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Baptist Covenant Theology: Coxe and Owen, ‘From Adam to Christ’

August 28, 2017 2 comments

Continuing in the 2017 Challies’ Reading Challenge, I’m now reading another theology book: a second one about Baptist covenant theology.  The first book I read, back in January, was A.W. Pink’s The Divine Covenants  (see previous post); this time, a recent publication and reprint of two 17th century works,  in Covenant Theology: From Adam To Christ.  The first part is Nehemiah Coxe’s views of the first covenants:  the Adamic/covenant of works, plus the Noahic and Abrahamic covenants.  A selection from John Owen’s commentary on certain verses of Hebrews 8 follows. The original language of both Coxe and Owen has been modernized and edited for easier reading; footnotes have been added for words uncommon today, and section headings added to guide the reader.  It has often been said that Owen in particular is hard to follow, but this version of Owen is readable (and quite insightful).

The book was not quite what I expected – a discourse regarding each of the historical covenants in sequence from Adam through the Davidic and New Covenants, the approach taken by Pink’s book.  Instead, Coxe starts with the Covenant of Works with Adam, followed by the Noahic covenant, and lastly discourses at great length on the Abrahamic covenant, which he actually divides into two separate covenants:  the covenant of promise with the spiritual blessings, and a separate “covenant of circumcision” linked to the later law added by Moses and specifically for the Jewish economy.  So the discussion on the Abrahamic “covenant of circumcision” relates to the later Mosaic covenant.  Coxe ends at this point, without comment on the Davidic or New Covenant; the history notes that he agreed with John Owen’s exposition of Hebrews, and thus never completed his own exposition of the New Covenant.  Thus the next section is John Owen’s treatment of Hebrews 8.

Whereas A.W. Pink’s The Divine Covenants includes responses to classic dispensationalism and antinomianism, Coxe’s primary focus is the dominant view of his day – paedobaptism and the related construction of the covenant of grace as including the children of believing parents.  At times he speaks against the view of unbelieving Jews, switching his hermeneutic approach to the general spiritualized amillennial view – missing the point of the Jews’ belief of a future millennial age by seeing it as “their view” as something that pertains to carnal unbelieving Jews; of course the true premillennial view fully affirms a future millennial age, as a both/and that includes believing Jews.

As a book explaining Baptist covenant theology, and especially in response to the paedobaptist idea – a parallel between circumcision as a sign of the covenant of grace and thus infant baptism in our age – Coxe’s work is very helpful.  One problem with the idea of circumcision=infant baptism:  the pre-Israel saints, God’s people going back to Enoch and Noah, as well as other believers in the same time period as Abraham’s family, were not under the covenant of circumcision.  Melchizedek and others, even Lot, were believers and yet not included in the promises to Abraham and not bound to the covenant of circumcision.  (He does not mention Job or his friends, but the point includes them as well.)

Melchizedek was alive about this time. … it was  he who was the priest of the most high God and King of Salem.  In both respects he was the most eminent type of Jesus Christ that ever was in the world; a person greater than Abraham, for Abraham paid tithes to him and was blessed by him.  Now considering that he was both king and priest, there is no doubt that there was a society of men that were ruled by  him and for whom he ministered.  For a priest is ordained for men in things pertaining to God.  This society was as much a church of God as Abraham’s family was and as truly interested in the covenant of grace as any in it.  Yet they were not involved as parties in this covenant of circumcision nor to be signed by it.  And so it is manifest that circumcision was not at first applied as a seal of the covenant of grace, nor did an interest in it presently render a man the proper subject of it.

… there was a positive command which made it necessary to circumcise many that never had interest in the covenant of grace.  So, on the other hand, from the first date of circumcision there were many truly interested in the covenant of grace who were under no obligation to be circumcised.  This is how far from truth it is that a new covenant interest and right to circumcision may be inferred the one from the other.

Another consideration is Paul’s debate with the Judaizers, as explained in the book of Galatians.

There the apostle tells them if he still preached circumcision, then the offence of the cross was ceased and he might have lived free from the persecutions he now suffered from the unbelieving Jews.  … For if the controversy has been about the mode of administering the same covenant, and the change only of an external rite by bringing baptism into the place of circumcision to serve for the same use and end now as that had done before, the heat of their contests might soon have allayed.  … But he will certainly find himself engaged in a very difficult task who will seriously endeavor to reconcile the apostle’s discourse of circumcision with such a notion of it.  Circumcision was an ordinance of the old covenant and pertained to the law and therefore directly bound its subjects to a legal obedience.  But baptism is an ordinance of the gospel and directly obliges its subjects to gospel obedience.

