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Reformed Historical Theology

Edited by
Herman J. Selderhuis

in co-operation with
Emidio Campi, Irene Dingel, Wim Janse,
Elsie McKee, Richard Muller

Volume 17

Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht

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ISBN Print: 9783525569450 — ISBN E-Book: 9783647569451
Drawn into Controversie
Reformed Theological Diversity and Debates
Within Seventeenth-Century British Puritanism

Edited by
Michael A.G. Haykin and Mark Jones

Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht

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1. Diversity in the Reformed Tradition:
A Historiographical Introduction...........................................................11
1.1 Introduction: Tradition, Diversity, and the Interpretation
of Reformed Thought..................................................................11
1.2 Debate Within the Reformed Tradition ...........................................17
1.3 Debates Concerning Confessional Boundaries –
Crossing Over or Pressing the Boundary....................................18
1.4 Debates Over Philosophical Issues ..................................................22
1.5 Debates Concerning Issues of Significant Import
that Threatened to Rise to a Confessional Level ........................23
1.6 Debates over Theological Topics that did not Press
on Confessional Boundaries........................................................25
1.7 Concluding Comment ......................................................................29

2. The Imputation of the Active Obedience of Christ
at the Westminster Assembly.................................................................31
2.1 Introduction......................................................................................31
2.2 Historiography .................................................................................32
2.3 Recent Evidence...............................................................................35
2.4 Article 11 of the Thirty-Nine Articles .............................................36
2.5 The Problem of Antinomianism.......................................................38
2.6 Vines, Gataker, and Twisse .............................................................39
2.7 The Wider Context of the Westminster Assembly ..........................46
2.8 Conclusion .......................................................................................50

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6 Contents

3. October 1643: The Dissenting Brethren
and the Proton Dektikon ....................................................................... 52
Hunter Powell ....................................................................................... 52
3.1 Introduction ..................................................................................... 52
3.2 “The builders must have a platform” .............................................. 56
3.3 “We are now on the foundation of all” ........................................... 60
3.4 πετρος τη πετρα, The Grand Charter of the Church ....................... 64
3.5 The Apologists’ Proton Dektikon ................................................... 67
3.6 Ecclesiae Primae and Ecclesiae Ortae: “an untrodden path”......... 71
3.7 A break from “the fathers & the schoolmen” ................................. 79
3.8 Conclusion ...................................................................................... 82

4. Millennialism .......................................................................................... 83
4.1 Introduction ..................................................................................... 83
4.2 The Tradition Established ............................................................... 85
4.3 The Tradition Challenged ............................................................... 92
4.4 Conclusion ...................................................................................... 97

5. Lapsarian Diversity at the Synod of Dort ............................................... 99
5.1 Introduction ..................................................................................... 99
5.2 The Debate over Infra- and Supralapsarianism............................. 102
5.3 The Supralapsarian Position.......................................................... 107
5.4 The Infralapsarian Position ........................................................... 111
5.5 The Lapsarian Outcome of the Canons......................................... 114
5.6 Analysis of the Outcome............................................................... 117
5.7 The Maccovius Case ..................................................................... 119
5.8 Was Supralapsarianism Rejected? ................................................ 120
5.9 Why no Rejection of Supralapsarianism? ..................................... 121
5.10 Summary ..................................................................................... 122
5.11 Conclusion .................................................................................. 123

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Contents 7
6. The Extent of the Atonement: English Hypothetical
Universalism versus Particular Redemption ....................................... 124
6.1 Introduction ................................................................................... 124
6.2 John Owen & Particular Redemption ........................................... 125
6.2.1 Trinitarian Concerns........................................................ 128
6.2.2 Covenantal Concerns ...................................................... 129
6.2.3 Exegetical Concerns........................................................ 131
6.2.4 The Nature of the Atonement.......................................... 132
6.2.5 The Force of Logic.......................................................... 135
6.3 John Davenant & English Hypothetical Universalism ................. 136
6.3.1 Dualism ........................................................................... 137
6.3.2 Potential Redemption ...................................................... 138
6.3.3 Voluntarism..................................................................... 140
6.3.4 Conditionalism & the Evangelical Covenant.................. 141
6.4 English Hypothetical Universalism & Reformed Confessions..... 143
6.4.1 The Canons of Dordt....................................................... 144
6.4.2 The Westminster Confession .......................................... 148
6.5 The Case of Richard Baxter .......................................................... 152
6.6 A Softening of Reformed Theology?............................................ 156

7. Adam’s Reward: Heaven or Earth? .................................................... 162
7.1 Introduction ................................................................................... 162
7.2 Thomas Goodwin (1600–1680) .................................................... 165
7.3 Francis Turretin (1623–1687) ....................................................... 169
7.4 Examining Their Positions............................................................ 171
7.5 Seventeenth-Century Divines and Adam’s Reward...................... 175
7.6 Conclusion .................................................................................... 181

8. The “Old” Covenant.............................................................................. 183
8.1 Introduction ................................................................................... 183
8.2 Taxonomies................................................................................... 187
8.3 The Majority Position: “Dichotomist” .......................................... 189
8.4 Foedus Subserviens: “Trichotomist” ............................................ 194
8.5 John Owen: Dichotomist or Trichotomist? ................................... 199

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8 Contents

8.6 Conclusion .................................................................................... 202

9. The Necessity of the Atonement ........................................................... 204
9.1 Introduction ................................................................................... 204
9.2 Owen’s Early Position .................................................................. 206
9.3 The Argument of the Dissertation................................................. 209
9.4 The Evidence for Essential Vindicatory Justice ........................... 213
9.5 Revelation and the Doctrine of God ............................................. 217
9.6 Conclusion .................................................................................... 221

10. “That Error and Pillar of Antinomianism”:
Eternal Justification............................................................................. 223
10.1 Introduction ................................................................................. 223
10.2 The Antinomian Endorsement .................................................... 226
10.3 The Westminster Resistance ....................................................... 237
10.4 The Anti-Arminian Foundations ................................................. 246
10.5 The Anti-Antinomian Connections ............................................. 255
10.6 Conclusion .................................................................................. 259

11. The Assurance Debate: Six Key Questions ........................................ 263
11.1 Introduction ................................................................................. 263
11.2 Is the Seed of Assurance Embedded in Faith? ............................ 265
11.3 Is Faith a Condition of the Covenant? ........................................ 267
11.4 Is Assurance Primarily Grounded in God’s Promises?............... 270
11.5 How Important is Syllogistic Reasoning for Validating
Inward Evidences of Grace? .................................................... 273
11.6 Does the Inward Witness of the Holy Spirit Coincide
with the Inward Evidences of Grace? ...................................... 276
11.7 Is Assurance Normative? ............................................................ 281
11.8 Conclusion .................................................................................. 283

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Contents 9
12. Particular Baptist Debates about
Communion and Hymn-Singing ......................................................... 284
12.1 Introduction ................................................................................. 284
12.2 The Communion Controversy of the 1670s and 1680s............... 285
12.3 The Hymn-Singing Controversy of the 1690s ............................ 296
12.4 Isaac Marlow and His Opposition to Hymn-Singing.................. 300
12.5 Benjamin Keach and an Old Ordinance Reclaimed.................... 304
12.6 The Outcome............................................................................... 307

Bibliography.............................................................................................. 309

About the Authors ..................................................................................... 333

Index.......................................................................................................... 334

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This project began as an idea a few years ago when I (Mark Jones) sat down
with my then Ph.D supervisor, Michael Haykin, and discussed with him the
idea of a book that looks at the various theological debates that took place
between Reformed theologians in the context of British Puritanism. Since
that time we sought to find authors with expertise in Puritan theology that
would be able to write on the debates covered in this book. We are grateful
for their co-operation in making this project a reality.1 We are also grateful
to the staff, especially Jörg Persch and Christoph Spill, at Vandenhoeck &
Ruprecht for their help in bringing this book to the press. We are also very
thankful to Herman Selderhuis and the RHT series editors for accepting this
book into this fine series.
This book does not look at every debate that took place among Puritan
theologians, but it does give a fairly comprehensive overview of some of
the most significant debates that took place in Britain during the seven-
teenth century among Reformed theologians who agreed on more points of
theology than they disagreed. Richard Muller’s chapter shows that this type
of project provides a helpful companion to the literature in recent years that
has questioned the old historiography put forth in terms of “Calvin against
the Calvinists”.
While it is customary to offer thanks to those who have helped make a
book a reality, I (Michael Haykin) would also like to stress that in doing so,
I am not doing this in any sort of perfunctory manner. I am deeply thankful
for the help afforded me by my assistant at the Andrew Fuller Center for
Baptist Studies at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Revd. Steve
Weaver. Finally, I would like to thank my dear wife Alison for her patience
and ongoing support in all of my academic pursuits, and especially in the
editing of this book.
I (Mark Jones) want to thank the members at Faith Vancouver Presbyte-
rian Church for encouraging (enduring?) me in my academic pursuits as
their minister. It is also an honor to have edited this book with Michael
Haykin, a person and scholar from whom I have learned much. Finally, and
most importantly, I thank my wife Barbara for her continued support in all
areas of my life.

The title for this book, “Drawn into Controversie” comes from John Crandon’s Epistle dedi-
catory to Mr. Baxter’s Aphorisms Exorized and Anthorized (London, 1654).

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1. Diversity in the Reformed Tradition:
A Historiographical Introduction

Richard A. Muller

1.1 Introduction: Tradition, Diversity, and the Interpretation

of Reformed Thought

Traditions are, by their very nature, diverse. Nor do theological traditions

provide an exception to this rule, even when, as in the cases of Augustinian-
ism, Thomism, Lutheranism, or Calvinism they have been named for a
single individual. The case of Augustinianism is particularly instructive.
That there is an Augustinian tradition, few would deny. What “Augustin-
ian” precisely means is, however, subject to considerable variety, if not
disagreement. In a general sense, the theology of Western Christendom is
Augustinian. If one traces out the medieval theology of grace, Thomas
Aquinas stands as an Augustinian. If one examines the issue of philosophi-
cal models, Franciscans like Alexander of Hales, Bonaventure, and Duns
Scotus are clearly Augustinian. If one examines the emphatically Augustin-
ian theology and spirituality of the Augustinian order, one nonetheless finds
both via antiqua and via moderna Augustinians.2 A similar point can be
made concerning Thomism, which experienced several branches in the later
middle ages, a significant shift from an emphasis on the Sentence commen-
tary to the Summa in the early sixteenth-century, and significant develop-
ment in the debates over Molinism in the seventeenth century. Likewise the
Lutheran tradition which, although it does tend to identify Luther as its
foundational thinker, early on incorporated Melanchthonian elements, and
experienced considerable differences over such issues as the understanding
of Christ’s real presence in the Lord’s Supper, the relationship of faith and
works, and the nature of original sin – as evidenced in the debates leading
to the Formula of Concord (1580).
Equally so, the Reformed tradition, which did not begin with the genera-
tion of thinkers like Calvin, Musculus, and Vermigli, but with an earlier

See David C. Steinmetz, “Luther and the Late Medieval Augustinians: Another Look,” Con-
cordia Theological Monthly, 44 (1973), 245–260.

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12 Richard A. Muller

generation of Reformers of rather varied training and background – notably

Bucer, Zwingli, Capito, and Oecolampadius – is a highly diverse tradition
and, in addition, was rather diverse in its origins. Nonetheless, the diversity
of the older Reformed tradition was not a prominent subject of discussion in
the older literature on “Calvinism.” The appearance of diversity in the Re-
formed tradition as the subject of the present volume identifies a significant
line of argument in the on-going work of examining and reassessing the
development of seventeenth-century Protestant thought.
Accordingly, readers will find little of the older “Calvin against the
Calvinists” model in the following chapters. The theological positions of
seventeenth-century authors are no longer evaluated in terms of their
resemblance (or lack of resemblance) to Calvin’s thought, but as expo-
nents of a diverse and variegated tradition – indeed, a tradition that
diversified increasingly in proportion to the increasing number of teach-
ers, preachers, and theologians who came to be numbered in its ranks.
The old claim that Calvin was the founder and norm of the Reformed
tradition and that something disastrous happened to the Reformed tradi-
tion shortly after his death, yielding a predestinarian, scholastic, specu-
lative, metaphysical monolith that could be set over against Calvin’s
humanistic Christocentrism, has given way to the portrait of a highly
complex tradition in process of development. “Calvin against the Cal-
vinists” has not, in other words, been replaced by an equally monoto-
nous refrain of “Calvin for the Calvinists.” Calvin’s theology is refer-
enced, not as a norm to be invoked for the examination of the later Re-
formed tradition, but as part of an antecedent complex of earlier
Reformed formulations lying in the background of many aspects of the
later Reformed positions. Beyond this, later developments in this di-
verse tradition are allowed to speak for themselves, out of their own
historical contexts.
From the perspective of one who has participated in over three decades
of the examination and reassessment of the older Reformed theology, the
importance of this shift in method and approach ought not to be underesti-
mated – nor, indeed, should the confusion concerning both the nature of the
Reformed tradition and the significance of Calvin’s theology generated by
the “Calvin against the Calvinists” approach. Noting some of the inherent
problems in this approach in order, if only to highlight the historiographical
advance represented in the essays found here.
At its core, the “Calvin against the Calvinists” historiography was a
highly theologized product of the era of neo-orthodoxy. It not only identi-
fied Calvin, often specifically the 1559 edition of Calvin’s Institutes, as
providing the sole theological index for the assessment of later Reformed
thought, but it identified Calvin as a thoroughly Christocentric thinker
whose theology focused on Christology and which for purely dogmatic

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Diversity in the Reformed Tradition 13
concerns placed the doctrine of predestination in an a posteriori position.2
With these dogmatic shibboleths in hand, it rather easily labeled theologies
that placed the doctrine of predestination toward the beginning of the sys-
tem, often following the doctrine of God, as drastic departures from Cal-
vin’s christocentrically “balanced” theology. Theodore Beza was identified
as the culprit, and his little Tabula praedestinationis, labeled as the source
of the predestinarian system – even thought it was written a decade before
Calvin’s death, in consultation with Calvin, and is neither a theological
system nor a prospectus for a theological system.3 According to the “Calvin
against the Calvinists” model, where Calvin was Christocentric, a posteri-
ori, inductive, and humanistic, later Calvinists focused on predestination,
and argued scholastically in an a priori, deductive manner. The understand-
ing of scholasticism on the part of this scholarship was, among other things,
unique to the “Calvin against the Calvinists” model and quite out of touch
with the main lines of scholarship concerning the nature of scholasticism.
Specifically, scholasticism was defined as a highly deterministic form of
predestinarianism, immersed in Aristotle, and devoted to a logic of deduc-
ing entire theological systems from the divine decree rather than, as the
large body of extant scholarship on scholasticism had long indicated, pri-
marily an academic method that was suited to multiple disciplines and that
did not determine such results as predestinarian systems.4
In what was, arguably, a more dogmatically deductive argument than
any launched by a seventeenth-century Calvinist, this older line of scholar-
ship held that a Christocentric Calvin must have held to a notion of univer-
sal atonement while the later Calvinist predestinarians must have deduced a
doctrine of limited atonement from their view of the divine decrees. Stray
seventeenth-century proponents of universal atonement, like John Cameron
and Moises Amyraut, could be identified rather uncritically as the true
Calvinians, opposed by the predestinarian Calvinists.5 Advocacy of a scho-
In the following paragraphs, I cite only a few salient examples of each claim concerning
“Calvin against the Calvinists.” For a lengthier bibliography and critique of these lines of argu-
ment, see Richard A. Muller, After Calvin: Studies in the Development of a Theological Tradition
(New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 63–102.
Cf. Basil Hall, “Calvin Against the Calvinists,” in John Calvin: A Collection of Distin-
guished Essays, ed. Gervase Duffield (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1966), 19–37; Brian G. Arm-
strong, Calvinism and the Amyraut Heresy: Protestant Scholasticism and Humanism in Seven-
teenth Century France (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1969), 32, 40–42, 136–137; and
Peter Toon, The Emergence of Hyper-Calvinism in English Nonconformity, 1689–1765 (London:
The Olive Tree, 1967), 13; with the analysis of the Tabula in Richard A. Muller, “The Use and
Abuse of a Document: Beza’s Tabula praedestinationis, the Bolsec Controversy, and the Origins
of Reformed Orthodoxy,” in Protestant Scholasticism: Essays in Reassessment, ed. Carl Trueman
and Scott Clark (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 1999), 33–61.
Armstrong, Calvinism and the Amyraut Heresy, 32, 131–139.
Armstrong, Calvinism and the Amyraut Heresy, 54–55, 161–167, 172–172, 186–191; Alan
Clifford, Calvinus: Authentic Calvinism, a Clarification (Norwich: Charenton Reformed Publish-

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14 Richard A. Muller

lastic method in academies and universities was argued to be the cause of

declension from the more flexible and purportedly inclusive theology of the
Reformers into a rigid, unyielding orthodoxy.6
In its fully developed form, the “Calvin against the Calvinists” approach
linked humanism, some form of fideism, and Christocentrism in Calvin and
in a few later true Calvinians, and in the case of Armstrong’s and Molt-
mann’s theories, connected these characteristics with Ramism, a posteriori
argumentation, and covenant theology.7 It then opposed this artificially
constructed pastiche of balanced, purportedly true, Calvinian theology to
the purportedly unbalanced, Aristotelian, scholastic, predestinarian, meta-
physical, a prioristic, and rationalistic theology of later Calvinism. Not only
did the approach view the thought-world of the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries in terms of neat dogmatic packages, but the packaging typically
reflected twentieth-century dogmatic interests and not the patterns of for-
mulation found among early modern Reformed theologians.
Several variant lines of argument, related to this basic “Calvin against
the Calvinists” approach, took up the issue of covenant theology. Each of
these approaches the rise of covenant theology and argue, on the basis of
Calvin’s minimal contribution to the development of a doctrine of covenant,
that later federalism was a departure from Calvin. According to one pattern
of argument, inasmuch as Calvin had identified the covenant of grace as
unifying the two testaments and had offered no discussion of a pre-lapsarian
covenant, the problematic innovation separating Calvin from later Calvin-
ists was the covenant of works. In this view the Christocentric grace theol-
ogy of Calvin stood opposed to the legalisms of later Calvinism.8 According
to another pattern of argument, Calvin’s own doctrine of predestination
prevented him from understanding the covenant of grace as bilateral and
therefore marked out a fundamental difference between the Calvinian side

ing, 1996). It must, incidentally be questioned as to whether such terms as “limited” and “universal
atonement” can ever do justice to an early modern discussion and debate that did not use this
language but instead had recourse to questions of the sufficiency and efficiency of Christ’s satis-
Thus, Brian G. Armstrong, “Semper Reformanda: The Case of the French Reformed Church,
1559–1620,” in Later Calvinism: International Perspectives, ed. W. Fred Graham (Kirksville:
Sixteenth Century Journal Publishers, 1994), 119–140.
Note, in particular, Jürgen Moltmann, “Zur Bedeutung des Petrus Ramus für Philosophie
und Theologie im Calvinismus,” Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte, 68 (1957), 295–318.
James B. Torrance, “Calvin and Puritanism in England and Scotland – Some Basic Concepts
in the Development of ‘Federal Theology,’” in Calvinus Reformator (Potchefstroom:
Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education, 1982), 264–277; idem, “The Concept of
Federal Theology – Was Calvin a Federal Theologian?” in Calvinus Sacrae Scripturae Professor,
edited by Wilhelm H. Neuser (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 15–40; and Holmes Rolston III,
John Calvin versus the Westminster Confession (Richmond: John Knox, 1972). On the other side
of the argument, see Peter Alan Lillback, The Binding of God: Calvin’s Role in the Development
of Covenant Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2001).

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Diversity in the Reformed Tradition 15
of the Reformed tradition and “the other Reformed tradition” grounded in
the work of Bullinger, specifically in his bilateral understanding of cove-
nant and, indeed, in what amounted to his virtually Arminian doctrine of
predestination.9 A third pattern of argument, already noted as found in the
work of Moltmann and Armstrong, enlisted Ramism on the side of anti-
Aristotelian humanism and posed Aristotelian, scholastic, a prioristic, de-
ductivistic Bezan predestinarians against anti-Aristotelian, humanistic,
Ramistic covenantal thinkers invested in salvation-historical a posterior-
What united all of these approaches was a highly dogmatic reading of
Calvin’s theology in relation to a largely uninvestigated but nonetheless
dogmatically-characterized and presumedly monolithic or monochromatic
later “Calvinist” or Reformed tradition. Calvin was Christocentric – later
Calvinists were predestinarian; or, in a recent equally problematic variant,
Calvin was a theologian of union with Christ – later Calvinists failed to
focus on union with Christ.11 Calvin was a theologian of grace – later Cal-
vinists were immersed in legalism.12 Calvin, for all his purported Christo-
centrism, was still a predestinarian and therefore opposed to bilateral cove-
nant theology – later Calvinism evidenced a deep-seated tension between
predestinarianism and covenantalism, with the federal theology of Cocceius
reasserting the anti-predestinarian bilateral covenantalism of Bullinger.13
Calvin was a humanistic, anti-Aristotelian and, despite his predestinarian-
ism, graciously covenantal – later Calvinism, with the exception of the
Ramist covenantal thinkers, was scholastic, non-humanistic, rationalistic,
and Aristotelian.14 Calvin taught unlimited atonement – later predestinarian
Calvinism taught limited atonement, to the bitter exclusion of proponents of

J. Wayne Baker, Heinrich Bullinger and the Covenant: The Other Reformed Tradition (Ath-
ens, Ohio, 1980); and idem, “Heinrich Bullinger, the Covenant, and the Reformed Tradition in
Retrospect,” Sixteenth Century Journal, 29, no.2 (1998), 359–376; note the contrary argument in
Lyle D. Bierma, “Federal Theology in the Sixteenth Century: Two Traditions?” Westminster
Theological Journal, 45 (1983), 304–321.
As has been admirably shown, this third pattern of argument has little or no basis in early
modern documents: see Lyle D. Bierma, German Calvinism in the Confessional Age: The Cove-
nant Theology of Caspar Olevian (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 24–25, 162–168;
idem, “The Role of Covenant Theology in Early Reformed Orthodoxy,” Sixteenth Century Jour-
nal, 21, no.3 (1990), 457–459; cf. Willem J. van Asselt, The Federal Theology of Johannes Coc-
ceius (1603–1669), trans. Raymond A. Blacketer (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2001), 75.
So Hall, “Calvin against the Calvinists,” 24–28; and Armstrong, Calvinism and the Amyraut
Heresy, 36-42; and recently, with reference to union with Christ, Charles Partee, The Theology of
John Calvin (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2008), 3, 4, 25, 27.
E.g., Torrance, “The Concept of Federal Theology,” 15–40.
Thus, Baker, Heinrich Bullinger and the Covenant, 199–215.
Cf. Jürgen Moltmann, “Prädestination und Heilsgeschichte bei Moyse Amyraut,” Zeitschrift
für Kirchengeschichte, 65 (1953/54), 281; with Armstrong, Calvinism and the Amyraut Heresy,
32–33, 37–42, 55–56.

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16 Richard A. Muller

unlimited atonement as advocates of a “heresy”.15 Calvin’s theology was

wonderfully “balanced” – later Calvinists destroyed the balance.16 All of
these claims represent modern macro-dogmatic explanations that fail to
engage the content, context, and intentionality of the early modern sources.
There are, also, a series of contradictions among these approaches: sim-
ply put, the older approaches, loosely identified under the rubric “Calvin
against the Calvinists” did not agree with one another – and their disagree-
ments fell, typically, along dogmatic rather than historical lines of argu-
ment. One, found in the work of J. Wayne Baker, for all its kinship to the
argumentation of Hall and Armstrong,17 probably ought to be separated out
as “Calvin and the Calvinists against the Bullingerians.” What they all have
in common, however, is the a-historical assumption that Calvin was the
founder and dogmatic arbiter of the later Reformed tradition and that the
tradition was a fairly monolithic departure from its Calvinian norm, the
exceptions appearing either as pure Calvinians when the body of Calvinists
had departed from Calvin or as Bullingerians (or something else) when the
body of Calvinists was presumed to stand lock-step in accord with Calvin.
The various “Calvin against the Calvinists” approaches also all have in
common a highly dogmatic, value-laden vocabulary: thus, christocentrism
is good, legalism bad; humanism presumably flexible and therefore good,
scholasticism and Aristotelianism purportedly rigid and rationalistic and
therefore bad. Diversity in the tradition, whether doctrinal or methodologi-
cal, was consistently assessed as problematic insofar as it represented some-
thing other than the declared norm, whether that norm was pure Calvinian
grace theology cum christocentrism, Bullingerian anti-predestinarian bilat-
eral covenantalism, Calvino-Amyraldian-humanistic universal atonement,
Ramistic covenantal a posteriorism, or some other mythological construct,
depending on the particular line of argument.
Those scholars involved in setting aside the Calvin against the Calvin-
ists model and reassessing the post-Reformation development of Reformed
orthodoxy have typically avoided dogmatically-loaded usages, recognized
that historical method does not decide on matters of theological rectitude,
and acknowledged the variegated nature of intellectual traditions. The last
point, acknowledgment of the variegated nature of the Reformed tradition,
goes to the heart of the present volume, which focuses on the test case of

Armstrong, Calvinism and the Amyraut Heresy, 41–42, 137; cf. R. T. Kendall, Calvin and
English Calvinism to 1649 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), 13–18, 31–32, 57–58; sum-
marized in idem, “The Puritan Modification of Calvin’s Theology” in John Calvin: His Influence
in the Western World, ed. W. Stanford Reid (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), 197–214.
Thus, Hall, “Calvin against the Calvinists,” 25, 28; Toon, Emergence of Hyper-Calvinism,
See Baker, Heinrich Bullinger and the Covenant, 214.

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Diversity in the Reformed Tradition 17
English puritan debates, but it could be easily extended to other theological

1.2 Debate Within the Reformed Tradition

The eras of the Reformation and of Reformed orthodoxy were times of

intense polemic and debate, initially over issues of reform and, as the Ref-
ormation progressed and the church divided, over issues of confessional
identity and confessional boundaries. There were also a large number of
debates, varying in intensity, which took place over theological and phi-
losophical issues not immediately related to confessional definition. A
tentative distinction of these different types of debate – recognizing that the
categories are not rigidly defined and include some overlapping aspects –
can serve both to clarify the nature of Reformed orthodoxy and to charac-
terize the direction of investigation undertaken by the present volume. The
main point of the categories is to highlight not only the diversity of Re-
formed theology in the era of orthodoxy but also the diversity of the debates
as they played out across a spectrum from major encounters requiring con-
fessional statement and, indeed, condemnation or disapproval, to often
bitter arguments of considerably lesser weight that addressed issues of
preference in theological formulation without directly broaching questions
of confessionality or leading to new confessional formulae.
Three kinds of kinds of debate have been most frequently referenced in
the older scholarship – namely 1) the polemical debates with other confes-
sionalities, whether Lutheran, Roman, Socinian, or Anabaptist; 2) debates
concerning particular lines of doctrinal argument that transgressed ac-
knowledged confessional boundaries – notably the controversies over Sam-
uel Huber’s universalism and Jacob Arminius’ views on grace and predesti-
nation; and 3) debates internal to the Reformed confessional tradition that,
in one way or another, pressed questions of the precise meaning of the
confessional documents, such as the debates over eschatology or over vari-
ous elements of Salmurian theology as proposed by Moises Amyraut, Paul
Testard, Josue La Place, Samuel Morus, but that did not result in synodical
decisions of heresy – although sometimes yielding, as in the case of the
Articles of Morus and the Formula Consensus Helvetica, confessional
documents of a more limited scope.
There are also several other types of debate characteristic of the era, de-
bates that took place far more frequently, but that have generally been given
less attention. Thus there were 4) debates over philosophical issues, often
concerned with the impact of the new rationalisms on fundamental under-
standings in logic, physics, and metaphysics and, by extension, on theologi-
cal formulation. There were also, 5) debates concerning non- or sub-

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18 Richard A. Muller

confessional issues that were nevertheless of a fairly significant theological

weight that threatened to rise to the confessional level. Here we count the
supralapsarian-infralapsarian debates, debates over what for lack of a better
term can be called non-Amyraldian hypothetical universalism, over the
imputation mediate or immediate of Adam’s sin to his posterity, over the
imputation of Christ’s active obedience to believers, and the debates related
to elements of Cocceian theology. Finally, 6) there were a large number of
theological topics subject to rather different formulations on the part of the
Reformed orthodox that sometimes issued in fairly heated interchanges
among theologians but that, arguably, did not rise to the level of the debates
just noted in the fifth category. By way of example, there were differences
in understanding of divine simplicity in relation to the predication of divine
attributes and the problem of divine knowledge of future propositions.

1.3 Debates Concerning Confessional Boundaries –

Crossing Over or Pressing the Boundary

Leaving aside the first category, the debates with other confessionalities, as
not belonging to the scope of the present study and concentrating specifi-
cally on debates within the Reformed tradition, some comment is necessary
concerning the difference between the second and third kinds of debate –
namely those identifying transgressions of confessional boundaries and
those remaining withing the confessional limits – given the way in which
such differences were typically glossed over in the older scholarship, par-
ticularly when the debates were analyzed in terms of the “Calvin against the
Calvinists” paradigm. The late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century
debates over universalistic and synergistic soteriologies, notably those over
Huber’s and Arminius’ understandings of grace and predestination arose
over the thought of theologians who were Reformed in terms of their eccle-
sial or confessional location but whose thought contradicted basic state-
ments of the Reformed confessions, rendering these debates rather different
from the debates over Amyraut’s theology, given that not only was
Amyraut Reformed in ecclesial and confessional location but his theology
also arguably fell within the boundaries established by the Gallican Confes-
sion and the Canons of Dort. Huber’s and Arminius’ theologies did not fall
within the boundaries established by such confessional documents as the
Second Helvetic Confession, the Belgic Confession, and the Heidelberg
Note the rather tendentious efforts to identify Arminius’ theology as Reformed prior to the
definitions of Dort in G.J. Hoenderdaal, “De Kekordelijke Kant van de Dordtse Synode,” Neder-
lands Theologisch Tijdschrift, 25, no.5 (1969), 349–363; and Carl Bangs, “Arminius as a Re-

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Diversity in the Reformed Tradition 19
The historiographical issue is virtually the opposite in the case of
Amyraut. The rather unnuanced association of Amyraut’s hypothetical
universalism with Calvin’s theology and with a trajectory of French human-
ism, taken together with identification of Amyraut’s views as “heresy” in
the eyes of scholastic Calvinists, abetted the false picture of the nature of
Reformed orthodoxy as a predestinarian, scholastic departure from Calvin’s
more or less humanistic theology, indeed, as a monolithic theology capable
of being contrasted quite negatively with the Reformation-era foundations
of the Reformed tradition. The French Synods, while objecting to some of
the formulations of Amyraut and Testard, refrained from condemning their
views and it was left to the Formula Consensus Helvetica, a document of
limited geographical reach and short-lived use, to disapprove the doctrine –
yet without identifying it as a heresy.19 Once the nature of the controversy
as a debate internal to the confessions has been duly recognized, as well as
the genuine differences between Amyraut’s formulations and Calvin’s
thought and the rather scholastic patterns of distinction and argument as-
sumed by Amyraut are noted,20 Amyraldian hypothetical universalism can
be recognized as belonging to the internal diversity of the Reformed tradi-
tion itself – and a very different picture of orthodoxy emerges.
Alan Strange’s analysis of the debate over of Christ’s active obedience
highlights the continued intensity of reaction to the heritage of Piscator
among the English Reformed. The essay examines some of the backgrounds
to the Westminster debates in the French synodical decisions of Privas and
Tonneins against Piscator and in James I’s letter to the French Synods re-
questing moderation of the issue. Earlier, the Synods of Gap (1603) and La
Rochelle (1607) censured Piscator’s views, specifically indicating the impu-
tation of Christ’s active obedience.21 In 1612 at Privas, the Synod required
clergy to sign a confessional clarification to the effect that “toute
l’Obeissance” of Christ was imputed in justification, specifically that justi-
fication is not merely a matter of forgiveness but also consists in the impu-
formed Theologian,” in The Heritage of John Calvin, edited by John H. Bratt (Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 1973), 209–222; see Richard A. Muller, “Arminius and the Reformed Tradition,”
Westminster Theological Journal, 70 (2008), 19–48.
Formula Consensus Helvetica, praefatio and canon xvi, in H. A. Niemeyer, Collectio con-
fessionium in ecclesiis reformatis publicatarum (Leipzig: Julius Kinkhardt, 1840), 729–730, 735;
and see the similar approach to Amyraut’s doctrine in Francis Turretin, Institutio theologiae
elencticae, in qua status controversiae perspicue exponitur, praecipua orthodoxorum argumenta
proponuntur, & vindicantur, & fontes solutionum aperiuntur, 3 vol. (Geneva: Samuel de Tournes,
1679–1685), IV.xvii.4; and XIV.xiv.6.
See Richard A. Muller, “A Tale of Two Wills? Calvin and Amyraut on Ezekiel 18:23,”
Calvin Theological Journal, 44, no.2 (2009), 211–225.
Jean Aymon, Tous les synodes nationaux des églises de France, 2 vol. (Den Haag, 1710), I,
257–258, 301–302; also see Heber Carlos de Campos, “Johannes Piscator (1546–1625) and the
Consequent Development of the Doctrine of the Imputation of Christ’s Active Obedience” (Ph. D.
dissertation: Calvin Theological Seminary, 2009), 10–18, 216–239.

