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1689 Baptist Confession Chapter 26: Of the Church - Commentary

... and is one of the most important distinctions between paedobaptists and Baptists. Covenant Theology, as noted in chapter 7, is an important difference between our Reformed paedobaptist brethren and us, Reformed Baptists. Practically, 1689 Federalism manifests itself in the doctrine of the church. One of the primary distinctive of Baptist ecclesiology is regenerate membership. Furthermore, the distinction that only those baptized upon a profession of faith may be members of a local church. This distinction and difference must be placed in the light of the huge agreement concerning almost all other areas of the Confession. Our forefathers basically copy-pasted from the Congregationalists and Presbyterians. Alan Dunn observes the following on the historical setting of this chapter:

On the one hand, our Confession was written in an attempt to distinguish us from the false Roman Catholic Church. We will encounter statements in which Roman Catholic teaching is refuted. On the other hand, our Confession aligns us with churches that proclaim the gospel and worship Christ in obedient submission to Scripture.

Among such Biblically orthodox churches however, there are yet differences held with honest Biblical conviction. Therefore, our Confession also expresses our Baptistic and Reformed distinctives in contrast to our Presbyterian and non-Reformed brethren.[1]


§1 The Universal Church Consists Of The Whole Number Of The Elect

  1. The catholic or universal church, 1 which (with respect to the internal work of the Spirit and truth of grace) may be called invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ, the head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all. 2
    1. Matt. 16:18; 1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 1:22; 4:11-15; 5:23-25, 27, 29, 32; Col. 1:18, 24; Heb. 12:23[2]
    2. Eph. 1:22; 4:11-15; 5:23-25, 27, 29, 32; Col 1:18, 24; Rev. 21:9-14

The catholic (meaning universal) church, which is called invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect (e.g., 1 Cor. 1:2; Heb. 12:23). The universal church does not consist only of New Covenant Christians, but of the whole number of the elect who have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ. Notice that the church consists of the elect who are gathered, i.e., converted. In their unregenerate state, the elect are not part of the universal church until they are gathered into Christ. Christ is the head (Col 1:18) and the church is the spouse (Eph. 5:25), the body (Col 1:18) and the fullness (Eph. 1:23) of Christ.


The word “catholic” means universal and hereby, our forefathers are agreeing with the last part of the Apostles’ Creed: 

I believe in the Holy Spirit, 9. the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, 10. the forgiveness of sins, 11. the resurrection of the body, 12. and the life everlasting. Amen.

Neither the Nicene Creed nor the Confession refers to the Roman Catholic Church in the word “catholic”, but to the universal Christian Church of Jesus Christ. This church is the universal invisible church. This designation refers to true believers, who were chosen before the foundation of the world, are members of the New Covenant and not merely members of a local church. They are true believers and part of the New Covenant in Christ’s blood. This is what the New Covenant consists of and this is what makes up the invisible church, which only God infallibly knows its me...


1689 Baptist Confession Chapter 7: Of God's Covenant - Commentary

...bring them into an estate of salvation, by a Redeemer.

(Eph. 1:3,4; 2 Thess. 2:13; Rom. 5:21; Acts 13:8; Jer. 31:33)[30]

From the Catechism, we see that the Covenant of Grace is the historical outworking of the Covenant of Redemption, wherein God chose people and gave them to Christ for salvation from every tribe, language, people, and nation. It seems also that both the Confession and the Catechism teach that it is with the elect alone that God enters into a covenant of grace. This is a very important distinction between the Baptists and their Paedobaptist (Presbyterian) brethren. According to Presbyterians, both believers and their natural offspring (children) are part of the Covenant of Grace (though in different senses, see below). In Reformed Baptist thought, the Covenant of Grace is made with the elect and elect believers alone.

Administration?

One difference that has been made clear to me between the Baptists and the Presbyterians in the 17th century is their idea or absence of the administration of the Covenant of Grace. What did they mean by “administration”? The Westminster Confession 7:5 lays it out:

This covenant [the Covenant of Grace] 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.

