Though this chapter in the 1689 bears the same name as its counterpart chapter 7’s in the Westminster and Savoy Declaration, it differs considerably from both of those chapters. The reason for this is that one’s doctrine of the covenant deeply influences one’s view of the church and especially the ordinance which symbolizes one’s entrance into the church, baptism. Our Baptist forefathers saw that misunderstandings regarding the doctrine of the covenants were leading directly to errors concerning the church and baptism.
But all of this does not mean that they were not “covenantal” in their understanding of the framework of Scripture. It does mean that they understood the covenantal framework of Scripture differently. Their agreement with their Puritan friends is indicated by the fact that paragraph 1 of this chapter is identical to the Savoy and only differs slightly from the Westminster. Here is what it says:
“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.”
This paragraph shows a number of important ways in which the Baptists agreed with basic aspects of the covenant theology of the Reformed. Here they are:
First, they agreed that God had something more in mind for Adam than He had given by creation. The confession calls this “the reward of life.” Of course, Adam had a kind of life by creation, but he did not have the life of which the confession is speaking here. Here the confession is speaking of “eternal life.” The creation account shows that Adam did not have eternal life. He could sin, and he could die. Furthermore, the point of banning Adam from the tree of life is to keep from attaining such life in a state of sin. Genesis 3:22 says: “Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever.” Adam had a kind of life, but he did not have forever or eternal life. This is what the confession means by the reward of life.
Second, they agreed that in order to attain such life something more than the Creator-creature relationship was necessary. Even continued obedience and perfect obedience to God which Adam owed God by nature could not have earned such life. The conferring of such life required an act of voluntary condescension on God’s part in which he promised the reward of life to obedience which did not strictly deserve it. There is no legal correlation between the obedience required of Adam and the blessing he would have gained. The blessing far surpassed the worth of the obedience required. Recall what Luke 17:10 says: “So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’” If Adam had obeyed perfectly and perpetually, it would have deserved nothing more from God than what he already had.
A third agreement between the Baptists and their Puritan friends was that they agreed that this arrangement to provide Adam with the reward of life was a covenant. To be specific, it was what they all called the covenant of works or covenant of life. Whatever differences there were between the Baptists and their brethren, it did not include disagreement over the existence of a covenant of life or works. Though the reference to the covenant of works is deleted at this point in the Baptist Confession, the terminology occurs at several points in chapters 19 and 20. Furthermore, it is a historical fact that the Baptists who framed and adopted the Confession believed in the covenant of life or works.
Dr. Sam Waldron is the Academic Dean of CBTS and professor of Systematic Theology. He is also one of the pastors of Grace Reformed Baptist Church in Owensboro, KY. Dr. Waldron received a B.A. from Cornerstone University, an M.Div. from Trinity Ministerial Academy, a Th.M. from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. From 1977 to 2001 he was a pastor of the Reformed Baptist Church of Grand Rapids, MI. Dr. Waldron is the author of numerous books including A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, The End Times Made Simple, Baptist Roots in America, To Be Continued?, and MacArthur’s Millennial Manifesto: A Friendly Response.