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20 Richard A. Muller

tation of Christ’s “active righteousness” (Justice Active) – without, how-

ever, any reference at this point to Piscator.22 In the appended documents,
however, there is a substantial, unsigned, refutation of Piscator’s doctrine.23
Two years later, however, at Tonneins, the more explicit language of Privas
concerning Christ’s active obedience was replaced by the phrases “Obedi-
ence parfaite” and “toute cette Obedience.”24 These synodical censures and
confessional elaborations are as close as the Reformed ever came to a full
confessional declaration specifically against Piscator.
As Strange also makes clear, while noting the rather pointed worry on
the part of several delegates that the doctrine could strengthen the antino-
mian cause, a significant majority of divines at Westminster assumed the
imputation of Christ’s active as well as passive obedience to believers in
and for their justification. Still, the Westminster Assembly did not follow
the route adumbrated in the initial debates over revision of the Thirty-Nine
Articles: the phrase “whole obedience” was not used and the language
adopted in WCF 8.5, “perfect obedience and sacrifice” WCF 11.1, “imput-
ing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ”, could be subscribed by all,
including those who did not accept the imputation of Christ’s active obedi-
ence to believers. Whereas all of the motivations and considerations behind
the final language of the Confession refuse modern reconstruction, the
intention of the language is clear – the debate over the imputation of
Christ’s active obedience for the justification of believers was not raised to
confessional status by the Westminster Assembly. That development was
left to two later confessions of limited provenance, namely the Savoy Dec-
laration (1658) of the Congregationalists, written by Owen and Goodwin,
and the Helvetic Consensus Formula (1675).25 In the Helvetic Consensus
Formula, Piscator’s doctrine hangs in the background of the Salmurian
issues addressed.
The Westminster Assembly’s early debate (1643) over ecclesiology –
specifically over the problem of church government and the power of the
keys analyzed by Hunter Powell, when examined from the perspective of its
immediate result, namely the formulae contained in the Westminster Con-
fession of Faith, fits into the category of debates of significant theological
weight that threatened to rise to the confessional level. In the longer view
however, given the eventual severance between Presbyterians and Congre-
gationalists or Independents, followed by the editing of confessional formu-
Jean Aymon, Tous les synodes nationaux des églises de France, 2 vol. (Den Haag, 1710), I,
Aymon, Tous les synodes nationaux, I, 457–461. N.B. the document is not given in Quick’s
Aymon, Tous les synodes nationaux, II, 13.
A Declaration of the Faith and Order owned and practised in the Congregational Churches
in England […] meeting at the Savoy, October 12. 1658 (London: John Field, 1659), xi.1 (p. 20);
Formula Consensus Helverica, xv, in Niemeyer, Collectio, 734–735.

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Diversity in the Reformed Tradition 21
lae to account for the differences in church polity, it bore the seeds of a
deeper concern that would press the limits of the confessional formulae and
result in confessional variants and schism. Powell surveys the minutes of
the Westminster Assembly and collateral documents in detail, demonstrat-
ing that the debates over the nature and extent of the power of the keys and
over the interpretation of Matthew 16:19 – viz., whether it was a general-
ized power of the universal church, a power reserved to the Apostles, a
power given to all believers, or a power delegated or communicated by
believers to the pastors of the church – stood in significant relation to im-
mediate questions of church polity that plagued the English church
throughout the seventeenth century. We can note, here, among other points
of difference and debate, the rise of separatist groups in the early seven-
teenth century, the problems that the English delegation to Dort had with
the polity of the Dutch Reformed church, the trans-Atlantic debate between
Thomas Hooker and Samuel Rutherford over the nature of a church cove-
nant, and the efforts of a writer like John Owen after the Restoration to
refute the charge that Independents were schismatic.26 By ending the debate
with the briefest of formulae and not deciding on the broader implications
of the power of the keys to the nature and forms of church government, the
Assembly achieved a certain level of unity, leaving the issue unsettled and a
source of later conflict.
That picture is further nuanced by Crawford Gribben’s essay. The issue
of millennial debate among the Reformed is both highly complicated and
rather uniquely related to the confessional issue. The new eschatologies of a
future millennium ran counter to the eschatologies of the sixteenth-century
Reformed which, from Bullinger’s commentary on the Apocalypse to Fran-
ciscus Junius’ annotations, as ensconced in the margins of later editions the
Geneva Bible, understood the millennium as past. Although, moreover, the
major Reformed confessions had tended to tread lightly concerning the last
things, two of them, the Forty-two Articles of Edward VI and the Second
Helvetic Confession, had strongly argued against “the fable of the millen-
nium” and notions of a “golden age” on earth prior to the final judgment.27
What is rather remarkable, then, is the vast revision of Reformed eschatol-
ogy that took place in the seventeenth century both in England and on the
continent without yielding a major confessional confrontation – in fact, both
witnessing an increased diversity in the tradition, a significant break with
the views of the Reformers on the part of many orthodox Reformed writers

Note Sung Ho Lee, “All Subjects of the Kingdom of Christ: John Owens’ conceptions of
Christian Unity and Schism” (Ph.D. dissertation: Calvin Theological Seminary, 2007); and Sang
Hyuk Ahn, “Covenant and Conflict: the Controversy over the Church Covenant between Samuel
Rutherford and Thomas Hooker’ (Ph.D. dissertation: Calvin Theological Seminary 2011).
Articuli XLII. Eduardi VI, art. 40, in Niemeyer, Collectio, 600; Second Helvetic Confession
11.14; cf. the Augsburg Confession, art. 17.

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22 Richard A. Muller

evidenced by their acceptance of a doctrine of a future millennium. The

spectrum of opinion among the continental Reformed, similar to what Grib-
ben has identified among the English, is evidenced by the millennialism of
Wilhelmus à Brakel on the one hand and the anti-millennial views of Fran-
cis Turretin on the other.28 Turretin, significantly, distinguished between the
“crass” chiliasm of various heretics and the highly objectionable but not
heretical “subtle” chiliasm of Piscator, Alsted, Mede, and Launaeus – an
approach parallel to his objection to Amyraldianism.29

1.4 Debates Over Philosophical Issues

This category of debate does not appear as a separate topic in the present
volume, but it nonetheless deserves some notice given both the caricatures
of Reformed scholasticism and its philosophical backgrounds found in the
older scholarship and the rather diverse and variegated picture of Reformed
approaches to philosophy that emerges when the documents are actually
studied. Often dismissed as holding rigidly to a moribund and discredited
Aristotelianism, the Reformed orthodox thinkers of the seventeenth century
expressed a series of significant concerns over impact of the new rational-
isms on fundamental understandings in logic, physics, and metaphysics and,
by extension, on theological formulation, while at the same time developing
and modifying their own approaches to the formulation and use of philoso-
The Reformed encountered, debated, and adapted various of the patterns
of metaphysical and physical argumentation that arose in the broader de-
bates of the early modern era. Thus, for example, toward the beginning of
the seventeenth century, perhaps generated by Suarez’ influential work on
metaphysics, with its stress on the univocity of being, Reformed theologi-
ans and philosophers debated the question of whether or not God could be
discussed in metaphysics – with some arguing that God, considered as
infinite being, could be a subject of metaphysics and others restricting the
topics of metaphysics to being in general, excluding God from discussion.30
As the seventeenth century progressed, various Reformed writers combated

Cf. Wilhelmus à Brakel, LOGIKH LATREIA, dat is Redelijke Godsdienst in welken de god-
delijke Waarheden van het Genade-Verbond worden verklaard [...] alsmede de Bedeeling des
Verbonds in het O. en N.T. en de Ontmoeting der Kerk in het N. T. vertoond in eene Verklaring
van de Openbaringen aan Johannes, 3 parts (Den Haag: Cornelis van Duyck, 1701), III.xx.1–27;
with Turretin, Institutio theologiae elencticae, XX.iii.1–22.
Turretin, Institutio theologicae elencticae, XX.iii1–4.
See the discussion in Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise
and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy, ca. 1520 to ca. 1725, 4 vol. (Grand Rapids: Baker,
2003), III, 167–170.

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Diversity in the Reformed Tradition 23
the problem of Pyrrhonic skepticism in their Roman Catholic opponents
and at least one major Reformed thinker, Pierre Bayle (otherwise largely
Cartesian), himself adopted a form of skepticism, the implications of which
continue to be debated in the scholarly literature.31
There have been several studies of the debates that took place in the
Netherlands over the reception of Cartesian thought among the Reformed,32
studies of some of aspects of more traditional metaphysics among the Re-
formed,33 and there is a highly significant recent study of the relationship of
Reformed orthodoxy and philosophy from the early seventeenth through the
middle of the eighteenth century, noting the shifting patterns of the more
traditional, modified Aristotelianism of the era and the gradual appropria-
tion of Cartesian arguments on the part of other Reformed thinkers.34
In yet another example of philosophical debate, Reformed concerns over
the doctrine of providence and divine foreknowledge of future contingents
associated with the rejection of Molinism, brought Reformed orthodox
writers into dialogue with Dominican opponents of Molinism and led to the
adoption or adaptation on the part of many of the Reformed of the concept
of divine concurrence understood as “physical premotion” (praemotio
physica). William Twisse advocated the concept, Francis Turretin adapted it
selectively, and Richard Baxter polemicized against it as a form of deter-

1.5 Debates Concerning Issues of Significant Import

that Threatened to Rise to a Confessional Level

These are debates that fall within the bounds of the major Reformed confes-
sions and that, in some cases were debated in the process of framing con-
fessions – notably the lapsarian and hypothetical universalist questions at
Dort and the hypothetical universalist issue at the Westminster Assembly –

See the essays in Paul Dibon, ed., Pierre Bayle, le philosophe de Rotterdam (Amsterdam:
Elsevir, 1959); and Wiep van Bunge and Hans Bot, ed., Pierre Bayle (1647–1706), le philosophe
de Rotterdam; philosophy, religion, and reception (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2008).
E.g., Theo Verbeek, Descartes and the Dutch: Early Reactions to Cartesianism (1637–
1650) (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1992); idem, “Descartes and the Problem of
Atheism: the Utrecht Crisis,” Nederlands Archief voor Kerkgeschiedenis, 71, no.2 (1991), 211–
223; J.A. (Han) van Ruler, The Crisis of Causality: Voetius and Descartes on God, Nature, and
Change (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1995).
J. A. (Han) van Ruler, “Franco Petri Burgersdijk and the Case of Calvinism Within the
Neo-Scholastic Tradition,” in Egbert P. Bos and H. A. Krop, ed., Franco Burgersdijk (1590–
1635): Neo-Aristotelianism in Leiden (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1993), 37–55; idem, “Burgersdijk and
Heereboord on the Question of Divine Concurrence,” in ibid., 56–65.
Aza Goudriaan, Reformed Orthodoxy and Philosophy, 1625–1750: Gisbertus Voetius,
Petrus van Mastricht, and Anthonius Driessen (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2006).

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24 Richard A. Muller

but which did not rise to the level of causing further confessional formula-
tion. Typically, these debates reflect issues in seventeenth-century Re-
formed thought that were not debated or defined by the Reformers. They
also manifest a kind of diversity and variety of formulation not suitably
acknowledged in the older scholarship on Reformed orthodoxy. Included
here is one debate (concerning Adam’s reward) that did result in the disap-
probation of the Formula Consensus Helvetica, but that was not confes-
sionally defined or delimited in England, where the Formula had no author-
John Fesko’s analysis of lapsarian debates at the Synod of Dort works
through the arguments of Franciscus Gomarus on the supralapsarian side
with the various definitions and supportive arguments presented by infra-
lapsarians at the Synod, including the British delegation and, in so doing,
underlines the theme of the volume, namely the diversity of the Reformed
tradition. With the infralapsarians in a clear majority, the Synod not surpris-
ingly formulated its final set of canons to include an infralapsarian defini-
tion. Fesko turns to the question of the character of the orthodoxy framed
by the synod: does the infralapsarian formula render a supralapsarian defi-
nition heterodox? Significantly, this was not the conclusion drawn by the
Synod. In the case of charges brought to the Synod against the supralapsar-
ian views of Johannes Maccovius, the synodical verdict indicated the ortho-
doxy of his views, albeit accompanied by admonitions against excessive
speculation. In Fesko’s view, the underlying issue was the problem of di-
vine authorship of sin – denied alike by infra- and supralapsarian – and the
interest of the Synod in arriving at a formula that would make clear the
Reformed position. The Canons of Dort, therefore, reflect both an attempt
to arrive at a majority formulation and a willingness to allow for breadth
and diversity of theological opinion among the Reformed.
Jonathan Moore’s essay carries forward the issue of hypothetical univer-
salism, firmly establishing by way of an examination primarily of John
Owen’s and John Davenant’s thought that there was a significant develop-
ment of non-Amyraldian hypothetical universalism in English Reformed
orthodoxy that continued through the era of the Westminster Confession.
There is, moreover, good reason to place this branch of the debate over
hypothetical universalism in this rather than in our third category, given that
it did not rise to the confessional level of the Amyraldian debates – receiv-
ing neither synodical reprimand nor explicit confessional disapproval.
Moore’s careful examination of the text of the Westminster Confession
confirms his analysis over against those who would either read the confes-
sion as containing an unequivocal exclusion of hypothetical universalism or
who would attempt to view all hypothetical universalists as Amyraldian,
including those present at Westminster.

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Diversity in the Reformed Tradition 25
A question can be raised here concerning Moore’s description of the
non-Amyraldian trajectory of hypothetical universalism as a “softening” of
a Reformed tradition that was “on the whole” particularistic and resistant to
such softening. Given that there was a significant hypothetical universalist
trajectory in the Reformed tradition from its beginnings, it is arguably less
than useful to describe its continuance as a softening of the tradition. More
importantly, the presence of various forms of hypothetical universalism as
well as various approaches to a more particularistic definition renders it
rather problematic to describe the tradition as “on the whole” particularistic
and thereby to identify hypothetical universalism as a dissident, subordinate
stream of the tradition, rather than as one significant stream (or, perhaps
two!) among others, having equal claim to confessional orthodoxy.
Mark Herzer’s study of “Adam’s Reward: Heaven or Earth?” also takes
up an issue related to covenant theology, specifically to the problem of the
promises given under the covenant of works and the meaning of the “life”
promised to Adam in return for obedience – perpetual, yes, but would it be
heavenly or earthly? The fairly radical disagreement on the issue between
such eminent thinkers as Thomas Goodwin, John Cameron, Moise
Amyraut, John Ball, and Johannes Marckius on the side of an earthly re-
ward, and Francis Turretin, J.H. Heidegger, the Formula Consensus
Helvetica, Thomas Boston and Thomas Ridgley on the side of a heavenly
reward. Against the kind of arguments presented by Holmes Rolston and
Donald Bruggink, Herzer shows that this aspect of a Reformed debate and
formulation of issues concerning the covenant of works did not lead to
“legalism” as had been alleged – both on the ground that the Reformed
assumed grace in Eden and on the ground that the doctrine did not offer
works as salvific in any way after the fall. What is significant here is, as
Herzer concludes, that the debate occurred within the Reformed under-
standing of the covenant of works and did not yield intense polemics in
Britain. It did, however, in the view of continental disputants in the
Amyraldian controversy, press on the confessional boundaries, as made
clear in the Formula Consensus Helvetica – without, given the limited
acceptance of the Formula, succeeding in ruling out either the doctrine of
an earthly reward for Adam or the trichotomous federal definitions with
which it was associated.

1.6 Debates over Theological Topics that did not Press

on Confessional Boundaries

This category of debate is of particular importance to the understanding of

the character of Reformed orthodoxy and, even more than the previous
category, was either ignored or misunderstood by the “Calvin against the

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26 Richard A. Muller

Calvinists” approach to the materials. These debates are particularly illus-

trative of the diversity of orthodoxy.
There were a considerable number of variations of covenantal language,
illustrated here by Mark Jones’ essay, whether over the nomenclature itself
or over the number and interrelationship of the covenants, which typically
did not generate heated debate.35 Jones notes the variety of Reformed posi-
tions on the number of covenants, most notably the distinction between the
so-called dichotomist or majority position that argued two basic covenants,
a prelapsarian covenant of works and a postlapsarian covenant of grace and
the trichotomist view, often associated with the thought of John Cameron,
that argued a covenant of works, a Mosaic covenant or dispensation of
covenant “subservient” to the gospel, and the covenant of grace. Despite the
differences among these positions, the Reformed were in agreement that,
however related the law might be to the original covenant of works, the
Mosaic covenant neither set aside the promise of salvation by grace given
after the fall nor offered an alternative salvation by works. As Jones points
out, the variations in formulation represent different ways of handling this
assumption while at the same time arguing the distinctiveness of the Mosaic
covenant. In the case of John Owen, there are arguably trichotomist accents
in a basically dichotomist covenant structure. One of the several advances
offered by this approach to the very diverse Reformed language of covenant
is the setting aside of Armstrong’s all-too-neat bifurcation of covenant
language into the trichotomous views of the Salmurians (Cameron and
Amyraut) and the dichotomous approach of “orthodoxy”: the diversity, as
Jones shows, including the formulations of Cameron and Amyraut, lay
within orthodoxy, once again evidencing the diversity of Reformed ortho-
dox theology and continuing the direction of the recent reassessments of
seventeenth-century orthodoxy.
Carl Trueman’s study of the thought of John Owen both analyzes
Owen’s own change of position and sets Owen’s doctrinal argumentation
into the context of a centuries-long doctrinal conversation and debate over
the necessity of the atonement, noting the position of Aquinas, the shift in
argumentation brought about by Scotus’ voluntarism, and the apparent
reflection of the Scotist view in Calvin’s own thought. Owen’s earlier ap-
proach followed out this more or less Scotistic approach and found confirm-
ing echoes in the thought of William Twisse and Samuel Rutherford. In his
later approach, Owen saw the primary threat to orthodoxy as arising not
from the Arminians but from the Socinians and, accordingly refocused his
argument from a more intellectualist perspective and rooted the necessity of
Also see the earlier studies by Rehnmann, “Is the Narrative of Redemption History
Trichotomous or Dichotomous,” 296–308; and Richard A. Muller, “Divine Covenants, Absolute
and Conditional: John Cameron and the Early Orthodox Development of Reformed Covenant
Theology,” Mid-America Journal of Theology, 17 (2006), 11–56.

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Diversity in the Reformed Tradition 27
the atonement in God’s vindicatory justice. This shift in Owen’s formula-
tion and the fact that it involved significant debate with and departure from
the views of such significant Reformed thinkers as Calvin, Musculus,
Twisse, and Rutherford and actually, as Trueman notes, put Owen into the
company of Pareus, Piscator, Lubbertus, Cameron, and Maccovius, very
clearly illustrates the diversity of the Reformed tradition, the presence of
significant debates within the confessional tradition, and also the need to
reassess the rather rigid bifurcation of the Reformed tradition made by
members of the “Calvin against the Calvinists” school of thought, like
Armstrong and Clifford. Owen’s mature views placed him, on this particu-
lar issue, consciously in the camp of Piscator, Cameron, and Amyraut.
The debate over justification from eternity, analyzed in Robert
McKelvey’s study, also belongs to the category of heated but lesser, sub-
confessional debate, connected with the lengthy controversy over antinomi-
anism. The arguments against a doctrine of justification from eternity, par-
ticularly in the form that placed justification prior to faith, echoed many of
the claims made against the Reformed doctrines of predestination and justifi-
cation through faith alone – namely that it opened the door to licentiousness.
As McKelvey points out, the terms used in debate serve as an index to the
level of polemic reached in the controversy: “antinomianism” itself repre-
sents an exaggeration and distortion of the message of its purported propo-
nents and, likewise, the term “eternal justification” was used without nuance
to describe a series of positions, few if any of which would have asserted that
the eternally justified could freely commit gross sins and never repent.
Although it did not end the antinomian debates, the Westminster Con-
fession offered a resolution of the problem, not by pointedly condemning
various understandings of eternal justification, but by stating a distinction
between eternal decree of God to justify the elect, the temporal work of
Christ for the sake of justification, and actual justification in the Spirit’s
application of Christ to believers (WCF 9.4). The distinction reflects the
standard Reformed language of the eternal decree and its execution in time
and perhaps intentionally echoes the standard distinction between eternal
and actual providence.
Joel Beeke’s study also chronicles a series of distinction, differences,
and points of debate among Puritans on the relation of faith and assurance
that were theologically and pastorally significant but that fell well within
the confessional boundaries. The importance of the issue to Puritan writers
as well as the diversity of expression is easily seen in Beeke’s enumeration
of members of the Westminster assembly who wrote on the subject. Noting
that there was “no significant debate” on assurance in the Westminster
Assembly, Beeke goes on to note a series of differences, some substantial
other less so, among the Puritans – notably whether assurance belongs
properly to faith or is a fruit of faith; whether faith is a condition of the

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28 Richard A. Muller

covenant of grace or something promised by it (coupled with the issue of

whether the covenant is unconditional or conditional – or, in some sense,
both); whether assurance is primarily grounded on God’s promises or pri-
marily gained from introspection and evidences of grace in the life of a
believer; whether syllogistic argumentation (practical or mystical) should
be a basis for assurance or a “reflex” act having Christ as its foundation;
whether the inward witness of the Spirit coincides with inward evidences of
grace. The significance of this wide variety of expression is that it fell en-
tirely within confessional boundaries. Beeke’s essay is also helpful in mani-
festing the nuances of the various positions on faith and assurance – nu-
ances ignored or misunderstood in the highly flawed but still often cited
work of R. T. Kendall.36
The essay by Michael Haykin and C. Jeffrey Robinson on the debates
over hymnody manifests the diversity of the Reformed tradition in several
ways, not the least of which is the relationship of the Particular Baptists to
the broader Reformed confessional community. Continuity between Baptist
theologians and the Reformed confessional tradition is clear in the use of the
Westminster Confession and the Savoy Declaration of the Congregationalists
as the basis for large portions of their Second London Confession of 1677
and 1688. The point can also easily be illustrated from the thought of major
English Particular Baptist theologians, whose thought apart from the question
of baptism, remained in continuity with Reformed orthodoxy.37 The internal
Baptist debates over open or closed communion and over the singing of
hymns in worship also had clear parallels among the Reformed.
Focusing first on the issue of open communion and open membership,
Haykin and Robinson focus on the debates between John Bunyan and sev-
eral fellow Baptists – Thomas Paul, Henry Danvers, and William Kiffin.
Whereas Bunyan clearly viewed the baptism of adult believers on profes-
sion of faith as the proper form of baptism and was, certainly, himself bap-
tized as an adult, he nonetheless did not view baptism as a necessary “initi-
ating and entering ordinance,” resisted the use of believer’s baptism as a
basis for division among Christians, and accordingly argued the case for
open communion. His opponents argued the opposite, holding that baptism
was universally held to be the initiatory ordinance by Baptists and non-
Baptists alike, with Kiffin adding an appeal to Scripture as regulative prin-
ciple and, interestingly, citing Bunyan’s Congregationalist friend, John
Owen, against Bunyan’s arguments. Debate was fairly pointed, but resolu-
tion was reached under the terms of the Second London Confession, which
I.e., Kendall, Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649; and idem, “The Puritan Modification
of Calvin’s Theology.”
Cf. Richard A. Muller, “John Gill and the Reformed Tradition: A Study in the Reception of
Protestant Orthodoxy in the Eighteenth Century,” in The Life and Thought of John Gill (1697–
1771): A Tercentennial Appreciation, ed. Michael A.G. Haykin (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1997), 51–68.

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Diversity in the Reformed Tradition 29
did not broach the issue of closed communion. The other debate analyzed
by Haykin and Robinson, over the question of congregational singing of
“uninspired” hymns in addition to psalms, reflects a general concern among
the Reformed from the beginnings of the Reformation. The argument,
pressed by Isaac Marlow, opposing the singing of any previously composed
psalms or hymns, adds a different dimension to the Baptist debates of the
late seventeenth century. The authors conclude that the victory of Benjamin
Keach’s view – that both psalms and newly written hymns could be sung –
marked a significant juncture in Baptist worship. We add, that it marked the
juncture without occasioning a confessional statement.

1.7 Concluding Comment

The Puritan or English Reformed tradition, as surveyed in the present vol-

ume, evidences a rather diverse and variegated development, characterized
not only by debates with other confessionalities or over theological develop-
ments deemed heretical and subsequently condemned by synodical decrees,
but also by major and minor debates among the Reformed orthodox them-
selves. Most of the debates analyzed here have been passed over in the older
scholarship in its quest to find these few true Calvinians to oppose to the so-
called Calvinists. By contrast, none of the studies included in the present
volume brands one side of a seventeenth-century debate as un-Calvinian or
identifies an alteration of doctrinal perspective as a declension from Refor-
mation-era purity. Calvin no longer appears as a norm, although he does
appear, with other Reformers, as an antecedent of certain lines of argument.
What ought to be most evident is that research into the diversity of the
later Reformed tradition not only undermines the older claim that the dawn
of an era of orthodoxy and scholasticism produced a rigid, nearly mono-
lithic Calvinism or a nearly universally-held model according to which all
aspects of theology were deduced from a divine decree, but also documents
both an ongoing concern to further the Reformation in and through clarifi-
cation of its doctrines and a fairly clear sense on the part of Reformed theo-
logians and pastors of the nature of confessions and confessional bounda-
ries. Specifically they understood the confessions as specifically worded to
exclude certain positions (like various synergistic soteriologies, including
Arminianism), but also very carefully worded either to discourage certain
positions without overtly condemning them or to allow a significant breadth
of theological expression within and under the confessional formulae.
Specific issue can be taken, therefore, with Armstrong’s rather anachro-
nistic use of the phrase semper reformanda as a characterization of the
process of confessional recitation, revision, and re-subscription found in the
earlier French synods and to his argument that the earlier synods aimed at a

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30 Richard A. Muller

form of theological inclusiveness, while the later synods, beset with debates
over Piscator, Amyraut, and Testard and guided toward rigid formulation
by scholastic methodology, rejected “continuing reformation”.38 The lan-
guage of ecclesia Reformata, semper reformanda comes from later seven-
teenth-century developments in the Dutch Nadere Reformatie, which was
profoundly connected with the scholastic orthodoxy of Dutch university
theology, most notably that of Utrecht. More importantly, however, the
process of confessional revision that took place in the French synods of the
late sixteenth and early seventeenth century, like the process of revision of
the Belgic Confession in the Dutch synods of the era documents the attempt
of synods, particularly when faced with cases of variant theological formu-
lation, to clarify the nature of the Reformed faith, to include what was
viewed as acceptable, to exclude what was not, on a case by case basis.
What is more, the history of the French Synods in the seventeenth century
hardly evidences either an early inclusiveness or increasing rigidity. The
revisions stand not as attempts to broaden the Reformed faith but as clarifi-
cations of positions. Nor does later synodical behavior indicate a reversal:
in the cases of Amyraut and Testard, the synodical decisions tended away
from the production of new and more explicit confessional statements to-
ward admonitions and demands that controversy cease and that controver-
sial works not be published.
The essays in the present volume document rather convincingly the di-
versity of the tradition and the large number of debates that took place
within the tradition without yielding increasingly detailed confessional
statements. The importance of this diversity to the understanding, indeed,
the reassessment of Reformed orthodoxy rests on several issues: first, the
presence of such a variety of debates within the tradition sets aside the
rather standard claims of the older scholarship concerning “rigid ortho-
doxy”. Second, it offers evidence of a tradition that was both varied in its
sources and backgrounds and actively involved in formulating theology in
new and varied contexts. Third, it offers an approach to analyzing the Re-
formed thought of the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries categorically
different from the rather barren dogmatic game of one-for-one comparisons
between a thinker from the era of orthodoxy and John Calvin. Instead of the
one-for-one comparison it offers a more historically-grounded examination
of Reformed orthodoxy that looks to context and situation of an individual
thinker’s contribution to a debate for explanation rather than to a general-
ized “ism” like “Christocentrism” or “scholasticism or “Aristotelianism.”
The emphasis of the present volume on concerted examination of the diver-
sity of the tradition, therefore, also marks out a salutary path to future re-
search in the field.

Armstrong, “Semper Reformanda,” 119, 136–138.

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2. The Imputation of the Active Obedience of Christ
at the Westminster Assembly

Alan D. Strange

2.1 Introduction

Those who affirm the imputation of the active obedience of Christ (hereaf-
ter, IAOC) in the doctrine of justification by faith, and those who deny it,
have in recent years vigorously debated the issue. No small part of the de-
bate has been about the role of the Westminster Assembly of Divines and
the documents produced by that body. Several sources have historically
averred that the Assembly did not affirm the IAOC, and more recent
sources have repeated that assertion. Others, however, have argued that,
while the Divines in what they finally adopted, may never have explicitly
affirmed the IAOC, nonetheless, the Westminster documents, taken as a
whole, tend to affirm the IAOC.1 It may be thought that little remains to add
to this discussion. It is my contention, however, that a few lacunae remain
that, when examined, will fill in the picture and permit us to see more
clearly that the Westminster Assembly, when it specifically addressed the
issue of the IAOC, affirmed it, and though the final language may not have
reflected it as do some other formulations (such as the Savoy Declaration of
1658), the documents of the Assembly do reflect a two-covenant structure
that affirms (indeed, arguably, that entails and requires) the IAOC. Moreo-
ver that the Assembly was not a ruling body of the church but was rather
constituted to give advice to the Parliament materially affected how it did
its work, consideration of which is relevant in a variety of controversies,
including the question of whether or not the Assembly affirmed the IAOC.2
Jeffrey Jue argues this position well in “The Active Obedience of Christ and the Theology of
the Westminster Standards: A Historical Investigation,” in Justified in Christ: God’s Plan for Us
in Justification, K. Scott Oliphint, ed. (Great Britain: Mentor, 2007), 99–130. The assertion that
the Westminster Standards tend to affirm the IAOC is also made in Justification: Report of the
Committee [of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church] to Study the Doctrine of Justification (Willow
Grove, PA: The Committee on Christian Education of the OPC, 2007), 144–45.
Two works are particularly helpful in understanding the nature of the Westminster Assembly
as a body erected to give doctrinal and ecclesiastical advice to the British Parliament: Robert S.
Paul, The Assembly of the Lord: Politics and Religion in the Westminster Assembly and the ‘Grand

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32 Alan D. Strange

2.2 Historiography

The allegation that the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), more spe-
cifically, or the Westminster Standards (including the Larger and Shorter
Catechisms) more broadly, do not teach the IAOC, or that it at least ac-
commodated those who objected to it, is of some ancient lineage. Mitchell
and Struthers treat it in their edition of the Assembly’s Minutes. They
speculate that the alleged omission of explicit language affirming the IAOC
in WCF 11 was probably to appease Thomas Gataker and others who ob-
jected to it. Mitchell and Struthers acknowledge that though most of the
divines at the Assembly “favoured the views of Ussher and Featley,” theo-
logians distinctly and vigorously supportive of the IAOC (and expressive of
such originally), those same divines were later willing to forego a clear
affirmation of IAOC and thus to “abstain from further controversy about the
matter.”3 The clear implication is that the divines were unwilling to make
the IAOC a confessional matter and that, in the end, they accommodated
those who did not affirm the IAOC.4
In his history of the Westminster Assembly, Mitchell argues along simi-
lar lines, but more fully.5 Relying chiefly on Daniel Featley’s speeches in
favor of affirming the IAOC, Mitchell correctly notes that on the vote taken
Debate’ (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1985), esp. Part I, and S.W. Carruthers, The Everyday Work of
the Westminster Assembly, J. Ligon Duncan, III, ed. (rpt. Greenville, SC: Reformed Academic
Press, 1994), esp. chaps. 1–4. See also, for the figures of the WA, William Barker, Puritan Pro-
files: 54 Puritan Personalities drawn together by the Westminster Assembly (Great Britain: Men-
tor, 1996). And, finally, a recent work that sheds much light on the ecclesiastical circumstances
and theological positions of the divines is Robert A. Letham’s Westminster Assembly: Reading its
Theology in Historical Context (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R Publishing, 2009); with respect to the
justification controversy, and the affirmation of the IAOC, see pp. 250–264. Letham tends to see
the debate over the IAOC at the Westminster Assembly as inconclusive, retaining an ambiguity
inasmuch as the Assembly refrained from positively affirming the IAOC.
Alex. F. Mitchell and John Struthers, Minutes of the Sessions of the Westminster Assembly of
Divines (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1874), lxv–lxvii. The reference to
avoidance of further controversy occurs because Mitchell and Struthers recognize that though
early in the Westminster Assembly (Sept. 1643), there was controversy over the IAOC, there latter
appeared to be, at the time of the adoption of WCF 11 (in 1645/6), no further significant debate
over the IAOC, considerations of which are developed below.
James Ussher did not argue for the affirmation of the IAOC in the debates at Westminster
because, as a devoted Episcopalian, he opposed the meeting of the Assembly (Barker, 44–47) and
Daniel Featley, though a good source for the 1643 debate on IAOC, and a staunch defender of it,
was also an Episcopalian, who was arrested just after the justification debates and died in 1645,
before the adoption of the Westminster Confession of Faith (Barker, 47–50). It is remarkable given
the strong animus against Episcopalians how much doctrinal influence Ussher and Featley had.
This shows that the Divines could strongly disagree on matters ecclesiastical (as with the Erastians
and Independents) but be doctrinally united and give a strong affirmation of the IAOC in the
whole of the Standards even after the death of IAOC champion Featley.
Alex. F Mitchell, The Westminster Assembly: Its History and Standards (London, 1883; rpt.
Edmonton: Still Water Revival Books, 1992), 149–56.

