Stuart Brogden has written an overview of baptist theology that is directed, as far as I can tell, towards baptists who unaware of, or are perhaps just dipping their toes into Calvinistic baptist beliefs. For that audience, the book provides a helpful overview of certain aspects of baptist beliefs. Though my review will focus on areas of concern/disagreement, there is much in the book that I agree with as well. I’d love to sit down and talk with Brogden some day. I sympathize with his journey deeper into historic baptist beliefs, even if we don’t end up agreeing on everything.
I do have to note that potential readers may be misled by the title of this book for two reasons. First, it’s not primarily a book on covenant theology. It is more broadly a book on baptist theology, with a discussion of covenants filling one section. Second, the label “particular baptist” tends to be associated with 17th century baptists. The author, Stuart Brogden, is a proponent of New Covenant Theology (NCT), not the theology of the 17th century men typically associated with the label “particular baptist.” I won’t quibble over the title only to note that some people may misunderstand what the book is about (as evidenced by the numerous times people have asked if it is a book on 1689 Federalism).
The book is divided into 4 sections: Part 1: The Baptists, Part 2: A Baptist View of Reformed Theology, Part 3: A Baptist View of Covenant Theology, Part 4: How it Works Together in a Local Church. My review will focus on Part 3 and two issues related to it (confessionalism and the law).
2nd London Baptist Confession
As a proponent of NCT, Brogden voices his problems with the 2nd LBCF and those who hold to it. First, he argues that modern churches or associations that hold to the 2nd LBCF as a confessional standard are not using the confession the way it was originally designed. Its purpose was primarily political and was never used as any kind of doctrinal standard for a church or association. He quotes ARBCA’s Constitution explaining its use of the confession and then asks “Is this the intended purpose of these aged confessions?”
Early Baptists who held to the battle cry of the Reformation were known as particular Baptists, to differentiate them from Baptists who held to general atonement. Baptists were not seeking commonality with the Presbyterians until late in the 17th century when they sought a way to make peace with the state church and government in England, weary of being persecuted. (vii)
“The Confessions published by the Baptists in the Seventeenth Century were neither creeds written to secure uniformity of belief, nor articles to which subscription was demanded.” (Goadby)… James Renihan… [agrees] with Goadby’s observation that the main reason confessions were written in this era was to tell others what the confessors thought, not to bind the confessors to an in-house creed… [W]e know that no man has pure motives and must admit that we would likely have taken some pragmatic steps to lessen the pain of constant harassment and persecution. (93-94, 98)
The quote Brogden provides from Renihan does state that the particular baptists were interested in distancing themselves from anabaptists, but it does not say that churches did not subscribe to it or use it as a doctrinal standard amongst themselves. It is not clear that Brogden properly used Goadby’s quote either. Goadby appears to be referring to the idea of an established church demanding conformity by the use of the sword. Baptists certainly didn’t use their confession that way. But they did require those who confessed it to actually believe it and they did use it as the standard of association between each other.
Brogden suggests that the very idea of “subscription” is Presbyterian, not Baptist. He quotes ARBCA’s Constitution, stating
Confessional subscription employs three main terms in its nomenclature: absolute, strict/full, and loose. ARBCA has adopted the middle position. According to Dr. Morton H. Smith, “strict or full subscription takes at face value” the terminology used in adopting a confession of faith.
And then notes
Of interest to Baptists, I hope: Dr. Morton H. Smith, whose definition of full subscription ARBCA embraces, is a life-long Presbyterian. Their view of confessions has influenced Baptists as much as their view of covenants has. (92)
I find this comment and line of reasoning troubling. First, since Smith’s paper outlines all the various ways of subscribing to a confession, if any Baptist subscribes to a confession in any way, they must be unduly influenced by Presbyterianism. Second, the vast majority of Presbyterian churches do not hold to full subscription. Largely because of their view of ecclessiastical authority, they hold to various versions of loose subscription, including system (OPC) and good faith (PCA). Various Presbyterians, including Smith, have argued that these forms of loose subscription are incoherent and defeat the whole purpose of a confession, which is to state what you believe. ARBCA is unique in this instance and, rather than simply following Presbyterians, is actually leading them in demonstrating a more appropriate way to subscribe to a confession. And the Baptist distinctive of local church autonomy means that any particular church is free to agree or disagree with the 2nd LBCF and ARBCA without their pastors’ ordination being in jeopardy. For more on this point, see here and here and here.