Covenant Theology: From Adam to Christ is quite informative and helpful for its response to the more well-known paedobaptist covenant theology.  The reprinting with modernized language makes Baptist covenant theology more accessible to the readers of our day, and helpful for discussing with today’s “Calvinist Baptists” who reject Covenant Theology by only interacting with the paedobaptist form of it and thus coming up with their own new teaching while yet ignoring the historical Christian teaching, that believers’ baptism and covenant theology do go together.

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Reformed Baptists, Charles Spurgeon, and Israel

April 11, 2017 Leave a comment

 

A recent article, What is a Reformed Baptist, makes some good points as to the defining characteristics of Reformed Baptists, as distinguished from Reformed non-Baptists on the one hand, and non-Reformed (Calvinist) Baptists on the other hand.  Five distinctives are noted:  the regulative principle of worship, Baptist Covenant theology, Calvinism, the Law of God, and Confessionalism.  Overall, I agree with it and find it a helpful article.

Yet one point (under the second heading of Covenant Theology) provides an example of modern-day overreaction against one error (traditional dispensationalism), to the point that would negate the actual beliefs of at least some (pre-20th century) 1689 Baptists.  From the article:

According to the New Testament, the Old Testament promise to “you and your seed” was ultimately made to Christ, the true seed (Gal 3:16). Abraham’s physical children were a type of Christ, but Christ Himself is the reality. The physical descendants were included in the old covenant, not because they are all children of the promise, but because God was preserving the line of promise, until Christ, the true seed, came. Now that Christ has come, there is no longer any reason to preserve a physical line. Rather, only those who believe in Jesus are sons of Abraham, true Israelites, members of the new covenant, and the church of the Lord Jesus (Gal 3:7).  …

Baptists today who adhere to dispensationalism believe that the physical offspring of Abraham are the rightful recipients of the promises of God to Abraham’s seed. But they have departed from their historic Baptist roots and from the hermeneutical vision of the organic unity of the Bible cast by their forefathers. Baptist theologian James Leo Garret correctly notes that dispensationalism is an “incursion” into Baptist theology, which only emerged in the last one hundred fifty years or so.

Dispensationalism is indeed an “incursion” (introduced in the mid-19th century, as even its early teachers acknowledged) but that is a different issue from the question regarding any future purpose for physical, national Israel.  As I’ve noted a few times in previous posts, the doctrine of a future restoration of ethnic, national Israel to their land, to have a significant role as a nation during the future millennial era, is not limited to dispensationalism, nor a distinctive unique to dispensationalism.  The 19th century covenantal premillennialists, who predated dispensationalism (certainly before it was well-known and had gained popularity), taught the same idea which today is often dismissed out of hand (as being dispensationalism) – as for example, Andrew Bonar’s remarks in the introduction to his 1846 Commentary on Leviticus.

True, some of the covenantal premillennialists were from the paedo-Baptist form of covenant theology – notably, Horatius and Andrew Bonar, and J.C. Ryle.  But what about Charles Spurgeon, a well-known Baptist who affirmed and taught the 1689 London Baptist Confession at his church?  Several of his sermons specifically addressed the future state of Israel, and his sermon introductions (on prophetic texts that pertain to Israel’s future) included such comments – his brief exposition of the primary meaning of the text, before taking up his own textual-style approach in a different direction regarding the words of a text.

Regarding the specific view of “Abraham’s seed” and its meaning, a search through the Spurgeon sermon archives (at Spurgeon Gems) brings forth several sermons where Spurgeon addressed this.  Consider the following selection of sermons:

The following are a few excerpts which explain Spurgeon’s view of Abraham’s seed – a “both/and” view that includes believers in our age as well as a future group of literal Israel.

From #1369:

Now, our Lord Jesus has come to proclaim a period of jubilee to the true seed of Israel. The seed of Abraham now are not the seed according to the law, but those who are born after the promise. There are privileges reserved for Israel after the flesh, which they will yet receive in the day when they shall acknowledge Christ to be the Messiah, but every great blessing which was promised to Abraham’s seed after the flesh is now virtually promised to Israel after the Spirit, to those who by faith are the children of believing Abraham.

From #1962:

More than that, the Lord kept His friendship to Abraham by favoring his posterity. That is what our first text tells us. The Lord styled Israel, even rebellious Israel “The seed of Abraham My friend.” You know how David sought out the seed of Jonathan, and did them good for Jonathan’s sake, even so does the Lord love believers who are the seed of believing Abraham, and He still seeks out the children of Abraham His friend to do them good. In the latter days He shall save the literal Israel; the natural branches of the olive, which for a while have been broken off, shall be grafted in again. God has not forgotten His friendship to their father Abraham, and therefore He will return in love to Abraham’s seed, and again be their God.

