Jared Smith's Bible Doctrine

31 Bible Doctrine – The Emergence Of 18th Century Hyper-Calvinism

A transcript of the video teaching

I would like to welcome you back to another study in Bible Doctrine. Having looked at the emergence of 17th century Hyper-Calvinism, I now turn to that of the 18th century. By way of review, we left off in the previous study with the emergence of 17th century Hyper-Calvinism, culminating in the doctrinal statements of the 1646, the 1658 and the 1689 confessions of faith. These documents set forth a threefold covenantal framework—a covenant of redemption, drawn up by the TriUne Jehovah from eternity, which is relegated to the backdrop of history; a covenant of works, made by God with Adam before he sinned, requiring of him perfect obedience to the law inscribed upon his heart; and a covenant of grace, made by God with Adam (or promised to him) after he sinned, requiring of him saving faith in Christ. From this framework, three major doctrines are derived—first, the preacher is to offer the gift of God unto salvation to the unregenerate; second, the unregenerate are duty-bound to exercise saving faith in Christ; third, the regenerate are duty-bound to obey the ten commandments as the rule of conduct for their lives. In addition to these doctrines, this threefold covenantal framework opened the door to the modifications of Calvinism—Almyraldism and Baxterism on the one hand, with Fullerism and Spurgeonism on the other. 

Although these doctrines were in wide circulation during the 17th century (excluding Fullerism and Spurgeonism of course), not everyone agreed with the threefold covenantal framework, or the doctrines derived from it. One of the first men to openly challenge these views was a Particular Baptist preacher named Benjamin Keach (1640-1704). Keach began his gospel ministry at the age of 18 near his hometown in Buckinghamshire. In 1668, he and his family moved to London, after which he was appointed the pastor of the church meeting at Horsleydown, Southwark. Incidentally, this would be the same church pastored by John Gill during the 18th century, and Charles Spurgeon during the 19th century. It was Keach’s removal to London that brought him into contact with the Particular Baptists, eventually leading him to adopt sovereign grace teachings. He became one of the most popular preachers in London, was the author of more than 40 books, and was one of the signatories endorsing the 1689 Baptist Confession. However, three years after that endorsement, in the year 1692, he preached two sermons rejecting the notion that the covenants of redemption and grace are two separate agreements. 

Now, if you were to ask the Reformed Baptists about Keach’s view, they may tell you that Keach rejected the covenant of redemption made between the TriUne Jehovah from eternity, in favor of a covenant of grace God makes with sinners in time. This is brought out quite clearly in a book published in 2018 entitled, “From Shadow to Substance: The Federal (Covenant) Theology of the English Particular Baptists (1642-1704)”. It was written by Samuel Renihan, a Reformed Baptist pastor and one of the up-and-coming stars of the 1689 Federalists. After tracing the covenantalism of men such as John Spilsbury, William Kiffen, Hansard Knollys, John Owen and Nehemiah Coxe, he arrives at the end of the century with Benjamin Keach. According to Renihan, Keach contributed very little to the covenant theology of the Particular Baptists. On page 302, he writes, “the areas in which Keach’s covenantal thought is worthy of special notice are relatively small, and they center around a point that is more semantic than substantial.” What does he mean by “relatively small”, and “more semantic than substantial”? He goes on to write, “Keach’s greatest distinctive in covenant theology was his rejection of the covenant of redemption. This was a change of opinion for Keach…[He] was aware that his position was different from many other theologians whom he respected…When all is examined, the difference between Keach and his other-minded friends was more semantic than substantial.” (pages 312,313) I wish Renihan did “examine all” before drawing these conclusions and making these assertions. If, for instance, he is correct that Keach rejected the covenant of redemption, then how can he summarily dismiss Keach’s “change of option” as “more semantic than substantial”, when Renihan takes the view that the covenant of redemption is the foundation for the covenant of grace? I mean, if Keach destroyed the foundation upon which the covenant of grace is built, then isn’t the integrity of this threefold framework compromised? How then can Keach’s view be “more semantic than substantial”? Having said that, Renihan has actually misinterpreted Keach’s covenantal framework. Keach subscribed to an eternal covenant of redemption between the TriUne Jehovah, which God brings to pass throughout the course of history, therefore rendering null and void an additional covenant of grace God makes with sinners in time. What Keach called a covenant of grace was the covenant of redemption. Renihan’s misunderstanding of this matter is indicative of the widespread ignorance which permeates the mainstream Calvinists of our day. Take, for instance, those who proofread and endorsed his book—why did not James Renihan, Michael Haykin or Richard Barcellos correct this error? Was it a simple oversight, or do they also lack a knowledge of 18th century Hyper-Calvinism? 