What they meant by “administration” is that the substance of all the covenants in the Old Testament are the same, namely, the Covenant of Grace, but the administration of the particular covenants is different. The substance is the same, but the (outward) form is different. This distinction justifies the practice of infant baptism when understanding their position on the Covenant of Grace...it kind of makes sense. If the Abrahamic Covenant was an administration of the Covenant of Grace and it had the sign of circumcision, which was administered to both Jacob and Esau when they were infants (i.e., believer and unbeliever), then it makes sense that if the New Covenant has the same substance as the Abrahamic Covenant to baptize infants. This point would be carried over to the New Covenant and there we would also baptize our infants since they are part of the covenant just like in Abraham’s time. Circumcision is replaced by baptism in the New Covenant administrations of the Covenant of Grace. The outward form is different, but the substance is still the same. Therefore, the promise of “you and your seed” applies to believers in the New Covenant and their natural offspring (as they interpret Acts 2:39). Such is the reasoning of our Presbyterian brethren. With such thinking, I can see some possibility of infant baptism being right, but there is more that needs to be examined before declaring infant baptism biblical. See chapter 29 for more on baptism and the Covenant of Grace.

This is not only the Presbyterian understanding but even some Reformed Baptists’ understanding. I think Richard Barcellos was right in observing that many Reformed Baptists assumed a Covenant Theology like their Presbyterian brethren, while not looking at the distinct Cov...


1689 Baptist Confession Chapter 29: Of Baptism - Commentary

...:

Rom. 4:11-12 He [Abraham] received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, 12 and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

It is assumed by our Presbyterian brethren that circumcision as a sign and seal functioned in this way for everyone. But this is not what Paul is saying. He explicitly identifies that circumcision functioned in this way for Abraham. He is not making a blank statement about anyone and infants in the Old Covenant. Rather, because Abraham was a believer, circumcision functioned as a sign and seal for the promises of God to him and the righteousness which he had by faith alone. Faith was the prerequisite for circumcision to be a sign and a seal for Abraham in this passage. Circumcision functioned as a seal of the righteousness which Abraham had by faith (Gen. 15:6). It was a token that made certain in his mind the promises of God to him and his posterity. It did not function in this way for Ishmael or Esau, but only to Abraham who was justified before receiving the sign of circumcision. Therefore, the use of Colossians 2:11-12 and Romans 4:11 to argue for the replacement of circumcision by baptism, and that baptism is now a sign and seal of the covenant and ought to be given to the natural offspring of Christians, we believe is inaccurate. Paul actually says that Abraham was credo-circumcised. Hercules Collins answers an objection concerning “Circumcision was a Seal of the New Covenant to Believers and their Seed under the Law, so is Baptism to the Seed of Christian Parents under the Gospel”:

This Objection is grounded upon Rom. 4. 11. where ‘tis said, Abraham received the Sign of Circumcision, a Seal of the Righteousness of his Faith. First, Consider, it’s not said, Circumcision was a Seal of the New Covenant to Abraham and his Seed, that is begg’d in the Objection; the Text saith, It was a Token of the Righteousness of Abraham’s Faith. But it could not be a Seal of Faith to an Infant which had none. The scope of the Apostle in this Chapter is to shew, that Abraham himself was not justified by Works, no not by Circumcision, but by Faith, which he had long before he was Circumcised. The reason of his Circumcision was, to be a Seal and Confirmation to him, that he by his Faith should be a Father of many Nations; and that the poor Gentiles should be accepted of God by Faith, without the Works of the Law, though not circumcised, seeing Abraham’s Faith was imputed to him for Righteousness, not when Circumcised, but Uncircumcised. This being the scope of this Place, a Man had need have a great deal of skill to prove Pedo-Baptism from it.[30]

We could also cite Benjamin Keach to the same effect:

Circumcision was only a Seal to Abraham’s Faith, or a Confirmation of that Faith he had long before he was Circumcised; but so it could not be said to be to any Infant that had no Faith. It was indeed a Sign put into the Flesh of Infants; but a Sign, and Seal too only to Abraham, witnessing to him that he had a Justifying Faith…You ought not therefore to call Circumcision a Seal to any but to Abraham, neither ought you to call it a Seal of any other thing to him than what...


A Review of Jeffrey D. Johnson's The Fatal Flaw

...t the church understood it was the sign of the Covenant of Grace, or that it did not wash away sin. That is clearly not the case.

The old church practiced infant baptism for other reasons, than the Reformed Paedobaptist churches since the Reformation.

