Does the Second London Affirm the Covenant of Works? (Nehemiah Coxe on the Covenant of Works)

Coxe was probably one of the two major editors of the 2LBCF, along with William Collins. Dr. James Renihan writes, “Perhaps the chief editor of the most famous Baptist Confession ever, [Coxe’s] name is unrecognized by the majority of his theological heirs. Even the published editions of the 2nd LCF, when listing names of the subscribers, make no mention of him.”[1] Thus, it must be understood that Coxe would have had direct influence over what was included and what was not included within the 2LBCF. It is obvious Coxe understood the concept behind the legal language in the seventh chapter of the 2LBCF as a covenant of works. Speaking of Adam, he writes:

First, God made him a reasonable creature and endued him with original righteousness, which was a perfection necessary to enable him to answer the end of his creation. Eminently in this respect he is said to be created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26, 27) and to be made upright (Ecclesiastes 7:29). This uprightness or rectitude of nature consisted in the perfect harmony of his soul with that law of God which he was made under and subject to.[2]

Coxe’s language here matches that of the seventh chapter, proving already that he was comfortable alluding to the covenant of works in predominantly descriptive language, not making explicit terminological mention of the covenant of works. This seems especially true when he is dealing with separate, but related issues. The subject of the seventh chapter of the 2LBCF was the covenant of grace, not the covenant of works. Likewise, the context of the above quote is anthropological in nature. Coxe is discussing Adam, not the covenant of works. If anything, Coxe’s ability to pinpoint certain subjects while alluding to contextual items of importance speaks volumes of his theological precision. While it is not known for sure why the covenant of works is not mentioned in the seventh chapter of the 2LBCF, one could rightly wonder if this was not one of the reasons. It simply wasn’t the subject of interest and, in order to avoid unnecessary language, was omitted. In any case, the covenant of works was not omitted from the 2LBCF because the authors disbelieved it. Coxe says:

As to the terms and condition of this covenant that God made with Adam and all mankind in him, it was a covenant of works. With respect to immediate privilege and relationship it was a covenant of friendship. With regard to the promised reward it was a covenant of rich bounty and goodness. But it did not include or intimate the least iota of pardoning mercy.[3]

Coxe would not have been part of a confessional project with which he fundamentally disagreed. Seventeenth century puritans took confessional statements to be a serious matter. It is apparent that the 2LBCF certainly appropriated the doctrine of the covenant of works, albeit implicitly in places. Even so, from what has been argued thus far, those wanting to degrade the importance of a covenant of works could still get away with claiming that the term covenant of works is not present within the Confession, because not explicit.

They could potentially begin to think, and lead others to think, that there is simply no room for a covenant of works in Particular Baptist theology in general. However, this is impossible. The present author has already proven that the covenant of works is conceptually present in the seventh chapter of the 2LBCF. If readers only had the seventh chapter of the 2LBCF, they would still be forced to at least recognize the historical definition of the covenant of works, as popularly given by men like Perkins and Witsius, is contained in the seventh chapter alone. But this is not the only evidence for the covenant of works in the 2LBCF.

[1] Nehemiah Coxe and John Owen, Covenant Theology: From Adam to Christ, (Palmdale: Reformed Baptist Academic Press, 2005), 8.
[2] Ibid., 42.
[3] Ibid., 49. Emphasis added.

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