As I have said, three years after Keach’s endorsement of the 1689 Baptist Confession, in the year 1692, he preached two sermons rejecting, not the covenant of redemption, but a covenant of grace God makes with sinners in time. His sermons were prompted by the death of Henry Forty, the minister of a church in Abingdon. Keach chose for his text the dying testimony of King David, recorded in 2 Samuel 23:5: “[God] hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure: for this is all my salvation, and all my desire.” He commented on this passage:

“Question, Is not that covenant which was made between the Father and the Son called the covenant of redemption, made from all eternity a distinct covenant from the covenant of grace? I answer—…I must confess, I have formerly been inclined to believe the covenant, or holy compact between the Father and the Son, was distinct from the covenant of grace; but upon farther search, by means of some great errors sprang up among us, arising (as I conceive) from that notion, I cannot see •that they are two distinct covenants, but both one and the same glorious covenant of grace…where do we read in all the Holy Scripture of three covenants, viz. 1. A covenant of works, 2. A covenant of redemption, 3. A covenant of grace: evident it is to all, that the Holy Ghost only holds forth, or speaks but of two covenants, a covenant of works, and a covenant of grace…In this covenant there is a clear revelation or manifestation of the three Persons in the Deity, and their glory doth equally and jointly shine forth: every one acting a part in it…the Father sending the Son as a mediator, the Son dying for our sins, and the Spirit sanctifying our souls.”

Keach goes on to explain in detail the properties of this redemptive covenant, that it is made from eternity between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, brought to pass at the appointed time throughout the course of history. This was a major departure from 17th century Hyper-Calvinism, and a repudiation of the seventh article of the 1646, 1658 and 1689 confessions of faith. He acknowledged one of the reasons he abandoned this view, is because it lends itself to “some great errors sprang up among us, arising (as I conceive) from that notion”. With particular note, Keach was referring to the errors of Richard Baxter, which at that time were spreading through the churches like a wild fire. Such was his antipathy against the covenantal framework of the 1689 confession, that when his church requested a confessional statement to which they as a congregation could subscribe, rather than giving them the 1689 confession, which he could have easily done, he drew up his own set of Articles, adopted by the church in the year 1697. For thirty-six years, Keach served as pastor for this church, his oversight ending with his death in 1704. 

Although Keach wrote most of his books prior to his abandonment of 17th century Hyper-Calvinism, some of which are still in circulation today, yet his greatest endowment are those writings published during the last twelve years of his life. He stood as a bridge between the two branches of Hyper-Calvinism, subscribing for the first twenty-four years of his pastorate to the covenantal framework of 17th century Hyper-Calvinism, then embracing for the last twelve years the covenantal framework of 18th century Hyper-Calvinism. To my knowledge, few if any give proper credit to Keach for his contribution to the covenantalism of 18th century Hyper-Calvinism. Hence, the erroneous assessment of Samuel Renihan—“the areas,” he writes, “in which Keach’s covenantal thought is worthy of special notice are relatively small.”  

Well, perhaps the best way to shine light on Keach’s legacy is to examine the covenantal views of other prominent preachers who lived during the 18th and 19th centuries. The first on the list must be the celebrated Particular Baptist, John Gill (1697-1771). Sixteen years after Keach’s death, a twenty-two year old Gill was appointed pastor of the church. He served this post for fifty-one years, becoming one of the most influential Particular Baptist ministers of the 18th century. From the beginning of his pastoral duties, he subscribed to Keach’s view on the twofold covenantal framework, investing the whole of his ministry to working out its doctrinal and practical implications. Three years before his death, he arranged his views in a systematic theology, published in a doctrinal and practical body of divinity. The whole of his teachings are based on this twofold covenantal framework. In the seventh chapter, of the second book, under the heading “Of the Everlasting Covenant of Grace, Between the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit”, Gill writes:

