Does the Second London Affirm the Covenant of Works? (The Second London Baptist Confession on the Covenant of Works)

If the 2LBCF put forth a covenant of works, surely it would do so in the chapter concerning God’s covenant. This is the popular assumption, and it makes perfect sense. However, the seventh chapter is a chapter about a particular covenant––the covenant of grace––not any other covenant. Therefore, a broader examination of the Confession is in order. In chapter nineteen, the 2LBCF states:

The promises of it likewise shew them God’s approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof, though not as due to them by the law as a covenant of works; so as man’s doing good and refraining from evil, because the law encourageth to the one and deterreth from the other, is no evidence of his being under the law and not under grace.[1]

In this chapter, the covenant of works is finally mentioned, explicitly. Yet, dissenting readers could still deny the Confession affirms a covenant of works since, here in chapter nineteen, the covenant of works is mentioned negatively. In this chapter on God’s law, the Confession is actually denying something about the nature of God’s law as it applies to the believer, that is, believers are not under the law as if man was under a covenant of works. Far from affirming a covenant of works, the Confession is simply denying that the law applies to man as it would in a theoretical covenant of works. But in the very next chapter, concerning the gospel and the extent of grace thereof, the Confession says:

The covenant of works being broken by sin, and made unprofitable unto life, God was pleased to give forth the promise of Christ, the seed of the woman, as the means of calling the elect, and begetting in them faith and repentance; in this promise of the Gospel, as to the substance of it, was revealed, and [is] therein effectual for the conversion and salvation of sinner.[2]

It is here that readers can see an explicit covenant of works mentioned. The 2LBCF understands the covenant of works as a broken covenant. This necessarily implies that Adam was in a covenant of works with God prior to the fall. More than this, the Confession here assumes the real existence of a covenant of works between God and man prior to the entrance of sin into the world. Thus, the 2LBCF certainly not only assumes the covenant of works, but explicitly teaches it in chapter twenty instead of chapter seven.


[1] 2LBCF (1677/89), 19.6. Emphasis added.
[2] 2LBCF (1677/89), 20.1. Emphasis added.

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