Although I do not believe that infant baptism is a biblical practice, but I must agree with Jeffery Johnson that the Westminster position of Covenant Theology and infant baptism is the closest to the Scripture from the above options. For some people to be truly “Reformed” you have to hold to Covenant Theology which supports the practice of infant baptism, forgetting that there is a difference between Baptist and Presbyterian Covenant Theology. If you would like to learn more about 1689 Baptist Covenant Theology, which is called 1689 Federalism see my attempt to make a case for it when expositing the 7th chapter of the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith here.

The Westminster Position

The author spends some time first to explain the Presbyterian/Westminster. The basis of the Westminster position is continuity between the covenants of the Bible.

They understand that the Lord established a covenant of works in the Garden with Adam as the representative of the human race which he broke. Then the Lord established the Covenant of Grace in Genesis 3:15 and onward. This was Covenant of Grace was differently administered under Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and Jesus. But the essence of these covenants was the same.

The logic is understandable. If infants were admitted into the covenant under Moses and Abraham and the New Covenant is basically and essentially the same, then infants should also be admitted into the New Covenant. The question is, whether if these covenants truly were administrations of the one Covenant of Grace.

The Westminster says the following of the Covenant of Grace in chapter 7 –

Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the 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. (paragraph 3)

As Calvinists, our Presbyterian brethren along with us believe in salvation by grace and in Christ throughout the ages. This is what is here conveyed in the Confession. The essence of the Covenant of Grace is faith and salvation in Christ, although that had different outer form under the various covenants. Abraham did not have as much clarity about the Messiah as we now by the grace of God have. This is expressed in the fifth paragraph –

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 foresignifying 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 law, by that meaning the whole period of the Old Testament, the Covenant of Grace was seen in the shadows and prophecies (See certain shad...


1689 Baptist Confession Chapter 22: Of Religious Worship and the Sabbath Day - Commentary

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We will discuss the elements of worship in paragraph 5 of this chapter. The elements or parts of worship is what worship is. The elements of worship define the corporate worship of Christ’s Church. They are the essence. On the other hand, the circumstances of worship, Challies writes:

The circumstances of worship are the “how” of worship - the conditions that determine the best way to worship God within the structure provided by the elements…The Directory of Worship for the Orthodox Presbyterian Church states, “The Lord Jesus Christ has prescribed no fixed forms for public worship but, in the interest of life and power in worship, has given his church a large measure of liberty in this matter.” While there is little freedom in the elements of worship, there is great freedom within them according to circumstances. However, as with every area of life, this freedom must be exercised cautiously and in a way consistent with Scripture.[20]

The circumstances of worship are those things that we could do without. While on the other hand, the elements or parts of worship are the things that we could not do without. If prayer or preaching is removed from the service, then an element and not a circumstance of worship is removed. But if, for example, the service starts at 12 o’clock instead of 10 o’clock, or a church decides to no longer use the beamer, then there is no change in the elements of worship, but merely the circumstances. Derek Thomas observes:

Thus, the regulative principle as such may not be invoked to determine whether contemporary or traditional songs are employed, whether three verses or three chapters of Scripture are read, whether one long prayer or several short prayers are made, or whether a single cup or individual cups with real wine or grape juice are utilized at the Lord’s Supper. To all of these issues, the principle “all things should be done decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40) must be applied.[2]

It is in the circumstances where the most differences are found in those churches which hold to the Regulative Principle of Worship.

Who Can Worship God Perfectly?

Christ the Lord was the only Man who has worshiped God perfectly “in spirit and truth.” We all fall miserably short. God demands perfect worship, but we are unable to give God His due. Like all His Ten Commandments, no one can keep them perfectly, because they do not merely concern outward things, but they deal with the heart. Therefore, the Regulative Principle should drive us to the Lord Jesus and we should beseech Him to teach us through His Word and Spirit about how we ought to worship the Triune God “in spirit and truth.” We should pray that we may be further sanctified to worship God more truthfully. Even those who hold to the Regulative Principle are able to sin in not worshipping God truly with their heart. The elements and parts of worship may all be present, but if the heart is not present, it is vain worship.

We should pray that God may grant the grace for a reformation of worship according to His Word. Many churches nowadays do not care about what God has said concerning how He is to be worshiped, but rather look to the world for suggestions. They seek to learn from the world concerning what they desire to see in Church, rather than in the infallible and sufficient Word of God. They seek to draw people using means that God has not authorized and adding to His worship things which He has not comma...