These brief statements [from ARBCA] reveal deliberate use of a confession as the primary document (no matter their written protests to the contrary) that defines the doctrine and identity of the association and the churches that belong to it. The confession is “excellent” and becomes the “sum of sound doctrine” for them (as one elder in a 1689 LBC church put it to me), “founded on the Word of God”, and, in some cases, displacing it as the first line of defense and doctrine. This sad condition is well known among churches that hold to the Westminster Confession and some that hold to the 1689 LBC; and it shows up in their ecclesiology, how they function as a church, such as requiring “strict or full subscription” for serving as an elder while failing to take into account what is laid out in 1 Timothy 3 or Titus 3. (92-93)
Again, I find this kind of reasoning troubling, and perhaps not well thought out. The alternative is to not require any confession at all from an elder or church. I can certianly understand why Brogden does not think the 2nd LBCF should be the standard for a church, since he thinks it is unbiblical, but his comments here are directed at the concept of using any confession at all as a church’s standard. Brogden also quotes from Bob Gonzales arguing in favor of “something close to biblicism” rather than “confessionally colored glasses.”
A final note on this point, Brogden makes many statements throughout the book that reveal a superficial understanding of the topics he is dealing with. Here is one example:
While some within the 1689 camp insist on putting the Savoy between the Westminster Confession of Faith and the 1689 LBC, this is an argument without substance; as the Savoy was a clone of the Westminster, differing only on church government. The 1689 LBC is largely a clone of the Westminster. (104)
There are numerous important differences between Savoy and Westminster if one studies carefully. One pertinent example is the difference between the two in 19.1-2.
Chapter 19 on the Law of God
All of this is prepatory for Brogden’s criticism of the 2nd LBCF’s doctrine of the law. He argues the editors of the confession changed the obvious stuff, but were oblivious to various aspects of the Presbyterian system that were incompatible with Baptist beliefs and therefore they did not adquately revise their confession.
These issues (baptism, ecclesiology, church/civil relationships) are those which are easy to detect, above the water line one might say. What our Baptist forefathers did was to knock these matters out of the way and replace them with Baptist alternatives. What the early Baptists apparently did not do is carefully examine the foundation that was below the water line… One, perhaps the major area in which it appears the Baptists erred in cloning the Westminster regards the treatment of the Decalogue… This paedobaptist influence is found predominately in chapter 19 of the 1689 LBC, but also in one paragraph of chapter 22, addressing the “Christian Sabbath”. (104-105)
Brogden marches through Chapter 19 and its misused Scripture references (in the span of 4 1/2 pages) and quickly declares that the confession obviously contradicts itself.
Herein is a conflict within the confession…
How can the law given to Adam be the law of the Gentiles, who are without the law of Moses, then be described as the Ten Words which were given to Moses as law that the Jews had possession of? And how does using Romans 2:12a & 14-15 as the proof text prove that? Other versions of the 1689 LBC refer to Deuteronomy 10, which describes the tablets but that passage does not indicate that they are the same law as given to Adam. This is conjecture, not exegesis. And it conflicts with itself regardless of which footnotes are used in a given version of the confession…This is a sign of trouble in any document, when the Scripture passages used as references do not support the point being made. (106, 110, emphasis original)
In my opinion, his analysis is rather rash and would have been more meaningful if he had interacted with expositions or elaborations of the doctrine found in modern or historic writings, rather than just commenting on the choice of Scripture references. The meaning of the confession on this point is fairly simple: What God wrote on the hearts of all men had some level of identity with what God revealed externally and supernaturally to Israel. Gentiles do not have the law in the sense that they do not have a written copy of it revealed by God. But they do know the law because it is revealed innately within them, by which they will be judged just as Jews are judged by the written law.