Thus, a 1689 confessional, baptist covenant theology view does not necessitate a removal of one group (ethnic Israel).  Nothing here requires an “either/or” approach that removes and precludes a national future for Israel, as demonstrated in the “both/and” approach taken by Spurgeon (and other covenantal premillennialists).

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 Moral Law, “My Sabbaths” and Ezekiel

October 15, 2015 6 comments

For today, I first note the theme of a recent book and a few blog posts — in response to the ‘New Calvinism’ emphasis today — concerning so many other Reformed teachings beyond the basic 5 points of Calvinism. David Murray at the HeadHeartHand blog has begun a series, with There’s More to Calvinism Than the Five Points of Calvinism and There’s more to the doctrines of grace than THE doctrines of grace, in which he notes the doctrine of creation, doctrine of providence, doctrine of revelation; I could go on and on: the grace of justification, the grace of adoption, the grace of sanctification, the grace of assurance, the grace of the sacraments, the grace of repentance, and so on. See how many doctrines of grace there are? And we haven’t yet touched the THE doctrines of grace. There are way more doctrines of grace than THE doctrines of grace.

Reformed Baptists (Richard Barcellos, Sam Waldron and a few others) have recently published “Going Beyond the Five Points: Pursuing a More Comprehensive Reformation” (kindle version available for $9.99), a collection of several essays about the 1689 Confession / Reformed Baptist theology (more than just the 5 points of Calvinism); I have started reading it and may post more specifically on it later.

Now to the topic of moral law and the Sabbath: in my ongoing genre-reading through the Bible, lately I have been reading through the first half of Ezekiel (end of the ‘OT history’ list) and the last chapters of Isaiah (beginning of the Prophets list), and certain impressions come through very strongly. The theme of judgment on apostate Israel is especially prominent in this section of Ezekiel (chapters 20 through 23), as generally elsewhere throughout the prophets, with contrasts between the wicked and their wicked acts, and the righteous and their righteous acts. At this point Israel had become worse than the Canaanite nations that the Lord had driven out before them; thus Israel was also removed from the land. As I’ve read previously from Phil Johnson, even the Canaanite nations were held accountable by God for a basic moral law (reference Romans 2:14-15), a law they were judged by even though they did not have the special revelation given to Moses, the written form of the Mosaic law.

Throughout the judgment passages in the Old Testament is the point that God detests and actually hates the ceremonial observance of apostate Israel – because they were not doing so from the heart, but merely with their lips, going through the motions only. Again and again this point is made, of the wicked ceremonial observance along with moral injustice, and the call to repentance, to return to the Lord and to do righteousness. Reference here Isaiah chapter 1, which describes apostate Israel’s Sabbath observance–within the context of their ceremonial law (verses 13-14): “Bring no more vain offerings; ​​​​​​​incense is an abomination to me. ​​​​​​​New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations- ​​​​​​​I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates.”

But then turn especially to Ezekiel 20 through 22, passages of strong judgment against Israel; interestingly enough, in these pronouncements of judgment, the Sabbath (a moral Sabbath, always referred to as “My Sabbaths”) is stated eight times (six in Ezekiel 20, and two more in Ezekiel 22), as something that apostate Israel was NOT doing and that they SHOULD do. Consider several of these references:

20:13 They did not walk in my statutes but rejected my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live; and my Sabbaths they greatly profaned.

20:16 because they rejected my rules and did not walk in my statutes, and profaned my Sabbaths; for their heart went after their idols.

20: 19-20: I am the LORD your God; walk in my statutes, and be careful to obey my rules, 20 and keep my Sabbaths holy that they may be a sign between me and you, that you may know that I am the LORD your God.

20:21 They did not walk in my statutes and were not careful to obey my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live; they profaned my Sabbaths.​​​​​​​​

20: 23-24: I swore to them in the wilderness that I would scatter them among the nations and disperse them through the countries, 24 because they had not obeyed my rules, but had rejected my statutes and profaned my Sabbaths, and their eyes were set on their fathers’ idols.

22:8 You have despised my holy things and profaned my Sabbaths.

Clearly (and logically), if on the one hand God hated their wrong-hearted observance of ceremonial law and rebuked them for their “new moon and Sabbath” – and yet so many times in Ezekiel alone He charged them with wrongdoing, forsaking God’s law and profaning His Sabbath – our God is referring to two different concepts of “Sabbath,” and He is especially concerned with a higher, moral concept of a Sabbath (the 4th commandment), not merely the ceremonial observance of their Sabbaths done in connection with the Mosaic law.  Further — and contrary to the teaching of NCT (New Covenant Theology) — this understanding of God’s moral law, of greater importance than Israel’s ceremonial law, was revealed and understood in the Old Testament, and known by Old Testament saints; God’s moral law was not something missing or incomplete or some “lower standard of morality” that had to be “raised” to a higher level of “the law of Christ” that was unknown before His First Coming.

