combination of historical survey and modern polemic against presbyterian covenant theology. The value of returning to the source of 1689 confessional covenantalism is that it is decidedly different from the covenant theology of modern reformed baptists. Only two modern books articulate the same view: Jeffrey Johnson’s The Fatal Flaw in the Theology of Infant Baptism and A.W. Pink’s Divine Covenants (for the most part).
The most prevalent view amongst reformed baptists today is a modified version of presbyterian federalism. This is the one covenant, two administrations view. Denault notes “the Presbyterian paradigm of the Covenant of Grace consists in seeing only one covenant administered respectively by the Old and New Covenants. This notion was definitively rooted in Presbyterian theology when it was integrated into the standards of Westminster: “This covenant [the Covenant of Grace] was differently administered in the time of the law and in the time of the gospel [...]” (39). Most reformed baptists agree with this view. In his Exposition of the 1689 LBCF, Sam Waldron notes “The truth is that the way or scheme of salvation has been one and the same in all ages of the world. In the revelation of this scheme of salvation all the divine covenants were involved. They were its historical administrations.” But they disagree with presbyterians over what constitutes the difference in administration between the old and the new. They will say that the old covenant eternally saved some of it’s members, but the new covenant eternally saves all of it’s members – and this is the newness of the new covenant. As James White argues:
The point is that for Niell [his paedobaptist interlocutor], the “counter-point” to which he is responding is an either/or situation: either the elements of the New Covenant described in Heb. 8:10 were completely absent in the Old Covenant (as he understands the citations he presents to assert) or they were present and hence cannot be definitional of what is ‘new’ in the New Covenant. But it is just here that the position of Reformed Baptists in general, and that seen in our exegesis, must be allowed to speak to the issue. We must agree that considered individually, each of the elements of the New Covenant listed in Heb. 8:10-12 can be found, in particular individuals in the Old Covenant… So, if some in the Old Covenant experienced these divine works of grace, but most did not, what then is to be concluded? That the newness of the New Covenant is seen in the extensiveness of the expression of God’s grace to all in it… Hence, when we read, “God’s law, the transcript of his holiness and his expectations for his people, was already on the hearts of his people, and so is not new in the new covenant,” 11 we respond by saying it is not the mere existence of the gracious act of God writing His law on the heart that is new, but it is the extensiveness of that work that is new. While some in the Old Covenant experienced this, all in the New Covenant do so… The newness of the New Covenant, as we have seen exegetically, is that all of these divine actions are true for all of those in it.
As White alludes, his position is representative of “Reformed Baptists in general”. The new and the old covenant do not differ in substance – they both renewed hearts, forgave sins, and saved eternally. They only differ in administration – some received this blessing in the old covenant, but all receive this blessing in the new covenant. But as Denault demonstrates, this view is not representative of seventeenth-century baptists.
Coxe summarizes the Baptist distinction as follows: “the Old Covenant and the new differ in substance and not only in the manner of the administration.”… his federalism can practically be considered as the standard of Calvinist Baptists [of the seventeenth-century]. (18) … Consequently, none of them endorsed the theology of one Covenant of Grace under two administrations (58). [Note: apparently 1 or 2 Calvinist Baptists did endorse the two administration theology]
Instead of the one covenant under two administrations view, seventeenth-century baptists held to “one covenant revealed progressively and concluded formally under the New Covenant” (61).
“[Chapter 7] is the most discordant passage of the confessions of faith. Knowing that the Baptists made every effort to follow the Westminster standards as much as possible when they wrote their confession of faith, the originality of their formulation of the Covenant of Grace is highlight significant. It is obvious that the authors of the 1689 completely avoided any formulation reminiscent of the “one covenant under two administrations” model that we find in the other two confessions of faith. This absence must be interpreted as a rejection of the theology behind this formulation and not as an omission or an attempt at originality.” (60-61)
The Baptists believed that before the arrival of the New Covenant, the Covenant of grace was not formally given, but only announced and promised (revealed). This distinction is fundamental to the federalism of the 1689 (62)… The Baptists considered that the New Covenant and it alone was the Covenant of Grace. In Baptist theology we find an equivalency between the Covenant of Grace and the New Covenant (63)…The Baptist understanding rested on another fundamental distinction: one between the phase where the Covenant of Grace was revealed and the phase where it was concluded. The revealed phase corresponded to the period preceding the death of Christ and the concluded phase corresponding to the time that followed. Therefore, Baptists considered that no other covenant, besides the New Covenant, was the Covenant of Grace.