“The covenant of grace is a compact or agreement made from all eternity among the divine Persons, more especially between the Father and the Son, concerning the salvation of the elect. For the better understanding these federal transactions between them, before the world was, when there were no creatures, neither angels nor men in being; and which lay the foundation of all the grace and glory, comfort and happiness, of the saints in time and to eternity; it may be proper to consider…It is called, “a covenant of life”, (Mal. 2:5) for though it is said of Levi, yet of him as a type of Christ; and if the covenant with Levi might be so called, much more that with Christ…It is called “a covenant of peace” (Mal. 2:5, Isa. 54:10). As the transaction between the eternal Three, in which the plan and method of the peace and reconciliation of God’s elect was consulted, may be called “the council of peace”…It is commonly called by men, “the covenant of grace”; and properly enough, since it entirely flows from, and has its foundation in the grace of God…It is by some divines called, “the covenant of redemption”; and very truly, because the redemption of God’s elect is a principal article in it…But then, this covenant [of redemption] is the same with the covenant of grace; some divines, indeed, make them distinct covenants; the covenant of redemption, they say, was made with Christ in eternity; the covenant of grace with the elect, or with believers, in time: but this is very wrongly said; there is but one covenant of grace, and not two, in which the Head and Members, the Redeemer and the persons to be redeemed, Christ and the elect, are concerned; in which he is the Head and Representative of them, acts for them, and on their behalf. What is called a covenant of redemption, is a covenant of grace, arising from the grace of the Father, who proposed to his Son to be the Redeemer, and from the grace of the Son, who agreed to be so; and even the honours proposed to the Son in this covenant, redounded to the advantage of the elect; and the sum and substance of the everlasting covenant made with Christ, is the salvation and eternal happiness of the chosen ones; all the blessings and grants of grace to them, are secured in that eternal compact; for they were blessed with all spiritual blessings in him, and had grace given them in him before the world was; wherefore there can be no foundation for such a distinction between a covenant of redemption in eternity, and a covenant of grace in time…This covenant is commonly represented as if it was only between the Father and the Son; but I see not why the Holy Spirit should be excluded, since he is certainly promised in it both to Head and members; and in consequence of it, is sent down into the hearts of God’s covenant ones, to make application of the blessings, promises, and grace of the covenant to them, and to work a work of grace in them; all which must be by agreement, and with his consent.”

As you can see, Gill’s teaching on the covenantal framework is in agreement with that of Keach. He believed God brings to pass in time all that He agreed to do under the terms and promises of the covenant of redemption (grace) from eternity. He outright rejected the notion that God makes an additional covenant of grace in time with sinners. That is the essence, my dear friends, of 18th century Hyper-Calvinism! 

Let us look at another Particular Baptist preacher, quite popular during the 19th century, William Styles (1842-1914). He is the author of several works, including “A Guide To Church Fellowship As Maintained By Primitive Or Strict And Particular Baptists” and “A Manual Of Faith And Practice”. In his “Guide to Church Fellowship”, published in 1902, under the fourth Article, he writes:

“We believe that, before the world began, a Divine and gracious arrangement was made between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, to determine and secure the salvation of sinners, which is scripturally designated the Covenant of Grace. We believe that, from eternity, the Father loved a multitude whom no man can number, whom He chose, sanctified, and predestinated to eternal salvation, and to “the adoption of children” in and by the Son. We believe that the Son, by Covenant, gave Himself up into His Father’s hands, to be the Surety of the people, “with whom were His delights.” and engaged in the fulness of time, to assume their nature, to work out an everlasting righteousness for them, to endure all the penal wrath and hot displeasure due to their sin, and to obtain eternal redemption for them, so that they might be blessed in Him with all the blessings of grace and glory. We believe that these blessings are conveyed and communicated to those who were elected by the Father and redeemed by the Son, by the Holy Ghost, who as a Person in the Covenant of grace, engaged before time to quicken and regenerate them, to invest them with spiritual capacities and powers, and to work in them “those things which are well-pleasing to the Lord.”