Further, how could Adam know the Decalogue or any version of the “moral law” prior to having knowledge of good and evil? Only after he and Eve ate the forbidden fruit did Adam know he was naked (Genesis 3:11). Only then God said the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil (Genesis 3:22). It is clear that Adam did not know evil before he sinned, though he clearly knew the goodness of God. Since knowledge of the Law incites sin (Romans 3:20; 5:20; 7:7), one can only conclude that Adam was given the “moral law” conjunction with The Fall; not when he was created nor when he walked in innocence. There is no warrant in Scripture to take the Decalogue as an eternally binding “moral law” for all people: it was given to Moses and the infant nation of Israel (Nehemiah 9:13 & 14) and the tablets sit in an ark that is to be forgotten (Jeremiah 3:15-16). (106, emphasis original)
Just to make sure I was not misunderstanding him, I emailed the author to confirm that he does not believe man was created with knowledge of the law of God. He said that is correct. Since Adam and Eve had no knowledge of the law, they must not have been obligated to obey it. Again, Brogden confirmed via email that that is correct. No one knew or was obligated to obey the moral or universal law of God until after the Fall. The only command Adam and Eve had to obey was not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
With regards to Brogden’s argument: after the Fall, with a corrupt nature, knowledge of the law incites sin. That was not the case prior to the Fall with an uncorrupted nature. The “knowledge of good and evil” did not mean “knowledge of what God requires of man.” The tree of knowledge of good and evil was symbolic. It represented man’s effort to discern good from evil apart from the help of God’s wisdom. Adam’s duty was to apply the law of God to every situation he encountered in life. If he faced a difficult situation, he was to seek wisdom from God and not rely on his own understanding, thereby growing in maturity (Prov 2:6; James 1:5; Deut 1:39; 1 Kings 3:9; Is. 7:15; Heb 5:14; Rom 12:2; Ps. 119:66; Eph 5:10). This was, in fact, Adam’s test (probation). When he had grown in wisdom and maturity, when he had grown wise enough to be judge (1 Cor 6:2-3), then he would enter God’s rest, be confirmed in righteousness, granted to eat from the tree of life and live forever with an immutable nature. But when he faced a difficult situation (the serpent’s twisted teaching about what God said), he did not ask God for wisdom, but rather relied on his own understanding of what is good and evil (Gen 3:5-6) and therefore ate of the tree. That’s what the tree symbolized.
Brogden favorably quotes John Reisinger’s simplistic linguistic objection to the term “moral law.” He offers an alternative.
Since the Hebrews under the Mosaic covenant rightly saw all the commands of YHWH as moral (why else would picking up sticks on the Sabbath be a capital offense? – Numbers 15:32-36), it dawned on me that the right nomenclature would be universal law (do not murder, marriage, etc.) and covenantal law (do not eat pork, stay in your home on the Sabbath, etc.). Many people refer to a “natural law” that applies to all people, but since such a law is instituted and communicated by Creator God, it’s a supernatural law which applies universally. Hence my preference for that label. The covenant one is in determines which laws apply, apart from the universal laws which apply to all men. (107)
This is conceptually the same as 1689 Federalism’s distinction between moral and positive law. In fact, Brogden actually quotes part of a 1689 Federalism essay to defend his view.
There is no argument that the Decalogue contains universal law, but it contains more; specific instructions and commands that are part of the Mosaic covenant with national Israel and no other nation or people. Rather than being the universal law of God, it would seem that the Decalogue is a particular application of law given in the Mosaic Covenant to the Jews.
In a critique of New Covenant Theology [in the Appendix to the Coxe/Owen volume and also found online here], Richard Barcellos quotes John Owen from his Works, 22:215… In this quote, both Owen invalidates the common assertion that what we see in Exodus 20 is nothing but the “moral” law, although he did specify the “prescriptive parts” as “absolutely moral;” which is the universal law shining through the tablets.
However, rather than recognizing that perhaps he has misunderstood the confession’s position, since both Barcellos and Owen agree with the confession’s position, Brogden declares Owen to be in support of his rejection of the confession.
Terrence O’Hare tell us that Thomas Aquinas appears to be the first to develop this line of thought, “asserting that the old law contains moral (emanating from natural law), judicial (laws regarding justice among men), and ceremonial (laws touching on worship, holiness, and sanctification) precepts; and that these three can be distinguished in the Decalogue as well.”… Accepting such a novel teaching from anyone is treading on thin ice; that the originator was a Roman Catholic makes it all the more important that we examine it closely before declaring it truth that binds everyone. (108-109)
As someone who hold’s to the Confession’s teaching on the law, I have examined it closely (more closely than Brogden if his analysis in this book is any indication) and I find it to be biblical. Aquinas was not the first one to teach the concept of distinguishing between natural law and positive law in the Mosaic Covenant.
