Thursday, February 12, 2009

Comparrison Between Westminster Confession of Faith and Second London Baptist Confession of 1689

Andrew Compton at Reformed Reader has provided the link to a great resource at James Anderson's website that compares and contrasts the WCF and the 2LBCF it is also available in .pdf format.

This is a great resource for doing a line by line comparison and contrast between the two documents. This is particularly helpful given that in the Preface to the 2LBCF the authors state that they have purposely copied, at points, word for word from the WCF in order to demonstrate where they are in agreement, in order to establish themselves as part of the historic stream of orthodoxy:
. . . to fix on such a method as might be most comprehensive of those things we designed to explain our sense and belief of; and finding no defect in this regard in that fixed on by the Assembly, and, after them by those of the congregational way, we did readily conclude it best to retain the same order in our present Confession; and also when we observed that those last mentioned did in their Confessions (for reasons which seemed of weight both to themselves and others) choose not only to express their mind in words concurrent with the former in sense concerning all those articles wherein they were agreed, but also for the most part without any variation of the terms, we did in like manner conclude it best to follow their example in making use of the very same words with them both in these articles (which are very many) wherein our faith and doctrine are the same with theirs; and this we did the more abundantly to manifest our consent with both in all the fundamental articles of the Christian religion, as also with many others whose orthodox Confessions have been published to the world on the behalf of the Protestant in diverse nations and cities. And also to convince all that we have no itch to clog religion with new words, but do readily acquiesce in that form of sound words which hath been, in consent with the Holy Scriptures, used by others before us; hereby declaring, before God, angels, and men, our hearty agreement with them in that wholesome Protestant doctrine which, with so clear evidence of Scriptures, they have asserted. Some things, indeed, are in some places added, some terms omitted, and some few changed; but these alterations are of that nature as that we need not doubt any charge or suspicion of unsoundness in the faith from any of our brethren upon the account of them. [emphasis mine]
This chart does an excellent job of showing forth their changes. One of the differences that is key in understanding the different positions is found in chapter 7 where the 2LBCF does not contain any statement about the covenant of works. Although the major differences can be seen later in dealing with the topics of church and sacraments, these differences seem to stem from the differences in their respective understandings of covenant theology, which hinges on the rejection of the covenant of works.


  1. A very good chart. I did the same thing in my Th.M. thesis at Westminster Philadelphia in 1980 where I compared the two confessions and attempted to account for the differences. Aside from those differences that are germane to Baptists, the other differences are attempts by the London Baptists to respond to beliefs of Quakers and others.

    Richard L. Lindberg

  2. David, the 2LCF does affirm a covenant of works:

    "20. The Gospel and Its Influence

    1. The covenant of works being broken by sin, and made unprofitable for life, God was pleased to promise Christ, the seed of the woman, as the means of calling the elect and bringing to life within them faith and repentance. In this promise the substance of the Gospel was revealed and shown to be the effectual for the conversion and salvation of sinners"

    See also 2LCF 19:6.

  3. Hey Tommy! I hope you're doing well. Thank you for calling me out in my imprecision. "Rejecting" was the wrong word to use, for it revealed my bias in the discussion; a better word would be "recasting."

    I agree with you that the 2LCF retains the language in 19.6 (20.1 does not correspond to WCF but the Savoy Declaration); however, in two key places in the confession it does not.

    First, as I noted above, in chapter 7 which is an important chapter for setting forth the covenantal structure of the scriptures, the covenant of works is completely left out of the discussion. By doing so, this presents a "recasting" of the covenant structure of the scriptures by giving the appearance that the principal of grace is the unifying principle to redemptive-history. I remember when I was studying the 2LCF as a Baptist that I read some different resources by Sam Waldron, and his comment was the position of the 2LCF with regards to theology would have been consonant with what John Murray later proposed in his "recasting" of covenant theology--where he disliked the covenant of works and replaced it with his "Adamic Administration." In doing this, he also came to a different understanding of covenant itself as a "sovereign administration of grace and promise."

    By defining covenant this way, and by recasting the covenant of works as the Adamic Administration, he in essence dissolved the distinction between law and gospel, and recast covenant theology into a monocovenantal system. If all is of grace, is there any real place for the law?