And so, we find once again, 18th century Hyper-Calvinism was driven by a covenantal framework that rejected a covenant of grace made in time, believing there to be only an eternal covenant of redemption God brings to pass in time, which they designated a covenant of grace. Now, lest anyone should think this view was confined to the Particular Baptists, I will refer you to an Anglican named Robert Hawker (1753-1827), a preacher who served as Vicar of Charles Church, Plymouth. In his “Poor Man’s Dictionary”, published in 1828, he wrote:

“The Scripture sense of this word [covenant] is the same as in the circumstances of common life; namely, an agreement between parties. Thus Abraham and Abimelech entered into covenant at Beersheba. (Gen. 21:32.) And in like manner, David and Jonathan. (1 Sam. 20:42.) To the same amount, in point of explanation, must we accept what is related in Scripture of God’s covenant concerning redemption, made between the sacred persons of the GODHEAD, when the holy undivided Three in One engaged to, and with, each other, for the salvation of the church of God in Christ. This is that everlasting covenant which was entered into, and formed in the council of peace before the word began. For so the apostle was commissioned by the Holy Ghost, to inform the church concerning that eternal life which was given us, he saith, in Christ Jesus, “before the world began? (Tit. 1:2. 2 Tim. 1:9.) So that this everlasting covenant becomes the bottom and foundation in JEHOVAH’S appointment, and security of all grace and mercy for the church here, and of all glory and happiness hereafter, through the alone person, work, blood-shedding, and obedience of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is on this account that his church is chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world. (Ephes. 1:4.) And from this appointment, before all worlds, result all the after mercies in time, by which the happy partakers of such unspeakable grace and mercy are regenerated, called, adopted, made willing in the day of God’s power, and are justified, sanctified, and, at length, fully glorified, to the praise of JEHOVAH’S grace, who hath made them accepted in the Beloved…In the gospel, it is called the New Testament, or covenant, not in respect to any thing new in it or from any change or alteration in its substance or design, but from the promises of the great things engaged for in the Old Testament dispensation being now newly confirmed and finished. And as the glorious person by whom the whole conditions of the covenant on the part of man was to be performed, had now, according to the original settlements made in eternity, been manifested, and agreeably to the very period proposed, “in [what is called] the fulness of time, appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself,” it was, therefore, called Covenant, in his blood. But the whole purport, plan, design and grace, originating as it did in the purposes of JEHOVAH from all eternity, had all the properties in it of an everlasting covenant; and Christ always, and from all eternity, “was considered the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” (Rev. 13:8.)

Robert Hawker, an Anglican, clearly embraced the same twofold covenantal framework as that of Keach, Gill and Styles. And again, lest we think this covenantal framework was confined to the Particular Baptists and the Anglicans, I wish to read for you a statement made by an Independent minister named Joseph Irons (1785-1852). He was for thirty-three years the pastor of Grove Chapel, Camberwell. In his book, “Jazer: Assistance for the Weak in Faith”, published in 1822, he wrote in the fourth letter:

”The covenant of grace is that grand stipulation between the persons of the adorable Trinity, in which all that relates to the great work of redemption, was planned and provided by the infinite wisdom and sovereign love: each person in the Godhead engaging in its distinct parts, aud uniting in its grand and glorious scheme. God the Father having determined to pardon and save millions of Adam’s rebel race, fixed upon their persons in his eternal fore-knowledge, wrote their names in the book of life, and gave them into the hand of a divine Surety, making him responsible for their salvation; and securing to him all the glory and satisfaction of the everlasting triumph over sin, death, and hell. God, the Son, voluntarily entered upon his mediatorial office; took all the guilt, and all the vast concerns of his church upon his own person: engaged to cancel all her debt; atone for all her guilt; assume her nature; impart to her his nature; and become all for her, and to her, which is requisite for her present happiness and eternal glory. God, the Holy Ghost, also engaged in covenant to distinguish the elect and redeemed family from the world by special grace; to bring to Christ, yea, into vital union with Christ, reveal Christ to them, and lead them into sweet fellowship with the Father; to renew them, comfort them, and conduct them home to glory, as the purchase of Jesus’ blood, and the objects of the Father’s love. The covenant of grace is the invariable rule by which all the great events of time are controlled, and from the creation of the world to the consummation of all things, Jehovah carries on his grand designs according to the fixed order, and divine purpose of this covenant. He employs both his friends and his foes as he will, in the accomplishment of his objects, but allows no power or artifice to derange his plan or hinder his work. The stipulations of this covenant are between the persons of the Godhead, and are therefore sure—the gifts of this covenant are all free, and therefore suited to the condition of ruined man—all it required has been perfor­med by the covenant head, and admits of no addition— all it contains is the inheritance of every child of God; and, being secured by the Father’s oath, and received for them by Christ in his mediatorial character, shall assuredly be communicated to them by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