In summary, I believe the 1689 LBC suffers from paedobaptist influence in its perception of The Law, resulting in unavoidable conflicts within itself. Baptists ought not to embrace this unless we embrace their view of the covenants as well, for therein lies the basis for the view espoused in chapter 19 and chapter 22.8 of the 1689 LBC…
An astute observation from a news story wherein Paul McHugh, a respected psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins, refuted self-identification of sex is most appropriate here: “gird your loins if you would confront this matter. Hell hath no fury like a vested interest masquerading as a moral principle.” So it is in discussing the “Christian Sabbath” with those who hold to it. (120-121)
Brogden expresses appreciation for 1689 Federalism. He quotes from Denault, Coxe, Owen, Keach, and Pink. He does generally hold to a similar construct regarding the Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and New Covenants. In this regard I am thankful that an NCT proponent is studying and recognizing the value of historic baptist views. I wish more of them would do so. However, he also quotes extensively from NCT authors. He does recognizes that aspects of his view are not shared by proponents of NCT, who reject both the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace, though he maintains “the differences one may have with New Covenant Theology brothers are small and deal in large part with defining our terms.” In the end, he makes it clear that the book represents his own unique perspective.
I’ve taken part of Luther’s statement as my title because while I am thankful to God for myriad men in the Reformed Baptist world that have taught me much, I cannot claim full allegiance to a document written in the 17th century; it being mostly right… It is not my intention to present the 17th century Baptist view on the covenants, as if theirs was the ultimate expression of Baptist thought. Pascal Denault’s book, The Distinctiveness of Baptist Covenant Theology, is an excellent review of that position and the folks at http://www.1689federalism.com/ have been doing a very good job explaining some of the historic Baptist distinctives and how they differ from the Westminster Confession of Faith. My intention is to present what I, a particular Baptist, see as the biblical view of the covenants. Conforming to what particular Baptist have historically believed is not my main concern. I desire to conform the Scriptures, not to 16th and 17th century brothers who no more had perfect theology than you or I. We are not to be disciples of mere men (1 Corinthians 3:1-9), but disciples of the Lord Jesus; thankful for those who have been faithful and gone before us but not trapped in their teachings. Hence the title of this part of the book: A Baptist View of Covenant Theology; not The Baptist View of Covenant Theology. There are, today, many variants of how Baptists view the covenants in Scripture; far be it from me to speak on behalf of those with whom I disagree on topics relevant to this (such as reviewed in Part 2: A Baptist View of Reformed Theology). My desire is to be captive to the Word of God; not captive to a 17th century confession nor a system of theology developed by men. (vii, 131-132, emphasis original)
The Adamic Covenant
Brogden affirms that God did make a covenant with Adam, even though the early chapters of Genesis do not explicitly call it a covenant. He also affirms that the covenant was a covenant of works (in disagreement with NCT/Progressive Covenantalism proponents like Gentry and Wellum).
The covenant made with Adam was a covenant of works which did not comprehend sin and the need for redemption… (Hosea 6:7; Jeremiah 33:19-22; Isaiah 24:5-6)… Adam was commanded by God to “do this and live” (You may surely eat of every tree in the garden, Genesis 2:16) and “do that and die” (but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die. Genesis 2:17). Though very narrow in scope, this relationship required obedience by Adam for him to remain in fellowship with Creator God. And by his disobedience, death came to every man (Romans 5:12-19; 1 Corinthians 15:21 & 22), Jew and Gentile without distinction. (151, 149)
Brogden appears to be in agreement with the 2nd London Baptist Confession’s teaching on the Adamic Covenant of Works (see The Covenant of Works: Its Confessional and Scriptural Basis), but upon closer inspection we find that is not the case. As we saw above, Brogden rejects the idea that the law was written on the heart of man at creation, but the law is the basis of the Adamic Covenant of Works. He rejects the historic meaning of the concept while retaining the label and some aspects of it. This is very confusing and is not made clear to the reader. He approvingly quotes Owen and Keach defending the doctrine. However, both quotes do not reflect Brogden’s view since they are specifically focused on showing how the law was the basis of the Covenant of Works.