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The Imputation of the Active Obedience of Christ 33
on the question of whether Christ’s “whole” obedience was imputed to the
believer – as a part of the debate on Article 11 of the divines’ revision of
the Thirty-Nine Articles in 1643 – “far the major part” of the Assembly
voted in favor of affirming the IAOC. Why, then, in 1645/6, when debating
and adopting WCF 11, did the divines not adopt explicitly adopt the lan-
guage of whole obedience?6 Mitchell speculates as follows: “Probably it
was on this account that when the Assembly came to treat of the subject of
Justification in their Confession of Faith they left out the word whole to
which Gataker and his friends had most persistently objected, so that the
clause, which in their revised version of Article XI [of the Thirty-Nine
Articles] had stood in the form ‘his whole obedience and satisfaction being
by God imputed to us’ was in the confession changed into ‘imputing the
obedience and satisfaction of Christ,’ which though it hardly seem to us to
include, still less to favour their view, they were content to accept as less
rigid than the other.” Mitchell concludes that this was a concession on the
part of the Assembly that led to “Gataker and his friends” agreeing to “drop
further controversy on the question.”7
Not only have earlier historians of and commentators on the work of the
Assembly argued for some sort of allowance by the Assembly for a denial
of IAOC, but more recent historians have also argued for such. William
Barker, in his helpful work on the lives of the Westminster Divines, has
denominated the debate over the IAOC at the Assembly as one of the areas
in which the Assembly differed among itself and permitted the difference to
remain and not be resolved in favor of a single position. It is Barker’s view,
specifically, that the Assembly, as with other questions (like the millennial
question and that of the order of the decrees), did not prescribe the IAOC
and proscribe every other view. Barker argued that, over against Featley
(who championed the IAOC), William Twisse, Thomas Gataker, and Rich-
ard Vines (all of whom Barker contends opposed the IAOC) “succeeded in
getting the term ‘whole obedience’ removed from the phrase ‘imputing the
obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them’ in Chapter XI of the West-
minster Confession.” Barker concluded that Westminster, when it came to
the IAOC, as in some other controversies, “sought to be clear and faithful to
Scriptural language, yet to allow for shades of difference within a generic
Calvinism.”8 There is no evidence, however, as we shall see below, that
there was any debate whatsoever about having the phrase “whole” added in
The reason that the date of the debate/adoption of Chapter 11 of the WCF will be consis-
tently given throughout this essay as 1645/6 is that, though debate on this chapter took place in
1645, it was not until July 1646 that this chapter was adopted.
Mitchell, 155–56.
Barker, 176. Even in acknowledging that the Divines sought to accommodate those who
scrupled at the IAOC by allowing the omission of “whole” as a modifier of obedience, Barker
notes that the language of the Confession was nonetheless such that the “imputation of Christ’s
active obedience was thus included,” being made explicit in the Savoy Declaration.

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34 Alan D. Strange

1645/6 when the Assembly debated Chapter 11 of the WCF. That debate
was entirely restricted to the debate held in September 1643 when the Di-
vines were debating revising Article 11 of the Thirty-Nine Articles.
Further note should be made here that some British churchmen had ear-
lier tended to shy away from making the IAOC a confessional requirement;
or, at least James I (1603–1625) had done so in 1612. James wrote to the
Synod of the French Protestant Church meeting in Privas in that year, urg-
ing that assembly to let the question of the IAOC (and some other related
ones) “be altogether buried and left in the grave with the napkin and linen
clothes wherein the body of Christ was wrapped […] lest peradventure by
too much wrangling they seem to cut in two the living child which the ten-
der-hearted mother would not endure, or divide the seamless coat of Christ
which the cruel soldier would not suffer.”9 James argued as he did, alleging
that the “question was altogether new, and not necessary to be determined,
unheard of in former ages, not decided by any council, nor handled in the
fathers, nor disputed by the schoolmen.”10 A union of all Protestants, and
possibly even reunion of Protestants with Rome, was a great interest of
James I and no doubt a part of the reason that he wanted to minimize differ-
ences among the Reformed and make the Reformed tent as large as possi-
Though James I did not want to make the IAOC a test of orthodoxy, the
French Protestants showed no such reluctance, ignoring James’s counsel.
When Johannes Piscator (1546–1625) taught that the active obedience of
Christ was that which Jesus owed to God and was not something imputed to
the believer in justification, such a view was declared deficient by the
French reformed synods of Privas (1612) and Tonneins (1614).12 The Synod
of Privas affirmed the IAOC in these words: “Our Lord Jesus Christ was
obedient to the Moral and Ceremonial Law, not only for our good, but also
in our stead, and his whole Obedience yielded by him thereunto is imputed
to us, and our Justification consists not only in the forgiveness of sins, but
also in the Imputation of his Active Righteousness.”13 It appears that, since
Quoted in Mitchell, Westminster Assembly: Its History and Standards, 155
Ibid. Mitchell argues here and on p. 156 that “Probably it was on this account that when the
Assembly came to treat of the subject of Justification in their Confession of Faith they left out the
word whole to which Gataker and his friends had most persistently objected.” Mitchell also notes,
interestingly, that the great IAOC advocate Featley had himself cited this letter of King James
(155), indicating to this writer that Featley did not find James’s reasoning compelling.
Significant work has been done on the ecumenism of James I by W. Brown Patterson, be-
ginning with his important article, “James I and the Huguenot Synod of Tonneins of 1614,”
Harvard Theological Review 65 (1972), 241–270.
J. Wesley White, “The Denial of the Imputation of the Active Obedience of Christ: Piscator
on Justification,” The Confessional Presbyterian, 3 (2007), 147.
John Quick, ed., Synodicon in Gallia Reformata: Or the Acts […] of Those Famous Na-
tional Councils of the Reformed Churches in France, v.1 (London: T. Parkhurst and J. Robinson,
1692), 348.

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The Imputation of the Active Obedience of Christ 35
the Synod of Dort (1618–19) did not directly address the issue of the IAOC,
the Westminster Assembly was the next time the subject was taken up by an
ecclesiastical assembly following the aforementioned French synods, and,
like those bodies, the Westminster Assembly did not refuse to address the
question of the IAOC.

2.3 Recent Evidence

The affirmation of the IAOC at the Assembly in 1643 has only recently
come to fuller light in the work of Chad Van Dixhoorn. While Mitchell and
others knew of this debate, we did not have all the minutes (or Lightfoot’s
Journal) from that debate and do now, thanks to the seminal work done by
Dr. Van Dixhoorn as part of his doctoral dissertation at Cambridge Univer-
sity.14 It is this work to which historians now must look for the fuller picture
of the great justification debate that took place at the Assembly in 1643.
What we see in these materials, to which even a contemporary historian like
Barker did not have access, is that when the Westminster Assembly fully
debated the matter of the IAOC, it did so in a way that clearly affirmed the
IAOC. Jeffrey Jue has recently done a good job recounting this history,
based on the more recent work of Van Dixhoorn, and has concluded that, on
the whole, the Assembly affirmed the IAOC.15 Jue’s work should be con-
sulted, along with Van Dixhoorn’s, for the fuller argument of this. A few
points, however, that fill in, and complement, the work of Jue and Van
Dixhoorn may helpfully be made here.
When the Westminster Assembly came into session on 1 July 1643, it
did not begin drafting a confession of faith (or a form or government or
directory for worship, for that matter). Rather, in its initial attempts to re-
form the English Church further (the Scottish would come later), the Par-
liament tasked the Assembly with revising the already existing articles of
faith that the English Church had employed since the time of their drafting
in the reign of Edward VI (1547–1553) and their restoration in Elizabeth’s
Chad Van Dixhoorn, “Reforming the Reformation: Theological Debate at the Westminster
Assembly, 1643–1652,” Ph.D. dissertation, The University of Cambridge, 2004. This is a seven
volume work, with the first volume containing Van Dixhoorn’s thesis proper, and volumes 2–7
consisting of appendices containing, inter alia, Lightfoot’s Journal and the Minutes of the West-
minster Assembly from 4 September 1643 to 25 March 1652. This is now the most complete
printed representation of these records that we have and have been extensively consulted in the
preparation of this essay by this writer.
Jue, 121–128, see esp. 126 where Jue addresses the fact that the word “whole” does not ap-
pear as a modifier to “obedience” in the final version of what the WA adopted: Jue concludes, as
does this essay, that though the historical record throws no clear light on the precise reason for
“whole” not being finally employed to modify obedience, the overall “two-Adam Christology” of
the Westminster Standards clearly militates against the denial of the IAOC.

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36 Alan D. Strange

reign (1558–1603): the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Anglican Church. The

Divines began working methodically through the Thirty-Nine Articles
shortly after coming into session in July 1643 and reached the article on
justification, Article 11, in September 1643.16

2.4 Article 11 of the Thirty-Nine Articles

In the Thirty-Nine Articles only Article 11 treats justification. This is sig-

nificant because there are so many aspects that the Reformation addressed
with regards to the doctrine of justification: the nature and necessity of
justification (both of the godly and the ungodly), the grounds of justifica-
tion, the nature of justifying faith, double (and triple) imputation, etc. Arti-
cle 11, as the only place addressing justification in the Thirty-Nine Articles,
had to bear the entire weight of all the major aspects of the doctrine of
justification. It was thus in the interest of the Assembly, insofar as its origi-
nal task doctrinally was restricted to revision of the Thirty-Nine Articles, to
be as precise (and concise) as possible in the revision of Article 11 so as to
give maximal Reformed expression to the doctrine of justification in the
comparatively minimal space of one article. The WCF, on the other hand,
enjoyed considerably greater space to develop the doctrine of justification,
able to have a whole chapter (with five subsections) devoted to it as well as
in other WCF chapters and spread over a number of Shorter and Larger
Catechism questions.17 This original restriction of having to express every-
thing about justification in Article 11 meant that the Assembly was pressed
to attempt to say all that it wanted to about justification in a relatively brief
space and that every word must tell and precision was at a premium.
The original Article 11, as earlier adopted by the Anglican Church and
before any amendment by the Assembly in 1643, was as follows: “We are
In addition to the background materials on the 1643 revisions to the Thirty-Nine Articles
furnished by Mitchell and Struthers in their edition of The Minutes of the Westminster Assembly,
(see lxv ff. for Article 11 on justification), see R. M. Norris, “The Thirty-Nine Articles at the
Westminster Assembly,” Ph.D. dissertation, University of St. Andrews, 1977, lv–lviii. Van Dix-
hoorn gives extensive treatment to this in his dissertation, v. 1, 270 ff.
Jue points out, pp. 126–28, that an affirmation of IAOC is integral to other places in the
Westminster Standards, like WCF 7 (on covenant) and 8 (on Christ the mediator), as well as LC
70, 92–93, in addition to WCF 11, which is directly on justification. WCF 8:5 speaks of the
“perfect obedience and sacrifice of himself,” and LC 70 affirms the “perfect obedience and full
satisfaction of Christ.” The conjunction “and” in both cases suggests that this “perfect obedience”
is in addition to the “sacrifice” and “full satisfaction” of Christ and that both are, as LC 70 affirms,
“by God imputed to them.” This is an affirmation that not only the death of Christ (the sacrifice
that fully satisfies Adam’s and the elect’s violations of the law) is substitutionary, but also that the
life of Christ is substitutionary (pro nobis), because both the perfect obedience and the full satis-
faction of Christ are imputed to us for our justification. If this is not an affirmation of the IAOC,
the import of the words is obscure to this writer.

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The Imputation of the Active Obedience of Christ 37
accompted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour
Jesus Christ by faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore
that we are justified by faith only is a most wholesome doctrine, and very
full of comfort; as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.”
After other amendments had been made to this article, the proposed revi-
sion that occasioned all the debate about the addition of the word “whole”
to modify obedience was as follows: “We are justified, that is, we are ac-
counted righteous before God, and have remission of sins, not for nor by
our own works or deservings, but freely by his grace, only for our Lord and
Saviour Jesus Christ’s sake, his whole obedience and satisfaction being by
God imputed unto us, and Christ with his righteousness, being apprehended
and rested on by faith only, is an wholesome Doctrine, and very full of
comfort: notwithstanding God doth not forgive them that are impenitent,
and go on still in their trespasses.”18
As noted, there were other revisions made to Article 11 than the addition
of the word “whole” as a modifier to obedience. However, it is agreed by
all students of this debate that nothing occasioned greater debate than this
modification; all also agree that the addition of the word “whole” was a
short-handed way of affirming the IAOC.19 There may have been, arguably,
better ways of affirming the IAOC than this particular wording. “Some
divines, even some advocates of the imputation of the active obedience of
Christ, felt the language of whole obedience was itself ambiguous.” IAOC
champion Daniel “Featley initially urged that the Assembly use the lan-
guage of the imputation of the ‘perfect satisfaction and righteousnesse of
Christ.’”20 It is perhaps worth noting at this point, particularly in support of
Jue’s contentions, that language outside of the specific chapter on justifica-
tion that would later be adopted at the Assembly (WCF 11), the wording of
WCF 8:5 and 11:1–3, for instance, is in these very terms, 11:3 speaking
even more fully about a “proper, real, and full satisfaction to his Father’s
justice in their behalf” and distinguishing between Christ’s “obedience and
satisfaction,” with the word “both” signifying that such obedience and
satisfaction are “accepted in their stead,” (implying that Christ is our substi-
tute in death and life so that both the active and passive obedience is im-
puted to us). It is hard to see how this is any less than Featley, as one of the
Both the original and revised texts are given in van Dixhoorn’s “Reforming the Reforma-
tion,” v. 1, 270 and 320, respectively.
Van Dixhoorn, v. 1, 271, Lightfoot regarded this 1643 justification debate as “our great
question,” engendering a “hot debate.” See Lightfoot, MS Journal, fos. 32 v. 30v, 35r, 35v, 26r.
Richard Baxter, now widely regarded as a neonomian, was quite interested in the Assembly’s
debate and had correspondence with several members about his own doctrine of justification
which, like this debate, came to be seen as a “hot peppercorn,” for a discussion of which see the
fine study by H. Boersma, A Hot Pepper Corn: Richard Baxter’s Doctrine of Justification […]
(Zoetermeer: Boekencentrum, 1993).
Van Dixhoorn, “Reforming the Reformation,” v. 1, 328.

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38 Alan D. Strange

stalwart defenders of active obedience, would have wanted.21 This observa-

tion supports the contention that even the WCF in its final form, both in
Chapter 11 and elsewhere, affirmed the IAOC, regardless of whether the
word “whole” modified the word obedience at any place in the Westminster

2.5 The Problem of Antinomianism

In considering the debate over the word “whole” at the Assembly and the
affirmation of the IAOC, it is important to note that the main theological
error among Protestants, at least as far as the Assembly was concerned, and
which it determined to oppose, was antinomianism.22 To be sure, Romanism
concerned the divines, especially in regards to the doctrine of justification,
and the Assembly sought carefully to refute Rome’s errors, particularly in
this regard, at every point. The same is true of Arminianism, although there
is some dispute as to whether the Assembly took a clear position on
Amyraldianism.23 A number of factors point to the chief doctrinal concern
being antinomianism, perhaps because it was an error closer to the Assem-
bly’s view that salvation was entirely by grace and grace alone. In view of
earlier confessions having condemned Roman and Arminian error, the
Westminster Assembly wanted to make it clear that the gracious character
of the salvation that it confessed was in no way at odds with the require-
ment that Christians pursue holiness and live a godly life.
Thus the Westminster Assembly condemned the foundational antino-
mian error of eternal justification, out of which various antinomians of the
time developed doctrines teaching not only that Christians are not bound by
the third use of the law but also ideas such as that God sees no sin in his
children and that Christians need not pray “forgive us our sins.”24 The an-
Much of this paragraph derives from fn. 289 of the OPC Justification Report, 144, to which
this writer was a primary contributor.
Van Dixhoorn, “Reforming the Reformation,” v. 1, 276 ff. A number of more recent works
have highlighted the “threat” of antinomianism in Britain at the time of the WA. See, e.g., David
R. Como, Blown by the Spirit: Puritanism and the Emergence of an Antinomian Underground in
pre-Civil-War England (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004), 64 ff, and recent articles by
David Parnham in Church History (75:3; September 2006), “The Covenantal Quietism of Tobias
Crisp,” 511–543, and in The Westminster Theological Journal (70; 2008), 73–104: “Motions of
Law and Grace: The Puritan in the Antinomian.”
Mitchell and Struthers, Minutes, 152 would indicate that the divine Edmund Calamy was an
Amyraldian. Warfield and others would also note Richard Vines, Lazarus Seaman, and Stephen
Marshall among that number, although Warfield argued that the expressions made in WCF 3:6,
8:5; and 8:8 would militate against any hypothetical universalist position, see Warfield, The
Westminster Assembly and its Work (New York: Oxford University Press, 1931), 56.
Van Dixhoorn, “Reforming the Reformation,” 307: “Francis Taylor openly sided […] with
Gataker, Vines, and Woodcock […] by raising the antinomian issue. As Taylor saw it, if ‘Christ

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The Imputation of the Active Obedience of Christ 39
tinomians of this period tended to collapse everything either into the eternal
decrees or the work of Christ (we could say pactum salutis and historia
salutis), giving short shrift to the necessity for the Christian to walk in and
strive for holiness (tending to see the Christian as passive in all the parts of
the ordo salutis). The Assembly was deeply troubled by this corruption of
the gospel and, in fact, at the time of the great debate on justification (Fall
1643), also had a committee of some of its members consulting with par-
liament as to how certain antinomian publications should be handled and
antinomianism suppressed.25
Given, then, that antinomianism posed the kind of threat that it did, at
least as far as many of the Westminster Divines perceived it, it is little won-
der that the Assembly took great care to give that error no quarter. In fact,
the determination to yield no ground to the antinomian or to do nothing to
give aid and comfort to antinomianism played no little part in the debate
over the affirmation of the IAOC. In the course of the 1643 debate, it be-
came plain that, among the few divines who opposed the affirmation of the
IAOC, all of them opposed antinomianism and many of them took the posi-
tion that they did in opposition to the IAOC because of their opposition to
antinomianism. The divines were quite aware that certain antinomians were
only too glad to hear and would likely misconstrue any affirmation of the
IAOC. This makes all the more noteworthy, then, the Assembly’s affirma-
tion of the IAOC: though the Assembly knew that antinomians might mis-
use the affirmation of the IAOC, because the Assembly believed such to be
at the heart of the gospel, they affirmed it anyway as a testimony to the free
gospel of Christ.26

2.6 Vines, Gataker, and Twisse

The debate on Article 11 (on justification) involved not only the debate
over the addition of the word “whole” as a modifier of obedience but also a
number of amendments before and after the debate on “whole,” including
hath performed the law for me, then it will follow I am not bound to keepe this lawe myself.’”
Then, van Dixhoorn makes a most telling observation: “Fear of catering to antinomianism was far
more real to most divines than the likelihood that they would stumble into one of the heretical
pitfalls” associated with antinomianism. Even in view of such, that the divines gave as vigorous an
affirmation of the free grace of God manifested in justification is significant.
Carruthers, 125 ff.; Paul, 176–182. See the Humble Petition of the Assembly to Parliament
concerning antinomianism, Van Dixhoorn, v. 2, Lightfoot’s Journal, 26–28.
Lightfoot had great disdain for the antinomians and made it clear (Van Dixhoorn, v.2.,
Journal, 31, passim) that the Assembly’s contempt for such played no little role in the debate,
even prompting a few to oppose the IAOC on the grounds that such opposition would militate
against antinomianism. Lightfoot, though a strong opponent of antinomianism, was a strong
proponent of the affirmation of the IAOC.

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40 Alan D. Strange

debate over what to title the article.27 All observers agree, however, that the
real debate was over the addition of “whole,” and thus over the question of
the IAOC. Richard Vines, opponent of the affirmation of the IAOC, spoke
first in the debate and argued that since justification means “the remission
of sins,” he assigns such strictly “to the passive obedience of Christ.” He
argued that the passive sufferings of Christ are the proper matter imputed.28
Typically throughout this debate, the few opponents of IAOC would argue
along these lines, observing also that Christ’s active obedience was that
which he was due to yield as a part of his humanity in the Incarnation and
that such was necessary to fit Him to be our sin-bearer in the passive obedi-
ence of His death on the cross. Thus begins the debate, with rejoinders to
Vines coming from Hoyle and Walker, who raise issues about whether
Christ as the Second Person of the Holy Trinity was bound to keep the law
for Himself (as opposed to keeping it for us), claiming also that references
to Christ’s obedience are synecdochal and that one cannot separate Christ’s
active and passive obedience.29
Not only does Vines respond, but Thomas Gataker as well. Gataker be-
comes the chief opponent of the affirmation of the IAOC in the debate at
the Westminster Assembly. He argues somewhat differently from Vines,
however, contending that justification itself is merely legal and does not
have in view the remission of sins. Since Gataker tends to separate the
remission of sins from the legal declaration and see justification as applying
only to the latter, he would also tend to refer the grounds of justification to
the work of Christ, separating that from the definition of justification, nar-
rowly construed.30
William Twisse, the prolocutor of the Westminster Assembly, who is
often said to have opposed the affirmation of the IAOC31 (though there is

Van Dixhoorn, v. 3, Minutes, 12.
Van Dixhoorn, v. 3, Minutes, 25.
Van Dixhoorn, v. 2, Lightfoot’s Journal, 48ff. for the shape of the great justification debate.
Barker, 176, claims that Twisse joined Gataker and Vines in opposing the IAOC. This con-
tention is not substantiated, however. Twisse, as a supralapsarian, was particularly concerned with
any teaching that savored of synergism (Roman Catholicsm, Arminianism, etc. see Barker, 29). A
number of Twisse’s writings bear out his supralapsarian convictions, particularly his work on John
Cotton’s Treatise Concerning Predestination (London: J. D. for Andrew Crook, 1646) and The
Riches of Gods Love unto the Vessells of Mercy, Consistent with His Absolute Hatred or Reproba-
tion of the Vessells of Wrath […] (post., Oxford: Printers to the University, 1653), this last work
containing a particularly vigorous defense of the supralapsarian order in the decrees. If Twisse for
some reason did oppose the IAOC in justification, it was not because he believed salvation to be
anything than utterly monergistic. If Twisse was extreme in any direction, he was a hyper-
Calvininst, not a neo-nomian like Richard Baxter (Barker, 288–94) and so Twisse’s alleged
opposition to IAOC would not threaten the utter graciousness of justification as would the opposi-
tion of neo-nomians to IAOC. For more on Twisse, see also Benjamin Brooks, The Lives of the
Puritans, v. 3 (1813; rpt. Pittsburgh: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1994), 12–17.

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The Imputation of the Active Obedience of Christ 41
never any clear opposition expressed in the minutes) came at the question
of justification from yet another perspective. Twisse believed in eternal
justification, as did the antinomians, though there is no evidence that he
shared in the errors that the antinomians drew from their affirmation of
eternal justification. Twisse, in fact, warned the Assembly about too strenu-
ously opposing the antinomians.32 One thing is clear: if Twisse opposed the
IAOC, which remains unclear and contested, he did not do so on the
grounds that it would lend aid and comfort to the antinomians, given that he
himself was concerned about Assembly over-reaction to antinomianism. It
may be that he referred the doctrine of the IAOC to sanctification and not
justification. At any rate, Twisse would be no friend of anyone wanting to
introduce any element of human merit or works (as a part of our faithful-
ness) into the equation of our justification.
It ought to be remembered that a good deal of debate does not necessar-
ily mean that there is a good deal of disagreement among the debaters.
Heated debate, as was the 1643 debate over the addition of the word
“whole,” often indicates that there are some parties participating in the
debate who feel very strongly about the issue at hand, not that the body
debating is highly divided.33 In the great justification debate of 1643, Ga-
taker spoke twenty-five times and Vines twenty-three times: these two were
among the top four speakers in the debate.34 Those who opposed the af-
firmation of the IAOC spoke a lot during the debate, in other words, yet
when it came to the vote, of about fifty men voting, only three or four voted
against affirming the IAOC.35 This means that the vote in favor of affirming
the IAOC was in excess of ninety percent, even if there were four voting
against it.
Only those inexperienced in church deliberative bodies would wonder
how such a vigorous debate might yield such a lopsided vote. Those more
familiar with the ways of such bodies know that such is not uncommon.
Novitiates may express surprise that vigorous debates can lead to one-sided
conclusions, not realizing that most people do not speak in a debate and that
the most fervent speeches are often given by a small minority strongly
opposed to the motion under consideration and committed to the employ-
Van Dixhoorn, v. 3, Minutes, 19.
See Van Dixhoon, v. 3, Minutes, 32 in which something of the debate psychology of the
Westminster Assembly can be gathered from the remarks of an IAOC defender (Walker) who
makes the point to those vigorously debating against the IAOC: [We, advocates of the IAOC]
desire [that] they [opponents of the IAOC] would not think we yield the cause because [we do] not
answer things answered before.” In other words, because the few opponents of IAOC were vigor-
ously combating it and making many speeches against it does not mean that the “silent majority”
did not remain strongly supportive of IAOC, nor does it mean that the speeches against IAOC
were ultimately persuasive, evidenced by the final vote.
Van Dixhoorn, “Reforming the Reformation,” 332.
Van Dixhoorn, v. 3, WA Minutes, 77

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42 Alan D. Strange

ment of every reasonable debate tactic to secure its defeat. Gataker, Vines,
and a few others ultimately exhausted their say and were unconvincing to
their fellows. When the vote came in Session 52 at the close of the Tuesday
morning session on 12 September 1643, only three or four are said to have
dissented and even at that none had their negative votes recorded save Ga-
taker, initially at least, and he for some reason thereafter apparently
changed his mind and asked that his negative vote be stricken.36
This 1643 debate over the addition of the word “whole” to modify obe-
dience is the only record that we have of such a debate over the IAOC.37
The other citations in the Assembly Minutes, which includes every refer-
ence at the Westminster Assembly to the doctrine of justification, read as
follows: “2 Dec. 1645; 23 July 1646; and 4 Feb. 1647 (Minutes 3:113r,
281v or 166v, 303v or 195v). For the debates on the text of the chapters, see
3, 8-11, 16 Dec 1645; for the scriptures see, 10, 11 Feb. 1647 (Minutes
3:113r–115r, 123v–124r).”38 There is no record for any of these dates, when
checked in the Minutes concerning the Confession of Faith and catechisms,
of any debate on justification, not to mention active obedience, comparable
to that held in September 1643 when the Assembly voted to affirm active
obedience by retaining the language of “whole obedience.”
Insofar as it is alleged that the dissent of certain figures in this debate
points to a lack of agreement on the IAOC, it is the case that no one in this
debate availed himself of the mechanism of dissent available to all members
of the Westminster Assembly. The Parliament had established a protocol
for the Assembly whereby members might express dissent.39 Lest it be
thought that such a mechanism was never employed, in the same general
timeframe as the 1643 justification debate, Cornelius Burgess objected to a
particular action of the Divines and invoked the established avenues of
dissent.40 Gataker did nothing of the sort when it came to the vote of the

Ibid. It is noted in Van Dixhoorn’s note 7 here (on 77), “‘dissenting. Mr. Gataker,’ ‘Mr. Ga-
taker’ erased.”
What follows in this paragraph comes from footnote 287 of the OPC Justification Report,
Van Dixhoorn’s “Reforming the Reformation,” 324, notes 234–235.
Van Dixhoorn, v. 2, Lightfoot’s Journal , 3–4: On 6 July 1643, both houses of Parliament
sent to the Assembly a set of eight “general rules” of procedure, the 7th and 8th being particularly
relevant for our purposes. Rule 7 sets forth that “no man [is] to be denied to enter his dissent from
the Assembly, and his reasons for it at any point,” and if subsequent debate in the Assembly does
not yield satisfaction, the dissenting party may have it sent to Parliament not as the concern of a
particular man but as a point not capable of clear resolution by the Westminster Assembly. Rule 8
makes further provisions for dissent. The important point to be made here is that recourse to such
rules was never taken by Gataker or others who may have opposed the Westminster Assembly’s
affirmation of the IAOC in 1643.
Van Dixhoorn, v. 2, Lightfoot’s Journal, 40 ff. Here Lightfoot begins to report on what he
regards as great contentiousness on the part of Burgess in opposing certain features of the Solemn

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The Imputation of the Active Obedience of Christ 43
overwhelming majority affirming the IAOC. While, as noted above, Ga-
taker seems to have originally asked to have his dissenting vote recorded,
he had his name as a dissenter stricken from the record. Even this mildest of
dissents, recording one’s negative vote, was abandoned by Gataker and
none of the stronger forms of dissent available were ever engaged. That
Gataker did nothing further indicates that, at the point in which it was clear
that the IAOC had been affirmed, even the most vigorous dissenters, and
Gataker was undoubtedly that, seemed willing to live with it.
It is regularly asserted that the Westminster Standards involve compro-
mise, making it possible for all parties to live comfortably with the finished
product.41 On certain issues, such compromise is clear, particularly in cases
in which the Assembly chose to prescribe less than what a majority of its
members might otherwise affirm on an issue.42 On the issue of justification,
however, when the Westminster Assembly debated the question of the
IAOC, it clearly affirmed it, even in the face of strong, albeit few, dissent-
ers. Though the Assembly afterwards did not choose this precise language,
it is not to be assumed that it changed its mind on the issue or that it sought
to provide a berth wide enough to make all its members comfortable, both
the many who did affirm the IAOC and the few who did not. In regards to
the contention that the Westminster Assembly, though clearly affirming the
IAOC in 1643, backed off from it in 1645/6 as a necessary compromise to
accommodate Gataker and others, it should be noted that the nature of the
Assembly, as a consultative body, never required such compromise since all
its members were never asked to subscribe all the revisions to the Thirty-
Nine Articles, or, later, all the chapters of the WCF, as if the Assembly was
a church court with power to compel compliance, and failing such, to ex-
communicate. No vote taken at the Assembly on any particular issue, meant
that all were in agreement with what had been adopted as if they were all
subscribing it. Here’s the point: the IAOC was affirmed in the revision of
Article 11 in 1643 and there is no reason to suppose that it was not also
affirmed in WCF 11 and in the other relevant chapters of the WCF, even
League and Covenant concluded with the Scots. Burgess invoked the rules of dissent set forth in
the immediately preceding footnote.
Sinclair B. Ferguson, “Westminster Assembly,” in The Dictionary of Scottish Church His-
tory and Theology (Downers Grove: IVP, 1993), 863–64: “In some matters, we find indications
that the Divines were concerned to express a generic Reformed theology in such a way that a
certain latitude of interpretation would be possible.”
J.V. Fesko, The Westminster Confession and Lapsarianism: Calvin and the Divines,” in The
Westminster Confession into the 21st Century, v. 2 (Scotland: Mentor, 2004), 477–525. Fesko
treats here an area about which the divines exercised genuine theological latitude: the Assembly
dealt with the lapsarian question so as to affirm infralapsarianism without decidedly ruling out
supralapsarianism. Warfield puts it a bit differently: “the Supralapsarians […] and the Infralapsari-
ans […] set down in the Confession only what was a common ground to both, leaving the whole
region which was in dispute between them entirely untouched,” in The Westminster Assembly and
its Work, 56.

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44 Alan D. Strange

though the specific wording of revised Article 11 never again appears. It is

my contention that it did not need to appear in that form because the word-
ing of WCF 11.3 and 8.5, especially, did everything that the revision of
article 11 by the addition of the word “whole” was intended to do, and,
arguably, more.
It seems assumed that something like theological exhaustion set in be-
tween the first debate on justification (1643) and the treatment given justifi-
cation in the WCF (1645/6). This supposed exhaustion meant that when it
came time to adopt the confessional statement about justification in 1645/6,
the Divines had little heart further to engage in the kind of intense theologi-
cal debate that they had in 1643. Perhaps, it seems to be supposed, to avoid
the kind of intense fight that the Westminster Assembly underwent in 1643,
and particularly to accommodate opponents to the IAOC, like Gataker and
Vines, the Assembly decided to forego the issue and not make an issue of
“whole obedience.” Two considerations, however, need to be taken into
account before entertaining this apparently appealing notion of theological
exhaustion. First of all, as noted above, in 1643 the entire freight of the
argument for the IAOC rested on the one word “whole.” But in 1645/6, as
also noted, the Westminster Assembly no longer had simply one article
with which to work in terms of justification and the IAOC, but rather a
whole chapter and more.
Second, the role of those who objected to the IAOC in 1643, though
never rising to the level of formal dissent in the immediate aftermath of the
affirmation of the IAOC, is somewhat unclear in the years that followed.
Scholars seem to assume, in other words, that Gataker, Vines, Twisse, and
perhaps others must have agitated for the removal of the word “whole”—
i.e., for the effective repeal of the 1643 affirmation of the IAOC—and must,
in some measure, have been successful since the IAOC is not clearly de-
lineated in the subsequent Confession or Catechisms. What role did Ga-
taker, Vines and Twisse, play after the 1643 debate? The record simply
does not say but there are some clues that Twisse and Gataker, specifically,
may have played a very small role. As noted above, whatever Twisse’s role
was in the justification debate, Twisse, having been ill and missed many
sessions, died between Session 676 (July 17, 1646) and 677 (July 22, 1646).
It was in Session 678, on July 23, 1646, that “report was made by Mr. Ar-
rowsmith ‘of Justification and Adoption.’ The Report was debated, and
upon debate agreed to; and it is as followeth [in our current WCF, Chapters
11–12].”43 Thus Twisse was not present at the adoption of WCF 11. Fur-
thermore, it is unclear what role Gataker played, if any, in the 1645/6 de-

Mitchell and Struthers, Minutes, 258–59.

