Archive

Posts Tagged ‘infant baptism’

The Regulative Principle, and Spurgeon on “Thus Says the Lord”

November 12, 2015 Leave a comment

From my current reading, Going Beyond the Five Points includes a helpful chapter on the Regulative Principle, explaining what it is (and what it isn’t), including the theological background of it (that public worship is something God gives us more specifics on, and holds a higher standard, than our everyday life) and the scriptural basis. Among the interesting points: the regulative principle – unlike what I always associated the idea with – does not necessitate exclusive psalmody or music without instruments. Such practices are often (but not always) associated with churches that hold to the regulative principle, but not a necessary conclusion — and as I have observed, at least a few current-day Reformed Baptists have stated their disagreement with exclusive psalmody. As noted in this chapter, the doctrine of original sin and infant baptism also have such historical association, but that does not mean that the one (infant baptism) follows from the other.

From my ongoing Spurgeon reading comes a sermon related to this overall topic. Though Spurgeon never mentions the term “regulative principle,” his sermon #591, “Thus Says the Lord,” is an interesting one in which Spurgeon addresses the emphasis found in so many scriptures, “Thus Says the Lord” as a way to address an error in the Anglican church and its “book of common prayer.” This message was one of several such messages from the 1864 volume in which Spurgeon – age 30 at this time, several years before the Downgrade controversy — first publicly addressed errors in the professing Christian church, publicly challenging those of the establishment (the Anglican Church) to prove their practice from scripture. (The issue here was infant baptism, including statements in the Book of Common Prayer, such as having godparents vow saving faith and commitment on behalf of the infant being “baptized.” In a style well familiar to modern-day blog readers – links to all the posts in a blog series – the notes at the end of this sermon list the numbers and titles in this series regarding this issue.)

Alongside specific comments that tell us about the controversy itself, and some of the specific criticism Spurgeon had experienced (and in this sermon he names names), Spurgeon continually emphasizes the issue of authority, the only authority as “Thus says the Lord.” His explanations relate to the 1689 Confession (which Spurgeon agreed with) understanding of the regulative principle, as he notes God’s concern for proper worship, as God wants it.  Here, strong words from Spurgeon about God’s authority in His Church:

“Thus says the Lord” is the only authority in God’s Church. When the tabernacle was pitched in the wilderness, what was the authority for its length and breadth? Why was the altar of incense to be placed here, and the brazen laver there? Why so many lambs or bullocks to be offered on a certain day? Why must the Passover be roasted whole and not boiled? Simply and only because God had shown all these things to Moses on the holy mount; and thus had Jehovah spoken, “Look that you make them after their pattern, which was shown you on the mount.”

It is even so in the Church at the present day; true servants of God demand to see for all church ordinances and doctrines, the express authority of the Church’s only Teacher and Lord. They remember that the Lord Jesus bade the apostles to teach believers to observe all things whatever He had commanded them—and He neither gave to them nor to any man power to alter His commands. The Holy Spirit revealed much of precious truth and holy precept by the apostles, and to His teaching we would give earnest heed; but when men cite the authority of fathers, and councils, and bishops, do we give place for subjection? No! Not for an hour! They may quote Irenaeus or Cyprian, Augustine or Chrysostom; they may remind us of the dogmas of Luther or Calvin; they may find authority in Simeon, or Wesley, or Gill—we will listen to the opinions of these great men with the respect which they deserve as men, but having done so, we deny that we have anything to do with these men as authorities in the Church of God, for in the Church of God nothing has any authority but, “Thus says the Lord of Hosts.”

If you bring us the concurrent consent of all tradition—if you shall quote precedents venerable with 15, 16, or 17 centuries of antiquity, we burn the whole lot as so much worthless lumber, unless you put your finger upon the passage of Holy Writ which warrants the matter to be of God! You may further plead, in addition to all this venerable authority, the beauty of the ceremony and its usefulness to those who partake, but this is all foreign to the point, for, to the true Church of God, the only question is this—is there a, “Thus says the Lord,” for it? And if divine authority is not forthcoming, faithful men must thrust forth the intruder as the cunning craftiness of men.

