Lately I’ve been reading Covenant Theology: From Adam to Christ, by Nehemiah Coxe & John Owen. While reading Coxe’s section on “The Covenant of Grace Revealed to Abraham,” I found one portion in particular which struck a chord in my mind due to recent developments in the Federal Vision controversy. It seems that Coxe, writing over 300 years ago, faced heretical views about baptism, union with Christ, and interest in the Covenant of Grace which bear a striking resemblance to current Federal Vision teachings.
From the Joint Federal Vision Profession:
The Sacrament of Baptism
We affirm that God formally unites a person to Christ and to His covenant people through baptism into the triune Name, and that this baptism obligates such a one to lifelong covenant loyalty to the triune God, each baptized person repenting of his sins and trusting in Christ alone for his salvation. Baptism formally engrafts a person into the Church, which means that baptism is into the Regeneration, that time when the Son of Man sits upon His glorious throne (Matt. 19:28).
Union with Christ and Imputation
We affirm Christ is all in all for us, and that His perfect sinless life, His suffering on the cross, and His glorious resurrection are all credited to us. Christ is the new Adam, obeying God where the first Adam did not obey God. And Christ as the new Israel was baptized as the old Israel was, was tempted for 40 days as Israel was for 40 years, and as the greater Joshua He conquered the land of Canaan in the course of His ministry. This means that through Jesus, on our behalf, Israel has finally obeyed God and has been accepted by Him. We affirm not only that Christ is our full obedience, but also that through our union with Him we partake of the benefits of His death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and enthronement at the right hand of God the Father.
We affirm that apostasy is a terrifying reality for many baptized Christians. All who are baptized into the triune Name are united with Christ in His covenantal life, and so those who fall from that position of grace are indeed falling from grace. The branches that are cut away from Christ are genuinely cut away from someone, cut out of a living covenant body. The connection that an apostate had to Christ was not merely external.
For more quotes, from Federal Visionist Jeffrey Meyers (PCA elder in good standing), see here:
– Jeffrey Meyers – Baptism and the Forgiveness of Sin
– Jeffrey Meyers – Justified by Means of Their Baptism
Nehemiah Coxe rejected the idea of a partial, conditional, or temporary interest in the Covenant of Grace/New Covenant. He correctly understood that Christ’s atoning work was accomplished on behalf of His elect, and the only ones who have any interest in the gracious covenant by which His saving, cleansing, atoning, justifying gifts are communicated are those sheep for whom He shed His blood. And those sheep He will never forsake, or permit to wander off to their eternal doom. Discussing the Covenant of Grace revealed to Abraham, Coxe writes:
The sum of all gospel blessings is comprised in this promise. Therefore it will follow that the proper heirs of this blessing of Abraham have a right (not only in some, but) in all the promises of the new covenant. This is true not in a limited sense, suspended on uncertain conditions, but in a full sense and secured by the infinite grace, wisdom, power, and faithfulness of God. Accordingly, they are in time made good to them all. And this will be more manifest if we consider that all the blessings of this covenant redound on believers by means of their union and communion with the Lord Jesus Christ, who is both the Head and Root of the new covenant, and the Fountain from which all its blessings are derived to us. Since these blessings were entirely purchased by him, so are they entirely applied to all that are in him and to none other.
Therefore, I conceive the limiting of a new covenant interest to the grant of an external and temporary privilege only, to be utterly inconsistent with the promises of the covenant itself (such as these: Isaiah 54:13; 59:21; Jeremiah 31:33, 34; Ezekiel 36:26, 27 with Hebrews 8 and many others of like import). Neither will these texts admit of another notion lately insisted on for the commendation of paedobaptism, namely:
“That the infant seed of believers, during their infancy, have all of them a certain and definite interest in the covenant of grace by virtue of which they are completely justified before God from the guilt of original sin, both originans and originatum [Footnote from CT:FATC editors: Originating and originated. Original sin has two aspects: peccatum originale originans, originating original sin, which is Adam’s act of disobedience itself; and peccatum originale originatum, originated original sin, which is the stain or defect in the individual’s nature which is transmitted to him at his conception.]. And yet when they come to years of discretion they may, (yea must) by their actual closing with or refusing the terms of the covenant, either obtain the continuation and confirmation of their covenant interest, or be utterly and finally cut off from it and so perish eternally in their ignorance of God and rebellion against him” [Footnore from CT:FATC editors: This is an unknown reference but is probably from Whiston’s Infant Baptism Plainly Proved.]
As the promises of the covenant will not admit of any such partial interest, neither can this opinion co-exist with the analogy of faith in other respects. For either the stain of original sin in these infants is purged and the dominion of concupiscence in them is destroyed when their guilt is pardoned, or it is not. If it is, then the case of these infants in point of perseverance is the same with that of adult persons who are under grace by their actual faith. Then a final apostasy from the grace of the new covenant must be allowed possible to befall the one as well as the other, notwithstanding all the provisions of the covenant and engagement of God in it to make the promise sure to all the seed. But this the author will not admit. He may say that their guilt is pardoned by their natures are not renewed, nor the power of original corruption destroyed so that sin will not have dominion over them. It will then be replied that despite their supposed pardon, they remain an unclean thing, and so are incapable of admission into the kingdom of glory. But the truth is that none are at any time justified before God except those whom Christ has loved and washed from their sins in his own blood (Revelation 1:5). None are washed by him but those that are in him as the second Adam. It is by union to him as the root of the new covenant that the free gift comes on them to the justification of life [Footnote: Romans 5:14 and following.]. And none can have union to him but by the indwelling of his Holy Spirit. Wherever the Spirit of God applies the blood of Christ for the remission of sins he does it also for the purging of the conscience from dead works to serve the living God. As certainly as any derive a new covenant right from Christ for pardon, they also receive a vital influence from him for the renovation of their natures and conforming their souls to his own image. And therefore to assert that the grace of Christ is applied to some for the remission of sins only, or that the guilt of any sin can be pardoned to any person and yet that sin retain its dominion over him, is (so far as I can discern) both unscriptural and incoherent with the doctrine that is according to godliness (pp. 81-82).
Coxe had to deal with various shades of neonomianism, including Baxterianism. What goes around comes around. FV theology is not new and has been refuted already. Thanks!
Thank *you* for helping to bring this book to print! Reading & rereading every chapter with an open Bible is like eating candy to me.
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