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The Imputation of the Active Obedience of Christ 45
bate: his health “after the first two years of the Assembly […] forced him to
curtail his activities.”44
Speculation abounds as to why the Divines affirmed the IAOC in 1643
but left it ambiguous in 1645/6. It is Mitchell’s opinion that, though “far the
major part [of the Westminster Assembly] voted for the affirmative, that
Christ’s whole obedience was imputed to the believer,” Daniel Featley, a
major advocate for affirming the whole obedience, yielded to the dissenters
because the question of active obedience was new and not disputed in pre-
vious centuries; “probably,” Mitchell continues, “it was on this account [of
several factors, including the newer nature of the question] that when the
Assembly came to the treat of the subject of Justification in their Confes-
sion of Faith [in Chapter 11] they left out the word whole to which Gataker
and his friends had most persistently objected […]” so that the dissenters
were content to accept Chapter 11 as less rigid than the earlier revised Arti-
cle 11. Mitchell cites Simon Ashe’s funeral sermon for Gataker as main-
taining that “Gataker and his friends agreed to drop further controversy, the
matter having been conceded.”45
Van Dixhoorn tends also to read all the evidence, on balance, as indi-
cating that the Assembly ultimately adopted a consensual position (that
would accommodate those scrupling at affirming the IAOC),46 though he
cites possibly counter-indicatory evidence as well, such as how Ashe’s
funeral sermon for Gataker is to be interpreted: “Other comment on the
conclusion of the debate is provided by Simeon Ashe, where he cites Ga-

Barker, Puritan Profiles, 159.
Mitchell, Westminster Assembly: Its History and Standards, 155–56.
“Reforming the Reformation,” 324–330. See especially 326: Van Dixhoorn does note that
the Assembly, in drafting its 1646 catechism that was eventually abandoned in favor of the larger
and shorter catechisms, may have considered adding there something explicit about the IAOC.
Because the Westminster Assembly did not then or thereafter in either the WCF or the catechisms
explicitly affirm the IAOC (as Savoy clearly did in 1658), Van Dixhoorn concludes that the
Assembly’s decision “not to use the language of the active obedience of Christ” was “deliberate,”
and thus it “appears that the Assembly chose not to make its statement as clear as possible.” He
further says, on 328, that it is possible in the two to three years between the two main debates over
justification, “a critical number of divines may have changed their minds over the necessity of the
doctrine in a national confession.” Two observations: there was no real debate to speak of in
1645/6 in re: the IAOC, and there is counter-evidence that in other places and in other words the
divines manifested that they still affirmed the IAOC. This writer thinks it more likely that, to make
for as much peace as possible (and adopting a wise debate strategy), the divines chose not to re-
introduce the word “whole” as it was not needed, being rendered unnecessary by other words that
did the same, if not a better, job and enjoying more space to express affirmation of the IAOC. This
writer appreciates Van Dixhoorn’s pacific approach here, but points out that Van Dixhoorn him-
self admits that there is no clear evidence that the divines changed their minds over the necessity
of the doctrine in a national confession. The only supposed evidence is that “whole” no longer
modifies “obedience” at any point. This essay attempts to provide an answer for such an “omis-
sion,” noting that the greater space given to issues relating to the IAOC in the Confession and
catechisms more than makes up for any alleged lack because of the absence of the word “whole.”

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46 Alan D. Strange

taker’s silence at the end of the debate as an example of his peace-loving

spirit. Ashe also brings up Gataker’s “resolutions” not to publish his dis-
courses on Romans 3:28, “that he might not publikely discover his dissent
from the Votes of that Reverend Assembly.”47 The clear implication is that
the Assembly codified a doctrine of justification with which Gataker could
not agree. Unfortunately Ashe and Gataker do not say if he is referring to
Gataker’s silent opposition to votes on the eleventh article (which would
tell us nothing new) or votes on the eleventh chapter of the Confession,
which would suggest that Gataker understood the Assembly’s final text,
even with its increased ambiguity, to be teaching a view opposite to his
own. Gataker’s own comment on the matter is also ambiguous: he states
that Twisse and “one of the Independent partie” agreed with his views, but
the majority of the Assembly did not.
The debate in which the IAOC was hotly disputed occurred in Septem-
ber 1643, before the English Parliament had concluded the Solemn League
and Covenant (SLC) with its northern neighbors, the Scots. The SLC,
which changed the entire character of the Westminster Assembly and the
documents that it would produce, was not ratified by both houses of the
English Parliament until October 1643.48 But the Westminster Assembly
had earlier been established by an act of the English Parliament, absent any
agreement with the Scots, and had begun meeting on 1 July 1643. Thus the
Assembly, as it was originally constituted and purposed, was not for the
Reforming of the church in the two kingdoms of England and Scotland, as
it became after the adoption of the SLC, but was for the reform of the Eng-
lish Church. It was while the Westminster Assembly was still working
strictly for the reform of the English Church, then, that this great battle over
the IAOC in justification occurred, not as a part of ratifying the Westmin-
ster Standards, but as a part of that original task of the Assembly, revising
the Thirty-Nine Articles.

2.7 The Wider Context of the Westminster Assembly

Given that the original task of the Westminster Assembly was not to pro-
pose a new confession of faith but to revise the already existing articles of
religion (the 39 Articles), along with suggesting revisions for the govern-
ment, discipline, and worship of the church, it might prove helpful to reflect

Van Dixhoorn, “Reforming the Reformation,” 329.
See, for much of this history, W.D.J. McKay, “Scotland and the Westminster Assembly,” in
The Westminster Confession into the 21st Century, v. 1 (Scotland: Mentor, 2003), 213–45.

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The Imputation of the Active Obedience of Christ 47
on the circumstances surrounding Parliament’s calling of the Assembly.49
The majority in Parliament, the House of Commons more specifically, after
the calling of the Long Parliament of 1640, was clearly Puritan in its sym-
pathies. As such the Commons tended to oppose both the high-church inno-
vations referred to as Laudianism, more particularly, and episcopacy, more
broadly, many in the Commons preferring some form of established Presby-
terianism or congregationalism. The Assembly was largely of this mind as
Where the Assembly diverged from Parliament, however, was on the
question of the relationship between the church and the state. While there
were a few Erastians in the Assembly, who tended to view the church as
under the state and its creature, the Assembly generally, certainly urged on
by the Scots after they came, opposed Erastianism.50 While many in the
Assembly would be quick to counsel, and eloquent in doing so, that the
church should be able to maintain a province distinct from, and in no way
inferior to, that of the state, few in the Commons would agree, as they
wanted to retain Erastian control over the church. Thus while Laudianism
tended to be opposed by all in Parliament and in the Westminster Assem-
bly, the same could not be said for Erastianism, with some few in the As-
sembly supporting it while many in Parliament did. While all students of
this history know that the Parliament called the Westminster Assembly into
session, the implications of Parliamentary Erastianism, particularly its ef-
fect on the relative power that the Assembly thus enjoyed, or failed to en-
joy, as a result of a dominating Parliament, seems often overlooked.
Too little is made, when it comes to questions of what the Westminster
Assembly intended doctrinally to proscribe and to prescribe, of the reality
that the Assembly was called to meet by the state and was not a court of the
church (it was not a synod; it had none of the powers of a General Assem-
bly). Provoked by certain Laudian and divine right Episcopal claims, the
Parliament, in reaction against that, and in response to the “Root and
Branch Petition” in late 1640, moved to abolish the episcopacy and to call
into session an assembly of divines that could serve to advise Parliament as
to the further reform of the church. Accordingly, Parliament established and
named an Assembly that was its, “and no other[’s],”creature.51 This assem-
bly was not a convocation, as ordinarily conceived, “or in any sense ‘a court
of the church.’”52 In terms of the perennial question of church over state (as

As noted above, Carruthers and Paul are helpful for this as is Van Dixhoorn, “Reforming
the Reformation,” 12–54, on the “calling and constitution of the Westminster Assembly,” all of
which were consulted especially for the following paragraphs.
Hugh M. Cartwright, “Westminster and Establishment: A Scottish Perspective,” in The
Westminster Confession into the 21st Century, v. 2 (Scotland: Mentor, 2004), 181–221.
Carruthers, 21.

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48 Alan D. Strange

Rome taught) or state over church (as Caesoropapism had it in the Middle
Ages and Erastianism in the Reformation), England, since the time of the
Reformation under Henry VIII (r. 1509-1547), had largely, at least in the
monarchy and her governing bodies, embraced the state over church model.
And it was this Erastian model that prevailed even at the time of the West-
minster Assembly and that rendered that body purely advisory to the Par-
liament, impacting something of the way that it did its work and of how we
should view the products of that Assembly.
Perhaps a bit of historical perspective would be helpful in comparing the
Westminster Assembly to other bodies that addressed matters of Christian
doctrine.53 It is the case that after the conversion of Constantine (312), civil
authorities fairly commonly convened ecclesiastical assemblies. But the
nature of such convocations was usually for the purpose of addressing par-
ticular errors and/or condemning certain heresies, unlike Westminster
which was called to address the further reformation of the church in Eng-
land broadly. Constantine himself, for instance, called the Council of Nicea
(325) to secure the purity, peace, and unity of the church with regards to the
Arian controversy. That council ended with all those present, but two, sign-
ing off on the condemnation of Arianism (with the two dissenters also being
condemned). Councils in the ancient and medieval church, whether called
by civil rulers or not, typically on their own authority, together with papal
approval as that became an issue, condemned various views and defined the
faith in authoritative ways. The Westminster Assembly, however, was not a
body that had the authority of itself to condemn views and then compel
those who held such condemned views either to recant or to suffer excom-
The Westminster Assembly, in other words, did not have the power that
General Assemblies, or even lower judicatories of the church, have. As far
as Reformed synods were concerned, following the ecumenical councils of
the earlier church, Dort (1618-1619) was the Reformed body back to which
the Westminster Assembly looked in the execution of its work. Dort was an
assembly called by the state to deal with the crisis in the Reformed churches
precipitated by the Remonstrants, followers of Arminius, who challenged
Reformed orthodoxy at that point. Dort condemned Arminianism, dismiss-
ing the Remonstrants from its meetings and giving the state warrant to deal
with the Arminians as those whom the church acting in solemn synodical
council had determined to censure. Westminster had no such power of
church censure, much less to order the state to treat those whose teachings it
might have proscribed in a certain way.

Helpful here, broadly, and from which some of this generally derives, is the article by this
writer, “Church and State in Historical Perspective,” in Ordained Servant 16 (2007), 93–100.

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The Imputation of the Active Obedience of Christ 49
At Westminster, no one was on trial nor could that body, acting solely
on its own authority, enact church discipline. While the civil magistrate in
Scotland did promulgate the various documents produced by the Westmin-
ster Assembly, such never happened in England, due especially to the tri-
umph of Oliver Cromwell, including the execution of Charles I, which led
to the defeat of all those who opposed Cromwell and the regicide (most of
the Presbyterians in England and Scotland, with many Presbyterian parlia-
mentarians removed by Pride’s Purge). All the advice given by the West-
minster Assembly to the Parliament, in other words, was never officially
taken (though it was so received among the Scots).
To assume that if the Westminster Assembly decided something in a
certain way this must have meant that it was a compromise position in the
case in which it is known that the Divines held different positions on the
given issue is not necessarily the case. The Assembly might choose to af-
firm less than what a majority of its members believed in order to accom-
modate a minority; on the other hand, the mere presence of a minority posi-
tion at the Assembly does not mean that whatever was finally adopted was a
clear accommodation to that minority. A minority of brethren favored inde-
pendency but this does not mean that the Westminster Assembly accommo-
dated that position. Because the Assembly chose not to prescribe certain
positions does not mean that it chose to prescribe no positions. The fact is
that we know that the Assembly, when it had before it a distinct vote on the
question of the IAOC (in 1643), clearly affirmed it. There is no evidence of
any kind whatsoever that anything that the Westminster Assembly did
amounted to a repeal of that affirmation. And the absence of another debate
about justification in 1645/6 does not count as evidence in favor of the
Assembly backing off on the affirmation of the IAOC.
In regard to the contention that WCF reflects an accommodation to
those who denied the IAOC, or what is often referred to as a consensual
expression in WCF 11 (comprising both the supporters and the deniers of
the IAOC), Van Dixhoorn has noted that “perhaps the strongest evidence of
favour of reading the Assembly’s Confession in a consensual fashion, is the
fact that when the Independents revised and then reissued the Assembly’s
Confession of faith in 1658, they inserted the language of the ‘active and
passive obedience’ of Christ into their version of the Confession.”54 The
addition made to the Savoy Declaration in its chapter 11 is arguably
stronger than what was adopted by the Westminster Assembly. That this
addition represents a significant one to Westminster must not be simply
assumed but needs to be demonstrated from primary sources. It is notewor-
thy that Philip Schaff did not regard Savoy’s addition to WCF 11 as one
“Reforming the Reformation,” 330. For the full text of the 1658 Savoy Declaration, see
Jaroslav Pelikan, ed. Creeds and Confessions of Faith in the Christian Tradition, vol. 3. (New
Haven: Yale UP, 2003), 104–135.

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50 Alan D. Strange

worth mentioning in the changes that Savoy made to the WCF.55 One might
argue, then, that what Savoy did to modify chapter 11 in its revision of the
WCF was not regarded as something clearly different from Westminster but
served only to clarify the WCF on the specific point of the IAOC, making
explicit what was implicit in it.
Two things, in summary, seemed to be missed by those who contend
that since the Westminster Assembly did not in 1645/6 affirm the IAOC the
way that it did in 1643 that the Assembly intended ambiguity on the ques-
tion. First, as we have sought to show above, simply because the specific
language used early in the Assembly to affirm the IAOC does not appear
later in the Assembly (in the final form of what we now call the Westmin-
ster Standards) does not mean that one should infer that the Assembly did
not affirm (in a host of ways) the IAOC. Second, Westminster was not a
court of the church and did not have the power to exclude any of her mem-
bers who differed from her as do church courts (witness the debate about
church government which did not lead to the exclusion of the independ-
ents). This is how a Gataker could have his position ruled out but still con-
tinue in the Assembly, which was not a body that could act on its own
authority but was consultative with Parliament.

2.8 Conclusion

The burden of this essay has been to argue that when the Westminster As-
sembly of Divines directly addressed the question of the imputation of the
active obedience of Christ with respect to the doctrine of justification, the
Assembly, on balance, affirmed such a doctrine. Nothing that was done
subsequently in the Westminster Confession of Faith or Catechisms under-
mined that commitment, though such affirmation as those documents con-
tained was implicit rather than explicit. That outside the Westminster As-
sembly the doctrine remained disputed is evident from several considera-
tions. For example, Westminster divine Anthony Burgess wrote, “Among
the Protestants there are some eminent and Learned men, who have also
been for the Negative, viz. the Non-Imputation of Christ’s Active Obedi-
ence, as the matter of our Justification; though the number for the Negative,
is nothing equal to the number for the Affirmative.”56
So before and after the Westminster Assembly, the doctrine of the impu-
tation of the active obedience of Christ remained in dispute. The Independ-
ents who modified the Westminster Standards at Savoy in 1658 to suit their
Philip Schaff, ed. The Creeds of Christendom, v. 3 (rpt. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985), 718.
This paragraph derives from the OPC Justification Report, fn. 290, p. 144.
The True Doctrine of Justification Asserted & Vindicated […], (London, 1654), To the
Reader, [p. 3].

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The Imputation of the Active Obedience of Christ 51
purposes deemed it appropriate to make explicit what this writer has af-
firmed was implicit in the Westminster Confession. Westminster Confes-
sion 11.1 affirmed that believers enjoy the forgiveness of sins and the decla-
ration of being righteous “by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of
Christ to them.” The Savoy puts it, more fully, this way: “by imputing
Christ’s active obedience to the whole law, and passive obedience in his
death for their whole and sole righteousness.”57 In the English context, then,
we have gone from James I urging the English delegates to Dordt not to
make the affirmation of the IAOC a requirement, to the implicit acknowl-
edgment of it at Westminster, and the explicit teaching of it in the Savoy
Declaration, with Burgess acknowledging that it remains disputed (though
more affirm than deny the imputation of the active obedience of Christ).
What has happened to the doctrine beyond the seventeenth century is be-
yond the scope of this essay, though the first footnote of this essay gives
some indication of the abiding legacy of debate with respect to this issue.
The article from which this essay derives also seeks to address this issue
with respect to its context in the modern church.58

Jaroslav Pelikan and Valerie Hotchkiss, ed., Creeds and Confessions of Faith in the Chris-
tian Tradition, v. 3 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003), 115.
Alan D. Strange, “The Affirmation of the Imputation of the Active Obedience of Christ at
the Westminster Assembly of Divines,” The Confessional Presbyterian, 4 (2008), 194–209, 311.

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3. October 1643: The Dissenting Brethren
and the Proton Dektikon1

Hunter Powell

3.1 Introduction

The “Dissenting Brethren” – Thomas Goodwin, Jeremiah Burroughs, Philip

Nye, Sidrach Simpson and William Bridge – were a small group of congre-
gational ministers who went into exile in Holland together in the late 1630s,
published a famous tract during the Westminster Assembly entitled the
Apologeticall Narration, and subsequently led Oliver Cromwell’s state
church in the 1650s. No group in the history of the Puritan Revolution had a
more disproportionate impact on the course of events than this vocal minor-
ity. As a group they have fascinated historians for years. Yet the very fact
that they crossed so many paths, and partook in so many pivotal events
during the Puritan Revolution, has meant that our understanding of them
has been largely tangential to, and derivative of, other story lines. Histor-
ians of the Westminster Assembly, largely guided by the belief that “pres-
byterianism” was England’s only hope for religious stability, have dis-
missed their involvement as an unwanted nuisance. As one historian be-
lieved, their behaviour in the Assembly showed an “intractableness and
rigid adherence to formal principle with iron resolve and utter carelessness
for the consequences marked”.2 Uncritically accepted as the leaders of “in-
dependency” in the 1640s, their polity was regarded as the logical fulfil-
This is chapter is from my thesis, “The Dissenting Brethren and the Power of the Keys 1640-
44”, Ph.D. Thesis, University of Cambridge, 2011. Much of this current chapter is further ex-
plained and amplified by the rest other chapters in the thesis. I am grateful to Crawford Gribben,
Joel Halcomb, Mark Jones, John Morrill, Chad Van Dixhoorn, and Elliot Vernon for reading drafts
of this chapter and providing invaluable insights. προτον δεκτικόν means “first designated” taken
from William Carter’s speech on 30 October 1643, “The subject of the keyes is in that place & it
will hardly be proved that what is said to Peter is to be aplyed as a beleiver or rather as an apostell,
pastor & beleiver; what is given to Peter as the proton decticon must comprehend all these”. C.
Van Dixhoorn, 'Reforming the reformation: Theological debate in the Westminster Assembly:
Westminster Assembly Minutes, 4 Sept. 1643 to 17 Nov. 1643', University of Cambridge, Ph.D.
thesis (2004a), 214.
J. R. De Witt, Jus divinum: The Westminster Assembly and the divine right of church
government (Kampen: J. H. Kok, 1969), 106.

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The Dissenting Brethren 53
ment Jacobean separatist and semi-separatist polities. Their importance in
the Revolution is seen in their ability to stop a rigid presbyterian settlement
and to give hope to radically new notions of the separation of church and
state that carried with it the birth of religious toleration.3 Conversely, when
they rise to power under Oliver Cromwell, they are then regarded as the
opportunistic architects of religious intolerance who systematically tight-
ened the Calvinistic screws on the “extremists” they used to support. In
terms of the broader storylines in the Puritan revolution, the Apologists are
the tail that seems to always wag the dog.4
The axiomatic binary conflict model of “presbyterian versus independ-
ent” is a dominant leitmotif that has dictated the terms of ecclesiastical
historiography in the early 1640s.5 Presbyterianism and independency has
been portrayed as essentially monolithic and static categories into which
historians must plug their thesis. Connectedly, the Westminster Assembly
William Haller stated, “In speaking, however moderately, against too rigid an application of
presbyterian principles, [the Apologists] spoke for all who desired a certain latitude in the church,
and they gave the signal for many to speak with less moderation for a wider freedom than they
themselves conceived.” W. Haller, Liberty and reformation in the Puritan Revolution (New York:
Columbia University Press, 1955), 119. W. K. Jordan stated, “This modest vindication of Inde-
pendency was shortly to be expanded, into a demand for religious liberty on the grounds of both
religious right and of political necessity. In this great movement, whose velocity carried its clerical
leaders far from their original moorings, even the framers of the Apologeticall Narration were
profoundly to broaden the scope and content of their thought.” W. K. Jordan, The development of
religious toleration in England; attainment of the theory and accommodations in thought and
institutions (1640-1660) (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1938), 371. D. Cressy, England on
edge: crisis and revolution, 1640-1642 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006)
For their views on toleration see H. Powell, “The Last Confession: A Background Study of
the Savoy Declaration of Faith and Order”, University of Cambridge, M.Phil thesis, deposited in
Seeley Library (2008). For more on toleration as it relates to the Apologists and the wider revolu-
tionary period see, J. Coffey, “The toleration controversy during the English Revolution”, in C.
Durston & J. D. Maltby (eds.) Religion in Revolutionary England (Manchester: Manchester
University Press, 2006b), 42–68; B. Worden, “Toleration and the Cromwellian Protectorate”, in
W. J. Sheils (ed.) Persecution and Toleration, Studies in Church History (Padstow: Basil
Blackwell, 1984), 199–234. For summary of those who thought they were intolerant see, C.
Polizzotto, “The campaign against The Humble Proposals of 1652”, Journal of Ecclesiastical
History (1987), 569–81; Hetherington claimed they wanted toleration but when they had power
they were “as intolerant as any of their opponents.” W. M. Hetherington, History of the
Westminster Assembly of Divines (Edinburgh: J. Johnstone, 1843), 137–138. For their calculated
obstinacy and dogged desire to stop the Assembly from any presbyterian platform as early as 1643
see, De Witt, Jus divinum, 91. For the argument, largely based on a reading of Thomas Edwards,
that the Apologists were reviled for fleeing England, see T. Webster, Godly clergy in early Stuart
England: the Caroline Puritan movement c.1620–1643 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1997), chapter 14. Burroughs, however, claimed that no one suffered as he did under Bishop
Wren. Burroughs, Vindication, 21. Forthcoming work by John Adamson will show that Wren’s
persecution of the Godly in East Anglia was even more severe than we have come to believe. I am
grateful to Dr. Adamson for discussing Wren’s behavior in East Anglia during the 1630s.
For a discussion on the “warfare” motif at the Westminster Assembly, see H. Powell, “The
Dissenting Brethren and the Power of the Keys, 1640–1644” chapter 3. Robert S. Paul influential
work on the Assembly has unhelpfully promulgated this warfare metaphor. R. S. Paul, Assembly of
the Lord (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1985).

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54 Hunter Powell

has been seen as an ecclesiastical war between these two groups. But scho-
lastic debate was a fundamental part of the way these divines thought and
argued, and this reality has been oddly overlooked in studies of the West-
minster Assembly debates over church government. Therefore historians
have seen intense debate as conflict, rather than as the application of requi-
site methodological rules for discussion.6 Being sensitive or gentle to one’s
opponent was utterly foreign to those trained in scholastic disputation. “He
was rather a proselytizer for his own opinions, eager to divide truth from
error, to best his adversary here and now, to secure acceptance of his ideas
by his disciples and contemporaries.”7 The enshrined methodology of scho-
lastic disputation, utilizing Aristotelian syllogisms as a preferred rhetorical
tool, heightens the complexity of studying the Westminster minutes. “The
rhetorical ‘trick’ […] of a syllogism is that one constructs a line of reason-
ing on the basis of premises one supposes to be accepted by the opposition.
One then can draw a conclusion from the premises in favour of one’s own
position.”8 Using this method, “an attempt is made to corner the opponent,
since if the syllogism is constructed properly he must accept the conclusion
or else deny the premises.”9 The disputation was highly stylized, rigorously
adhered to and success was fought for.10 Thus, what may seem like ecclesi-
astical warfare in the Westminster Assembly to the modern reader was
exactly what these divines were trained to do.
The last three days of October 1643 give us the most accurate depiction
of the uniquely English controversies of the Westminster Assembly. We
witness the Assembly’s brief foray into the “substratum”, as Thomas
Goodwin called it, of all ecclesiological discourse. It may not be an exag-
geration to say that the “Grand Debate” was over before it began. At the
end of October, the Scottish commissioners had not yet taken their seats in
the Assembly and therefore a third party was not present to convolute the
discussion. The Assembly first addressed the topic, “the power of the
keyes.” The verse at the heart of the debate was Matthew 16:19, where
Christ tells Peter, “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of
heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven:
and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” W. M.
Hetherington, J. R. De Witt and Robert S. Paul pass this month over as
Robert S. Paul is more interested in the conclusions of each debate, instead carefully analyz-
ing the theological content of those debates. Although, as a source for sheer information concern-
ing the Westminster Assembly, Paul remains the best available source.
W. T. Costello, The scholastic curriculum at early seventeenth-century Cambridge
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1958), 8–9.
T. T. J. Pleizer & M. Wisse, “‘As the Philosopher Says: Aristotle’”, in W. J. van Asselt (ed.)
Introduction to Reformed Scholasticism vol. 26–44 (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books,
2010), 36.
Ibid., 36.
Costello, The scholastic curriculum, 20–21.

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The Dissenting Brethren 55
virtually irrelevant. Yet it was arguably one of the most important ecclesio-
logical debates the Assembly would ever have. Few divines doubted that
this verse got to the very heart of what a church was, and virtually all inter-
preters agreed that Jesus was founding his church through Peter. From there
exegesis diverged greatly. As Thomas Gataker noted early in the debates,
“[as to] what the keyes are. This is a metaphorical word & debate amongst
the learned what they are. A point of much use for the stating many con-
troveryes.”11 Although we will primarily tease out the Apologists’ position
in these crucial discussions, we should also note that the minutes convey a
great deal of confusion, and indeed, uncertainty in how to address Matthew
Ideally the scholastic method necessitated a great deal of preparation to
understand the opponent’s position, but this particular debate is complicated
by the fact that although there was an agenda (namely a proposition and a
proof), the divines kept veering off topic and into the more controversial
subject of the keys. Since the divines were trained to ferret out inconsisten-
cies as well as to promote their own positions, gathering a linear narrative
out of any Westminster debate is difficult: a difficulty compounded by the
fact that the style of disputation is already foreign to the modern observer.12
We will therefore draw heavily on Thomas Goodwin’s Government of the
Churches of Christ, for it is evident that he was organizing and citing his
own personal Assembly notes when writing it, something that has gone
unnoticed in the scholarship of the Assembly.13 Furthermore, we now have
the use of two previously unknown manuscripts of church government by
Philip Nye at our disposal.14
Two things were necessary for understanding what Matthew wrote:
what the keys were and in what regard Peter received those keys. This
chapter is concerned primarily with the latter point: what (or who) was the
primum subjectum (first subject) of church power, and second, a demonstra-
Ibid. 210–211.
This is the biggest problem with R.S. Paul’s overview of the Assembly. By attempting an
overview, he misses extremely important details that – at times – would completely change his
We will see this throughout this thesis. See also, T. Goodwin, The Consitution right, order,
and government of the churches of Christ (London, 1696), 176. See also below, 220ff.
Nye, A discourse in which the practiced now asserted was opposed. (New College Library:
Comm 1); Nye, Mr Phillip Nyes upon Dr Owens seting downe with his Church att Wallinford
house. (New College Library: Comm 1). I came across both manuscripts in New College, Edin-
burgh. The first manuscript tracks very closely with a Westminster Assembly debate during July
1644, over whether churches may take communion “in waves”. This may have been a document
intended for the Assembly, but never submitted. The manuscript gives a very robust description of
Nye’s understanding of the universal church and how it relates to the particular church. The
second manuscript is particularly important to late Interregnum historians, for it tells us that Nye
was affiliated with John Owen’s Wallingford house church. The content of this sermon is devoted
to role of elders in the church.

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56 Hunter Powell

tion that the position of the Apologists was distinctly different than that of
most “independents”. These were not new concepts the Apologists were
introducing to the Assembly. Indeed, over a year before Goodwin stood
before Parliament and preached an uncontroversial sermon in which his
view of Matthew 16:19 and his understanding of national church reform
along congregational lines were fully present.15 The October 1643 debate
materialized out of a seemingly innocuous proposition by Lazarus Seaman,
namely that the apostles had the power of the keys and also exercised those
powers. Because Seaman attempted to use Matthew 16:19 as his proof-text,
he exposed decades of ecclesiological positioning against opposing spectres
of prelatic tyranny and separatist anarchy. For the Apologists Matthew
16:19 represented the ‘substratum” of all church power, and therefore could
not so easily be passed over without putting one of their bedrock theologi-
cal tenets at risk.

3.2 “The builders must have a platform”16

On 12 October 1643 Parliament sent an order “enjoining [the Assembly of

Divines’] speedy taking in hand the discipline and liturgy of the Church.”17
The House of Lords ordered that the divines “treat and confer among them-
selves” to find the “discipline and government, as most agreeable to God’s
holy word” that is nearer in “agreement with the church of Scotland and
other reformed churches abroad, to be settled in this church instead and in
place of the present [prelatic] church-government” which the Parliament
“has resolved to be taken away.”18 A debate on Church government, and
more specifically a church government to replace the Prelatic Church of
England had been forced upon the Assembly.

A significant story overlooked in the historiography is that Zerubbabels encouragement was
preached as an Old Testament recapitulation of Goodwin’s commentary on Revelation 11, which,
as Michael Lawrence has shown, was the exegetical basis for Goodwin’s migration toward con-
gregationalism. T. Goodwin, Zerubbabels encouragement to finish the temple. A sermon preached
before the honourable House of Commons, at their late solemne fast, Apr. 27. 1642 (London,
1642); Chapter 3.
Paraphrased from Simpson, Van Dixhoorn, “Westminster Assembly Minutes, 4 Sept. to 17
Nov. 1643”, 180.
J. Lightfoot, The journal of the proceedings of the Assembly of Divines, from January 1,
1643, to December 31, 1644: and letters to and from Dr. Lightfoot, The whole works of the Rev.
John Lightfoot, D.D v. 13 (London, 1824), 17; Van Dixhoorn, “Westminster Assembly Minutes, 4
Sept. to 17 Nov. 1643”, 172.
“House of Lords Journal Volume 6: 12 October 1643”, Journal of the House of Lords: vol-
ume 6: 1643 (1767–1830), 254–255. Online version. Date accessed: 01 September 2010;
Lightfoot, Journal, 17.

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The Dissenting Brethren 57
On 17 October an agitation arose amongst the divines over how to pro-
ceed upon the topic of church government. 19 The primary concern for the
Assembly was whether or not to establish a general rule and model for
church government in Scripture and then proceed to specifics, or to proceed
to specifics (i.e. church officers) and build a model derivatively from each
specific as it arose. Charles Herle aptly summarized the mood of those who
wished to go straight to the discussions of officers, “The question is not
whether Christ hath instituted a government, but whether constituted such a
government as that officers & exercises of them be set downe in the word.
It is not to spend time about the subject of the church”.20 Therefore the
Assembly should first find out what offices, and how many of those offices
are set down in the Scripture, and subsequently explore their powers and
how that power is exercised.21 Dr Thomas Temple agreed with Herle, stat-
ing that the general rule of church government can only be found by exam-
ining the particulars of the church first.22 Seaman claimed that to proceed
with officers first was in keeping with the model of all other churches.
Those opposed to this methodology were the Erastians and the congre-
gational divines. That the Erastians, fearful of jure divino presbyterianism,
wanted to discover first whether there was a clear rule government in the
Scriptures is not surprising.23 However, at first glance we are more surprised
to see the congregational divines also asking to begin with an exploration of
the general rule for church government. It was certainly not for the same
reason as the Erastians. Goodwin, Bridge, and Simpson believed there was
a rule in Scripture, and asked that the Assembly examine and find the rule
of church government first.24 The congregationalist divines considered it
fruitless to debate “perticulars” without having ascertained the broader
parameters and boundaries of church government. As Goodwin stated, “We
must first agree on the rule and how this rule binds.”25 Or, to use Simpson’s
construction metaphor, “the builders must have a platforme that is first
drawn before the materials are prepared.”26
Van Dixhoorn, “Westminster Assembly Minutes, 4 Sept. to 17 Nov. 1643”, 174.
Ibid., 176.
Ibid., 176.
Ibid., 176.
Paul, The Assembly of the Lord, 137.
Van Dixhoorn, “Westminster Assembly Minutes, 4 Sept. to 17 Nov. 1643”, 177, 178
Ibid. 177; Paul, The Assembly of the Lord, 137.
Van Dixhoorn, “Westminster Assembly Minutes, 4 Sept. to 17 Nov. 1643”, 180. When the
Assembly wrote about these debates, two years later and in an very different polemical climate,
the validated affirmed that the Apologists had been denied the chance to begin with the a platform.
They also stated that the Scots, when they arrived, had wanted to start with their platform and the
Assembly rejected their request as well. The Answer of the Assembly of Divines [...] unto the
Reasons given in to this Assembly by the Dissenting Brethern [T. Goodwin and six others, 22 Oct.
1645] of their not bringing in a model of their way; and since published [...] under the title of A
Copy of a Remonstrance, etc (London, 1645), 10.