1689 Baptist Confession Chapter 31: Of the State of Man after Death and Of the Resurrection of the Dead - Commentary

...was to go on with Israel, but since they rejected the Lord Jesus, God went to get a people for Himself from the Gentiles, and then will turn back to His original people. The Church is known as the heavenly people of God, and Israel the earthly people of God.

Dispensationalism divides the history of the world into seven dispensations, i.e., periods of time:

  1. Innocence (Gen. 1-3),
  2. Conscience (Gen. 4-8),
  3. Human Government (Gen. 9-11),
  4. Promise (Gen. 12 – Ex. 19),
  5. Law (Ex. 20 – Christ),
  6. Grace (Resurrection of Christ – Rapture),
  7. Kingdom (Rev. 19-20).

Unlike covenant theologians, both Presbyterian and Reformed Baptist, Dispensationalists see history as divided into periods of time and see a great discontinuity between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. We, 1689 Federalists, also see discontinuity between the Old and New covenants, but also a great deal of continuity in the promises of God. Some of the older Dispensationalists taught that there were different ways of salvation in each of these dispensations, but the Dispensationalists of the present reject that heresy.

A signature doctrine of Dispensationalism is the pre-tribulational rapture. They believe that the seventy weeks of Daniel mentioned in Daniel 9:25-27 are separated as first 69 weeks up to the coming and crucifixion of the Lord of glory and then the last seven years will continue in the future. In a sense, the prophetic clock of the seventy weeks of Daniel stopped ticking at the 69th week and will continue ticking in the future. The seven years or the last half of the seven years are known as the Great Tribulation. It is the general teaching of Dispensationalism that the Church will be raptured just prior to the Great Tribulation and the reign of Antichrist. At this time, Antichrist will make a covenant with Israel after the flesh and there will be a time of peace for her, namely, three and half years, where the Temple will be rebuilt and the old Levitical ceremonial system restored (priests and sacrifices!). But in the second half of the seven years, Antichrist will break his covenant and persecute the Jews. This is known as the Great Tribulation.

The Rapture is known as the secret return of Christ in which He will not fully return to the earth, but remain in the air to meet the believers whom He will snatch up. This is a secret and an imminent (could happen any moment) coming of Christ. Christ will either remain in the air or go back to Heaven with the raptured saints during the Tribulation, which will last for seven years, the first half apparently good and the second half, worse. The Rapture allows for the removal of the Church from the earth to Heaven and ends what is known as the Church Age or the “parenthesis” within God’s plan, and therefore, God now can go back to His original plan with Israel. The Jews will be converted and be brought back to their Promised Land in accordance with Old Testament prophecies. The Old Covenant priesthood, sacrifices, temple worship will all be restored according to the literal interpretations of Old Testament prophecy. Sometimes, the Rapture is called the first phase of the Second Coming and the second phase will come at the end of the Tribulation when Jesus rescues Israel from Antichrist and destroys him. At the Rapture, Christ will come with all dead New Covenant saints giving them resurrection bodies and will transform all living believers of the Church and take them up with Him. The Church is removed from the earth...


1689 Baptist Confession Chapter 10: Of Effectual Calling - Commentary

...great in the kingdom of heaven that they must become like little children else they will not enter the kingdom. In order to enter the Kingdom, one needs to be like a child. What does this mean? I believe that John Gill is right in commenting: “that is, unless ye learn to entertain an humble, and modest opinion of yourselves, are not envious at one another, and drop all contentions about primacy and pre-eminence, and all your ambitious views of one being greater than another, in a vainly expected temporal kingdom; things which are not to be found in little children”[7].  The Presbyterian Albert Barnes comments:

And become as little children. Children are, to a great extent, destitute of ambition, pride, and haughtiness. They are characteristically humble and teachable. By requiring his disciples to be like them, he did not intend to express any opinion about the native moral character of children, but simply that in these respects they should become like them. They should lay aside their ambitious views, and pride, and be willing to occupy their proper station--a very lowly one. Mk 9:35 says that Jesus, before he placed the little child in the midst of them, told them that “if any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all.” That is, he shall be the most distinguished Christian who is the most humble, and who is willing to be esteemed least, and last of all. To esteem ourselves as God esteems us, is humility. And it cannot be degrading to think of ourselves as we are. But pride, or an attempt to be thought of more importance than we are, is foolish, wicked, and degrading.[4]

The Lord Jesus, therefore, says that a redeemed believer is just like a child. He certainly used the child for illustration to demonstrate the foolishness of the disciples’ question, but I believe that He did also mean that “to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” The Lord is clear in Matthew 19:13-15 in this:

Matt. 19:13-15 Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, 14 but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” 15 And he laid his hands on them and went away. 