John Owen, a paedobaptist who shared much in common theologically with Baptists, agreed with Pink on this point in his commentary on Hebrews 8:6 (emphasis mine):
“There was an original covenant made with Adam, and all mankind in him. The rule of obedience and reward that was between God and him, was not expressly called a covenant, but it contained the express nature of a covenant. For it was the agreement of God and man concerning obedience and disobedience, rewards and punishments. Where there is a law concerning these things, and an agreement upon it, by all parties concerned, there is a formal covenant. Wherefore it may be considered two ways.
1st. As it was a law only; so it proceeded from, and was a consequent of, the nature of God and man, with their mutual relation unto one another. God being considered as the Creator, Governor, and Benefactor of man: and man as an intellectual creature, capable of moral obedience; this law was necessary, and is eternally indispensable.
2dly. As it was a covenant; and this depended on the will and pleasure of God. I will not dispute whether God might have given a law unto men, that should have had nothing in it of a covenant properly so called as is the law of creation unto all other creatures, which hath no rewards nor punishments annexed unto it. Yet this God calls a covenant also, inasmuch as it is an effect of his purpose, his unalterable will and pleasure, Jer. 33:20, 21.”
Benjamin Keach addressed the question of whether Adam was party to a covenant with God:
“Proposition: That the Breach betwixt God and Man, was occasioned by the violation of the First Covenant which God entered into with Adam, as the Common or Public Head and Representative of all Mankind; which Covenant was a Covenant of Works; I say, God gave a Law, or entered into a Covenant of Works with the First Adam and his Seed, and in that Covenant he gave himself to be our God, even upon the strict and severe condition of perfect Obedience, personally to be performed by Man himself, with that Divine Threatening of Death and Wrath if he broke the Covenant, In the Day thou eats thereof thou shalt surely die. Yet some may doubt (as one observes) whether this was a Covenant of Works, because here is only a threatening of Death upon his Disobedience to this one positive Law.”
In the style of 17th century apologetics (often called diatribes), Keach stated the propositions and provided the answers. This is his answer to the above proposition:
“Man in his First Creation was under a Natural Obligation to universal compliance to the Will of God, and such was the Rectitude of his Nature, it imports an exact Conformity to the Divine Will, there being an inscription of the Divine Law upon Adam’s heart, which partly still remains, or is written in the hearts of the very Gentiles (though much blur’d) which is that light which is in all, or that which we call The light of Nature.”
The fact that Brogden included these quotes in support of his view suggests to me that perhaps he did not adequately understand the quotes. He could have found other quotes dealing more narrowly with the existence of a Covenant of Works, or simply used the beginning of these ones without including the explainations of how the moral law was the basis of the Covenant of Works. Owen says “As it was a law only; so it proceeded from, and was a consequent of, the nature of God and man… this law was necessary, and is eternally indispensable.” Brogden rejects that idea. All that existed prior to the Fall was the one positive law not to eat from the tree. The subsequent “universal law” that Brogden says was written on man’s heart after the Fall was not natural, stemming from God and man’s nature as imago dei, or necessary (since it didn’t exist prior to the Fall). It must therefore have been positive law that depended only on the will and pleasure of God (note well that this means there is no law derived from God’s nature, a problem with many/most versions of NCT that reformed baptists have pointed out, leading to rejections of the imputation of the active obedience of Christ, see also here). Since that is Brogden’s view, it makes little sense for him to quote Owen making the opposite point. Owen’s point was simply to explain LBCF 7.1, which says that man, by nature, owes obedience to God without expecting any reward, but that God voluntarily condescended (by His will and pleasure) to establish a covenant with Adam to offer him a reward for his obedience.
His quotation of Keach is even more out of place. Keach says “[S]ome may doubt (as one observes) whether this was a Covenant of Works, because here is only a threatening of Death upon his Disobedience to this one positive Law.” That describes Brogden’s view: there is only a threatening of punishment for disobedience to one positive law. Keach says that is wrong because “Man in his First Creation was under a Natural Obligation to universal compliance to the Will of God, and such was the Rectitude of his Nature.” Keach is referring to Ecc. 7:29, which Brogden says has nothing to do with the law being written on man’s heart. These quotations are out of place and they reveal, in my opinion, that perhaps Brogden has not wrestled deeply with the doctrine.