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58 Hunter Powell

One of the accusations levied against the Apologists by the anti-

independent pamphleteers was that they refused to bring forward any plat-
form of church government between 1640 and 1644. Scholars, such as
Tolmie, Paul, and Bradley, who have promulgated this position, have
missed the fact that it was the presbyterian majority, fearing a breakdown of
the tenuous alliance between various presbyterian positions, had initially
denied the Apologists’ request to offer a platform of church government.27
However, the evidence indicates that during this period the Apologists tried
to develop a platform in the context of the Assembly debates, as an effort to
protect the godly alliance. This happened twice, first in late October and
again four months later in February 1644.
It may seem foolhardy that the congregational divines wished to dive
headlong into the debate on church government in general, particularly
when there was bound to be agreement in matters of church officers. From
the perspective of Edmund Calamy, this was precisely the point. “All assert
their government & discipline to be jure divino,” and therefore to go to this
“greatest thing” would only, as the majority said against John Lighfoot –
who also requested that the rule be explored first – expose the Assembly “to
[a] sudden of trial of the differences of opinion that are likely to arise be-

The belief that the Apologists promised a platform prior to 1644 has been largely derived
from William Rathband. Rathband was not an Assembly member when he made the claim. Nor
was Rathband a member of the Assembly when the Apologists request to start with a platform was
denied. In the Assembly Rathband came quite close to the Apologists in his own polity. Further-
more, Rathband is particularly engaging New England divines. Thomas Welde, the New England
divine who responded to Rathband, “profess[ed] solemnly” that he had “not so much of heard of
any promise” to deliver a platform of church government “why then doth [Rathband] lay it upon
the Independent brethren without exception”. And indeed, Rathband does not tell us who promised
a platform of church government. Although he claims that an organization of John Robinsons”
polity would be the best approximation of the platform that had been denied to him. It was clear in
the Assembly that the Apologists were not defending Robinson’s ecclesiology. W. Rathband, A
briefe narration of some church courses held in opinion and practise in the churches lately erected
in New England. Collected out of sundry of their own printed papers and manuscripts with other
good intelligences. Together with some short hints (given by the way) of their correspondence with
the like tenents and practises of the separatists churches. And some short animadversions upon
some principall passages for the benefit of the vulgar reader. Presented to publike view for the
good of the Church of God by W.R. (London, 1644), 1–2; T. Welde, An ansvver to W.R. his
narration of the opinions and practises of the churches lately erected in Nevv-England.
Vindicating those Godly and orthodoxall churches, from more then an hundred imputations
fathered on them and their church way, by the said W.R. in his booke. Wherein is plainely proved,
1. That the grounds of his narration are sandie and insufficient. 2. That the maner of his handling
it, unloving and irregular. 3. That the matter of it, ful of grosse mistakes & divers contradictions.
4. That the quotations extremely wrested, and out of measure abused. 5. That his marginall notes
impertinent and injurious. By Thomas Welde, pastour of the church of Roxborough in Nevv-
England. This is licensed and entered according to order. (London, 1644), 1–2. For an example of
Rathband’s similarity to the Apologists in the Assembly, see Van Dixhoorn, “Westminster
Assembly Minutes, 12 April 1644 to 15 Nov. 1644”, 55.

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The Dissenting Brethren 59
tween us.”28 Seaman summarized the majority’s response to the Erastians
and congregational divines when he stated, “I take it for granted […] and do
not dispute […] that there is a sufficiency in Scripture concerning church
government and this is in great measure agreed upon,” however, “we shall
not fall onto this question in the generall [but] in the particulars.”29 The
problems with this decision were again encountered the following month. In
debating whether the Church of England was a true church – which the
Apologists believed – the Assembly struggled to understand in what sense
it was a true church. Simpson chided the Assembly for adding to this confu-
sion by having failed to establish a platform first. “When we are inquiring
about a particular rule in the Word of God, that was waved by many in the
Assembly” and now we are left trying to decide what ministers may have
living in the church of England “for that which we have not [yet] declared
to be jure divino […]”30
Ironically, by focusing on officers the presbyterians actually prejudiced
the debate over Matthew 16:19 the following week; it limited the discussion
to whether Matthew 16:19 was a proof text for the Apostles receiving the
keys immediately from Christ, rather as to whether Matthew 16:19 had
anything at all to do with the church. The congregational divines, anticipat-
ing this, were quick to request that while they conceded the methodology
proposed on 17 October, they nonetheless asserted their right to, as Nye
said, “if there be a necessary to return to the rule, let it not be a grievance to
the Assembly”.31 The more portentous – albeit completely ignored – com-
ment came from the French minister Samuel De la Place. He considered
this tack taken by the English presbyterians to be a “blemish on Christ” and
requested that the Assembly instead “begin to examine the power of the
keyes”.32 Delaplace gave voice to the latent concerns undoubtedly permeat-
ing the Assembly members. They were diving headlong into debates that
would, on the surface, draw out the similarities on particulars such as
church officers, but at the expense of sorting out the most complex and
contentious issues of the previous twenty years, namely the power of the

Lightfoot, Journal, 20; Van Dixhoorn, “Westminster Assembly Minutes, 4 Sept. to 17
Nov. 1643”, 177.
Van Dixhoorn, “Westminster Assembly Minutes, 4 Sept. to 17 Nov. 1643”, 177.
Ibid., 290. This was a fascinating debate, particularly as we see the Assembly giving leeway
to some separatists who wanted to work within the national church. Calamy stated, that the main
goal of question was “to keepe out totall separatists from sequestered livings.” By “totall separa-
tists” Calamy meant those who left the church and subsequently denied the church they left to be a
true church. Ibid., 290.
Ibid., 178.
Ibid., 176.

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60 Hunter Powell

3.3 “We are now on the foundation of all”33

On 27 October, Seaman brought this proposition to the Assembly: “That the

apostells did immediately receive the keyes from the hand of Jesus Christ
and did use and exercise them in all churches of the world on all occa-
sions”.34 Strictly speaking, was the power of the keys (i.e., all ecclesiastical
power) given to all the apostles? The proposition itself was not particularly
contentious. As Burroughs would say: “This proposition may be granted by
all without any further debating.”35 The question, of course, was how this
verse related to the church, for all knew that the power of the keys was a
power of church government. Was this an extraordinary power, limited to
the Apostles, or did it include the ordinary ecclesiastical power subse-
quently conveyed to elders? Did this power include the congregation? The
central, unavoidable question was whether or not, as Seaman asserted,
Matthew 16:19 could be used as a proof-text. For clarification, we should
note that the Assembly was only meant to debate the validity of Seaman’s
proposition, and whether or not Matthew 16:19 could be used as the proof
text. This is far from what actually happened.
Bridge stated what was obvious to any divines who had lived in England
for the previous twenty years, that “there is a great dispute concerning the
keys”.36 To which Dr Joshua Hoyle echoed Delaplace’s request from ten
days before, “If [the keys] must [be] determined, why not now?” Thomas
Case broadened the question to consider both “what the keyes were” and
whether “the apostles used them qua apostles”.37 Seaman knew exactly
where this would lead and quickly tried to stop any further debate. Refer-
ring to Burroughs’s comment, Seaman stated, “[He] moves that we take the
propounded for granted. Let it so be resolved.” Gataker similarly tried to
shoehorn the proposition through, stating, “I conceive we need not inquire
any further.”38 Given the protocol set forth by the Assembly the previous
week, a general discussion about Matthew 16:19 was bound to be tense.
They were meant to debate officers and therefore, Seaman attempted to
prove the apostles did indeed receive the power of the keys from Christ,
without any reference to the church. Interestingly, it was some of the pres-
byterians who struggled with the proposition whereas the Apologists were
fine with it, provided Matthew 16:19 was not attached to the proposition.
But by citing Matthew 16:19, Seaman was removing the very verse that was
widely considered to be the foundation of all church government. As Nye
Ibid., 222 (Sir Arthur Haselrig, 30 October 1643).
Ibid., 209.
Ibid., 210.
Ibid., 210.
Ibid., 210.
Ibid., 211.

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The Dissenting Brethren 61
stated, “the proposition is granted, [w]hether the scripture prove it is
doubted.”39 In John’s Gospel, Christ did indeed give the Apostles the power
to bind and loose, and this meant the Apostles had an extraordinary power
that did not accrue to ordinary elders.40
Everyone in the Assembly knew they were dealing with a fundamental,
and highly problematic, ecclesiological text, but they were less clear on
where the debates would lead. Of course, the more clerically-minded Eng-
lish presbyterians were not as alarmed by the prospect of using Matthew
16:19 as a proof-text, for whenever the Assembly did revisit the general
issue of church government it would have been established that Peter as
Apostle received the power of the keys apart from the church. The proof for
the propositions was not nearly as innocuous as Seaman and Gataker inti-
mated. No one doubted the Apostles had an extraordinary power of the
keys: they had a special commission from Christ to spread the gospel, and
they had this as universal commission not rooted to a particular church or
location. These extraordinary powers died with the Apostles and therefore
were not conveyed to the elders or the church. But to limit Matthew 16:19
to the extraordinary powers of the keys effectively removed the question of
the ordinary power of the keys and the ordinary subject (viz. the church).
Limiting the exegesis in this way was a first step in fending off separatism,
for by protecting the unique power of the apostles, it was only a small exe-
getical step to protect the unique power of the elders, quite apart from refer-
ence to the whole particular church. For the Apologists the problem was not
claiming Matthew 16:19 proved Seaman’s proposition, but the risk that the
verse would be limited to Seaman’s proposition.
The Apologists, along with Gataker and Seaman, were content to pass
the proposition and move on to debate the proof-text. But Charles Herle
intervened: “I think that to know what those keyes are not here pertinent, or
seasonable”, but he nevertheless went on to enumerate the various prevalent
opinions as to who received the keys. Herle’s speech ultimately forced
Seaman to concede that a discussion of Matthew 16:19 prior to the passing
of the proposition was inevitable, stating, “now we are hard put seeing our
Brethren have brought it in.”41 This made the resultant debates disorganized
and chaotic. The Assembly swerved back and forth between discussions
about the recipient of the keys and the definition of the keys. The former
slowed the passing of the proposition, and the latter kept bringing the de-
bate over the proof-text back into the proposition before the proposition had
even passed! Bridge, helpfully, organized the chaos into three distinct cate-
Ibid., 210.
John 20:22–23, “And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Re-
ceive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose
soever sins ye retain, they are retained.”
Van Dixhoorn, “Westminster Assembly Minutes, 4 Sept. to 17 Nov. 1643”, 215.

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62 Hunter Powell

gories. “One: whether the words of the proposition be true. [2]. Whether
that place 16 Math. prove it. [3]. What is the primum subjectum?”42 The
Assembly found it nearly impossible to isolate one of those three points
from the other two. We will briefly look at the salient points made about
point one, before taking a closer look at the Apologists’ understanding of
the last two.
Lightfoot recorded that Herle, “thought it very questionable whether the
keys were given to the apostles or the church.” Herle cited the Catholic
Sorbonnists of Paris “who thinke that the keyes ware not immediately given
to the apostles, but to the church, as they quote most of the fathers, &c.”43
They stated that “in the natural body all faculties are not given to the sev-
eral instruments, The subject by which (subjectum quo) is the eye, but the
subject which (subjectum quod) is the whole man.”44 Herle was essentially
saying what many presbyterians had long believed, the keys were given “to
the church formally and subjectively, and not only finally for the benefit of
By saying this, Herle was not so subtly introducing the great English di-
vine Robert Parker into the debates. Parker had noted, “so that primarily all
is in the church, secondarily in her rectors for her sake, as the end which is
before the meanes intention, and as the whole which is before the part,” and
therefore “God and nature intend the whole first and more immediately then
any part how noble soever, say the Paris divines illustrating it by the eye
induced with sight for the whole, etc.”46 Parker was himself indebted to the
Sorbonnists. It is a fascinating moment, given, as we noted in chapter one,
that Robert Parker had been effectively labelled an “independent” by
Rutherford. Rutherford also rejected the interpretation of the Sorbonnists
for the same reason. But, of course, Rutherford was not yet there to object.
Parker followed the Sorbonnists in acknowledging that the keys, as Herle
also noted, “were not Immediately given to the apost[les], but to the church,
as they quote from many of the fathers”.47
The Sorbonnists, represented in the writings of Jacques Almain, John
Major, and Jean Gerson, believed that Christ had given the power of the
keys immediately to all the believers, and through them to the pastors.48
Almain stated that the power promised to Peter in both Matthew 16:19 and
Matthew 18:18, “are to be understood as referring to the faithful” and that
“Christ conferred […] power immediately on the Church, understanding the

Ibid., 221.
Ibid., 211.
Ibid., 211–212; Lightfoot, Journal, 31.
Lightfoot, Journal, 31.
Parker, De Politeia Ecclesiastica [trans.], 96r.
Van Dixhoorn, “Westminster Assembly Minutes, 4 Sept. to 17 Nov. 1643”, 211.
Rutherford, Peaceable plea, 3.

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The Dissenting Brethren 63
Church as being a gathering of all the faithful.”49 Bridge claimed the keys
could “[e]ither [be] given to [Peter] as representing the church or else in
commodum ecclesiae, ad ecclesiam or pro ecclesia”. That is, “for the ben-
efit of the church, towards the church or on behalf of the church.” He cited
Almain’s use of Augustine to prove his point: “Alman proving that cannot
be the sence of Austin that the keyes ware given to the church finaliter.50
Almain’s writing indicates the same objection,
I prove that Augustine did not say that the keys were given to the church in that sense,
because, on that basis, [to say that] the keys were given to the church would mean
that they were given for the eventual benefit of the Church, not that they were given
to the Church as such—which is manifestly contrary to what Augustine says.51
Although Parker believed that all believers gathered into a particular
fellowship were the proper first-subject of the keys, the guides are not ex-
cluded because the believers can give power to certain guides (i.e. elders).
This was a relatively standard “independent” argument, and one not held by
the Apologists. But Herle was nonetheless opening the door to the Apolo-
gists’ position, for he conceded the strength of Parisian argument, namely
that the “the whole church” seemed to be the formal subject of the keys. His
concern was that when Jesus states, upon Peter’s confession, that “the gates
of hell not prevail against” the church, he cannot simply mean the officers.
For it was a matter of fact that officers, as men, certainly fell into sin and
would fall into sin. This was not the case for the universal church, which by
definition, could not be defeated by Satan.
This only confused the debate further and brought a variety of presby-
terian opinions out of the woodwork. The only clear fact was that Mat-
thew16:19 was about to be used to defend a proposition that made no refer-
ence to the church. Gataker attempted to steer the Assembly back to Sea-
man’s proposition “that is before us.”52 And Jeremiah Whitaker, in response
to the “gates of hell” stated that therefore it must only be the Apostles as
containing “extraordinary power”, rather than the officers.53 The Apostles
had an extraordinary gifting from Christ, and this could be proved by Mat-
thew 16:19. Extraordinary apostles, who had the power the church, would
indeed withstand the “gates of hell”, because their great commission from
Christ would be invariably fulfilled. However, William Gouge saw the
J. Almain, “A book concerning the authority of the church”, in J. H. Burns & T. M. Izbicki
(eds.) Conciliarism and Papalism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 134–200, 144,
Van Dixhoorn, “Westminster Assembly Minutes, 4 Sept. to 17 Nov. 1643”, 215.
Almain, “A book concerning the authority of the church”, in 158–159; Willet also under-
stood Augustine to mean the keys were given to the “whole church”, although Willet came to a
different ecclesiological conclusion. Willet, Synopsis papismi, 86, 88, 107.
Van Dixhoorn, “Westminster Assembly Minutes, 4 Sept. to 17 Nov. 1643”, 212.
Ibid., 212.

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64 Hunter Powell

strength of Herle’s statement and sought to defer the entire question regard-
ing the “universal militant church”, which “will come better to be discussed
at another time.”54 Gouge concluded, “Although it be granted that the
church had the power [of the keys], yet if the apostles had them Immedi-
ately from Christ, is the question at hand.”55 The Assembly went ahead and
voted in approval of the proposition. But it was not the end of the debate.
The proposition needed a proof-text and the Apologists were on the verge
of losing the basis for their whole ecclesiological position. They needed to
convince the Assembly that the proposition could stand, but that Matthew
16:19 could not stand with it.

3.4 πετρος τη πετρα, The Grand Charter of the Church

Thomas Goodwin aptly summarized the relatively uncontroversial exegeti-

cal starting point for Matthew 16:19, “The first charter granted by the
Founder, and the pattern of those Masters Builders the Apostles”. Therefore
the true import of the verse was vital to any further establishing of church
government. When Peter had made his confession he effectively inaugu-
rated the Church of the New Testament. As the builder of the church, Christ
says two things to Peter, “I will build my church” and “I will give Keys.”
The church was moulded anew by the Son. “By the keys he means, the keys
of the kingdom of heaven (as the State of the Church under the Gospel is
called) which, to shew he is the Son, and hath all power committed to him,
he professeth to dispose anew, (as the Keys themselves were new)”.56 In
doing so, Christ was doing away with the Old Testament church, as it were,
under the Mosaic Law and building a new church. “For Christ the Son,
being come, shews his Prerogative by declaring the Old to be done away,
saying I will build, I will give the keys, &c whilst he speaks of a New, the
Old is done away” and further “the Persons to whom, and the Extant and
Limits of the power are to be set out by him”.57 In doing so, Christ singles
Peter out “electively, [and] argues his special designation of the Subject or
persons (whoever they may be) to whome he will bequeath them.” That
“Peter here in this promise of the keyes for the future to be given, should
stand in a Representative respect and not merely personal”, Goodwin con-
tinued, “Writers in all Ages, and all sides, although in Peter’s name, laying
several claims unto those keys, do universally acknowledge and observe.”58
Charles Herle conceded this topic would “afford a great deal of debate.” He
Ibid., 212.
Ibid., 212.
Goodwin, Government, 45.
Ibid., 45.
Ibid., 45.

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The Dissenting Brethren 65
noted that there were four “4 wayes” to interpret Peter in Matthew 16:19,
Bridge and Thomas Goodwin claimed there were five. The minutes are
incomplete in Herle’s speech, but we can fill them in using Goodwin’s
description of the variant interpretations. Through understanding these
interpretations, we can begin to understand the schools of thought that were
emerging in the Assembly debates.
The first three positions were immediately dismissed. First, there were
those who argued that Peter stood as Peter only.59 This position, proffered
only by Lightfoot, argued Peter was merely being commissioned to take the
Gospel to the gentiles. Herle dismissed this position outright, although
Bridge acknowledged it was a position held by Cameron.60 The second
interpretation of the keys was held by “the papists” who assert that Peter
was the prince of apostles, thus vindicating the power of the bishop of
Rome.61 This “Romish” position would imply the keys were given to Peter
for the church, but “they do not make the church the first subject to which
the keys were given.”62
The third option marked an important point for this chapter and how the
Apologists distinguished themselves from the “independents”. In this cate-
gory the keys were given to Peter “considered as a believer, having made
his confession of faith, that Christ was the Son of God and therefore repre-
senting the Church of Believers, as unto whom all Church power should be
first be given.”63 This was the standard position held by most “independ-
ents”, such as Jacob, Ainsworth, Robinson, Canne, Henry Burton and New
England divines like John Davenport, and Thomas Hooker. For example
John Canne stated, “Jesus Christ, Lord & King of his Church, hath given
said [church] power of his to all his saints, and placed it in the body of each
particular congregation”.64 Thomas Hooker argued, “The power of the
Keyes take it in the compleat nature thereof, it is in the Church of believers,
as in the first subject”.65 This was also Robert Parker’s belief and that of
Van Dixhoorn, “Westminster Assembly Minutes, 4 Sept. to 17 Nov. 1643”, 210; Goodwin,
Government, 45.
Van Dixhoorn, “Westminster Assembly Minutes, 4 Sept. to 17 Nov. 1643”, 210.
Ibid., 210.
Goodwin, Government, 66.
Ibid., 45.
J. Canne, Syons prerogatyve royal. Or a treatise tending to prove that every particular
congregation hath from Christ absolute & entyre power, to exercise in & of her selfe every
ordinance of God. And is an independant body, not standing under any other ecclesiasticall
authoritie ou of it selfe. By a well-wisher to the truth. (Amsterdam, 1641), 4.
T. Hooker, A survey of the summe of church-discipline. Wherein, the vvay of the churches
of New-England is warranted out of the vvord, and all exceptions of weight, which are made
against it, answered: whereby also it will appear to the judicious reader, that something more
must be said, then yet hath been, before their principles can be shaken, or they should be unsetled
in their practice. By Tho. Hooker, late pastor of the church at Hartford upon Connecticott in N.E
(London, 1648), 195. What unites these following examples is that the power of excommunication

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many English presbyterians that followed him, although they drew different
practical conclusions. None of these three options were seriously debated
on the floor. And although the Apologists were intent on distancing them-
selves from this third option, there were nonetheless some Assembly pres-
byterians who were reluctant to totally dismiss it.

– the highest act of church power – was given to the church of believers as the first subject. This
“binding and loosing” typically cited from Matthew 18:17–19, was exegetically tied to Matthew
16:19. While some of these divines would delineate distinct functions of elders and the people
(particularly Davenport and Hooker) in the process of excommunication, yet they either implicitly
or explicitly embraced the exegesis that Peter represented the believers and therefore believers
were the first subjects of all church power. The connection between Matthew 16:19 and Matthew
18:19 will be explored in chapters 5 and 6. For examples, see H. Ainsworth, An animadversion to
Mr Richard Clyftons advertisement Who under pretense of answering Chr. Lawnes book, hath
published an other mans private letter, with Mr Francis Iohnsons answer therto. Which letter is
here justified; the answer therto refuted: and the true causes of the lamentable breach that hath
lately fallen out in the English exiled Church at Amsterdam, manifested, by Henry Ainsworth
(Amsterdam, 1610), 10; H. Ainsworth, An apologie or defence of such true Christians as are
commonly (but vniustly) called Brovvnists: against such imputations as are layd vpon them by the
heads and doctors of the Vniversity of Oxford, in their Ansvver to the humble petition of the
ministers of the Church of England, desiring reformation of certayne ceremonies and abuses of the
Church. (1604), 43; H. Ainsworth, A True Confession of the Faith, and humble Acknowledgment
of the Alegeance, which wee hir Maiesties Subjects, falsely called Brownists, doo hould towards
God, and yeild to hir Majestie and all other that are ouer vs in Lord. Set down in articles or
positions, etc. [By Henry Ainsworth.] ([Amsterdam?], 1596), 22–24; W. Best, The churches plea
for her right. Or A reply to an answer, made of Mr. Iohn Paget, against William Best and others
(Amsterdam, 1635), 72; H. Burton, A vindication of churches commonly called Independent, or, A
briefe ansvver to two books the one intituled, Twelve considerable serious questions touching
church-government, the other, Independency examined, unmasked, refuted &c. (London, 1644),
26; Canne, Syons prerogatyve royal, 4; K. Chidley, The Justification of the Independant Churches
of Christ. Being an answer to Mr. Edwards his booke, which hee hath written against the
government of Christs Church, and toleration of Christs publicke worship; briefly declaring that
the congregations of the Saints ought not to have dependance in government upon any other, etc.
(London, 1641), 10–11; J. Davenport, The Power of Congregational Churches asserted and
vindicated, in answer to a treatise of Mr. J. Paget, intituled The Defence of Church-Government
exercised in Classes and Synods (London, 1672), 90–106; H. Jacob, A confession and protestation
of the faith of certaine Christians, etc. (1616), Articles 3, 4, and 10; The Presbyteriall government
examined, vvherein the weaknesse of their grounds are unfolded: also their pretended proofes
disproved; and the liberty of the people in chusing of their owne officers: proved out of the word of
God. Whereunto is annexed certaine arguments an reasons, proving the foresayd Presbyteriall
government to be contrary to the patterne that our Lord Jesus Christ hath left us in the New
Testament. All which we humbly present to the Kings most Excellent Majesty: the right
Honourable Lords, and the Honourable House of Commons, now assembled in Parliament.,
(1641), 12; J. Smyth, Paralleles, censures, observations. Aperteyning: to three several writinges,
1. A lettre written to Mr. Ric. Bernard, by Iohn Smyth. 2. A book intituled, the Seperatists schisme
published by Mr. Bernard. 3. An answer made to that book called the Se Schisme by Mr. H.
Ainsworth. Whereunto also are adioyned. 1. The said lettre written to Mr. Ric. Bernard divided
into 19. sections. 2. Another lettre written to Mr. A.S. 3. A third letter written to certayne bretheren
of the seperation (Middleberg, 1609), 36.

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The Dissenting Brethren 67
The fourth position was that “[this] grant was made to Peter as an Apos-
tle, and so Representing the Apostles and ministers only.”66 It was a central
tenet of some English presbyterians that “the proper subject wherein Christ
hath seated and intrusted all Church-power, and the exercise thereof, in only
his own Church-officers.”67 This position was latent within Seaman’s
proposition and was, at least in part, held by all English presbyterians. Of
course, Seaman’s proposition made no mention of elders or church power.
On the surface of it, his proposition meant to address the uncontroversial
question of the extraordinary power vested in the apostles. There was little
doubt in the Assembly, however, as to what lay behind the proposition.
Cornelius Burgess, ignoring the obvious desire to keep unity, cut to the
chase and claimed, “Peter, as is generally held, represents all pastors.”68 Dr.
Temple echoed the sentiment of many English presbyterians when he
stated, “They who ware called immediately & had commission immediately
from & by Christ without mention of the church”.69 The design behind
Seaman’s proposition was made manifest: if the verse meant apostles with-
out the church, then it would subsequently mean elders, without the church.

3.5 The Apologists’ Proton Dektikon

Thomas Goodwin opened the door to the Apologists’ central tenet, which
was the fifth option for Matthew 16:19. Goodwin stated, “If the question be
whether the apostle be subjectum totale or the church be subjectum totale”
this is “a distinction I do not soe well understand. They received apostells
and the church had his power afterwards.”70 From Goodwin’s perspective,
there were three questions: “Whether Peter represented the Apostles and
ministers only; or whether he represented the Church also, or whether Peter
here is personally taken, as the sole and single subject of a personal privi-
lege.”71 And the solution to this debate takes us to the heart of the Apolo-
gists’ understanding of the keys: “We say all these here are intended, in this
[Christ’s] first promise uttering it himself in this indefinite way, which was
afterwards to be more distinctively divided.”72
For the Apologists this promise made to Peter was done in an indistinct,
general, and comprehensive way. As William Carter stated, “it will hardly
be proved that what is said to Peter is to be aplyed as a believer or rather as
Goodwin, Government, 45.
Jus divinum regiminis ecclesiastici, 68; See also 36, 55.
Van Dixhoorn, “Westminster Assembly Minutes, 4 Sept. to 17 Nov. 1643”, 213.
Ibid., 216.
Ibid., 214.
Goodwin, Government, 47.
Ibid., 47.

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68 Hunter Powell

an apostell, pastor, & believer. What was given to Peter as the proton decti-
con must comprehend all of these.”73 Nye would repeat this very comment
on the floor a few months later.74 For the congregationalists the word
“Church” in Matthew 16:19 was taken indefinitely “and for the Church
Universal; but not as an Institution Political, and therefore [Jesus] does not
say he will give the keys to [the church political] but to Peter” and Peter is
taken, as we have seen, “as representing both Saints and Minister, to be
divided into several bodies, as afterwards Christ should appoint.”75 This
was, as Goodwin told the Assembly, “the first promise Christ ever uttered,
that he would build the church; & the first expression that he would give the
power of keyes out of himself & because Peter made the first confession.”
Peter therefore, “represented all power whatsoever. The first grand charter
of the gospel which is afterwards to be branched out as Christ placed it.”76
This branching out and delimitating of church power would occur in Mat-
thew 18.
For Goodwin, when Christ gives Simon Bar-Jonas his new name, Peter,
it was not so much a “personal, as a Mystical consideration”.77 It was a
grand charter, taken federally and yet indefinitely, for all the aspects of the
church that was to be built. And the strength of this argument came from
redemptive history, where God had singled out one Man “in whose name
this Grand charter should emmeninately run”. The two examples singled
out by Goodwin were Adam and Abraham. “Adam was fixed upon, when
God, in his name gave the Earth unto the rest of the Sons of men; So Abra-
ham was singled out to represent […] the Jews who were his children” and
who would inherit the land of Canaan.78 In this way Peter bore the “persons
of all sorts, that were to have any portion of power, whether of his Apostles,
Extraordinary officers; or ordinary officers, as also of the Church of Believ-
ers, and even to all to whom ever any portion of the keyes was for the future
to be given.”79 Goodwin followed Paul Baynes in stating that Peter was a
typical representation of the church and its officers who would receive
power afterward.80 The Greek for “give” was in the future tense, and there-
fore when Christ said, “I will give”, it meant that there was to be a further
clarifying and constituting of a specific church. This indefinite promise
Van Dixhoorn, “Westminster Assembly Minutes, 4 Sept. to 17 Nov. 1643”, 214.
C. Van Dixhoorn, “Reforming the reformation: Theological debate in the Westminster
Assembly: Westminster Assembly Minutes, 17 Nov. 1643 to 11 April 1644”, University of
Cambridge, Ph.D. thesis (2004d), 665.
Goodwin, Government, 44.
Ibid, Van Dixhoorn, “Westminster Assembly Minutes, 4 Sept. to 17 Nov. 1643”, 221.
Goodwin, Government, 45.
Ibid., 45.
Ibid., 46.
Ibid., 46; Baynes, The diocesans tryall : Wherein all the sinnews of D. Downams defence
are brought unto three heads, and orderly dissolved (Amsterdam, 1621), 84–85.

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The Dissenting Brethren 69
included the “mystical church”, for Christ tells Peter that the gates of hell
would not stand against her, which by definition means the mystical church.
But the promise must also include particular churches, for, as Goodwin
noted “the mystical general church” hath not the power of the exercise of
the keys; but only as divided into particular Churches”.81
The more clerically minded English presbyterians, consumed with the
fears of separatism, tried to assert that the decision over Matthew 16:19 was
black and white. Either Peter as an Apostle stood in for all elders, or be-
cause Peter was a believer the power of the keys was given to believers. No
one disagreed with the former position, but there was great confusion as to
whether it included the latter position. There was, however, a great deal of
concern that including believers in the keys would ultimately lead to a posi-
tion of “anabaptism or libertinism”.82 Edmund Calamy, in citing his con-
cerns over denying Matthew 16:19 as a proof text for Seaman’s proposition,
demonstrated an acute awareness of the complexity of the positions of the
Apologists, and the potential dangers inherent in it. If believers were in-
cluded as recipients, it would seem they must also have the power to exer-
cise the keys. Calamy stated, “ther is a promise of the use of the keyes, not
only the power; if the power, then exercise, & then all that professe the faith
of Christ” would be able to exercise that power.83 The same argument John
Ball had used against Gillespie. This would lead to a position of Brownism
where the pastor had no unique authority over the church.
Goodwin countered “we doe believe every officer hath power immedi-
ately from Christ, but not church power […] Officers doe not exercise the
power of the Church, but the power of Christ.”84 This was clearly a distinct
position from the “independents”, who argued that Peter received all the
powers of the keys standing in the place of believers, and therefore any
elders who were put in place over the church only had the power the church
of believers was willing to give to them. The mistake the presbyterians were
postulating was that “because all believers have not all church power, there-
fore they have none.”85
Goodwin would go on to explain the numerous types of power to prove
his point. There is a power in the people, but it is not the same power that is
in the elders, and further that power in the elders is alone given to them
directly by Christ, not derivatively through – or from – a gathered church.86
And in the same language the Apologists would use in the Apologeticall
Narration two months later, Goodwin affirmed that this was a “middle
Goodwin, Government, 46.
Van Dixhoorn, “Westminster Assembly Minutes, 4 Sept. to 17 Nov. 1643”, 218.
Ibid., 220.
Ibid., 220.
Van Dixhoorn, “Westminster Assembly Minutes, 4 Sept. to 17 Nov. 1643”, 225.
Ibid., 225.