 

Reformed Baptists (1689) and the Christian Sabbath

August 20, 2014 11 comments

Through study of the puritans and church history, and online reformed Baptist theology discussion groups, I am now more aware of the differences among various types of Calvinist Baptist groups, even among non-denominational, “reformed Baptist” type churches. Some “Sovereign Grace” (Calvinist, baptist) type churches, for instance, adhere to New Covenant Theology with its rejection of the three theological covenants – whereas other churches profess agreement with the 1689 London Baptist Confession, with its teaching of the theological covenants and reformed, confessional thought, beyond the basic Doctrines of Grace.

One especially new idea (to me): the Christian Sabbath teaching as expressed in the 17th century confessions, the Westminster Confession and the similar 1689 London Baptist Confession. I had read references to the Sunday Sabbath from classic writers such as 19th century preachers Charles Spurgeon and J.C. Ryle, and recall the description of the practice in 19th century pioneer America, through the young-child perspective from author Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Yet I was not aware of the actual teaching itself, the doctrinal basis, or that it is practiced (and how) in modern times by at least a few evangelical Christians, especially among reformed Baptists.

The Sabbath statement in the 1689 Confession

8. The Sabbath is kept holy to the Lord by those who, after the necessary preparation of their hearts and prior arranging of their common affairs, observe all day a holy rest from their own works, words and thoughts about their worldly employment and recreations, and give themselves over to the public and private acts of worship for the whole time, and to carrying out duties of necessity and mercy.

The local NCT (New Covenant Theology) church has only briefly addressed the issue, insisting that the Sabbath was for the OT Jews only, it was on the 7th day and thus there is no reason for the church to observe it on Sunday instead; and their (Jews) Sabbath was not only the seventh day but many other ceremonial days – and thus anyone today wanting to observe a “Christian Sabbath” is being legalist and actually unable to observe the Sabbath because it means all those extra Jewish ceremonial feast days.

Yet from what I’ve read so far, the Christian Sabbath position sees the Sabbath as a “creation ordinance,” with its source in the Genesis creation, when God Himself set aside the seventh day; in Exodus the Sabbath commandment is given to the Israelites shortly after their exodus from Egypt and before the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai. Christian Sabbath practice follows the “spirit” of the law from creation, rather than the “letter” of the law, without the specific rules and regulations of the Mosaic covenant Sabbath. Important to the Christian Sabbath are 1) the clear switch in the New Testament church, from meeting on the seventh day to the First day of the week, the Lord’s Day – a fact well established from passages in Acts and elsewhere in the NT regarding the day the church met; and 2) key verses including Mark 2:27-28 (“The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is Lord also of the Sabbath.”), while seeing the context of Colossians 2:16-17 as referring to the Jewish ceremonial laws and not related to the Sabbath-from-creation.

I am still studying this issue, and need to read and study the 1689 Confession itself. Thus far, I am not convinced that the 4th commandment is directly set forth in scripture, but see it as certainly a good idea for overall Christian life and practice, in general terms of setting aside time, as much as possible, for public and private worship on Sundays, and part of the believer’s ongoing sanctification.

Several resources of interest:

Dr. Peter Masters, Sword and Trowel (2009), Remember the Lord’s Day

John Piper, Remember the Sabbath Day to Keep it Holy

“The Christian Sabbath” — Sermon summary from Andy West; includes quotes from Voddie Baucham and others, plus general Sunday and Sabbath history

Blog posts with resources for studying the Sabbath:

This last one has a somewhat different approach, pointing out the example of Sabbath from our Lord as sufficient, in the absence of a direct command:

Early Christians justified Sunday worship on the basis of Christ’s resurrection. This makes perfect sense since Jesus’ resurrection is his enthronement (compare Ps. 2:6-7 with Acts 13:33; see also Phil 2:5-11). Because divine enthronement is linked with Sabbath-rest, Christians are justified in keeping Sunday as a Sabbath on the basis of Christ’s example. In other words, just as God’s example of resting on the seventh day was sufficient warrant for man to follow his Maker’s example, so Jesus’ example of resting on the first day is sufficient warrant for the new humanity to follow its Re-Maker’s example.  So I don’t need a direct NT command to keep Sunday holy. I have Jesus’ example to follow.