Brogden also rejects the idea that the reward of the Covenant of Works was glorification – being made immutable.
There is nothing in the Scripture to support the notion widely held by some in the paedobaptist world of Covenant Theology that Adam had a “time of probation” that hypothetically held out access to the Tree of Life. This notion implies a “plan B” in God’s mind, which Scripture flat-out proscribes (Acts 2:23 for example) yet open theology embraces. Our God is in His heavens and does what He pleases.
This is simply a confusion of God’s revealed/preceptive will and His secret/decretive will. (see The Covenant of Works: Its Confessional and Scriptural Basis as well as Better Than the Beginning for helpful discussion of this point.)
Brogden affirms the dichotomous nature of the Abrahamic Covenant, noting that Abraham’s physical offspring was a type of his spiritual offspring. I will just note one aspect that I do not personally agree with.
I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him” (Genesis 17:19). This everlasting covenant is an eternal one, established and fulfilled by God, reconciling elect sinners with holy God. This is testified to by the apostle in Galatians 4:21-31 as he identifies the covenant represented by Sarah as the covenant with the heavenly Jerusalem, which is liberty (John 8:36); sharply contrasted with earthly Jerusalem, which is slavery, condemnation, and death (2 Corinthians 3:7-9). (137)
I think Brogden’s identification of the Covenant of Circumcision with the Eternal Covenant (Covenant of Redemption) is mistaken. The use of the word “everlasting” does not sufficiently establish that view. Neither does Galatians 4:21-31, which rather teaches that two subsequent covenants (Old and New) come from the Covenant of Circumcision. This leads him to mistakenly believe Christians are under the Abrahamic Covenant.
In several places, God promised several things to Abraham and his offspring. The apostle is precise in correcting the Jewish perspective wherein they supposed all national Israel was being spoken of as that offspring. Paul has even confused some modern commentators here, but clearly he means that what was promised to Abraham’s offspring was not to national Israel and its countless members; it was promised to one offspring, the promised seed that national Israel had been formed to protect as it was delivered through 43 generations (Matthew 1:17). Here is how one commentary explains it:
promises—plural, because the same promise was often repeated (Gen 12:3, 7; Gen 15:5, 18; Gen 17:7; Gen 22:18), and because it involved many things; earthly blessings to the literal children of Abraham in Canaan, and spiritual and heavenly blessings to his spiritual children; but both promised to Christ, “the Seed” and representative Head of the literal and spiritual Israel alike (163)
I do not agree with Brogden here and I think it overlooks the dichotomous nature of the Abrahamic Covenant. As Augustine explained, God made two promises to Abraham, one about the land of Canaan and his physical offspring, the other about Christ blessing all nations. In Galatians 3:16, Paul is not denying that God promised certain things to Abraham’s physical offspring (plural). Rather, he is clarifying that the promise to bless all nations was about one particular offspring, which was fulfilled in Christ. For more on this, see here.
In some comments Brogden rightly notes that the Mosaic Covenant was limited to temporal life and blessing in Canaan, in distinction from the Adamic Covenant.
While they lived in the flesh, they were in the Mosaic Covenant as God’s temporal people. So all national Israel was at all times members of two covenants – one identifying their spiritual condition (in Adam or in Christ), the other identifying them as God’s temporal people (under Moses). (146)
But elsewhere he argues that Christ secured eternal life and blessing for his people through the Mosaic Covenant.
Under the Old Covenant, Israel’s obedience procured God’s temporal favor: produce, favor with other nations, power, and God’s protection. Under the Old Covenant, as one born under the law, Jesus’ obedience procured spiritual and eternal favor: redemption, sanctification, righteousness, and Christ’s intercession for the New Jerusalem, sealing the New Covenant under which sinners are declared righteous (Romans 5:18-20, 8:3-4, Galatians 3:13, 4:4-5). The Old Covenant, in each of its administrations, demands much, but provides no hope of reconciliation with God.
A covenant cannot be bifurcated like that. You can’t say it means one thing to some members but a different thing to other members. That would imply two different covenants/agreements. Brogden appears to follow Jeffery Johnson here.