    Now maybe Waldron was speaking for himself when he agreed with Murray and said that even if Adam obeyed, whatever he received would not be merited, but be rooted in God's condescension; yet, when I see the chapter that sets forth the covenantal structure of the Bible, which is bifurcated in WCF to include law and gospel, and it only discusses grace, then it appears as though it is recasting covenant theology into a monocovenantal system.

    The second significant place that it does not retain the covenant of works is in 19.1 (which is interesting since it does use it later in 19.6). Is the law mentioned in 19.1 the same law mentioned in 19.2? In the WCF it is and it is the covenant of works. If it is the covenant of works in both paragraphs, then it would suggest, as Reformed theologians have, that there is a republication of the covenant of works in the Mosaic covenant. If that is the case, then although there appear to be some gracious elements in the Mosaic covenant (which I and others would say are actually rooted in the Abrahamic covenant and actually not inherent to the Mosaic covenant) then there is a conditional element to it, and not gracious. It is still part of the administration of the covenant of grace, yet it does so not by functioning according to a grace principle but works principle. Hence, it is not a sovereign administration of grace and promise.

    If the covenant of works is republished in the Mosaic covenant, then the Mosaic covenant functions according to a law principle--which by necessity includes, then, cursing for not fulfilling one's covenantal obligations. This, then, would suggest that the covenant of grace includes both law and gospel--both blessing and cursing, which according to the WCF would include the new covenant. The covenant of grace would present a unified covenantal structure from the fall to the eschaton--on covenantal system that contains both blessing and cursing throughout.

    Yet, this would directly contradict Baptist theology and practice. For thinking Baptists, the new covenant is proposed as the fulfillment of the covenant of grace, "the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament. For Baptists, the new covenant is not part of the covenant of grace but its goal, which has been achieved. As such, the new covenant does not contain blessing and cursing, but only blessing--or to put it another, only those who are truly regenerate (however that is known) are members of the covenant, and therefore are to be received into membership, have a right to its sign and its meal.

    When you look at 19.6 and 20.1 where one does read of the "covenant of works," one finds that these two places both speak of it no longer being in effect, with regards to the covenant of grace. In 19.6 it agrees with the WCF that for "true believers" they are no longer under the law as a covenant of works--which I would add a hearty Amen! But Baptists can confess this because of their recasting of covenant theology--since Baptists are no longer under the covenant of grace but are now in the new covenant, which only consists of true believers, then they happily confess this. Likewise, 20.1 can include covenant of works language since it speaks of it negatively. So it seems that where the covenant of works would be positively informing the covenantal structure of redemptive history it is not included, but where it does not effect their recasting of covenant theology, they retain it (I find it interesting that when I read Malone's work on baptism of disciples alone that he never referred to his system as covenant theology, but covenantal).

    So, my point in all this is that by not retaining the covenant of works in places that would have it actively shaping the covenantal structure of redemptive history, the 2LCF "recasts" covenant theology to the point that it is no longer historic covenant theology, but a Baptist version of covenantal theology (per Malone). In my mind, and other confessional Presbyterians, this is a rejection of covenant theology, which necessarily reshapes Baptist formulations concerning the theology and practice of Baptist churches.

  4. Hey Dave,

    I hope you and the family are doing well! I'm glad to know you're a Klinean Presbyterian rather than a Shepherd/Schilder type. I'm very concerned about my Presbyterian brothers who are moving away from the Reformed faith and the gospel of grace. If you ever get a chance to read any of the old writing Particular Baptist theologians (from the 1600's to the early 1800's), you'll find strong agreement on the law-gospel dichotomy grounded in the antithesis between the CoW and the CoG. They stood shoulder to shoulder with the orthodox Presbyterians on this question.

    Ligon Duncan, my very favorite contemporary paedobaptist pastor-theologian, wrote:

    "For various reasons, many reformed Baptists of our time have failed to realize that historic Covenant Theology was fully appreciated and theologically deployed in the very best of the Calvinistic Baptist tradition. Whereas many Baptists today who are reformed have opted for speaking of themselves as some form of dispensationalist (modified or progressive) or have felt drawn to so-called 'New Covenant Theology,' Baptists who embrace the great Reformed distinctives (like Spurgeon did) have seen themselves as covenant theologians. May their tribe increase!" - Ligon Duncan

    I'm doing my dissertation on Benjamin Keach, the main Particular Baptist theologian of the second generation. He was one of the highest profile signatories of the 2LBCF. Keach was very strong advocate of the garden-covenant of works, which he believed was based on strict justice and merit. He was also a careful student of John Owen and adopted Owen's covenant theological superstructure, which is grounded in the law-gospel antithesis. All of Keach's theology and preaching was quite explicitly structured around a strict bi-covenantal federalism. Adam failed to merit eternal life for his constituents in the CoW (and instead demerited condemnation), but Christ merited eternal life for the elect in the CoG (CoR).