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70 Hunter Powell

way” between purely clerical rule and the anarchy of Brownism.87 These are
the types of distinctions that would draw the Scottish presbyterians closer to
the Apologists. They respected the distinction between the elders and the
people, but they attempted to prevent the people from ruling over their
leaders, while nonetheless protecting the prerogatives of the people. Indeed,
the evidence suggests that one reason the Apologists were included in the
Assembly was that they did not believe the faithful in a church were the
first subjects of all church power.88
Whereas some of the English presbyterians were horrified by any power
belonging to the people, the Apologists found sympathizers in men like
Charles Herle who warned the Assembly against the danger of pushing the
denial of Peter’s representing the faithful too far. Herle said, “Many of the
fathers and schoolmen have understood [Peter as representing the faithful]
& and yet are far from anarchy.”89 He noted that the “consent of the people
in election of officers is absolutely necessary”. And if this was true, Herle
conceded, there must be some sort of power in the church, although not
necessarily an exercise of power.”90 This debate shows that their fears of
anarchy, coupled with the clerical impulses, caused many among the Eng-
lish presbyterians to feel caught between two extremes. On the one hand, it
was clear that many “fathers and scoolemen” believed that Peter repre-
sented the faithful. For Herle, if the “power” was not first in the people,
“then officers cannot represent the church”.91 On the other hand, Herle
could not accept a government by the people beyond their right to elect
church officers, for ‘such a popular way [would be] anabaptisme”.92
The only way for Herle to cut this Gordian knot was to embrace the po-
sition where “power” was in the church as the “primum susceptivum not of
that exercise but of that power.”93 Therefore, the only way to salvage Mat-
thew 16:19 in favour of the presbyterian position, without sacrificing
Parker-type representation, was to join it to John 20:23, where Jesus gives
the extraordinary power to bind and loose specifically to the Apostles. That
way Matthew 16:19 could be further restricted to the Apostles, without
having to address the power of the church at all. So, Herle concluded, either
“Wave [Math. 16:19] or joyn it with Joh[n].”94

Ibid., 231.
Compare Herle’s comment on “anabaptism” below, and his comments about the Narration,
Ibid., 229.
Ibid., 229.
Ibid., 229.
Ibid., 229.
Ibid., 229.
Ibid., 229; John 20:23, “Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and
whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.”

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The Dissenting Brethren 71
The Assembly was clearly burdened with trying to make sense of vari-
ous questions regarding power. Time and again they had to ask each other
for clarification. And indeed, because Seaman’s proposition seemed so
simple in its request, many divines simply ignored the request to clarify –
for as we have noted, clarification only opened pre-existing debates. Even
toward the end of the discussions, divines would exasperatedly come back
to the same questions. John Ley stated “It was well moved before to find
out what is the keys which will prevent a deal of this debate” and later that
day Lightfoot claimed “We cannot extricate ourselves unlesse we unlocke
this text & inquire 1. What meant by the kingdome of heaven”.95

3.6 Ecclesiae Primae and Ecclesiae Ortae: “an untrodden path”

This issue of the visible universal church is an important concept for us to

address. It has been usual to make it a distinguishing mark between congre-
gational and presbyterian polity.96 What we learn in the 1640s, however, is
that the notion of a universal church also served to fundamentally highlight
the differences within various presbyterian positions, distinctions that have
been missed in the historiography of the presbyterian polity. The presby-
terians believed the general universal church, in some regard, to be a politi-
cal body (although pragmatically delimited in national or provincial
churches). Seaman’s proposition effectively left the door open for the pres-
byterian assertion that Matthew 16:19 also meant the keys to a visible uni-
versal church. The Apologists wanted to keep the universality of the keys
without the institutional church. This may seem tangential to the discussion
of the keys, but it actually accentuates how the nature or power within the
church was a uniquely English source of division. If the English divines
could prove that there was a “one general visible church”, then necessarily,
the “keys of jurisdiction” would be “given unto the whole Universal
The Apologists were adamant that they believed in a visible catholic
church. We can also now see Nye’s understanding of the visible “Cathol-
ick” church. When Nye wrote his manuscript on church government, pos-
sibly in the summer of 1644, he claimed specifically that the congregations
are members of the Catholick visible church, through “preaching, praying,
and Breaking of bread”.98 But for the “orderly & more edifying administra-
tion, wee ought also to be members of some particular church”.99 Indeed,
Ibid., 225, 229.
Ha, English Presbyterianism, 66–67.
Van Dixhoorn, “Westminster Assembly Minutes, 4 Sept. to 17 Nov. 1643”, 152.
Nye, A discourse, 184.
Ibid., 185.

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72 Hunter Powell

talking of the ordinances of the church, he adds “wee [do so] within the
compass of the whole Catholick. So much and so neare is our affinitie with
a member of the membership of the Catholick church in such a perform-
ance.”100 This communion however, does not extend to matters of jurisdic-
tion, including “elections, censures, &c […] which are properly kept to that
one Individual church whereof wee are members of.”101 Citing the Scottish
presbyterian David Calderwood, Goodwin even went as far as to say that
communion with the universal church was through membership in a par-
ticular church.102 They flatly denied, however, that the “keys of jurisdiction”
could be committed to the universal church.103
Some English presbyterians began to fear that Seaman’s proposition
would mean the particular church’s power was derivative of the power
given to the visible universal church as the primum subjectum. And this fear
was fully realized only five months later when Seaman pressed the Assem-
bly to agree that the “keys” were given to the universal visible church.
Bridge pointed Seaman back to these October debates and retorted, “You
have voted the power of the keyes to the apostells Immediately, & how can
it be now to the church visible”?104
This is why Goodwin prioritized his rejoinder to presbyterian views of
the universal church before his discussion on the keys in his Government of
the Churches of Christ.105 For the congregationalists the church universal
was not instituted as a political body, and therefore the particular church did
not derive its power from it. According to Goodwin, “those who assert the
General Church to be a Political Body, seem to be divided into two sorts of
ways to explain it.”106 There were those who made the particular church to
be the ecclesia primae and they believed that synods, classes, and national
assemblies are “but Ecclesiae ortae, removes from, and representations of
those that are Ecclesia Primae, the first Churches which are Congrega-

Ibid., 185.
Ibid., 185.
Goodwin, Government, 152, 227.
Ibid., 152. Goodwin would use this argument preaching in London in 1641 to point out
that the Donatist error was to deny the universal church, while the Brownist error is to deny “true
churches”, whether in presbyterian or Episcopal parishes to be true churches. Francis Cheynell
was evidently in attendance at these sermons and cited this section positively. T. Goodwin, The
Works of Thomas Goodwin, D.D. Sometime President of Magdalen Colledg in Oxford. The First
volume. Containing an Exposition on the First, and part of the Second Chapter of the Epistle to
the Ephesians. And sermons preached on several occasions, 3 parts [with separate t. pt. I: An
Exposition on the First, and part of the Second Chapter, of the Epistle to the Ephesians, pt. II: An
Exposition on the First Eleven Verses of the Second Chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians, pt III:
Thirteen Sermons Preached on Diverse Texts of Scripture upon Several Occasions] (1681), vol. 1,
476; Cheynell, The rise, growth, and danger of Socinianisme, 66.
Van Dixhoorn, “Westminster Assembly Minutes, 4 Sept. to 17 Nov. 1643”, 662
Goodwin, Government, 42.
Ibid., 42.

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The Dissenting Brethren 73
tions”.107 Therefore church power, as Goodwin says, is “ascendendo”. Con-
versely, there were also presbyterians who believed church government “to
be descendendo, as asserting the first principle Charter, to be given to the
Church Universal, so as that by institution first a Church, and particular
congregations have it by derived right, as lesser leases have theirs out of a
greater charter.”108 Gataker, for example, rejected the ascending position,
denying that the shepherd “received his power from the sheepe”.109 Seaman
similarly denied the Apostles could “represent” the church because that
would mean “the keyes belong to every particular individual Christian.”110
Gataker and Seaman, rather, believed a descending position. William
Gouge similarly stated, “the promise [of the keys] is made to the universal
militant church.”111
Rutherford also saw these distinctions when he observed English pres-
byterianism in late 1643: ‘some derive all church-power from a single con-
gregation to the presbyteries and classes, ascendendo, by ascending, others
derive it from presbyteries to a Congregation descendendo,” and some
believe power begins in “the Catholicke visible Church to national assem-
blies, and from national assemblies to provinciall synods, and from Synods
to presbyteries, and from Presbyteries to Congregations”.112 For those who
hold this latter position, according to Goodwin, the church was at one point
able to meet “by vertue of being the Church Universal; but afterwards was
multiplied to so many, as they must meet in several places, which is the
occasion of forming particular churches” yet this separation was “accidental
and occasional, and so they are to be regarded as one Church still, and so
that first fundamental Institution still goes on.”113 To Goodwin’s mind, it
seemed a contradiction for those who held the Universal church to be a
political church with jurisdiction, also to believe that synods acted their
particular churches’ power by representation.114 This was probably more
indicative of the fact the topic itself was a relatively new one, rather than
any sort of contradiction. The latter position however is more difficult to
pin down. It seems to be the position held by those clerical presbyterian
ministers, and Seaman, Gataker and Burgess, whose positions, distinct
Ibid., 41.
Ibid., 42.
Van Dixhoorn, “Westminster Assembly Minutes, 4 Sept. to 17 Nov. 1643”, 217.
Ibid., 216.
Ibid., 212.
S. Rutherford, The Due right of Presbyteries, or a peaceable plea for the government of
the Church of Scotland, wherein is examined 1. The way of the Church of Christ in New England,
etc. 2. Their apology for the said government, etc. 3. A treatise for a Church Covenant is
discussed. 4. The arguments of Mr. Robinson in his justification of separation are discovered. 4.
His treatise, called, The people’s Plea for the full exercise of prophecy is tryed, etc (London,
1644), 383.
Goodwin, Government, 42.
Ibid., 155.

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74 Hunter Powell

though they were, may have reflected residual traces of their Episcopalian
Nevertheless, the particular English presbyterian position on the church
universal was unique in the Reformed orthodox tradition. The London
ministers’ Jus Divinum Ministerii Ecclesiastici is largely representative of
at least one major strand of English presbyterianism.115 However, in their
views of the universal visible church they refer the reader to Samuel Hud-
son whom they cite as their authority on the matter.116 Hudson’s book repre-
sents a complex, logical pamphlet debate that deserves more attention than
this chapter has space to address.117 Yet it does expose us to a uniquely
English debate that does not seem to be a source of tension prior to 1643.
According to Thomason, Hudson’s The Essence and Unitie of the Church
Catholike Visible, and the Prioritie thereof in regard of Particular
Churches Discussed was brought to publication in March 1645. However,
in the preface Hudson himself states, “This Thesis was compiled about a
year agoe, for the accommodation of private friends.”118 In other words, this
document that defined the English presbyterian position was written around
the same time that the Assembly was debating the Universal church. More
interestingly, given the Assembly’s effort to conform to the best Reformed

I am grateful to Elliot Vernon for his discussing the importance – and limitations – of Jus
Divinum as an English presbyterian document.
Jus Divinum Ministerii Evangelici, or the divine right of the Gospel-Ministry. Divided into
two parts [...] Together with an appendix [...] about the whole matter of episcopacy, etc.
Published by the Provincial Assembly of London, (London, 1654), 143.
An interesting component of this debate is the fact that Samuel Hudson finds more sympa-
thy with the writings of Cotton, the Apologists, and John Norton, than he does with Thomas
Hooker. See, J. Ellis, Vindiciæ catholicæ, or the rights of particular churches rescued: and
asserted against that meer (but dangerous) notion of one catholick, visible, governing church: the
foundation of the (now endeavoured) Presbyterie. Wherein by Scripture, reason, antiquity, and
later writers first, the novelty, peril, scandal, and untruth of this tenet, are cleerly demonstrated.
Secondly, all the arguments for it, produced by the Rev. Apollonius, M. Hudson, M. Noyes, the
London ministers, and others: are examined and dissolved. To the Parliament of England, and
Assembly of Divines (London, 1647); Hooker, A survey of the summe of church-discipline, for
example, 287; S. Hudson, The Essence and Unitie of the Church Catholike Visible, And the
prioritie thereof in regard particular churches discussed (London, 1644); S. Hudson, A
vindication of The essence and unity of the Church Catholike visible. And the priority thereof in
regard of particular churches. In answer to the objections made against it, both by Mr. John Ellis,
junior, and by that reverend and worthy divine Mr. Hooker, in his Surve of church discipline. By
Samuel Hudson minister of the Gospel at Capell in Suff. (London, 1650); S. Stone, A
congregational church is a catholike visible church. Or An examination of M. Hudson his
vindication concerning the integrality of the catholike visible church. Wherein also satisfaction is
given to what M. Cawdrey writes touching that subject, in his review of M. Hooker’s Survey of
church discipline. By Samuel Stone, Teacher to the Church of Christ at Hartford in New-England
(London, 1652). For examples of Hudson’s views of Cotton, the Apologists, and Norton, see,
Hudson, A vindication of The essence and unity of the Church Catholike visible, preface, 20, 162,
177, 198.
Hudson, Essence and unitie, preface, not paginated.

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The Dissenting Brethren 75
churches, Hudson also declared “I finde it a subject flatly denied by many
Divines of great worth both England, French and Germane, who affirme
there is no Church Catholike visible, but that Church Catholike is invisible
church only.”119 In other words, there was not a debate about the creedal
belief in catholicity of the invisible church, but only in catholicity of a visi-
ble church with the power of jurisdiction. In regards to Matthew 16:19,
Hudson is unequivocal, the keys were given to the “Church Catholick”, not
to any “particular church.”120
Hudson’s main goal was to refute those who believed “particular
churches to be prime churches”.121 He claimed the distinctions between
ecclesia primae and ecclesiae ortae were not ancient conceptions, but first
deduced by Robert Parker. The question, similarly posited by Goodwin on
the Assembly floor, was “whether in our apprehension of Churches we are
to begin at the Church Catholike and descend to particular churches, or
begin at particular Churches, and ascend to Church Catholike.”122 Hudson
readily recognized that there were those such as Zanchius, Gerhard,
Chamier, Whitaker, and Ames who, against the “Pontificans” denied a
Church Catholique to be visible.123 In Hudson’s opinion, they rightly denied
the visible Catholic Church as “conspicuous, and glorious and manifest,
specious and flourishing.”124 In denying the Church Catholic, these divines
denied it belongs to one church, viz. the Church of Rome, “comprimizing
the universality of the Church in itself, all that will be members of the
“Church Catholike” must submit to them, and be members of that Church”
and that that one church must be “under one visible head” (viz. the Pope).125
Nonetheless, the English presbyterians did assert that there was a Universal
visible church, made up “of all the believers throughout the whole
So as he began to distinguish between “ecclesiae primae” and “ortae”,
Hudson offered the caveat that he did not see distinctions between Church
visible and invisible, but he saw differences “between Churches of the same
kinde, viz., The Catholick visible, and the particular visible churches”.
Therefore Hudson concluded, “I conceive the Church Catholick is Prima
and the particular churches are Orta.”127 Hudson offered his position cau-
tiously; knowing the “ascendendo” position was also tenable. This reticence
to disavow the opposing position was most likely due to the influence of
Ibid., preface, not paginated.
Ibid., preface, not paginated.
Ibid., preface, not paginated.
Ibid., 10.
Hudson, A vindication of The essence and unity of the Church Catholike visible, 26.
Hudson, Essence and unitie, 11.
Ibid., 12.
Ibid., 4.
Ibid., 25.

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76 Hunter Powell

Robert Parker within the English presbyterian community. Parker had be-
lieved in synods of elders gathered from several churches, but only insofar
as the particular church of believers – the ecclesiae primae, and the first
subject of church power for Parker – was willing to give over its own power
to synods. For Parker, the universal church was unable to exercise the
power of the keys, and therefore cannot be the first subject of the keys.128
Hudson, conversely, believed that all promises, including the keys, were
given to the Catholic Visible Church as the first subject. As Hudson stated,
“that promise that the gates of hell shall never prevail against the Church is
primarily given to the Church-Catholike visible here on earth”.129 All par-
ticular churches derive their power and rights from that Catholic Church.130
Edmund Calamy described Hudson’s argument in logical terms: “if
there be a Church-Catholike visible, and this Church be not onely a Church-
Entitive but a Church-Organical, and a Totum Integrale, having all Church-
power habitually seated in the Officers of it.” These officers are part of
particular congregations, and these “congregations are integral parts and
members of the Church-Catholike, as the Jewish Synagogues were of the
Jewish Church. And if the Ministry, Ordinances, and censures were given
by Christ to the Church-general-visible,” then Calamy concluded, “the
particular church is not the first receptacle of church power”.131 In this re-
gard, Hudson could see common ground with John Norton, who in his
response to Apollonius published by the Apologists and Cotton, argued that
the “Church Catholik is an integral […] and that the particular churches are
similar parts of that integral.” Indeed, Norton conceded “Political visibility
is an adjunct in respect of the Church Catholick.”132 This may indicate an-
other difference within congregational groups. Samuel Stone, for example,
argued that the “catholike” church was not integral and was actually a spe-
cies of the particular church, and the particular church was the genus.133
What is important to emphasize on this point, is that while Calamy agreed
that the particular church was not entirely independent in terms of church
government, he refused to say whether he believed, like Hudson, the par-
Ibid., 25.
Hudson, A vindication of The essence and unity of the Church Catholike visible, 220.
For all of Hudson’s arguments in favor of this position see, 25ff.
Hudson, A vindication of The essence and unity of the Church Catholike visible, to the
Ibid., preface, not paginated. Cotton had a similar view that Hudson cited. Ibid., 51–52; J.
Cotton, A brief exposition of the whole book of Canticles, or Song of Solomon; lively describing
the estate of the church in all the ages thereof, both Jewish and Christian, to this day: and
modestly pointing at the gloriousnesse of the restored estate of the church of the Iewes and the
happy accesse of the gentiles, in the approaching daies of reformation, when the wall of partition
shall bee taken away. A work very usefull and seasonable to every Christian; but especially such
as endeavour and thirst after the setling of church and state, according to the rule and pattern of
the Word of God (London, 1642), 191.
Stone, A congregational church is a catholike visible church, cha 5, reason 6.

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The Dissenting Brethren 77
ticular church was ecclesiae ortae, or like Parker it was ecclesiae primae.
Calamy readily acknowledged this topic was “an untrodden path” and full
of “difficulty and intricacy”.134
Indeed, for Hudson, Matthew 16:19 speaks of the universal church, but
not indistinctly, as the Apologists would have it. Because, as Hudson as-
serted, the gates of hell would not prevail against the church established in
Matthew 16:19, it not only means the invisible church, but the “to-be” es-
tablished “Church Catholik” which comprised visible members of the invis-
ible church.135 The Apologists also saw Matthew 16:19 as related to the
“mystical” church, but it was nonetheless indefinite and not the establish-
ment of an “institutional political” church.136 For the Apologists Matthew
16:19 imports various types of keys (knowledge, faith, jurisdiction, power),
and there is indeed a key of faith that is given to the church universal. But
the key of jurisdiction was limited to the particular church, as constituted
with elders and believers into one body.
Goodwin specifically raised the question of the universal visible church
in March 1644 when the Assembly debated the proposition that “There is
one general visible church held forth in the New Testament”.137 According
to Lightfoot, “Mr. Goodwin suspected there might be some snare in this
proposition.” Goodwin pointed out that some “rise to church-government,
‘ascendendo’, from particular congregations to the church universal, some
‘et contra descendendo’; ergo, there may be some scruple or entanglement”
in the debate over this proposition.138
Interestingly, it was Rutherford who responded to Goodwin with two
views of the church universal. Whereas the English presbyterians debated
amongst themselves as to the first subject of all church power, the universal
or the particular church, Rutherford offered a third option. The “ecclesia
presbyterialis” (meaning the elders in a particular church) is “ecclesia
prima” and “the church catholic is “totem integrale,” and what power is
given to it was neither “ascendendo,” nor “descendendo”, but immediately
from Christ on every part.”139 As early as 1642, Rutherford was already
arguing against this descendendo position, “The mistake hath beene, that
some Doctors believe that the power of the keyes […] must have some
common substance, viz. the universall Church, in which it must for orders

Hudson, A vindication of The essence and unity of the Church Catholike visible, To the
Hudson, Essence and unitie, 18.
Ibid., 19.
Lightfoot, Journal, 215.
Ibid., 215. This once again indicates Goodwin was using his personal Assembly notes
when writing his Government of the Churches of Christ.
Ibid., 216; Paul, The Assembly of the Lord, 313; For more on Rutherford’s view of the
Universal church, 289ff.

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78 Hunter Powell

cause first, before it be given to certaine guides”.140 Rutherford believed the

particular church was the “ecclesia primae”, something we will discuss
more at length in the following chapters. But, unlike many of his English
counterparts, he believed that a power could reside in a synod over multiple
congregations, and the power in that Assembly was directly given to it by
Christ. Goodwin similarly argued that Christ had specifically ordered that a
particular gathered church was given a specific charter from Christ. This
charter was the complete seat of church government; it was not derived
from the church universal, nor was a power that could be passed onto
greater assemblies. Rutherford argued that each level of church gov-
ernment, from the particular church, to the national Assembly also had their
specific charters from Christ. The Apologists also believed power was not
shared; a power was given to believers and a power was given to elders,
each directly from Christ.
The differences were clear, but the similarities should be noted. Both
Rutherford and the Apologists believed that the particular gathered church,
along with elders, had a specific charter from Christ. The elders had their
charter, the church members had their charter, and neither were derivative
from the other. Both of these beliefs, however, were different than the ma-
jority of English presbyterians. A strain of English presbyterianism was
emerging that saw all power as derivative from the Universal visible
church, and therefore whether power trickled down to the particular con-
gregation was not vital, in their mind, to a functioning presbyterian gov-
The Assembly effectively left these fundamental questions about Mat-
thew 16:19 unanswered. They eventually voted that the verse was indeed a
proof text for Seaman’s position. The power of the keys was given to the
Apostles, but they had failed to address the question that actually dominated
the debate: how any of this related to the church. After only a few days of
debate, on 1 November, the whole issue was shuffled to the side, never to
be revisited again as a topic unto itself. For if the way power was allocated
to the particular church was left unresolved, it was nearly hopeless to find a
resolution to the kind of power allocated to synods of elders gathered from
various congregations. They did not deny it was related to the church. Des-
pite and perhaps because of the intense debate, they just ignored the ques-
tion altogether. As it stood, the Assembly was perilously close to claiming
that Matthew 16:19 simply meant that “the apostles were the extraordinary
first subject of the power of the keys”.141

Rutherford, Peaceable plea, 3.
Norton, Answer, 79

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The Dissenting Brethren 79

3.7 A break from “the fathers & the schoolmen”

On 1 November, Bridge, who had been sick the day before, requested that
“church” be added to the proposition voted in the day before, thereby ad-
justing the proposition to mean the keys were “given to Peter & apostles
with the church.”142 Stephen Marshal retorted, rather naively given what had
just transpired over the preceding three days, “Whether the church did re-
ceive it is yet a question undebated.”143 Charles Herle had echoed this con-
cern when he warned the Assembly against over application of the terms
Brownism and separatists, simply because Peter received the keys on behalf
of believers. Herle had noted that “many of the fathers & schoolmen have
understood it thus & yet are far from anarchy.”144 Bridge desisted from
pushing a debate. Therefore, what these keys were, what their functions
were, and in what sense the Apostles received them, and how they con-
cerned the church, were questions left entirely unanswered.
In the Apologist’s mind, and indeed to many in the Assembly, discuss-
ing Matthew 16:19 without any reference to the church, seemed extraordi-
nary in the history of exegesis. Time and again in the debates, although the
proposition dealt only with the Apostles, the members kept bringing up the
church. Many in the Assembly failed to see any precedent for limiting
Mathew 16:19 to Seaman’s proposition. Simpson tried to warn the Assem-
bly that it would be outside the reformed tradition to use Matthew 16:19 to
prove Peter as an apostle excluding the church. He cited Gerhard, who said
“from the time of Christ that 16 Math [was] understood as concerning the
church in all ages.”145 Gerhard himself had argued “that unto the Church
[Christ] hath given the keys the kingdom of heaven.”146 Cornelius Burgess,
knowing Gerhard’s wide influence regarding the power of the local church,
quickly dismissed this statement with, “We are not to look at what Gerrard
hath affirmed but never proved”.147 We have already noted that Fulke inter-
preted Matthew 16:19 to mean that the Christ gave the keys to Peter, and
after him both to the Apostles and to the church. Whitaker, summarized
Augustine, “that in Peter [the church] did receive [the keyes] properly,
truely, and more principally than Peter himself.”148 We have already noted
Van Dixhoorn, “Westminster Assembly Minutes, 4 Sept. to 17 Nov. 1643”, 233.
Ibid., 233.
Ibid., 233.
Ibid., 218. Probably, J. Gerhard, Confessionis Catholicae, 4 vols. (1634), vol.1, 326–329;
bk 2, art. 3, ch. 9 in vol. 2, 922–3. I am grateful to Dr. Chad van Dixhoorn for allowing me to use
this citation.
Gerhard, The Summe of Christian doctrine, 255.
Van Dixhoorn, “Westminster Assembly Minutes, 4 Sept. to 17 Nov. 1643”, 218.
Cited in J. Cotton, The Way of Congregational Churches Cleared: In two Treatises. In the
former, from the historical aspersions of Mr. Robert Baylie, in his book, called A Disswasive from
the Errors of the Time. In the latter, from some contradictions of Vindicæ [sic] Clavium [by

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80 Hunter Powell

the Sorbonnists of Paris who believed that the church, upon Peter’s confes-
sion was the first subject of all church power, as did the German catholic
John Wild (Ferus).149 If we look at the Dutch annotations on the whole
Bible, written as a result of the Synod of Dort, we see that “upon Peter’s
confession […] power is given also given to the Church […] and to all the
Apostles.”150 Theodore Beza’s annotations stated that Peter’s confession “is
the churches as well as his” and the keyes were given to “ministers of the
word”, but there is no mention of the Apostles.151
What was clear was that the congregationalists had lost a debate that
centred on the most fundamental tenet of their polity. The Apologists’ fears
were not unfounded. Within two years the London presbyterians were
claiming that the “keyes” only belonged to elders, and thus “the Keyes of
the Kingdom of Heaven, with all their Acts, were immediately committed
to Church-guides, viz. to the Apostles and to their successors to the end of
the world; Math. 16.19 and 18.18.”152 The problem was never whether the
elders received authorial power of the keys, but it was how that power was
connected to, and in the context of, the particular church. Hence the ability
to argue for congregational power on the basis of Matthew 18:18 was se-
verely curtailed due to the constraints placed on Matthew 16:19. It was not
that the Apologists disagreed with ministers receiving unique ministerial
keys, it was the fact that the proposition and proof text might result in neu-
tering power in the church. This account also indicates how important care-
ful ecclesiological distinctions are when engaging these debates. Both
Robert S. Paul and J. R. De Witt claimed that Seaman accused the “inde-
pendents” of being “Brownists”.153 Yet Seaman clearly stated that “here
hath been none of the opinions [of] the Brownists.”154 Paul and De Witt
have collapsed Seaman’s following comment, that “not one argument used

Daniel Cawdrey]: And from, some mis-constructions of learned Mr Rutherford in his book
intituled The Due Right of Presbyteries (London, 1648), vol. 2, 31.
Cotton cites Ferus’ commentary on Matthew 16. Likely from J. Wild, In sacrosanctum
Iesu Christi domini nostri Euangelium secundum Matthæum, piæ ac eruditæ iuxta catholicam &
ecclesiasticam doctrinam enarrationes / Per fratrem Ioannem Ferum, summæ Moguntiæ ædis
concionatorem. Cum indice locupletissimo, recèns adiecto (1577), 48–56. Cited in Cotton, The
Way of Congregational Churches Cleared, 31.
Haak, The Dutch Annotations, Matt 16:18–19.
The New Testament of our Lord Iesus Christ, translated out of Greeke by Theod. Beza,
whereunto are adioyned briefe summaries of doctrine vpon the Euangelistes and Actes of the
Apostles, together with the methode of the Epistles of the Apostles, by the said Theod. Beza : and
also short expositions on the phrazes and hard places, taken out of the large annotations of the
foresaid authour, and Ioach. Camerarius, by Loseler. Villerius / Englished by L. Tomson,
whereunto is adioyned a concordance or table made after the order of the alphabet, conteining the
principall both wordes and matters, which are comprehended in the Newe Testament, (1582), 25.
Jus divinum regiminis ecclesiastici, 181.
De Witt, Jus divinum, 70; Paul, The Assembly of the Lord, 152.
Van Dixhoorn, “Westminster Assembly Minutes, 4 Sept. to 17 Nov. 1643”, 230.

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The Dissenting Brethren 81
about this text but used by Robinson”, into their own belief that “independ-
ency” and Brownism are essentially the same.155 Seaman was not calling the
Apologists “independents” or Brownists. It was a rhetorical trick to show
that those, including Charles Herle, who read Matthew 16:19 as referring to
the church of believers, and those who followed Robert Parker, were exe-
geting the verse in the same way as the “independent” John Robinson.
After that, “The Grand Debate” to come was effectively moot. Nye and
Goodwin in their Preface to Cotton’s Keyes of the Kingdom asserted, “many
of our friends, and some that are of a differing opinion, [have] known our
private judgments long, as likewise our owne Notes and transcripts written
long agoe, can testifie; besides many public professions”; but that did not
stop them from fearing the implications of believers having any share of the
keys.156 In the middle of their debates on church government in March 1644,
William Price said what was undoubtedly the position of many in the As-
sembly “That which hinders us in this debate is the want of accurate distinc-
tion betwixt authority & jurisdiction.” Charles Herle lamented, “[we lost]
much time by mistaking one another”.157 As it stood, the keys would only
reappear as it related to various aspects of church government, but never
again as a topic unto itself.
The variety of interpretations espoused on the floor of the Assembly cut
across the ecclesiastical spectrum. The divines had different opinions; they
all knew they had different opinions; and they were all evidently squeamish
about debating the keys in the first place, and at times, equivocated in order
to placate. What is most striking is that none of these discussions was new;
each divine was keenly aware there was a variety of opinions being postu-
lated, and they all to varying degrees tried to steer the discussion back from
the brink of discord. It was the English presbyterians who triumphed, not
because the congregational divines deftly hid their polity, but because the
presbyterian majority knew that any further specificity in the proposition or
the proof text would have forced many presbyterians to take sides against
each other. The Apologists’ positions were fully developed, whereas the
presbyterian majority was by no means united. Where the first subject of
the keys was placed did not dictate whether or not one was a Presbyterian;
it did dictate, however, what type of presbyterian one was. For example, the
debates highlighted how unique some of the more clerical presbyterians’
position was in the Reformed tradition. On the other hand, there were those
presbyterians who believed the particular church received the keys, but that
the elders acted as their representatives. These positions understood church
De Witt, Jus divinum, 70; Paul, The Assembly of the Lord, 152.
J. Cotton, T. Goodwin & Nye, The keyes of the kingdom of heaven, and power thereof,
according to the Word of God (London, 1644), preface, not paginated; Van Dixhoorn,
“Westminster Assembly Minutes, 4 Sept. to 17 Nov. 1643”, 230.
Van Dixhoorn, “Westminster Assembly Minutes, 17 Nov. 1643 to 11 April 1644”, 609.

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82 Hunter Powell

power as being generated from two opposing theological starting points that
would have practical implications for how the national church would be
designed. Even here, the congregationalists were the middle-way men.

3.8 Conclusion

This was a pyrrhic victory for the various English presbyterian polities who
were coalescing to form a majority for practical purposes. Indeed, reading
the debates over excommunication almost exactly a year later, in October
1644 when a presbyterian settlement was a foregone conclusion, we can see
how this unresolved issue continued to complicate debates about power in
the particular church. Edmund Calamy wrote: “The 16 Math. gives the
power of the keyes to the apostles; true is it alone?”158 In that debate,
Calamy had become concerned that the Assembly had given power to the
Apostles at the expense of the church. Citing the case of discipline by the
church of Corinth, Calamy stated, “in this text [excommunication] was an
act of the Church of Corinth. If Jesus Christ did give the power to the
church, I see not by what authority they could doe it alone; any one apostle
is not a church”.159
Thus, the month of October 1643 enables us to see the uniquely English
complexities of ecclesiological debates. The English presbyterians, if any-
thing, demonstrate ambivalence in the Apologists positions on the keys. For
the congregational divines the debate represented one of the two most con-
sequential debates in the Assembly. Not having sorted out what the keys
were and who could use them, along with initially avoiding the question of
a platform of church government, the congregationalists were outmanoeu-
vred. The presbyterians knew that codifying a platform of church gov-
ernment would have only crystallized their own differences. Thus the typi-
cal pamphlet critique outside the Assembly, that the Apologists feared that
a platform would divide the independents in England, was actually true of
the presbyterians in the Assembly.

Van Dixhoorn, “Westminster Assembly Minutes, 12 April 1644 to 15 Nov. 1644”, 428.
Ibid., 426.