Some people, including Baptists (recall Spurgeon’s unclear statement in the introduction to this topic), make the error of claiming that the New Covenant was conditional for its mediator, that Jesus’ redemptive work was His part of the Covenant of Redemption. Scripture tells us Christ fulfilled the Old Covenant and earned the right to issue the New Covenant. He came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17); this phrase is commonly used “shorthand” to refer to what we call the Old Testament. (196)
Brogden also argues the Old Covenant was not the Mosaic Covenant, but was rather an umbrella covenant that embraced the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic Covenants.
The Old Covenant represents God’s relationship to national Israel, and includes the three major covenants contained therein, although the Abrahamic Covenant is only partially in this arena. This began to close with the Davidic Covenant, coming to a final close when the son of David who was his Lord fulfilled all the requirements of Moses and the prophets and cut the New Covenant (Galatians 3:24). The Old Covenant was worn out and ended. (145)
I do not agree with this articulation. I believe Scripture identifies the Old Covenant as the Mosaic Covenant, and that the Abrahamic and Davidic are different covenants. However, the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants have a great deal of overlap with the Mosaic Covenant and to the degree that they overlap, Scripture’s comments about the Old Covenant apply to them as well.
Brogden makes some confused comments about the 2nd LBCF with regards to covenant theology.
I read, studied and taught the 1689 London Baptist Confession and saw it had much the same view of the Mosaic Covenant as taught by the WCF; and I wondered how this could be. Then I found a book that shook me with some simple explanations from Scripture on the covenants. Jeff Johnson’s The Fatal Flaw of the Theology of Infant Baptism exposed the flawed foundation of paedobaptism, but more importantly, it explained the dichotomist nature of the covenant given unto Abraham as clearly presented by the Apostle Paul in Galatians 4. (iv)
If Brogden had been reading the confession as teaching the same thing as the WCF on the Mosaic Covenant, then he was misreading it. Johnson’s book and his subsequent reading of Denault would have made that clear. Why then does he still imply the confession teaches the same thing as the WCF on the Mosaic Covenant, rather than what is found in Denault’s 17th century survey?
As Baptists learn more about the covenants of Scripture (explored in more detail in Part 3: A Baptist View of Covenant Theology), apart from the Presbyterian hermeneutic so prevalent in Reformed publications, will we be willing to examine what our confessions say about the secondary doctrines that flow out from one’s view of the covenants? We will if we are to be true to our calls of Sola Scriptura and Semper Reformanda. And we will also not be willing to defend our confession by mere argument, but with a clear conscience led by the teaching from the Word of God. (103)
Brogden seems to suggest we have two options: the Presbyterian covenant theology, or his own personal covenant theology. There is no category for 1689 Federalism, which rejects Presbyterian covenant theology, but also rejects Brogden’s covenant theology.
This is not a complete review. It doesn’t touch on everything in the book, but since readers of this blog are primarily interested in 1689 Federalism and whether this book is a good resource for it, that is what I focused on. The critical nature of this review should not overshadow many good things this brother has to say in the book. In the end, however, I would not recommend the book because its pluses do not outweigh its minuses. The helpful things in book can easily be found in other, more reliable sources. In an endorsement at the beginning of the book, Jeffery Johnson says “In my opinion, this helpful work needs to be required reading for all Baptist seminary students.” I am surprised by such a strong endorsement and do not share his assessment.
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On the one hand, I could find useful the distinction between “moral law” and “positive law” because at least there is a recognition that God is unchanging but that God has changing laws (and covenants).
But the problem is the implication that God’s “positive laws” do not also reflect God’s character and holy nature. God’s justice is sovereign. God’s pleasure is just. Even God’s “positive laws” reflect God’s character and holy nature.
There was ONE law before the fall. Even in that case, however, law did increase sin and there is no identity of that one law with the laws of later covenants like the law of circumcision given to Abraham. But God owes nothing (except continuing on probation—live until you sin) to Adam for obeying that one law.
Adam by his vicarious lawkeeping was never promised immortality for himself or others. Don’t eat from that tree or die— Christ’s death is not commanded or promised by the one law given to Adam or by the many laws given to Abraham or to Moses.
The law to Adam proves that law comes before sin, and before any need of grace. But law being before sin) does not prove in any way that God gave Adam the Ten Commandments.
