This book by Pascal Denault is a welcome addition to the literature on an issue that has vexed many for too long. It is clear that the seventeenth-century Particular Baptists’ formulation of covenant theology in the Second London Confession of Faith – 1677/89 (cf. 2nd LCF 7.3, for example) was a modified version of the one contained in the Westminster Confession of Faith. But why the different formulation? Denault’s work goes ad fontes (to the sources) to find the answer. And that’s exactly why I am so thankful for his work. The primary, Particular Baptist sources are where we should start in seeking to understand the theology of our forebears. Denault shows from those sources not only that the Baptist formulation of covenant theology differed but why. It is too easy to note that it differed and then to impose our thought categories upon the Confession to answer the question of why. That is poor scholarship and bad historical-theological method. Denault’s method is sound and a much-needed tonic in our day of rediscovering our roots. His findings are illuminating and will challenge many. He argues that the main difference had nothing to do with the covenant of works. The Particular Baptists were of one voice with their paedobaptist brethren on this issue. Neither did the main difference focus on the subjects of baptism, though it was a related issue. The main difference, according to Denault (and I think he is right), had to do with their view of covenant theology, concentrating on the definition of the covenant of grace and the differences between the old and new covenants in light of that definition.
Denault calls Nehemiah Coxe “the most significant Baptist theologian [of the seventeenth century] when it comes to Covenant Theology.” He is surely right. Coxe wrote a treatise on the covenants from Adam through Abraham and was, most likely, a co-editor of the 2nd LCF. So any attempt to understand our Confession must start with Coxe and the context in which he wrote. This is what Denault does for us.
It is of interest to note that Coxe did not write on the differences between the old and new covenants due to the publication of John Owen’s exposition of Hebrews 8:6-13. The old Baptists agreed with much of Owen’s work (and the work of other paedobaptists on this issue). However, they differed with Owen and others on other points. Denault’s work reveals to us what those other points were and how they argued from covenant theology to credobaptism.
I heartily commend this work to all Reformed Baptist pastors (and all others interested in covenant theology). Brothers, this is a must-read. As a Reformed Baptist pastor myself, I remember the first time I read seventeenth-century covenant theology from a Baptist perspective. It was both challenging and refreshing. It challenged me to rethink how covenant theology ought to be formulated and it refreshed me on two levels. First, it gave me a sound system of doctrine that reflected the teachings of Scripture from creation to consummation. Second, it helped me understand our Confession better. May this work do the same for many others!
Richard C. Barcellos, Ph.D.
Grace Reformed Baptist Church