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4. Millennialism

Crawford Gribben

4.1 Introduction

In 1691, Richard Baxter reflected upon a century of eschatological study

among British Reformed orthodox theologians. It had been an eventful
series of decades, encompassing civil war, regicide and restoration, and
popular interests in eschatology had both influenced and been influenced by
these events. Baxter, like many others, was concerned by the fact that in
these decades the eschatological consensus of the reformation confessions
of faith had been overturned. And, throughout the British kingdoms, despite
the publication of a series of new confessions of faith, no new eschatologi-
cal agreement had emerged. Baxter’s concerns were particularly focused on
the controversial rise of millennial belief, and his conclusions were entirely
dismissive of its exponents.1 “It is a marvel,” he noted, “that the great dis-
agreement of the Millenaries among themselves […] hindereth not their
seeming Concord, while they can but cry up the Thousand years Reign,
though most of them know not what the words mean.” He noted disagree-
ments about the location of the proposed millennium (“some of them say,
The Thousand years are on Earth; and some say, They are only of the Souls
of the Martyrs and Confessors in Heaven: Some say, They are both in
Heaven, or in the Air, and on Earth at once”); its extent (“some say, That
they shall be a Jewish Monarchy at Jerusalem, and some, That it shall be of
the godly all over the World”); the possibility of the physical presence of
Jesus Christ on earth during the millennium (“some say, Christ will reign
there visibly in his Humane Nature; Others, that he will only sometime
For Baxter’s eschatological position, see William Lamont, Richard Baxter and the Millen-
nium: Protestant Imperialism and the English Revolution (London: Croom Helm, 1979), passim.
Conventionally, scholars working in millennial studies have followed Ernest L. Tuveson in distin-
guishing “millennialim” (postmillennial, optimistic and gradualist theologies) from “millenarian-
ism” (premillennial, pessimistic and radical theologies). Ernest R. Sandeen has noted, however,
that the terms are interchangeable in much of the literature and a strict distinction should probably
not therefore be imposed; Ernest L. Tuveson, Redeemer Nation: The idea of America’s Millennial
Role (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968), 33–34; Ernest R. Sandeen, The Roots of
Fundamentalism: British and American Millenarianism 1800–1930 (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1970), 5 n. 3.

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84 Crawford Gribben

appear, as he did after his Resurrection: And some, That he will Rule there
only by Reforming Christian Princes”); the number of millennia to be ex-
pected (“some hold but one Thousand years, and some two”); and the rela-
tion of the millennium to the last judgement (“some say, That the Day of
Judgement is the Thousand years […] and some, that it is only the Begin-
ning and the End of the Thousand years, that the Judgement will take up,
and the rest will be in other Government”).2 After a century of discussion,
one recent commentator has noted, “no consensus had […] been achieved
concerning whether the golden age would be literal or spiritual, in heaven
or on earth, or, indeed, about whether the millennium was to occur in the
past, present, or future.”3 But, Baxter complained, this did not put an end to
the doctrine of the millennium: “Other differences seem almost reconciled
to some, by the bare name of a Thousand years Reign.”4
Baxter’s concerns highlighted one of the most significant novelties of
the theological cultures of seventeenth-century Britain. It was in eschatol-
ogy that early modern British Reformed orthodox theologians displayed
their greatest exegetical and applicatory variety. It was in their maintaining
of millennial theories that they displayed greatest difference from the six-
teenth-century confessions they had inherited and from their European
contemporaries. It was in their constructions of millennial theories that
authors from within the Reformed orthodox tradition drew on their widest
range of source materials, including materials that ranged far beyond the
boundaries of the biblical canon. And it was in their expression of millen-
nial theories that these authors engaged most robustly, and sometimes most
violently, with the world in which they lived.5
Eschatology, in general, and millennialism, in particular, must therefore
be central to any discussion of the “diversity of tradition” among seven-
teenth-century British Reformed orthodox authors; and yet a study of the
millennial theories produced by these authors will make problematic the
notion of the “orthodoxy” and the singular “tradition” they might be be-
lieved to share. Seventeenth-century British Reformed orthodox writers
found in their discussions of millennial theories a liberty of conviction and
expression that challenges easy assumptions of their unity and their Biblical
or confessional limitations. But these theories demonstrated that these

Richard Baxter, The Glorious Kingdom of Christ, Described and Clearly Vindicated (1691),
Reiner Smolinksi, “Caveat Emptor: Pre- and postmillennialism in the late reformation pe-
riod,” in James E. Force and Richard H. Popkin (eds), Millenarianism and Messianism in Early
Modern European Culture: The Millenarian Turn (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers,
2001), 145–69, 147.
Baxter, The Glorious Kingdom of Christ, 9–10.
See Crawford Gribben, The Puritan Millennium: Literature and Theology, 1550–1682
(Dublin: Four Courts, 2000), passim.

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Millennialism 85
authors, despite deep differences, shared a robust commitment to the study
of biblical prophecy and its relevance to the times in which they lived.

4.2 The Tradition Established

By the end of the sixteenth century, the European Reformed churches were
united in their rejection of an earthly millennial hope.6 But their consensus
was rapidly overturned. The rise of a millennial tradition among the Re-
formed churches began its consolidation in a series of texts so advanced in
their revisionary instincts that they were not published in England until
several decades after their author’s death. Apocalypsis apocalypseos
(Frankfurt, 1609), translated as A revelation of the Apocalyps (Amsterdam,
1611), was prepared by Thomas Brightman (1562–1607), a former fellow
of Queen’s College, Cambridge with a penchant for Presbyterian polemic.7
Brightman’s writing reacted to the “hoch pot luckwarmnesse” of the Eng-
lish church, governed, as he complained, by bishops who “love riches and
honor so dearely, that they content themselvs with the losse of a full Ref-
ormation.”8 His exegesis of Revelation 20:1–10 decisively broke with the
Augustinian and reformation confessional traditions, and took the radical
step of arguing that the passage referred to two periods of one thousand
years each, only one of which had been completely fulfilled in the past. The
first of these periods (Rev 20:1–3) had begun in or around 304 and ended in
1300, after which the release of Satan had been made evident by the Islamic
invasions of Europe. The second period of one thousand years (Rev 20:4–
10) had begun with the revival of true theology at the reformation – a re-
vival Brightman identified as the “first resurrection.” This beginning of the
saints’ rule with Christ would, he believed, result in a “global Presbyterian
utopia.”9 But Brightman also expected the fulfillment of eschatological
events in the near future. In 1650, he predicted, the power of the Turkish
empire and the Roman Catholic Church would fragment and the national
conversion of the Jews would begin. By the end of the century, European
protestants would enjoy “a most happy tranquility [...] the joy will be so
much that it will be strange and unexpected: for in place of former troubles,
there will be perpetual peace, & then Kings and Queens will be nursing

For an account of the origins and development of evangelical millennial belief, see Crawford
Gribben, Evangelical Millennialism in the trans-Atlantic world, 1500–2000 (New York: Palgrave
Macmillan, 2011).
On Brightman, see Andrew Crome, “The Jews and the literal sense: Hermeneutical
approaches in the apocalyptic commentaries of Thomas Brightman (1562–1607)” (unpublished
PhD thesis, University of Manchester, 2009).
[Anon.], Reverend Mr. Brightmans judgement (1642), sig. A2v–A3r.
Oxford DNB, s.v.

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86 Crawford Gribben

fathers, and nursing mothers unto the Christian Churches.”10 And by 2300,
he concluded, the church’s enemies would be finally destroyed and the
eternal age would commence. In Brightman’s own day, these events ap-
peared to be far in the future. His work fell victim to censorship laws while
European protestants found themselves engaged in a bloody struggle for
survival. Nevertheless, his writing was influential long before its first Eng-
lish publication in 1641.11 For many of his readers, Brightman would be-
come the “English Prophet,” the “famous prophet of these times,” whose
books made sense of the future.12
The broad outline of Brightman’s exegesis of Revelation 20:1–10 was
confirmed historically by the Irish scholar and churchman James Ussher
(1581–1656). Ussher, a professor of theology at Trinity College Dublin
who was later to become archbishop of Armagh, was one of the towering
intellectual figures of his day, whose “fascination with history, chronology
and the ages of Satan, the Beast […] was an effort to justify the reformation
movement on a historical-theological basis.”13 He was extremely widely
read, and an avid book collector, and drove initiatives to enlarge the college
library, in which Brightman’s works were early represented.14 In 1613, the
same year in which Brightman’s Apocalypsis apocalypseos appeared,
Ussher published his own first book, Gravissimae quaestionis de Chris-
tianarum ecclesiarum successione et statu, a long and ultimately incom-
plete account of the history of the true church.15 Gravissimae quaestionis
expounded Revelation 20:1–10 to outline the course of church history and
the descent of the faith that would eventually be identified with that of the
reformation. Ussher’s historical enquiry was rooted in his exegesis of the
thousand-year binding of Satan, which, following Brightman, he referred to
two distinct periods of one thousand years each. He defined the first of
these millennia as that in which Satan was “restrained [from] procuring the

[Anon.], Reverend Mr. Brightmans judgement, sig. A4r.
Crawford Gribben, “The Church of Scotland and the English apocalyptic imagination,
1630–1650,” Scottish Historical Review 88:1 (2009), 34–56.
Thomas Brightman, A most comfortable exposition of [...] Daniel, 895; The art of self-
deniall: or, A Christian’s first lesson: By that famous Prophett of these times: Tho: Brightman
Phil Kilroy, “Sermon and pamphlet literature in the Irish Reformed Church, 1613–34,” Ar-
chivium Hibernicum 33 (1975), 117.
Elizabethanne Boran, “The libraries of Luke Challoner and James Ussher, 1595–1608,” in
Helga Robinson-Hammerstein (ed.), European universities in the age of reformation and counter-
reformation (Dublin: Four Courts, 1998), 98–102.
The text was translated into English by Ambrose Ussher, James’ brother, and English
quotations will be taken from this unpaginated translation, Trinity College Library, Dublin, MS

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Millennialism 87
universal seduction.”16 Despite the persecution of Huns, Goths, Alans, Van-
dals, and Persians, the true faith had been preserved, until, “after
Constantine ye great and before Mahomet ye lawgiver, Sathan was indeed
so much loose, not only to vex ye churches and christian people, but also to
take away and waste their provinces and kingdoms: as may be seen in ye
persecutions.”17 It was these persecutions that identified the first millennial
age, Ussher contended, for “where the state of that thousand where Sathan
was bound is described, there is mention made of those who were smitten
for the testimony of Jesus, and for ye word of God.”18 The first millennium
was a period of suffering, Ussher argued, following Calvin, and therefore
not a period of heavenly bliss or earthly power, as John Foxe had suggested
in his Acts and Monuments (1563); and, as a consequence, the end of the
first millennium should be marked by the church’s appropriation of the
authority of the state. Satan’s being “newly loosed” was evidenced in the
long investiture controversy, the struggles for power of the Holy Roman
Emperors Henry III (1046–56) and Henry IV (1084–1105) against popes
Gregory VII (1073–85) and Paschal II (1099–1118).19 These conflicts drove
the faithful remnant underground, when with “darkness prevailing, they
[…] dare not preach publickly.”20 Ussher’s rewriting of Revelation 20:1–10
therefore reversed the celebration of the church’s accession to temporal
power in the earlier reformation tradition. Confronted with the unpromising
nature of the historical record, Ussher was compelled to look elsewhere for
the golden age he expected he would find. And so, following Brightman, he
proposed a second millennium, a “new binding of Satan, by the restoring of
the gospel,” which had begun with the recovery of evangelical truth at the
reformation, but which had not been consummated.21 Ussher’s argument,
therefore, was that protestant believers, in the midst of a general European

James Ussher, The whole works of James Ussher, ed. C.R. Erlington and J.R. Todd, 17 vol.
(Dublin: Hodges and Smith, 1847–64), 2:ix: “ligatum dici Satanum, quando ab universali seduc-
tione procuranda est cohibitus.”
Ussher, Works, 2:6: “Satanum ligatum asserit, ne persecutionibus amplius noceret Ecclesiæ:
a Constantini videlicet Imperatoris temporibus, a quo sublatæ persecutiones, usque ad annum
Domini 1300. quo Turcicum imperium in Ottomanno coepit.”
Ussher, Works, 2:6: “ubi status Millenarii illius, in quo vinctus erat Satanas, describitur, ex-
pressa mentio fit eorum qui securi percussi sunt propter testimonium Jesu, et propter sermonem
Ussher, Works, 11:417.
Ussher, Works, 2:163–4: “Universa sanctorum abscondetur Ecclesia. Ha enim electi Dei sa-
pient sibi ipsis id, quod sapient; ut tamen prædicare publice (prævalentibus tenebris) non præsu-
mant. Non quod animare fideles et secretius exhortari desistant, sed quod prædicare publice non
Ussher, Works, 2:xi: “Pars tertia, deo volente, subsequeter: in qua agendum de statu rerum
ab initio pontificatus Gregorii XI. usque ad initium pontificatus Leonis X. id est [...] De nova
ligatione Satanæ per Evangelii restaurationem sub medium secundi millenari exiguo tempore fieri

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88 Crawford Gribben

crisis, were already experiencing the conditions of the millennium, and their
martyrdoms were the proof of his claim.
Ussher was never able fully to outline this radical re-thinking of evan-
gelical eschatological expectations, for the third part of his book, addressing
the period after 1370, was never published. It was not that he lost interest in
the subject, for his doctoral oration, also delivered in 1613, addressed the
“reign of the saints” in Revelation 20:4. Ussher resumed his research for the
third part of Gravissimae quaestionis but felt increasingly constrained by
the changing theological environment of the English court. As late as 1625,
his book agent, Thomas James, reported that he was continuing to search
for “helps necessary for the forwarding so great work,” but he found that
his efforts were being stymied by those who should have been his allies.22
This new atmosphere had been evidenced in the publication of Richard
Montagu’s A gagg for the new gospel? No: a new gagg for an old goose
(1624), the first printed English denial of the reformation axiom that the
Antichrist could be identified in the papacy.23 Those holding to traditional
evangelical convictions found themselves increasingly sidelined within the
English church, eclipsed by representatives of the newly fashionable party
of sacramental revisionists associated with William Laud, the newly ap-
pointed archbishop of Canterbury. Ussher opted for strategic silence, and
sought to consolidate his eschatological interests by attempting to recruit
one of Europe’s leading millennial theorists as provost of Trinity College.
But others refused to be silent. The re-reading of Revelation 20:1–10 to
which both Ussher and Brightman had contributed was confirmed in a
series of significant European publications, some of which moved beyond
their conclusions to push the church’s golden age entirely into the future.
Johannes Piscator (1546–1625), a professor at Herborn, one of the most
important centres of European Reformed theology, had defended the notion
of an entirely future millennium in a brief note in his German Bible transla-
tion (1604), but outlined his convictions in greater detail with the publica-
tion of In Apocalypsin commentarius (Herborn, 1613), a text reprinted in
his Commentarii in omnes libros Novi Testamenti (Herborn, 1621).24 The
commentary staggered many of its early readers and provoked outrage
across the Lutheran and German Reformed world. In response, David Pa-
reus (1548–1622), a professor at Heidelberg and Piscator’s only rival as the
most important of the German Reformed theologians, published his own

Ussher, Works, 15:264.
Anthony Milton, Catholic and Reformed: The Roman and protestant churches in English
protestant thought, 1600–1640 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 112.
Das ander Thäil Des Newen Testaments I Darinnen [...] Die Episteln [...] und die
Offenbarung S. Johannis, trans. and annotated by Johannes Piscator (Herborn, 1604), 451; Howard
Hotson, Johann Heinrich Alsted, 1588–1638: Between Renaissance, Reformation and Universal
Reform (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2000), 208.

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Millennialism 89
commentary on Revelation, In divinam Apocalypsin commentaries (Heidel-
berg, 1618), the longest to date in the European Reformed tradition. Its
defense of the Augustinian tradition explicitly repudiated Piscator’s argu-
ments and provoked an equally robust reply.25 Johann Heinrich Alsted
(1588–1638) was one of many students who found themselves caught be-
tween their mentors’ competing millennial positions. Alsted was a student
of Pareus who nevertheless drove forward Piscator’s expectation of a future
golden age for the church.26 His Diatribe de mille annis apocalyptics (1627,
second edition 1630) was a massive explication of Revelation 20:1–10 that
was translated into German in 1630 and into English in 1643. The Diatribe
indicated the extent to which these texts were taking their place in pan-
European culture of evangelical print, for the commentary directly engaged
with that of Brightman, who served as a foil to many of the most advanced
of Alsted’s claims. By the later 1620s, in other words, the millennial debate
had begun to stretch across confessional divisions and across Europe, and,
as a consequence, had begun to subvert the older denominational distinc-
tions. And its influence was to be significant. Throughout the Thirty Years
War (1618–48), a number of Lutheran theologians refused to be bound by
their creedal commitments, began to consider the polemical and pastoral
possibilities offered by the new millennial ideas, and adopted a robustly
chiliastic faith.27 Further east, Hungarian Calvinists continued to investigate
the possibilities of millennial theology, especially in the 1650s, after sight-
ings of new comets.28 Across the continent, evangelicals were being driven
to consider millennial ideas, and these ideas were being increasingly pro-
vided by English publications.
But these English publications also reflected wider European influences
– and not all of them protestant. Not all of his readers would have known it,
but Brightman’s work had clearly depended on conclusions already ad-
vanced by one of the most eminent defenders of Catholic reformation,
Cardinal Robert Bellarmine.29 European debates made a significant impact
upon the English millennial tradition. And so, in the same year in which
Alsted’s Diatribe was published, there also appeared Clavis Apocalyptica
(1627), the most important publication by the Cambridge philologist and
biblical scholar, Joseph Mede (1586–1638). Mede’s theological and eccle-
siastical interests contrasted sharply with those of his partners in the millen-

Hotson, Johann Heinrich Alsted, 212–14.
Hotson, Johann Heinrich Alsted, 130–131.
R. B. Barnes, Prophecy and gnosis: Apocalypticism in the wake of the Lutheran
reformation (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1988).
Graeme Murdock, Calvinism on the frontier, 1600–1660: International Calvinism and the
Reformed Church in Hungary and Transylvania (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2000), 268–70.
Crome, “The Jews and the literal sense: Hermeneutical approaches in the apocalyptic
commentaries of Thomas Brightman (1562–1607),” passim.

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90 Crawford Gribben

nial revolution.30 He was certainly not a puritan. He and Brightman had

taught in the same university, but they had quite different attitudes towards
the hierarchical system of the Church of England. Brightman, an emerging
Presbyterian, had been dismissive of the bishops’ rule, but Mede found the
pattern of their Episcopal government described in Revelation itself.31 Yet
his work was more radical than his ecclesiological preferences might sug-
gest. The first edition of the Clavis was followed by a second, enlarged,
edition in 1632, and an English translation, prepared by Richard More,
entitled The key of the Revelation (1643). The book made evident Mede’s
debt to the mathematical revolution. Focusing on the symbolic numbers in
the biblical apocalyptic literature, he argued that “every interpretation”
should be “tryed as it were by a square and plumb-rule” by “the characters
of Synchronismes.”32 His commentary found a focus in apocalyptic pessi-
mism. He admitted that “our Brightman” had considered that references in
Revelation to “warre and slaughter” had already been fulfilled. But, he
argued, the “expectation of a future calamity conduceth more to piety, then
an over-credulous security thereof, as if it were already past.”33 And, in any
case, the future promised as much blessing as woe. Mede followed Piscator
in launching the millennium, “the most abstruse of all the propheticall
Scripture,” solidly into the future.34 He denied the claims of Ussher and
Brightman that the reign of the saints was one-third complete. Like Alsted,
Mede argued that the text of Revelation 20:1–10 described only one period
of one thousand years, and that this millennium could only be expected in
the future. It was a master-stroke that made possible the radical eschato-
logical reflections of later English evangelicals.
Mede’s Clavis advanced a violent assault on the Augustinian and refor-
mation tradition while modifying the conclusions of its earliest revisers. His
most important book certainly had its admirers, especially among the puri-
tans whose ranks its author never joined. In the year of its publication,
Ussher invited Mede to take up the position of provost of Trinity College
Dublin. Mede refused, but the men continued to correspond, regularly on
eschatological issues. In 1628, Mede sent Ussher a number of copies of his
new book. His covering letter clarified both his dismissal and his appropria-
tion of medieval chronological concerns: “I had no intent or thought, nor
yet have, to avow that old conceit of the Chiliasts, That the world should as
See Jeff K. Jue, Heaven upon earth: Joseph Mede (1586–1638) and the Legacy of Mille-
narianism (Dordrecht: Springer, 2006); Sarah Hutton, “The appropriation of Joseph Mede: Mille-
narianism in the 1640s,” in James E. Force and Richard H. Popkin (eds), Millenarianism and
messianism in early modern European culture: The millenarian turn (Dordrecht: Kluwer Aca-
demic Publishers, 2001), 1–13.
Joseph Mede, The key of the Revelation (1643), 1:35.
Hill, Antichrist in seventeenth-century England, 27; Mede, The key of the Revelation, 1:27.
Mede, The key of the Revelation, 2:13.
Mede, The key of the Revelation, 2:121.

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Millennialism 91
it were labour 6000. years, and in the seventh thousand should be that glori-
ous sabbath of the reign of Christ.” Instead, he noted, he was “inclined to
think it much nearer.” Mede therefore argued in his letter that the end of the
present age should be expected in 1736, “the very year when the 1260 years
of the beast’s reign will expire.”35 Ussher, in reply, expressed his apprecia-
tion for his colleague’s conclusions. Ussher described the Clavis Apocalyp-
tica as a “most accurate explication,” which he “cannot sufficiently com-
mend,” and two years later, in 1630, he again offered Mede the role of
college provost.36 Other puritans continued to admire his scholarly contribu-
tion. Over one decade later, William Twisse, first prolocutor of the West-
minster Assembly (1643–49), the most important English ecclesiastical
gathering of the seventeenth century, noted in his preface to the English
translation of the Clavis (1643) that Mede had “exceeded in merit all others
that went before him in this argument” for the millennial reign of Christ.37
Yet the Clavis was a model of brevity. Twisse noted Mede’s plans for a
“Larger Commentarie, which I am perswaded he hath written,” but, like’s
Ussher’s third volume of his history, it was never published. Even in the
early 1640s, Twisse admitted, when Mede’s doctrine of the millennium was
“delivered with that moderation and subjection to the censure of the
Church, that it can displease no man,” it was “not received by many as
Nevertheless, by the 1640s the basic parameters of the emerging millen-
nial tradition had been established. Evangelicals had entered the seven-
teenth century with an eschatological orientation that was apocalyptic with-
out yet being millennial. In the early decades of the new century, evangeli-
cal writers across Europe pushed the millennium from the past to the
present, explaining the text with reference to the martyrdoms of medieval
“heretics” or the revival of true religion at the reformation. But, by the
1630s, Reformed theologians in England, Ireland and the German states had
begun to argue that the golden age described in Revelation 20:1–10 could
only be located in the future. Their arguments would be confirmed by a
number of American writers in the 1640s, including John Cotton, who
argued that the millennium could be expected in 1655, Roger Williams, the
defender of “soul liberty,” Edward Johnson, the historian, Michael Wig-
glesworth, the poet, Samuel Sewall, the commentator, as well as Increase

Ussher, Works, 15:407.
Ussher, Works, 15: 561; R. G. Clouse, “The rebirth of millenarianism,” in Peter Toon (ed.),
Puritans, the millennium and the future of Israel: Puritan eschatology, 1600 to 1660 (Cambridge:
James Clarke, 1970), 60.
Mede, The key of the Revelation, sig. av.
Mede, The key of the Revelation, sig. a4v.

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92 Crawford Gribben

and Cotton Mather.39 By then, as it would become clear, the foundational

expectation of the evangelical millennial tradition had firmly taken root.

4.3 The Tradition Challenged

Once established, this tradition mutated with remarkable speed, in both

popular and scholarly publications and across the trans-Atlantic world. This
trend was particularly evident among English, Scottish and American puri-
tans, who shared a common eschatological vocabulary, but debated its
proper sources and conclusions. Scottish writers were noticeably reluctant
to move from assumptions of an unspecified “latter-day glory” to embrace
the full-fledged millennialism of their English and New English counter-
parts.40 But, in the latter territories, these debates developed such momen-
tum that scholars have struggled to come to terms with their breadth and
significance. Much of this confusion stems from the fact that these “hotter
sort of protestants” did not confine themselves to “the Bible only” in their
search for knowledge of the future. Throughout this period, English publi-
cations demonstrated the enduring popularity of texts which advertised
themselves as being the work of Merlin or Nostradamus. One recent com-
mentator on this phenomenon has noted that the apocalyptic thought of
early modernity combined Christian Cabala, Hermeticism, and angelology,
as well as alchemy, astrology, and historical and textual criticism.41 These
were demanding intellectual traditions, abstruse and arcane, but they suc-
cessfully entered the popular imagination and successive puritan expositors
felt the need to warn their readers of the dangers inherent in dependence on
these extra-Biblical sources. Thus readers of Thomas Hayne’s Christs king-
dom on Earth (1645) were advised of the “senseless” teaching of “Rabbi
Elias,” the third-century Hebrew midrash projecting six thousand years of
human history which had found some powerful advocates within a small
coterie of the more radical millennial theorists, while others, like Thomas
Hall in A confutation of the millenarian opinion (1657), exposed the exces-
sive credulity of some towards the competing eschatological positions of
“Jewish Targums and Talmuds, Sibylline Oracles, the Koran, and astron-

Stephen J. Stein, “Editor’s introduction,” in Jonathan Edwards, Apocalyptic writings, ed.
Stephen J. Stein, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1977),
5, 8; John Stuart Erwin, “Like a thief in the night: Cotton Mather’s millennialism” (unpublished
PhD thesis, Indiana University, 1987).
Gribben, “The Church of Scotland and the English apocalyptic imagination, 1630–1650,”
Katherine Firth, The apocalyptic tradition in reformation Britain, 1530–1645 (Oxford: Ox-
ford University Press, 1979), 5.

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Millennialism 93
omy.”42 These writers sought to remove the influence of pagan apocalyptic
and replace it with data more firmly derived from Scripture. Writers in
Scotland and New England were much less likely to appeal to extra-
canonical texts.
This insistence on “the Bible only” could not silence the eschatological
debate. Discussion collected around a number of key terms. Perhaps the
greatest range of reference was ascribed to the term “Antichrist.” Almost
every sixteenth-century commentator who had published their conclusions
on the identity of the Antichrist had pointed to the wickedness of the pa-
pacy.43 This claim was finally granted creedal status in the Irish Articles
(1615), a revision and expansion of the Thirty-nine Articles (1563) which
was prepared under Ussher’s guidance and adopted by the convocation of
the Church of Ireland.44 The Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) simi-
larly concluded that the Pope “is that Antichrist, that man of sin, and son of
perdition, that exalteth himself, in the Church, against Christ and all that is
called God.”45 But this common identification presented evangelical exe-
getes with a genuine methodological difficulty. Early modern evangelicals
knew that Jesus Christ “shall not come, except there come a falling away
first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposeth
and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so
that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God”
(2 Thess 2:3–4).
If the Antichrist were to reveal himself in the visible church – which this
passage’s reference to the “temple of God” was widely believed to signify –
then the Roman Catholic Church had to be recognized as being an authentic
Christian denomination.46 George Gillespie, a Scottish commissioner at the
Westminster Assembly, consequently argued the case: “If there was not a
true church when Popery and Antichristianism had most universally spread
itself, why is it said that Antichrist sitteth in the temple of God?”47 But this
reconsideration of the status of the Roman Catholic Church did not neces-
sarily demand any concessions to its claims. Apocalyptic rhetoric was driv-
ing the evangelical recognition of the churchly status of the Roman com-

A. R. Dallison, “Contemporary criticism of millenarianism,” in Peter Toon (ed.), Puritans,
the millennium and the future of Israel: Puritan eschatology, 1600 to 1660 (Cambridge: James
Clarke, 1970), 111; John Bunyan, Works, ed. George Offor (Glasgow: Blackie and Son, 1860), ii.
424; Saul Leeman, “Was Bishop Ussher’s chronology influenced by a midrash?” Semeia 8 (1977),
127; Ussher, Works, vii. 45.
Milton, Catholic and Reformed, 93–127.
For Ussher’s influence on the Irish Articles, see Amanda L. Capern, “The Caroline Church:
James Ussher and the Irish Dimension,” Historical Journal 39 (1996), 57–85.
Westminster Confession of Faith 25:6.
Milton, Catholic and Reformed, 128–72.
George Gillespie, A treatise of miscellany questions (1649); rpt. in The Presbyterian’s ar-
moury, ed. W.M. Hetherington (Edinburgh: Robert Ogle, and Oliver & Boyd, 1846), 27.

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94 Crawford Gribben

munion, even as it identified the head of that communion as the eschato-

logical enemy of true believers. But this discourse also insisted on the ongo-
ing danger of the Roman communion: “Rome is not to cease from being
Babylon,” Ussher explained, “till her last destruction shall come upon her;
and that unto her last gasp she is to continue in her spiritual fornications,
alluring all nations unto her superstition and idolatry.”48
Not every one of Ussher’s peers could appreciate the nuance that under-
lay this argument. In the first half of the early seventeenth century, the
eschatological role of the Roman Catholic Church was both being denied
and expanded. It was being denied by many of the sacramental party within
the Church of England, those followers of William Laud who attempted to
answer questions of the historical validity of the Reformed faith by tracing
an ecclesial succession through western catholicism – and, in so doing,
qualified the assumption that evangelicals would always want to reject the
legitimacy of the papal office.49 But this definition was also being ex-
panded, not least by an increasing number of puritans, who identified the
extension of the influence of the Antichrist from the Vatican through the
Church of England and into the sectarian movements of the mid-century
crisis. Anglicans bore the brunt of verbal assault in this intra-puritan con-
flict, as radicals complained that their liturgy and theology continued to
owe too much to the medieval church. James Ussher, as archbishop of Ar-
magh, had good cause to complain that nothing was “so familiar now a
days, as to father upon Antichrist, whatsoever in church matters we do not
find to suite with our own humours.”50
While the debate about the identification of the Antichrist tended to dis-
tinguish puritans from “cooler” evangelicals, the debate about the proper
interpretation of Revelation 20:1–10 tended to divide puritans from each
other. The violence of these arguments about the millennium is a key to
understanding the importance of the issues at stake: for many puritans,
eschatology was an applied rather than an abstract subject, a cultural as well
as a political conflict in which one was automatically involved. The tradi-
tion developed through a tangled web of publications engaged in a dynamic
and impassioned debate, quoting and refuting one another with inter-textual
abandon. The subtitle of Thomas Hayne’s Christs kingdom on Earth
(1645), for example, promised an examination of What Mr. Th. Brightman,
Dr. J. Alsted, Mr. J. Mede, Mr. H. Archer, The Glimpse of Sions Glory, and
such as concurre in opinion with them, hold concerning the thousand years
of the Saints Reign with Christ, And of Satans binding. Similarly, Thomas
Goodwin’s An exposition of the book of Revelation (posthumously pub-
lished, but based on sermons preached in 1639) referred to Theodore Beza,
Ussher, Works, 12:542–3.
Milton, Catholic and Reformed, passim.
Ussher, Works, 7:45.

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Millennialism 95
Thomas Brightman, Joseph Mede and John Foxe, Patrick Forbes, James
Ussher, Matthew Parker, Franciscus Junius, David Pareus, William Ames,
and John Napier.51 Similarly, John Cotton, in The churches resurrection
(1642), advanced a postmillennial apologetic that argued for an allegorical
reading of the first resurrection (Revelation 20:4), which was the “rising of
men from spirituall death to spirituall life” and the revival of Independent
church government, and on that basis positioned his colleagues in the
Church of England with the horrors of Antichrist, arguing that “you will
finde little difference betweene Episcopacy and Popery, for they are gov-
erned by Popish Canons.”52 Puritans were adopting competing positions,
and advertising their exegetical differences.
On both sides of the Atlantic, therefore, a number of demarcated millen-
nial positions emerged from this debate. Even in mid-century, the Augustin-
ian tradition continued to find a few defenders. Like Calvin, these writers
rejected any hope of a future “conversion of the Jews” and consequently
faced no difficulty in wondering where to place this great evangelistic ad-
vance within their eschatological scheme. Chiliasto-mastix (Rotterdam,
1644), an anti-millennial apologetic authored by the minister of a Scots
congregation in the Low Countries, Alexander Petrie (c. 1594–1662), was
one of a tiny number of works published to reassert Augustinian orthodoxy,
in this case in a response to Israel’s redemption (1642) by Robert Maton.
But Petrie’s book was itself refuted in – and, at least in length, entirely
overwhelmed by – Maton’s replies in Israel’s redemption redeemed (1646)
and A treatise of the Fifth Monarchy (1655). This exchange was emblem-
atic of the larger trend. Like Maton, most puritan writers seem to have
adopted a millennial theory of one kind or another, and, like Maton’s texts,
these defenses of millennial theory dominated in the literary marketplace.
Believing that this period of one thousand years had some relationship to
the church in a more glorious future state, their notion of the “blessed hope”
increasingly combined evangelistic, ecclesiastical, missiological and politi-
cal aspirations.
There were, of course, hugely significant disagreements among these
millennial believers. Modern distinctions between pre- and postmillennial-
ism find their roots in this period, as theologians sought to isolate and ar-
range the various elements of prophetic discourse. Some exegetes advanced
their view of radical disjunction between this age and the next. They argued
that Christ would return before the millennium, and often (though not al-
ways) added that he would remain in person with his church during that
Thomas Goodwin, Works, 12 vol. (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1861–66), 3: 4, 3, 36, 88, 61,
87–8, 103–4, 178, 180, 181, 194; Paul Christianson, Reformers and Babylon: English Apocalyptic
Visions from the Reformation to the Eve of the Civil War (Toronto: University of Toronto Press,
1978), 209.
John Cotton, The Churches Resurrection (1642), 9, 19.