The Baptist ‘Covenant of Grace’: The New Covenant

September 25, 2014 5 comments

Something that was previously unclear to me, that I had wondered about especially in reference to my Spurgeon sermon reading: what is meant by the term ‘covenant of grace’? The common idea, in reference to Presbyterian-type infant baptism, is of one continuous covenant throughout the Old and New Testament, “under two administrations” such that the Old (Mosaic) covenant was also part of the “covenant of grace.”  This idea blends and confuses Old Testament Israel and the New Testament church, to come up with a “new testament” equivalent of circumcision, namely, infant baptism.  Yet this Westminster-style Covenant Theology is better known, and commonly presented as the only type of CT — such as at the local church several years ago, which briefly presented this form, followed by the (only other choice) favorable presentation of “New Covenant Theology” such that NCT “must” be the correct choice.

Yet whenever Spurgeon mentioned the “covenant of grace,” in context he appeared to really be talking about the New Covenant and what Christ has done for us. Spurgeon even described the Old, Sinaitic covenant, as the “covenant of works” to be contrasted with the “everlasting covenant” also called the “covenant of grace.” Now, after studying the matter, with reading including several articles, online group discussions, and the descriptions of the covenants in the Westminster and 1689 confessions, I realize that Spurgeon was referencing the now lesser known definition. A comparison of the Westminster and the London confessions will show that, indeed, the Westminster confession includes several additional paragraphs defining the “covenant of grace,” where the 1689 London confession is much shorter, with this basic paragraph:

This covenant is revealed through the Gospel; first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman, and afterwards by further steps until the full revelation of it became complete in the New Testament. The covenant of salvation rests upon an eternal covenant transaction between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect. It is solely by the grace of this covenant that all the descendants of fallen Adam who have ever been saved have obtained life and blessed immortality, because man is now utterly incapable of gaining acceptance with God on the terms by which Adam stood in his state of innocency.

Though some “Reformed Baptists” use the Westminster Confession construction of one covenant with two administrations – and only change the part relating to baptism, to believers instead of infants – another group (including Pascal Denault and Richard Barcellos) have returned to their apparently previously forgotten heritage, with the recent publication of books that explain the difference between the Westminster and 1689 versions of covenant theology. An excerpt from Pascal Denault:

By rejecting the notion of a Covenant of Grace under two administrations, the Baptists were in fact rejecting only half of this concept: they accepted, as we have previously seen, the notion of one single Covenant of Grace in both testaments, but they refused the idea of two administrations. For the Baptists, there was only one Covenant of Grace which was revealed from the Fall in a progressive way until its full revelation and conclusion in the New Covenant… If the Westminster federalism can be summarized in “one covenant under two administrations,” that of the 1689 would be “one covenant revealed progressively and concluded formally under the New Covenant.”

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.

This makes sense and agrees with Charles H. Spurgeon’s usage of the term. A few selections from other early writers: “Sermons by Samuel Rutherford, with a preface by A.A. Bonar”

The use of this is, to show us the misery of all those who are not within this covenant, for they are in another covenant, even in a covenant which may be broken. Jer. xxxi. 31, 82; there are two covenants mentioned there ; the one whereof is broken, that covenant that He made with them when He brought them out of the land of Egypt ; and then there is the covenant of grace called the new covenant that cannot be broken.

Also, reference selections from Benjamin Keach regarding the covenant of grace.

In closing, a selection from Spurgeon, “The Blood of the Everlasting Covenant”  (Oct. 1859)

ALL God’s dealings with men have had a Covenant character. It has so pleased Him to arrange it that He will not deal with us except through a Covenant, nor can we deal with Him except in the same manner. Adam in the Garden was under a Covenant with God and God was in Covenant with him. That Covenant Adam speedily broke. There is a Covenant still existing in all its terrible power—terrible I say, because it has been broken on man’s part and, therefore, God will most surely fulfill its solemn threats and sanctions! That is the Covenant of Works. By this He dealt with Moses and in this does He deal with the whole race of men as represented in the first Adam.

Afterwards, when God would deal with Noah, it was by a Covenant, and when in succeeding ages He dealt with Abraham, He was still pleased to bind himself to him by a Covenant. That Covenant He preserved and kept and it was renewed continually to many of his seed. God dealt not even with David, the man after His own heart, except with a Covenant. He made a Covenant with His anointed. And, Beloved, He deals with you and me this day still by Covenant! When He shall come in all His terrors to condemn, He shall smite by Covenant—namely, by the sword of the Covenant of Sinai—and if He comes in the splendors of His Grace to save, He still comes to us by Covenant—namely, the Covenant of Zion; the Covenant which He has made with the Lord Jesus Christ, the Head and Representative of His people. And mark, whenever we come into close and intimate dealings with God, it is sure to be, on our part, also by Covenant.