Again, just to note the contrast between seventeenth-century baptists and modern reformed baptists, Waldron states
“Each use of the term to refer to a divine covenant in the bible refers to a covenant made by God at some specific historical epoch. None of these covenants may simply be equated with what the [London Baptist] Confession describes as ‘the covenant of grace’… The New Covenant has sometimes been equated with the covenant of grace. As the Confession remarks, ‘the full discovery’ of the covenant of grace ‘was completed in the New Testament.’… If this theological terminology [covenant of grace] is used, however, it must be guarded carefully in two ways. First, the distinction between the divine covenants [ie new covenant] and the covenant of grace must be maintained jealously. (107-110)
I don’t mean to criticize White and Waldron and others who hold their view. I only wish to make it abundantly clear what is being said in Denault’s book. It is easy to read another book on baptist covenant theology and categorize it with the others without realizing it’s uniqueness and it’s disagreement with other reformed baptists. Greg Nichols’ “Covenant Theology: A Reformed and Baptistic Perspective on God’s Covenants” has been lauded as a hallmark point for reformed baptists. Derek Thomas notes “Baptists who embrace their historic Calvinistic and Covenantal roots have long since needed a robust and comprehensive treatment of Covenant Theology that includes the nuanced interpretations of the biblical covenants that a baptistic hermeneutic requires. This treatment by Greg Nichols does just that and more.” The oddity is that this treatment that has long been needed, has long existed! And Nichols’ modern treatment is not representative of the older treatment already given. Whereas Denault spends the entire book explaining the meaning of the change in LBCF 7.3, Nichols gives it a paragraph and barely mentions any disagreement. This is fine if Nichols’ main focus is to explain his personal beliefs about covenant theology, but it is lamentable that paedobaptist scholars like Thomas inevitably see it as representing the Calvinistic and Covenantal roots of the 1689.
There is a lot to be learned from seventeenth-century baptists. In particular, Denault’s book helped iron out a few wrinkles in my understanding of baptist covenant theology.
His discussion of the Abrahamic covenant and clarification as to what Coxe said about it was very helpful. He shows how the baptists answered the claims of Petto and others who saw the Abrahamic covenant as unconditional but the Mosaic as conditional (a view echoed by Meredith Kline and Michael Horton). They answered Petto’s primary text for this view (Gal 3:16-17) by appealing to Galatians 4:22-31.
“The Baptists saw two posterities in Abraham, two inheritances and consequently two covenants… Not that the posterity of Abraham was of a mixed nature, but that Abraham had two distinct posterities and that it was necessary to determine the inheritance of each of these posterities on the basis of their respective promises… This understanding was vigorously affirmed amongst all Baptist theologians and characterized their federalism form its origin” (119-120).
But, very helpfully, Denault clarifies that this did not mean they saw two formal covenants with Abraham. They saw only one formal covenant – the covenant of circumcision (Gen 17). The other was seen only as a promise (Gen 12) (a footnote interacts with Jeffrey Johnson’s disagreement on this point, and is very helpful as well).
Denault also does an excellent job of illuminating the precise nature of the Mosaic covenant as a covenant of works, according to the baptists. I have previously objected to John Owen’s remark that the Mosaic Covenant law demanded perfect obedience. I preferred A.W. Pink’s explanation that only outward, national, general conformity to the Mosaic Covenant was required, since it was a national covenant. However, Denault notes that these two views are in harmony:
“In agreement with the Covenant of Works, the Old Covenant demanded a perfect obedience to the Law of God, but contrary to the Covenant of Works, the Old Covenant was based on a sacrificial system for the redemption of sinners… The slightest disobedience to the Law constituted a sin punishable by death (Rom 6:23), but not necessarily a transgression of the Old Covenant. It is necessary to make the distinction between the requirements of the Law of works affirmed under the Old Covenant and the requirements of the Old Covenant itself towards Israel. The maintaining of the Old Covenant depended on the Levitical priesthood (Heb 7:11) and not on absolute obedience… the obedience required was general and national in character. God graciously overlooked the many offenses. However, the covenant would be broken if Israel habitually sinned and were marked nationally as a rebellious people who disregarded God’s Word” (137-138).
There is much to be gained from Denault’s work. It fills a very necessary gap in the existing literature on baptist covenant theology. The work addresses many of the objections and concerns raised by modern paedobaptists against modern Calvinistic baptists. For example, the recently published “Kingdom Through Covenant” defense of “progressive covenantalism” is seen by many as “the” covenantal answer to paedobaptists by modern Calvinistic baptists. But Kingdom Through Covenant really looks very little like the seventeenth-century baptists. And what’s more, these older baptists avoided the pitfalls that Kingdom Through Covenant is precisely being criticized for (see my next post). Sadly, I doubt that Denault’s work will get the attention that Kingdom Through Covenant did, although it deserves to.
Enough already: go read it!