My dear friends, Joseph Irons, an Independent, also embraced the twofold covenantal framework as that of Keach, Gill, Styles and Hawker. So did a man named Charles Buck (1771-1815). He was an Independent gospel preacher, best known for writing and compiling a “Theological Dictionary”, published in 1802. He wrote:

“[A covenant is] a contract, or agreement between two or more parties on certain terms…The covenants which more especially relate to the human race, are generally called the covenant of works and the covenant of grace…Some divines make a distinction between the covenant of redemption and that of grace; the former, they say, was made with Christ in eternity; the latter with believers in time. Others object to this, and suppose it a needless distinction; for there is but one covenant of grace, and not two, in which the head and members are concerned; and, besides, the covenant of grace, properly speaking, could not be made between God and man; for what can man restipulate with God, which is in his power to do or give him, and which God has not a prior right unto? Fallen man has neither inclination to yield obedience, nor power to perform it. The parties, therefore, in this covenant, are generally said to be the Father and the Son; but Dr. Gill supposes that the Holy Ghost should not be excluded, since he is promised in it, and in consequence of it, is sent down into the hearts of believers; and which must be by agreement, and with his consent. If we believe, therefore, in a Trinity, it is more proper to suppose that they were all engaged in this plan of the covenant, than to suppose that the Father and Son were engaged exclusive of the Holy Spirit, 1 John 5:6,7.”

Charles Buck, an Independent, embraced the twofold covenantal framework as that of Keach, Gill, Styles, Hawker and Irons. I could easily multiply this list of names, but I have given a sufficient number of examples, transcending denominationalism, which establishes the point—18th century Hyper-Calvinism is distinguished, foremost, by its twofold covenantal framework. Now, if 17th century Hyper-Calvinism was an enlargement of Calvin’s covenantal framework, then 18th century Hyper-Calvinism was a refinement of 17th century Hyper-Calvinism’s covenantal framework. And as I have shown you, Benjamin Keach stood as a bridge to this cross-over, with some of the most prominent and influential gospel preachers of the 18th to 20th centuries subscribing to his covenantalism. 

However, we mustn’t think that Keach was the originator of this view. The idea of a twofold framework of coventalism had been floating around for many years prior to Keach’s ministry. One of the first to articulate the view was a Polish theologian named Johannes Maccovius (1588-1644). He subscribed to a supralapsarian view on the order of God’s decree, with only two permanent and perpetual covenants—one of works, between God and Adam; and another of grace, between the Persons of the Godhead. He understood the eternal covenant of grace to be administered by God in time by the effectual power of the Holy Spirit. William Ames (1576-1633), on the other hand, a man I alluded to in our previous study, disparaged this view, believing the eternal covenant between the TriUne Jehovah is distinguished from a covenant of grace God makes with sinners in time. While it was the covenantal view of William Ames which became the framework of 17th century Hyper-Calvinism, articulated in the 1646, 1658 and 1689 confessions of faith, it was the covenantal view of Johannes Maccovius which became the framework of 18th century Hyper-Calvinism, articulated in the writings of men such as Keach, Gill, Styles, Hawker, Irons and Buck. 

Now, before closing, I wish to say something about the mainstream Calvinists of our day, those who subscribe to the covenantalism of 17th century Hyper-Calvinism. You will sometimes hear them brag about the benefit they receive from the writings of men such as Benjamin Keach, John Gill and Robert Hawker. However, as has been demonstrated from the writings of Renihan, they do not understand the covenantal framework of 18th century Hyper-Calvinism. They assume what these men meant by a covenant of grace is the same as that set forth in the 1646 and 1689 confessions. Henceforth, whatever benefit they receive is based on their misinterpretation of these writings. And, since they do not understand the covenantal framework of 18th century Hyper-Calvinism, neither do they know the reasons these men rejected the doctrines of duty faith, the free offer and the ten commandments as a rule of conduct for the believer’s life. It will be my privilege to explore these controversial issues in our next study. 

Alright, well, my time is up and so I close this study with a blessing. I do pray the Lord will show Himself to you in some very vivid and wonderful ways over the next several days. May it be your testimony, as it was for David—“[The LORD] hath made His wonderful works to be remembered: the LORD is gracious and full of compassion. [The LORD] hath given meat unto them that fear Him: [the LORD] will ever be mindful of His covenant.” (Psalm 111:4,5) May the LORD bless you, my dear friends!