    Regarding the 2LBCF, it makes no historical sense to say that the phrase "covenant of works" was removed from the document because they were recasting it. There are two reasons for this. First, the highest profile signatories, including Hanserd Knollys, William Kiffin, and Benjamin Keach, approved of the term "covenant of works" and strongly advocated its theological implications (grounding all of history in justice, not grace), especially as they argued against high church Presbyterians who were slipping away from JBFA and imputed righteousness (Richard Baxter, Samuel Clark, Daniel Williams, etc.), who advocated a mild-law or a relaxation of the law and minimized the demands of strict justice.

    Second, if they rejected the language or the doctrine of the "covenant of works" itself, then one would expect them to have removed it from the Confession completely. But they did not. They retained the term in two places. That would be strange if they intended to recast covenant theology in the way Murray tried to do - Murray rejected the term "covenant of works" outright. No one knows for sure why the words "covenant of works" was stripped out of 6:1, 7:2, and 19:1, but the fact that the phrase appears in 19:6 and 20:1 must mean that they did not object to the phrase itself.

    Some historians have argued that the phrase "covenant of works" was removed in the three instances mentioned above merely for editorial considerations. For example, the title of chapter 7 is "Of God's Covenant," referencing a single covenant. But the Westminster Confession, discusses two covenants under that singular heading. That is a bit confusing. It's possible the reference to the covenant of works in that section was removed to avoid confusion and possibly to avoid monocovenantal implications.

    Similar editorial considerations may have been the reason that it was removed from 19:2. The Savoy Declaration's (congregationalist - Owenic) revision of the WCF is closely followed by the 2LBCF throughout and this is especially evident in chapter 19. The Savoy's reading at the beginning of 19:2 is harsh and perhaps confusing. The theme of paragraph 1 in the Savoy is the "covenant of works." But, paragraph 2 begins rather abruptly with the words: "This law, so written in the heart..." That abrupt transition could leave the unintentional impression that the law written on the heart is the covenant of works. So, to smooth out this abrupt transition, the Baptists deleted the mention of the "covenant of works" and began with the words "the same law that was written in the heart of man continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness."

    Thus, there is no reason to believe that the authors of the 2LBCF felt hesitant or in any way resistant toward the phrase or the theology of the "covenant of works."

    Please tell Christy that I say hello!!!

    Because of the Second Adam,

  5. Also, all of the Particular Baptists viewed the Mosaic covenant as a republication of the covenant of works, or at least, for those who followed Owen, as *containing* a republication of the covenant of works, while the Mosaic covenant itself may have been viewed as a third type of national covenant, which promised neither eternal life (CoG) nor eternal death (CoW). So, the PB's would not have viewed the covenant of grace as containing the (or "a") covenant of works within it.

  6. Does the 2LCF teach that the new covenant is the fulfillment of the covenant of grace, or does it teach that it is an administration of the covenant of grace? Malone says it is the fulfillment. That is not Covenant theology, that is something other. It is certainly "covenantal," but it is not Covenant theology.

    Does the new covenant contain both blessing and cursing, or does it only consist of blessing? Is the new covenant and salvation coexistent? If so, then that is not Covenant theology. I agree that Particular Baptists have a much more robust emphasis on covenantal theology than General Baptists, but it is not Covenant theology.

    These changes are substantive and do not leave the Reformed Covenant theology of the WCF intact--it recasts it. And this recasting has its effects in the doctrines of the church and baptism for sure.