It appears that the disciples had not learned their lesson from the previous chapter. They wanted to hinder children from coming to the Lord Jesus as in their time they did not have a high view of children like we now do. The disciples did not want the children to bother the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s reply is strong and to the point. He does not want the children from being hindered. He wants them to come to Him! The Lord describes them as belonging to the Kingdom. “To such”—it is to them and those who are like them that the Kingdom belongs. The Lord also means what He said in the previous chapter about us having to become like children, but certainly, the stress primarily is laid upon the real children before Him whom He will bless. It is those who belong to the Kingdom. Therefore, little children and infants are indeed saved by God’s grace and are not excluded from the Kingdom. MacArthur believes that perhaps the majority of the redeemed in heaven died as children or in infancy as the death rate of infants in birth was very high in the previous centuries, therefore for the Lord Jesus to say “to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” he means that it is populated of such. It is populated by little children. (Whether they r...


1689 Baptist Confession Chapter 1: Of the Holy Scriptures - Commentary

...n reference to the subject in hand. (1) For the readers of this Epistle the many utterances of a long line of prophets, expounded by a school of teachers only second to the prophets themselves, might easily be “more sure” evidence than the narrative of a single writer; and “if they heard not Moses and the prophets, neither would they be persuaded” by the report of a voice from heaven. (2) The Transfiguration, though an earnest of Christ’s future glory, was not so clear a promise of it as the express words of prophecy.[55]

The great Presbyterian commentator, Albert Barnes, gives several reasons for this interpretation:

(1) The prophecies are numerous, and by their number they furnish a stronger proof than could be afforded by a single manifestation however clear and glorious.

(2) they were “recorded,” and might be the subject of careful comparison with the events as they occurred.

(3) they were written long beforehand, and it could not be urged that the testimony which the prophets bore was owing to any illusion on their minds, or to any agreement among the different writers to impose on the world. Though Peter regarded the testimony which he and James and John bore to the glory of the Saviour, from what they saw on the holy mount, as strong and clear confirmation that he was the Son of God, yet he could not but be aware that it might be suggested by a caviller that they might have agreed to impose on others, or that they might have been dazzled and deceived by some natural phenomenon occurring there…

(4) even supposing that there was a miracle in the case, the evidence of the prophecies, embracing many points in the same general subject, and extending through a long series of years, would be more satisfactory than any single miracle whatever. See Doddridge, in loc. The general meaning is, that the fact that he had come as the Messiah was disclosed in the mount by such a manifestation of his glory, and of what he would be, that they who saw it could not doubt it; the same thing the apostle says was more fully shown also in the prophecies, and these prophecies demanded their close and prolonged attention.[47]

Matthew Poole says the following on the comparison between Peter’s experience and the Word of God:

the word of prophecy [is] more firm or sure, not in respect of truth, (which was equal in both), but in respect of the manner of its revelation; the voice from heaven being transient, and heard only by three apostles; whereas the word of prophecy was not only received by the prophets from God, but by his command committed to writing, confirmed by a succession of their fellow prophets in their several generations, and approved by Christ himself, and by him preferred before miracles themselves, Luk 16:29,31.[56]

Dr. Philip Schaff, in explaining the view that I’m taking, writes:

the testimony of the Old Testament is referred to as of greater certainty, or as carrying in it greater power of conviction, than even the voice heard at the Transfiguration. The comparison thus becomes one between the exceptional testimony of the heavenly voice and the familiar testimony of Israel’s ancient Scriptures. The advantage is given to the latter as a ground for confidently expecting the Lord’s Coming. Why this is the case the writer himself does not say.[21]

I beg to differ with Dr. Schaff on the last statement: The reason is given in vv. 20-21, namely, because Scripture is of God, and it is His word and voice in written for...