Before Adam sinned, he did not know good and evil, but Adam DID KNOW that eating from the tree was evil, with death as its evil consequence
The righteousness that God has always had
The righteousness that Christ had before creation
That righteousness is not the same as the righteousness that Christ obtained by His death
Those who teach that the death of Christ is not enough righteousness to give us a perfect standing before God teach that the cross only gives us forgiveness. They find their righteousness in the blessing of the law, not the curse of the law.
Galatians 3: 12 Those who want to make a good impression in the flesh are the ones who would compel you to be circumcised—but only to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 For even the circumcised don’t keep the law themselves; however, they want you to be circumcised in order to boast about your flesh. 14 But as for me, I will never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ
Jordan Cooper (Lutheran) does a good job of teaching that law comes before sin.
Click to access Cooper_16358_Excerpt-1.pdf
Even some Lutherans (who all teach that Jesus died for all sinners) have noticed that we have not all sinned in the same way. For example, we did not all kill Jesus. Lutheran Jack Kilcrease writes: “of the whole human race, only a very small number was actually present at the crucifixion. To say to a sinner that, hypothetically, he would have killed Jesus may very well be true, but it does not solve the problem of how this sinful attitude is manifest in the sinner’s own life….Such a hypothetical makes one’s sin into an abstraction…by exercising a kind of purely civil righteousness, the sinner might very well have not wished Jesus dead
Jesus did not die in order to make possible condemnation of those who do not believe. Before Jesus, or without any gospel, we are all born condemned by the one law God gave to Adam. We are already condemned. Law condemns. It is not the gospel which condemns
there was no gospel for Adam before Adam sinned, but God imputed Adam’s first sin to Adam and God also imputed that one sin of Adam to us all, which is why we are all born condemned, even if we never hear the gospel.
“Everlasting” does not prove that the Abrahamic covenant now continues. Whether we say that the Abrahamic promises were one covenant with two aspects or two covenants, we must say that the Abrahamic covenant of circumcision does not continue.
Which covenant did Christ fulfill and satisfy? We must continually protest the tendency of paedobaptists to flatten the covenants into one covenant. Even when they make distinctions between Abraham and Moses (as The new Testament does), they try to use that distinction to deny any distinction between the Abrahamic covenant and the new covenant. But Christ’s obedience to the “ceremonial” requirements of the Abrahamic covenant (his vicarious physical circumcision, for example) is not imputed to the elect never under the requirement of circumcision.
Thanks for this helpful, and I think essentially correct, assessment of Brogden’s book. By the way, when I want to help people find resources for understanding 1689 Federalism, I typically send them to http://www.1689federalism.com/ or this blog. I also refer them to Jeff Johnson’s The Fatal Flaw.
Thanks Keith. Glad the sites have been helfpul
Brandon, do you agree with this quote from Samuel and Micah Renihan’s paper (included, although I believe somewhat revised, in RaCH)?
It is one of the the sub-heading statements (if that is even an appropriate way to say things):
“4. The Old Covenant is theocratic Israel, defined by the Abrahamic, conditioned by the Mosaic, and focused by the Davidic covenants. The Old Covenant, and thus each of these three covenants, differs from the New Covenant not merely in administration, but also in substance.”
I know you agree with major parts of this statement, but the part I am interested in has to do with what the Old Covenant was – Samuel and Micah seem to be saying that the OC is Israel from inception to dissolution as the covenant people of God, and this throughout the Abrahamic, Mosaic and Davidic covenants.
Of course, I could be entirely mistaking them – that’s always possible.
At this point I’m not quite in agreement. I would see the Old Covenant as referring specifically to the Mosaic Covenant. I don’t have a major problem with it and would be open to changing my mind. But as of now that is not my opinion.
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Thanks, brother. 🙂
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I would rather say that the Old and New covenants were birthed by the Abrahamic Covenant (per Gal 4:21-31). The 17th century guys would say that the promise that “in you all nations of the earth will be blessed” was the New Covenant, not a part of the Covenant of Circumcision. In that way they tie the Covenant of Circumcision entirely with the Old Covenant. I disagree with them: https://contrast2.wordpress.com/2017/05/25/some-disagreement-with-coxe-on-galatians-317/
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