  7. Chapter 6.1 of the Second London Confession, while not using the term "covenant of works" nevertheless expresses the sentiment of the term as used in WCF 7.2. The London Confession reads

    Although God created Man upright, and perfect, and gave him a righteous law, which had been unto life had he kept it, and threatened death upon the breach, thereof; yet he did not long abide in this honor; Satan using the subtilty of the serpent to seduce Eve, then by her seduction Adam, who without compulsion, did wilfully transgress the Law of their Creation, and the command given unto them.

    It is good to remember in comparing the WCF and the Second London Confession that the Baptists used the WCF as a model, and while they followed the text of the WCF in many cases, they did not always think it necessary to do so. As I pointed out in my earlier post, the Baptists had the Quakers in mind in many of their changes to the WCF. They also had the freedom to rearrange the contents of the WCF as they formulated their confessional statement. Some of the language in Second London Confession 6.1 is similar to Chapter 4 of the first London Confession of 1646. Yet chapter 6.1 in the Second London is much more in tune with Reformed covenant theology than the first confession is.

  8. Hey David,

    When Fred says that the new covenant is the "fulfillment" of the covenant of grace, he does not mean that the new covenant takes the place of the covenant of grace or that the covenant of grace transforms into the new covenant, he means that the new covenant is the clearest and *fullest* expression of the covenant of grace to date. Those in the new covenant are in the covenant of grace, according to historic Baptists and according to Fred Malone (I did 4 summer internships under him).

    The new covenant curses those who do not believe, and threatens the curse of condemnation for unbelief to everyone both in the new covenant and outside the new covenant. Even believers in the new covenant are threatened with condemnation for unbelief as one of the means to keep them in the faith. However, the curse of condemnation does not rest upon believers (who are all in the new covenant). Believers are not under the curse.

    Baptists disagree on whether unbelievers can be in the new covenant. Most have agreed with John Owen that the new covenant is a believers-only covenant. Was John Owen, the prince of the puritans, not a covenant theologian since he excluded unbelievers from the new covenant? One can be a paedobaptist and deny that unbelievers are in the new covenant. Fred Malone would say that unbelievers can be a part of the new covenant community and members of the church-covenant, but not part of the new covenant itself (like John Owen). Baptized confessors of faith are externally related to the new covenant and are actually part of the visible church, outward disciples of Christ, externally "in Christ" (like Judas), and they are covenanted with other members of the church and have covenanted with God by their profession of faith. These may break covenant and fall away from Christ, from the faith, and from their promise to keep the terms of the new covenant. Most Baptists say that those unbelievers were never actually "in" the new covenant because the new covenant promises to write the law on the hearts of its members (regeneration) and to forgive their sins from the least to the greatest (justification). Therefore, unbelievers who are outwardly related to the new covenant are not beneficiaries of its most basic/primary/fundamental blessings, which include the gifts of regeneration, faith, justification, and perseverance.

    However, some Baptists, who I've heard called "two circle" Baptists, think that unbelieving baptized professors in Christ can be in the purely legal aspect of the new covenant while not being in the communion of life aspect of the new covenant. These break the new covenant by their unbelief, fall out of external union with Christ, and incur all of the curses of the new covenant. That's the outer circle of the new covenant. But, the inner circle of the new covenant includes only the elect who have been regenerated and who are beneficiaries of the graces of true salvation. These are true professing disciples who will never break covenant because God keeps them by His power on the basis of His new covenant promises. Two-circle Baptists believe that the new covenant will eventually be composed of believers only, eschatologically, but not yet (less like Owen and more like Turretin).

    Reformed Baptists don't say that we may only baptize new covenant members. We also don't say that we may only baptize believers or only the elect. That would be stupid - it's impossible. We believe that the Scripture commands/requires us to baptize credibly professing believers who give evidence of being followers of Christ. The reason we only baptize credible professors of faith has nothing to do with the superstructure of our covenant theology, per se. Baptists who fully agree with Owen's covenant theology could move from being Baptist to being Paedobaptist, just like Owen, without changing any component of their covenant theology.

    What makes us Baptist, rather than Paedobaptist, is three things. First, Baptists believe that we more consistently apply the Reformed hermeneutical principle of NT priority (Augustine: New is in the Old concealed; Old is in the New revealed). Second, we differ on exegesis of specific texts. Third, we believe that a consistent application of the Reformed Regulative Principle (with NT priority) requires the baptism of disciples alone. This is where the real difference lies, not in our covenant theology, per se.

    Blessings in our common Lord,