conclusion of Chapter 2 Covenant Theology in the First and Second London Baptist Confessions

Here is the conclusion of Chapter 2 of Recovering a Covenantal Heritage: Essays in Baptist Covenant Theology. It is by James M. Renihan.

When viewed within their theological contexts, it is evident that the Particular Baptist version of covenant theology articulated in the two London Confessions shared a great deal with the formulations of the Reformed and Puritan divines around them. But at the same time, it took on a decidedly redemptive-historical character, recognizing the forward movement of the purposes of God in the outworking of his decrees. In both documents, covenant theology is cast in a forward looking frame. It is about the planning and accomplishment of salvation, according to the sovereign purpose of God, carried out in the person and work of Christ and applied to the elect by the work of the Holy Spirit. From first to last, salvation is covenantal, graciously given by the Lord to his people.

Although their theology was steeped in the familiar categories of their day, there can be no doubt that the Baptists framed their covenant theology to fit their ecclesiological purposes. It was here that the differences are evident, as they would only offer the sign of baptism to professing believers, just as admission to church membership was limited to these same people. This is most clearly demonstrated in the third paragraph of the 2LCF chapter 7, which explicitly depicts an advancing redemptive-historical perspective. While their Confessions do not directly address questions of the relationship between the Old and New Covenants, they consistently recognized that the Old Covenant was in some sense a republication of the covenant of works, not, according to Benjamin Keach “to justify them, or to give them eternal life . . .” but rather to “reveal the wisdom of God” and to show the nature of the righteousness once possessed by humanity and now required by God for justification.”[1] In this way, men may know that only Christ brings salvation.

In Particular Baptist theology, the doctrine of the divine covenants was a source of great joy and comfort. Two quotations, one from a subscriber to the 1LCF and the second from a signatory to the 2LCF, make the point:

 

… to make a new covenant with the soul is to write the Law of God in a mans heart, and in his mind, and to infuse saving knowledge and faith, by which God unites the soul to himself, and so pardons all his sins, and without any condition considered in the creature, binds over himself to be their God freely in Christ, and binds over himself to own them to be his people. And only thus, and no otherwise, is God said to make his new covenant, with a poor soul.[2]

 

Many years later, in the introduction to a funeral sermon preached upon the death of Henry Forty (a signatory of the 1646 edition of the 1LCF), Benjamin Keach said these words, a fitting conclusion to our study.

 

The subject treated on … is of the highest concernment …. This covenant being … support, salvation, and consolation … both in … life and in death…. This covenant is the only city of refuge, for a distressed soul, to fly to for sanctuary, when all the billows and waves of temptations run over him, or Satan doth furiously assault him: If we fly to this armory, we can never want weapons to resist the Devil, nor doubt of success against him.[3]



[1] Benjamin Keach, The Everlasting Covenant, a Sweet Cordial for a Drooping Soul (London: H. Barnard, 1699), 7-8. For Keach see Austin Walker, The Excellent Benjamin Keach (Dundas: Joshua Press, 2004) and D. B. Riker, A Catholic Reformed Theologian: Federalism and Baptism in the Thought of Benjamin Keach, 1640-1704, Portland, Wipf and Stock, 2010).

[2] Thomas Patient, The Doctrine of Baptism and the Distinction of the Covenants (London: Henry Hills, 1654), 80. For Patient see Greaves and Zaller, BDBR 3:12-13.

[3] Keach, Everlasting Covenant, unnumbered verso of title page.