Does the Second London Affirm the Covenant of Works? (The Westminster & Second London)

Upon an entry-level survey of the 2LBCF, one will discover the absence of the words “covenant of works” in chapter seven which concerning God’s covenant. This is especially true if onlookers have previous experience with the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), the confession adopted by the Westminster Assembly. In the WCF, the covenant of works is mentioned outrightly in chapter seven. However, though a covenant of works is not explicitly mentioned in the chapter on God’s covenant in the 2LBCF, the concept is nevertheless present, aligning the 2LBCF with the WCF. In chapter seven, the 2LBCF states:

The distance between God and 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.[1]

Notice how the creature, according to the 2LBCF, owes a dutiful response to God. In other words, it is the creature’s responsibility from creation to obey God. In article two, the Confession goes on to explain:

Moreover, man having brought himself under the curse of the law by his fall, it pleased the Lord to make a covenant of grace, wherein he freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved; and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life, his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.[2]

Between the first and second paragraphs cited above it is apparent that there was an agreement between God and man. God created man, and man was to obey Him. In the second paragraph, it becomes obvious that there were consequences for not fulfilling this agreement. If Adam would have obeyed, he would have never “brought himself under the curse of the law by his fall.” Conceptually, what has historically been labeled the “covenant of works” is present in the seventh chapter of the 2LBCF. To deny this would be to engage in a word/concept confusion wherein the mistake is made of identifying a word with a concept such that if the word is not present the concept must not be either. For example, “the trunk is long and has many branches,” could be describing a tree. It would be a word/concept fallacy to deny this only because the word “tree” is not present. But why did the seventeenth century Particular Baptists omit the explicit mention of the covenant of works in chapter seven?

One of the documents heavily used in the formulation of the 2LBCF was the paedobaptist Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF). This is obvious for two reasons. First, the framers themselves admit to such. They write in their Letter to the Judicious and Impartial Reader, prefacing the 2LBCF:

…in the clear understanding, and steady belief of which, our comfortable walking with God, and fruitfulness before him, in all our ways, is most neerly concerned; and therefore we did conclude it necessary to expresse our selves the more fully, and distinctly; and also to fix on such a method as might be most comprehensive of those things which we designed to explain our sense, and belief of; and finding no defect, in this regard, in that fixed on by the assembly, and after them by those of the Congregational way, we did readily conclude it best to retain the same order in our present confession…[3]

The “assembly” is a reference to the Westminster Assembly, which met in the 1640s to formulate and ratify the confessional standards which would eventually come to be called the Westminster Confession. Second, the 2LBCF is heavily reliant upon the WCF which is demonstrated by a cursory reading of both documents. Most of the material in 2LBCF is borrowed from both the WCF and the Savoy Declaration, and remains unaltered.[4]

Therefore, the editors of the 2LBCF would have had to purposely remove the mention of the covenant of works in the seventh chapter since it is that very chapter where the WCF explicitly makes mention of it, saying, “The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam, and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.”[5] To discover whether or not the covenant of works is indeed a concept inherent in the 2LBCF, a brief survey of the doctrine of the covenant of works, as seen in Reformed theological history, will be helpful. One of the chief ends of the 2LBCF was to demonstrate unity with their Reformed brethren. Thus, it would be odd if they actually jettisoned the covenant of works since, as will be seen, it was such a prominent and important point of Reformed orthodoxy in the seventeenth century.


[1] 2LBCF (1677/89), 7.1.
[2] Ibid., 7.2.
[3] This paragraph is an excerpt from the original preface to the 2 LBCF.
[4] The mention of “the Congregational way” in the quotation above is a reference to the Savoy Declaration, a Congregationalist document.
[5] WCF (1647), 7.2.

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