Overall Structure of the Confession

  • First Principles (chs. 1-6)
  • The Covenant (chs. 7-20)
  • God-Centered Living (chs. 21-30)
  • The World to Come (chs. 31-32)

What is ‘Covenant Theology’?

  • Often viewed as the alternative to Dispensationalism (a system arising in the 19th century that sees a sharp distinction between Israel and the Church)
  • A tradition that was developed during the 16th and 17th centuries coming out of the Reformation
  • A way of putting the Bible together that uses the Bible’s own language and movement
    • Covenant = terms of a relationship
    • Two Categories of Covenants:
      • Covenant of Works = a relationship with God where our obedience earns blessings and our disobedience deserves curses
      • Covenant of Grace = a relationship based on God’s unconditional, unilateral promises
    • Biblical Covenants:
      • Adamic Covenant
      • Noahic Covenant
      • Abrahamic Covenant
      • Mosaic Covenant/Old Covenant
      • Davidic Covenant
      • Christ’s Covenant/New Covenant

Which Covenants Go in Which Category?

  • All Covenant Theologians agree that the Adamic Covenant was a Covenant of Works
  • Presbyterian and Reformed Covenant Theologians see all the other covenants as essentially part of the one Covenant of Grace under different administrations, thus stressing the continuity between the Old and New Covenants
  • Let’s see how Baptist Covenant Theology differs…

Paragraph 1: The Necessity of Covenant

The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience to Him as their creator, yet they could never have attained the reward of life but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.

  • Creator/creature Distinction – The distance between God and the creature is so great…  (e.g. Ps. 113:5-6; Is. 40:13-14)  God is infinitely above us.
  • Obedience Owed – …that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience to Him as their creator… (e.g. Ps. 100:2-3)  As rational creatures made in God’s image we are automatically obligated to serve him.
  • Obedience Not Innately Meritorious – …yet they could never have attained the reward of life… (e.g. Luke 17:10)  Our creaturely service does not obligate God to do anything for us.
  • Condescension in Covenant (of Works) – …but by some voluntary condescension of God’s part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.  (e.g. Gen. 2:15-17)  God benevolently initiates a relationship that offers a reward if we obey.

Paragraph 2: The Complication of Sin

Moreover, man having brought himself under the curse of the law by his fall, it pleased the Lord to make a covenant of grace, wherein he freely offers unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in Him, that they may be saved; and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life, His Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.

  • Not Just Created, But Fallen – Moreover, man having brought himself under the curse of the law by his fall…  (e.g. Gen. 3:17-19)  The Covenant of Works didn’t work to bring about eternal life.
  • Covenant of Grace – …it pleased the Lord to make a covenant of grace…  (e.g. Lk. 12:32)  God mercifully initiates a relationship that promises a reward regardless of our obedience.
  • Made Possible by Christ – …wherein He freely offers unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ… (e.g. 2Tim. 1:9)  We sinners get out of punishment and get reward on account of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.
  • Faith Is the Only Requirement – …requiring of them faith in Him, that they may be saved… (e.g. Eph. 2:8a)  We don’t have to do anything to get this salvation; we simply trust Christ.
  • Faith Itself Is a Gift – …and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life, His Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe. (e.g. Eph. 2:8b)  We are unable to even meet the condition of faith, so God graciously supplies that too.

Thus far Reformed Baptists and other Reformed Traditions agree.  The 1689 basically follows the WCF up to this point.  But the next paragraph is completely re-written.

Paragraph 3: The Revelation of the Covenant of Grace

This covenant is revealed in the gospel; first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman, and afterwards by farther steps, until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament; and it is founded in that eternal covenant transaction that was between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect; and it is alone by the grace of this covenant that all the posterity of fallen Adam that ever were saved did obtain life and blessed immortality, man being now utterly incapable of acceptance with God upon those terms on which Adam stood in his state of innocency.

  • Gospel – This covenant is revealed in the gospel…  (e.g. Acts 20:24)  It’s good news that we can have a relationship with God not based on works but sheer grace and we would never expect this unless God told it to us.
  • Protoevangelium – …first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman… (e.g. Gen. 3:15) The gospel was announced in a basic form in the OT (see Gal. 3:8; Heb. 4:2), even right after the failure of the Covenant of Works.
  • Progressive Revelation – …and afterwards by farther steps… (e.g. Gal. 3:19)  The gospel came into clearer focus as time went on with each subsequent covenant building upon the next and moving towards Christ.

Noahic => Abrahamic => Mosaic/Old => Davidic =>

  • Covenant of Grace = New Covenant – …until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament… (e.g. Heb. 8:6-7)  The New Covenant enacted in Christ is not just a new administration of the Covenant of Grace, it is the full unveiling of the Covenant of Grace, which the previous covenants only hinted at.

“By farther steps, until the full discovery… was completed in the New Testament” is the key phrase that distinguishes Baptist Covenant Theology.  Compare with WCF:[1]

This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel: under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all fore-signifying Christ to come, which were for that time sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation, and is called the Old Testament.

Under the gospel, when Christ the substance was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed, are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper; which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity and less outward glory, yet in them it is held forth in more fulness, evidence, and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the New Testament. There are not, therefore, two covenants of grace differing in substance, but one and the same under various dispensations.

This has significant implications for our understanding of the Church (the covenant community) and baptism (the covenant sign).

Were the previous covenants Covenants of Works or Grace?  (see Eph. 2:12)

Noahic = largely unconditional, but dealing with common grace to sustain the world within which the plan of salvation can carry on (Gen. 9)

Abrahamic = unconditional/conditional, dealing with the people of Israel within which the plan of salvation carries on (Gen. 15, 17)

Mosaic = conditional (Dt. 5)

Davidic = unconditional, narrowing down the line from which the seed of the woman and Abraham will come (2Sam. 7)

  • Eternal Covenant – …and it is founded in that eternal covenant transaction that was between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect… (e.g. Tit. 1:2)  The establishment of the Covenant of Grace in history is due to the establishment of an intra-Trinitarian pact made before the beginning of time.
  • Only One Way of Salvation – …and it is alone by the grace of this covenant that all the posterity of fallen Adam that ever were saved did obtain life and blessed immortality, man being now utterly incapable of acceptance with God upon those terms on which Adam stood in his state of innocency. (e.g. Rom. 4:2-3)  Since Adam’s breaking of the Covenant of Works, the only way to eternal life is via the Covenant of Grace, which includes OT believers in the promise.

Some Takeaways:

  • The Bible is an intricate, unfolding narrative culminating in Christ.
  • You can be Reformed, Confessional, Historically Rooted… and Baptist!
  • There are deep, theological reasons for not baptizing babies!
  • Praise God that we are in a covenant relationship with him based on grace.  The gospel is glorious!

[1] See www.proginosko.com/docs/wcf_lbcf.html for a helpful tabular comparison of 1689 vs. WCF