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96 Crawford Gribben

period. Some of these premillennialists were not slow to realize that their
position actually demanded two future comings of Christ. For some, no
doubt, this proved embarrassing, but others were keen to capitalize on the
novelty. John Archer, in 1643, made the point with some force: “Christ hath
three comings,” he declared; “the first was when he came to take our nature,
and make satisfaction for sin. The second is, when hee comes to receive his
Kingdome; [...] A third is, that when hee comes to judge all, and end the
world: the latter commings are two distinct commings.”53 Not many of his
premillennial brethren were as emphatic. Other postmillennial theologians
postulated a more gradual movement into the new age, as increasingly
reformed societies paved the way for Christ’s return after the millennium.
Some of these theorists called for radical intervention in the political status
quo – the Fifth Monarchists engaged in a series of violent attempts to desta-
bilize successive governments through the 1650s and early 1660s, for ex-
ample – but others assumed a much more obviously divine movement in the
conditions of the new age.54
The existence of this debate as to the relationship between the second
coming and the millennium should not be understood as indicating that
these competing millennial traditions had become clearly distinguished. The
discussion has become particularly pointed as scholars have sought to de-
fine the eschatological teaching of the most important seventeenth-century
creedal statement in the trans-Atlantic world, the Westminster Confession
of Faith (1647). Modern scholars have struggled to reach consensus on the
significance of its teaching. R. G. Clouse argued that the Confession is
“clearly” amillennial;55 LeRoy Froom viewed the Confession as “the
strongest premillennialist symbol of Protestantism”;56 and James de Jong
argued that its statements “must be seen as a deliberate choice of mild,
unsystemized, postmillennial expectations.”57 But, recognizing the fluidity
and occasional obscurity of early modern evangelical discourses, we should
not impose a-, pre- or postmillennial paradigms without proper qualifica-
tion. There was significant latitude both between and within these compet-
ing positions as they continued to be defined throughout this period.
John Archer, The personall reigne of Christ upon Earth (1643), 15.
B. S. Capp, The Fifth Monarchy Men: A Study in Seventeenth-century Millenarianism
(London: Faber and Faber, 1972), passim .
Clouse, “The rebirth of millenarianism,” 60.
L. E. Froom, The prophetic faith of our fathers: The historical development of Prophetic In-
terpretation (Washington: Review and Herald, 1948), ii. 553.
James de Jong, As the waters cover the sea: Millennial expectations in the rise of Anglo-
American Missions, 1640–1810 (Kampen: Kok, 1970), 38 n. 11. Along with the above texts,
important studies of puritan eschatology include William Lamont, Godly rule: Politics and Relig-
ion, 1603–60 (London: Macmillan, 1969); idem, Richard Baxter and the millennium; Capp, The
Fifth Monarchy Men; Christianson, Reformers and Babylon; Firth, The apocalyptic tradition in
reformation Britain; John Coffey, Politics, religion and the British revolutions: The mind of
Samuel Rutherford (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).

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Millennialism 97
Of course, with so much polemical advantage at stake, millennial ide-
ologies could not remain static. Apocalyptic imagery and themes were too
potent to remain safely within the control of careful exegetes. The tradition
continued to mutate, develop, and divest itself of external controls, spiral-
ling into confusion, chaos, and, eventually, outright opposition to the con-
servative political parameters upon which it had been established, culminat-
ing in the dramatic execution of Charles I in January 1649. But the seeds of
this revolution were sown in the slow and cautious formation of evangelical
millennial belief.

4.4 Conclusion

British Reformed theologians in the seventeenth century revolutionised

existing patterns of millennial belief. Three discernable paradigms emerged
from their mid-century debate. Those theories that did not conform to these
three paradigms were increasingly regarded as eccentric – even the double
millennium motif, advanced exegetically by Brightman, defended on an
historical basis by Ussher, and later adopted by Dutch Reformed theolo-
gians, including Johannes Cocceius (1603–1669).58 In the later 1620s, Jo-
seph Mede had proposed a scholarship characterised by pious modesty,
reminding his readers that “we shall […] enquire in vaine of those things
which God would have kept secret and to be reserved for their owne
times.”59 But in succeeding decades, as English and American puritans
advanced upon his conclusions, and began to take the most significant roles
in the advance of evangelical millennialism, the Augustinian tradition con-
tinued to be challenged, and the staple elements of the older ideology broke
down completely in the free market of ideas created by the collapse of
censorship in the 1640s and in the theological turbulence of the British and
Irish civil wars. Publications by Brightman, Mede and Cotton drove the
three kingdoms and their North American colonies into the vortex of revo-
lution and swept away their latent Augustinianism.60 Later seventeenth-
century theologians constructed enduring paradigms of evangelical millen-
nial belief. Those millennial positions that did not conform to these three
paradigms were increasingly regarded as eccentric. By the end of the 1650s,

W. J. Van Asselt, “Chiliasm and Reformed eschatology in the seventeenth and eighteenth
centirues,” in A. van Egmond and D. van Keulen (ed.), Christian hope in context, Studies in
Reformed Theology 4 (Zoetermeer: Meinema, 2001), 24. Cocceius would also argue for seven
dispensations in redemptive history; W. J. Van Asselt, “Structural elements in the eschatology of
Johannes Cocceius,” Calvin Theological Journal 34 (1999), 76–104.
Mede, The key of the Revelation, 1:121.
For a discussion of the eschatological conflicts of the Westminster Assembly divines, see
Gribben, The puritan millennium, 105–19.

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98 Crawford Gribben

theologians on both sides of the Atlantic and within and beyond the British
Reformed orthodox movement had abandoned the apocalyptic but not yet
millennial eschatological schemes proposed by the first generation of evan-
gelical scholars, and were developing theories that addressed with the ut-
most seriousness the possibility of an earthly millennial hope.

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5. Lapsarian Diversity at the Synod of Dort

J. V. Fesko

5.1 Introduction

At first glance some might wonder why attention would be given to the
Synod of Dort, a somewhat continental affair, in a book largely devoted to
British Reformed theology.1 To borrow a turn of phrase from Tertullian,
What has Dort to do with Westminster? True, the Synod of Dort was
largely a continental event, but it had an international character. There was
an official delegation from the Church of England that participated in the
debate and work of writing and composing the Canons. Hence it should be
no surprise that the English delegation entered the fray of the debate over
supra- and infralapsarianism. So, in a word, the debates over lapsarianism
are part and parcel of the history of British Reformed theology in the seven-
teenth century.
The English delegation to Dort was appointed by King James VI (1566–
1625) to represent England and the Anglican Church. Among those ap-
pointed to represent England were Dr. George Carleton (1559–1628),
bishop of Llandaff, Dr. Joseph Hall (1574–1656), who was Dean of
Worcester, Dr. John Davenant (1572–1641), Master of Queens College in
Cambridge as well as Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity, and later would
become Bishop of Salisbury in 1621, Dr. Samuel Ward (1572–1643), a
Master of Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge as well as Archdeacon of
Taunton, Walter Balcanqual (1586–1645) of Scotland, and Thomas Goad
(1576–1638), the chaplain to Archbishop of Canterbury George Abbot
(1562–1633). Goad was not one of the originally selected theologians but
replaced Joseph Hall once the Synod was underway.2
This essay is based upon material originally presented in J. V. Fesko, “Diversity Within the
Reformed Tradition: Infra– and Supralsarianism in Calvin, Dort, and Westminster” (Ph.D. Disser-
tation, University of Aberdeen, 1999). It has been updated and modified.
M. W. Dewar, “The British Delegation at the Synod of Dort—1618–19,” EQ 46/2 (1974):
105; Mark Shand, “The English Delegation to the Synod of Dordt,” British Reformed Journal 28
(1999): 37–39; Keith L. Sprunger, Keith L. Sprunger, Dutch Puritanism: A History of English and
Scottish Churches of the Netherlands in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth-Centuries (Leiden: E. J.
Brill, 1982), 355. For background information on John Davenant see Joel R. Beeke and Randall J.
Pederson, Meet the Puritans: With A Guide to Modern Reprints (Grand Rapids: Reformation

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100 J. V. Fesko

In addition to the presence of the English delegation well-known theo-

logian William Ames (1576–1633) was also present but as the advisor to
the moderator of the Synod, Johannes Bogerman (1576–1637).3 The pres-
ence of English theologians such as Carleton, Davenant, Ward, and Ames,
shows that a number of key Puritan theologians participated in the doctrinal
discussions and debates at Dort. The English delegation was one of the
more significant foreign influences at the Synod, and as the exposition that
follows below will indicate, they shaped the lapsarian direction and out-
come of the Canons.4 Ames, while not a member of the Synod, had a role in
matters that took place behind the scenes, and though no record appears
indicating his role in the debates, one has to wonder as to the degree that he
influenced the discussion of these issues.5 For example, Ames was in-
volved, as we will see below, in the defense of the supralapsarian, Johannes
Maccovius (1588–1644), who was accused of making God the author of
sin.6 Therefore because of the presence of the English delegation at Dort, as
well as the work of Ames, Keith Sprunger rightly characterizes the Synod
of Dort as a “prime event of seventeenth-century British-Dutch church
history,” and therefore a subject worthy of consideration in a book that
treats theological diversity in British seventeenth-century Reformed theol-
ogy.7 However, before the study proceeds, it is important to give some basic
definitions, which are best shaped by the following question: Does God
take into account man’s sin in the divine decree of election?
In other words, did God decree the predestination of man supra lapsum
(above the fall) or infra lapsum (below the fall). There are two basic con-
siderations regarding lapsarianism: (1) the ordo decretorum (order of the
decrees) and (2) the object of predestination. Depending on a theologian’s
position, his understanding of the order of the decrees can determine what
he believes regarding the lapsarian question. On the other hand, the number
and order of the decrees can vary from theologian to theologian; therefore
the question ultimately hinges upon how a theologian understands the ob-
ject of predestination. According to a basic supralapsarian position man is
predestined creabilis et labilis (creatable and fallible). In other words, man
Heritage Books, 2006), 169–72. For a biography of Joseph Hall see G. Lewis, A Life of Joseph
Hall, D. D. (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1886). For a biography of John Davenant, see Morris
Joseph Fuller, The Life, Letters and Writings of John Davenant D. D. (London: Methuen & Co.,
1897). For coverage of the delegation’s actions and role throughout the Synod see Anthony Mil-
ton, ed., The British Delegation and the Synod of Dort (1618–19). Church of England Record
Society (Rochester: Boydell Press, 2005), esp. xxi–xxii n. 16.
For Ames’ role at the Synod see Keith L. Sprunger, The Learned Doctor William Ames:
Dutch Backgrounds of English and American Puritanism (Urbana: University of Illinois Press,
1972), 52–70.
Sprunger, Doctor William Ames, 58.
See, e.g., Sprunger, Doctor William Ames, 56–57.
Sprunger, Doctor William Ames, 60–62.
Sprunger, Dutch Puritanism, 355.

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Lapsarian Diversity at the Synod of Dort 101
is a creatable possibility and is capable of falling into sin. According to a
basic infralapsarian position man is predestined creatus et lapsus (created
and fallen).8 In the former, God does not take into account man’s fall into
sin in the decree of election; in the latter, the fall is factored into the eternal
decree of election. One should note, though, that these definitions are basic,
in that there are a number of variations on these two major positions. Nev-
ertheless, employing these basic definitions, particularly regarding the ob-
ject of predestination, will prove helpful in surveying the debates over lap-
sarianism at the Synod of Dort.9 What this study will show is that despite
disagreement over these matters, sometimes intensely debated, the Synod
was content to allow a diversity of opinion on the the debate under consid-
From 13 November 1618 until 29 May 1619, eighty-six delegates from
various Reformed churches across Europe met to respond to the Arminian
Remonstrance. There were twenty-six Reformed theologians from eight
different foreign countries and territories, including England, Scotland, the
Palatinate, Hesse, Switzerland, Nassau-Wetteravia, Geneva, Bremen, and
Emden. There were also ten Dutch delegations representing various prov-
inces. Each delegation was normally comprised of four pastors and two
elders. In addition to the provincial delegations, there were five professors
from various Dutch universities, including Franciscus Gomarus (1563–
1641) of Groningen, Sibrandus Lubbertus (1555–1625) of Franeker, Anto-
nius Thysius (1565–1640) of Harderwyk, Johannes Polyander (1568–1646)
of Leiden, and Antonius Walaeus (1573–1639) of Middelberg. There were
also eighteen civil delegates at the Synod, but they did not participate in the
theological debates at Dort.10
The members of the Synod decided that the best way to render judgment
upon the Remonstrance was to have each of the delegations submit a ver-
dict on each of the five separate articles. Hence each of the nineteen delega-
tions submitted a theological examination of the Remonstrant articles, and
from these various verdicts the Canons were written.11 It is during the deliv-
ery of the various verdicts upon the first Remonstrant article (on predestina-
tion) that the debate over infra- and supralapsarianism arose.

Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Greek and Latin Theological Terms: Drawn Principally
from Protestant Scholastic Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986), 292.
For a survey of the various positions see the helpful series of lectures delivered by Richard
A. Muller, “Revising the Predestination Paradigm: An Alternative to Supralapsarianism, Infralap-
sarianism, and Hypothetical Universalism,” Mid-America Fall Lecture Series, Fall 2008, Dyer,
Donald W. Sinnema, “The Issue of Reprobation at the Synod of Dort (1618–19) in Light of
the History of this Doctrine,” (Ph.D. Dissertation, University of St. Michael’s College, 1985), 214.
Sinnema, “Reprobation at the Synod of Dort,” 338.

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102 J. V. Fesko

5.2 The Debate over Infra- and Supralapsarianism

Beginning on 6 March 1619 (session 103) the foreign delegations began to

read their verdicts over the first article on predestination. The English,
Palatinate, Hessian, Swiss, and Nassauvian delegations delivered their
verdicts without incident or disagreement.12 In fact, Walter Balcanqual, a
Scottish theologian and member of the English delegation who was tracking
the progress of the proceedings of the Synod for the English ambassador in
Holland, notes: “So now the judgments of all the Exteris Theologi concern-
ing the first article were read, among whom there was nothing to be seen
but full and orthodox content, for which the president told us God was to be
praised, and he prayed God that harmony might be found among the pro-
vincials.”13 When the Dutch delegations began to read their verdicts, spe-
cifically the Dutch professors, the debate over infra- and supralapsarianism
When the Dutch professors began to discuss their verdicts with the rest
of the Synod, Franciscus Gomarus, a supralapsarian, objected to how the
three Dutch professors, Polyander, Thysius, and Walaeus, who submitted a
joint statement, defined the object of predestination in their verdict.14 The
three Dutch professors submitted the following definition:
Predestination to salvation is the eternal, most free, and immutable decree of God,
through the free exercise of his good pleasing will he elected certain men to salvation
in Christ out of the whole of mankind which had fallen into sin and perdition, and he
decided to effectually call those chosen according to his election through the word
and his spirit, to justify them through faith in Christ, sanctify them, preserve them in
faith and holiness, and lastly to glorify them, in order to show the wealth of his grace
and mercy.15

Geeraert Brandt, The History of the Reformation and Other Ecclesiastical Transactions in
and about the Low-Countries, from the Beginning of the Eighth Century, Down to the famous
Synod of Dort, 4 vol. (1720–23; London: AMS Press, 1979), 3.252; also Sinnema, “Reprobation at
the Synod of Dort,” 289.
John Hales, The Golden Remains of the Ever Memorable Mr. John Hales of Eton College
and Dr. Balcanquals Letters from the Synod of Dort to the R. Honourable Sir D. Carlton L.
Embassador (London: Printed for Tim Garthwait, 1659), 20. Note, all archaic spelling through the
essay has been updated. John Hales, and later Walter Balcanqual were given the task of making
reports to the English ambassador in Holland during the Synod of Dort. John Hales reported on the
proceedings of Dort until 2 February 1619 when Balcanqual assumed the reporting duties; Balcan-
qual’s letters begin a new series of pagination, though his work comes after Hales.
Hales, Golden Remains, 20.
Acta Synodi Nationalis, In nomine Domini nostri Iesu Christi, Autoritate Illustr. et Praepo-
tentum DD. Ordinum Generalium Foederati Belgii Provinciarum, Dordrechti, Habitae Anno
MDCXVIII et MDCXIX. Accedunt Plenisima, de Quinque Articulis, Theologorum Judicia
(Dordrechti: Typis Isaaci Elzeviri, Academiae Typographi, Societatis Dordrechtanae Sumptibus,
1620): “Praedestinatio ad salutem est aeternum, liberrimum et immutabile Dei decretum, quo pro
gratuito voluntatis suae beneplacito quosdam homines ex universo genere humano in peccatum

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Lapsarian Diversity at the Synod of Dort 103
What is immediately noticeable is that this definition is markedly infra-
lapsarian because they assert that predestination is “out of the whole of
mankind which had fallen into sin and perdition.”16 This means that the
three Dutch professors believed the object of predestination was homo
creatus et lapsus. The professors maintained the same distinction in their
definition of reprobation when they said that reprobation
is the most free and most just decree of God by which he decided not to elect in
Christ certain men from the human race fallen into sin, and not to call them by the
same efficacious spirit as he called the elect from the state of their perdition so that he
might justify and glorify them, but he determines to let them walk in their own ways
justly hardened in their sins, and to condemn at last to well-earned destruction those
who suppress the truth in unrighteousness or reject in various ways and degrees the
Gospel preached to them.17
Again, they note that the object of reprobation, or non-election, is “men
from the human race fallen into sin.” Gomarus testified that he agreed with
his colleagues in their definitions of election and reprobation with one ex-
ception. He did not agree with their conclusion that the object of predestina-
tion was homo creatus et lapsus. Balcanqual notes that Gomarus appealed
to the confessions of several churches in support of his argument by noting
that none of them “did determine hominem lapsum to be the object of pre-
destination, which he said had not as yet been determined in the Belgic
churches, in the French nor English churches, and many others.”18
After this objection the verdict of another Dutch professor, Sibrandus
Lubbertus, who signed his name in affirmation of the verdict of the other
three Dutch professors, read his verdict upon the first article. Lubbertus
defines election and reprobation in the following manner:

prolapso ac perdito ad salutem in Christo elegit, eosdemque secundum suam electionem per
verbum ac spiritum suum efficaciter vocare, per fidem in Christum justificare, sanctificare, in fide
ac sanctitate conservare, et tandem glorificare constituit, ad divitis suaegratiaeac misericordiae
demonstrationem. Atque hoc est, de certis quibusdam hominibus in Christo et per Christum
salvandis, verum, unicum et totum Electionis decretum” (III.3). They cite the following Scripture:
Matt 25.34; John 10.29; 17.11; Rom 8.29–30; 9.11, 15, 18, 22–24; 11.5, 28–29; Eph 1.5, 11; 2
Thess 2.13; 1 Pet 1.2.
Acta Synodi, III.3: “ex universo genere humano in peccatum prolapso ac perdito.”
Acta Synodi, III.8–9: “Reprobatio est liberrimum ac iustissimum Dei decretum, quo statuit
quosdam homines ex genere humano in peccatum prolapso, non eligere in Christo, nec eadem
Spiritus sui efficacia, qua electos, ex statu suaeperditionis vocare, ut eos justificet et glorificet, sed
eos in suis ipsorum vijs finit incedere, ac veritatem ipsius in injustitia detinentes, vel Evangelium
ipsis praedicatum diversiis modis ac gradibus reijcientes, atque in suis peccatis iuste induratos,
post multam suam tolerantiam merito tandem exitio adjudicare.” They cite the following Scripture
references: Psa 147.19; Matt 13.9; 11.25, 27; John 6.43; Acts 14.16; 16.6–7; 17.30; 28.24–25;
Rom 1.24, 28; 9.6, 18, 21; 11.7–8; Eph 2.1–3, 12; 4.17–18; 1 Cor 1.8; Heb 6.5–6; 10.26; 2 Thess
1.8; 2.11–12; 1 Pet 2.8.
Hales, Golden Remains, 21–22.

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104 J. V. Fesko

Predestination is the eternal, most free and just counsel, or purpose, by which God
from eternity for himself elected in Christ out of pure grace and mercy certain people
out of the corrupt human race and predestined them to eternal life so that he might
effectually call them in time into the communion of his Son, endow them with the
true knowledge of Jesus Christ, faith and repentance, justify them, and lastly glorify
them to the praise of his glorious grace; some he has not elected in Jesus Christ, nor
has he predestined them to eternal life, but by his just judgment he has passed them
by in his eternal election, and has left them as vessels of wrath in sin and misery, and
on account of their own sin he will at last justly condemn them, so that he may de-
clare his mercy in the elect and his justice in the non-elect.19
Again, Lubbertus defines the object of election and reprobation as homo
creatus et lapsus when he notes that people are predestined “out of the
corrupt human race.” Gomarus stood up again and agreed with his col-
league, but he made the same exception as before: he disagreed over the
object of predestination. With his objection noted, Gomarus proceeded to
give his own verdict upon the first article.
Gomarus delivered his verdict which included the following definition
on predestination: “The predestination of man to salvation is the decree of
God, concerning his glory and grace which suffice for salvation, and effec-
tually accomplish it, to be bestowed upon certain men out of the whole
human race in accordance with his most free, pure, and unmerited good
pleasure.”20 On reprobation Gomarus argues: “Final reprobation is the de-
cree of God, by which, according to his most free will and for the declara-
tion of his vindicating justice, he has determined not to give grace or glory
to certain men out of the whole human race, but permit them to fall freely
into sin and leave them in their sin, and at last justly condemn them on
account of their sin.”21 At first glance it does not appear that Gomarus’
definitions greatly differ from those of his colleagues. In general, it is true

Acta Synodi, III.11: “Praedestinatio est aeternum, liberrimum, et iustum consilium sive pro-
positum, quo Deus sibi ab aeterno ex corrupto humano genere aliquos ex mera gratia et misericor-
dia in Christo Iesu elegit, et ad vitam aeternam praedestinavit, ut eos in tempore efficaciter vocaret
ad communionem Filii sui, vera cognitione Iesu Christi, fide et resipiscentia donaret, justificaret,
ac tandem glorificaret ad laudem gloriosaesuaegratiae; aliquos non elegit in Iesu Christo, neque ad
vitam aeternam praedestinavit, sed justo suo judicio in aeterna electione praeteriit, et tanquam vasa
iraein peccatis et miseria reliquit, eosque tandem propter peccata ipsorum iuste condemnabit, ut in
illis suam misericordiam, in his suam justitiam declaret.”
Acta Synodi, III.21: “Praedestinatio hominis ad salutem est decretum Dei, de gloria et gratia
ad salutem sufficiente, et efficaciter perficiente, certis, ex universo genere humano, hominibus, pro
liberrimo ac mere gratuito beneplacito, conferenda.” Gomarus offers the following in support of
his definition: 2 Thess 2.13; Rom 8.28–30; Phil 2.13; and Eph 1.6.
Acta Synodi, III.24: “Reprobatio peremptoria est decretum Dei, quo, pro voluntate sua liber-
rima, ad declarationem iustitiaesuaevindicantis, certos ex humano universo genere homines, nec
gratia nec gloria donare, sed in peccatum libere prolabi permittere et in peccatis relinquere, iuste-
que tandem propter peccata condemnare constituit.” He offered the following references in support
of his definition: Matt 11.26; 7.23; John 6.44–65; 10.26; Rom 11.7–8; Rev 20.13; 9.18, 20–22.

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Lapsarian Diversity at the Synod of Dort 105
that there is not a great difference between the definitions; there is, how-
ever, a minute difference in the phrase that indicates the object of predesti-
nation. While the other Dutch professors defined the object of predestina-
tion as homo creatus et lapsus, Gomarus does not specify that man has
indeed fallen; Gomarus simply uses the phrase, “men out of the whole
human race” in both definitions. He does not specify that mankind has
fallen or has committed any sin. This reflects Gomarus’ opinion that the
object of predestination is homo creabilis et labilis.
Beyond this minute distinction, Balcanqual notes that Gomarus “said
nothing of that question of the object of predestination whether it was homo
lapsus or not, which silence in that point being excepted, his judgment in all
points agreed with the former judgments of his Colleagues.” He goes on to
note that Gomarus’ verdict, however, was not accepted without objection.
Polyander stood up and testified on behalf of himself and his colleagues,
Thysius, Walaeus, and presumably Lubbertus, that they all agreed with the
verdict of Gomarus with the exception of the object of predestination. They
believed the object of predestination was homo creatus et lapsus.22 Hence,
despite Gomarus’ subtlety, his omission of whether or not mankind had
fallen, whether unintentional or deliberate, did not go unnoticed by his
colleagues. Balcanqual notes about the disagreement that there was “little
hope of agreement among them,” because for several hours the Dutch pro-
fessors “did only dispute by many arguments against Gomarus.”23 This,
however, was not the only moment during the Synod when a disagreement
over the object of predestination arose.
During the initial debate between Gomarus and the other Dutch profes-
sors, Gomarus made an appeal to the confessions of the Belgic, English,
and French churches. He argued that the object of predestination had not
been determined by the churches of those nations.24 The English delegation
challenged this assertion. The English delegation first inquired as to
whether Gomarus had indeed intended to say that the English churches had
not determined the object of predestination; to this inquiry Gomarus re-
sponded affirmatively, but he also noted that he had no evil intentions in his
declaration. Gomarus said that “the words of the confession [the Thirty-
Nine Articles] determined no farther of the subject, than (quosdam ex hu-
mano genere),” or “certain ones out of the human race.”25 The members of
the English delegation objected to this statement for two reasons: (1) be-
cause in their verdict they decided for homo creatus et lapsus; and (2) the
Thirty-Nine Articles did indeed specify the object of predestination.

Hales, Golden Remains, 21–22; Brandt, History of the Reformation, 3.252.
Hales, Golden Remains, 20.
Hales, Golden Remains, 21–22.
Hales, Golden Remains, 24–25; Brandt, History of the Reformation, 3.254–55.

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When the English delegation delivered their verdict upon the first arti-
cle, they defined predestination and reprobation in the following manner:
“The decree of election, or predestination to salvation, is the efficacious
will of God, by which according to his good pleasure, for the purpose of
demonstrating his mercy, he planned the salvation of fallen man, and pre-
pared such means, by which he willed to bring the elect effectually and
infallibly to that end.”26 On the subject of reprobation, they determined:
“Reprobation properly called, or non-election, is the eternal decree of God,
by which he determined by his most free will not to have mercy upon cer-
tain persons fallen in Adam.”27 The English delegation in both definitions
specified that both those subject to election and reprobation were people
already fallen into sin. The reason the English delegation was very specific
on this point was due to the instructions they received when they were sent
to participate in the Synod. They were instructed not to commit the Church
of England to any new doctrinal positions and to remain firmly within the
confines of the Thirty-Nine Articles. The members of the English delega-
tion, therefore, cited not only their delivered verdict upon the first article,
but they also brought out the Thirty-Nine Articles and read from the seven-
teenth article. Balcanqual writes: “So D. Goad read publicly the 17 article
of the confession where the words are quosdam ex humano genere, in exitio
et maledicto, which last words Gomarus had left out.”28
Gomarus explained that he had misunderstood the confession and would
willingly submit himself to the judgment of the Synod for his error. Goma-
rus, however, went on to explain that the reason he mistakenly thought that
the Church of England had not decided on the object of predestination was
because he thought that William Perkins (1558–1602) and William Whi-
taker (1548–95), two fellow supralapsarians, would not be in conflict with
the confession of the church. Additionally, he continued to argue that the
University of Leiden, for example, had never decided that the object of
predestination was homo creatus et lapsus. For these reasons, he thought it
Acta Synodi, II. 3: “Decretum Electionis, seu Praedestinationis ad salutem, est efficax vol-
untas Dei, qua pro suo beneplacito, ad demonstrationem suaemisericordiae, salutem hominis lapsi
intendit, eique media talia praeparavit, quibus electos ad istum finem, efficaciter et infallibiliter
perducere voluit.” They cite the following: Ps 113; Isa 47.14; Matt 13.11; John 6.39, 37; Rom
8.30; 9.18, 23; Eph 1.4, 11; 1 Tim 1.15; 2 Tim 1.9; 2 Thess 2.13.
Acta Synodi, II.11: “Reprobatio proprie dicta, seu non-electio, est aeternum Dei decretum,
quo statuit, proliberrima sua voluntate, quarundam personarum in Adamo lapsarum, non […]
misereri.” They cite the following: John 10.26; Rom 6.21; 9.11, 15ff, 21.
Hales, Golden Remains, 24–25; edited spelling. The seventeenth article reads: “Predestina-
tion to Life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby (before the foundations of the world were
laid) he hath constantly decreed by his counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation
those whom he hath chosen in Christ out of mankind [eos quos in Christo elegit ex hominum
genere, a maledicto et exitio liberare], and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation, as
vessels made to honour” (Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, 3 vol. [London: Hodder &
Stoughton, 1877], 3.497).

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Lapsarian Diversity at the Synod of Dort 107
prudent that the Synod should not make a decision regarding the object of
predestination but instead leave it an open issue. Nevertheless, Gomarus
was rebuked by the Synod and instructed that the members were within
their rights to hold various opinions, but that he should not meddle in the
decisions of other churches. After this exchange of words between Gomarus
and the English delegation, the president of the Synod determined that after
all of the verdicts were read on all the Remonstrant articles, a decision
would be rendered on the object of predestination.29 After this pronounce-
ment, the debates over infra- and supralapsarianism ended and the Synod
continued with the reading of the rest of the verdicts on the other Remon-
strant articles.
One of the main questions behind the debate over infra- and supralapsar-
ianism is, Why were there disagreements over the object of predestination?
Another related question is, Was this merely a disagreement about the ordo
decretorum, or were there any scriptural grounds for their debates? The
answer to both of these questions lies in the Reformed interpretation of the
locus classicus on predestination: Romans 9. In Romans the general conclu-
sions of the infra- and supralapsarians are harmonious on the major points
concerning predestination. This general agreement on the nature of predes-
tination is reflected in the similarity between the verdicts of Gomarus and
the other Dutch professors as previously noted. The difference, however,
between the infra and supralapsarians lies in how they interpret Romans
9.21: “Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the
same lump one vessel for honorable use, and another for common use?”
The main question is whether the lump (fura¿matoß or massa) refers to an
uncorrupted mass (as asserted by supralapsarians) or a corrupted mass (as
affirmed by infralapsarians).30

5.3 The Supralapsarian Position

From a supralapsarian perspective, Gomarus argues in his Analysis and

Explanation of the Epistle to the Romans that it is necessary to define prop-
erly what is understood by the words lump and clay in Romans 9.21.31 He
notes that “some say the terms refer to pots of the earthly potter; others
offer a better explanation that they are the material of the heavenly potter.”32
Hales, Golden Remains, 24–25.
Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 4 vol., ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend (Grand
Rapids: Baker, 2001–08), 2.383–84.
Franciscus Gomarus, Opera Theologica Omnia (Amsterdam: Johannis Janssonii, 1664),
Gomarus, Opera, 428a: “Quidam de testacea figuli terreni materia; alii de materia figuli
cœlestis melius exponunt.” Karl Barth has an excellent exposition of both positions; see Church

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108 J. V. Fesko

He determined through careful analysis that the terms do not refer to

earthen vessels but instead is an allegory for the human race as it is pre-
pared for election and reprobation. Gomarus argues: “Others, therefore,
more precisely argue that the terms do not refer to clay pots and a lump; but
they conclude mankind is the subject of discussion: and the question is
twofold, depending on whether the reference is to the creation of mankind
or to mankind already created and fallen.”33 Gomarus continues to explain
that there are distinguished theologians on both sides of the debate, but that
the preferred position is the supralapsarian interpretation because it agrees
with the common principles of reason and the wisdom of God.34
First, Gomarus notes that “when the purpose is the reason for the exis-
tence of an object, it exists firstly in intention and lastly in execution.” He
further elaborates:
In the mind of every wise craftsman, what is first in intention precedes the actual
inception of the works themselves: as is unanimously agreed without any exception,
by the consensus of the Philosophers. Therefore, God, the most wise architect of
mankind, even though he has decreed everything simultaneously, yet, proposed as
first in order of importance the purpose of homo creabilis before he ordained the
creation: otherwise contrary to the order of wisdom and the nature of purpose, he
would have decreed the means to the destined end, before the end itself.35
In other words, Gomarus believed God intended to glorify himself by the
demonstration of his mercy in the election of some and the reprobation of
others; this auto-doxological manifestation of mercy and justice is the ulti-
mate goal. Therefore, according to the stated principle it is necessary to
postulate two groups of people, the elect and the reprobate, prior to any-
thing else, including the creation. Another point that must be observed is
Gomarus’ recognition that he is not spelling out a specific chronological
order of the decrees; he admits that God “has decreed everything simulta-
neously.” He instead assigns the logical priority of the decree of election
and reprobation over that of creation, the fall, and salvation. The second
reason that Gomarus gives for the superiority of the supralapsarian interpre-
tation is that the “potter, who would first decide on the creation of vessels,
Dogmatics, vol. 2, The Doctrine of God, pt. 2, ed. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance, trans. G. W.
Bromiley, et al. (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1957), 127–45.
Gomarus, Opera, 428a: “Alii igitur accuratius, non de luto et massa testacea; sed de hu-
mana disputari statuunt: idque bifarium, ut ad genus humanum, aut condendum, aut conditum et
lapsum referatur.”
Gomarus, Opera, 428a.
Gomarus, Opera, 428b: “Cùm enim finis sit causa, cujus gratiâ res est: primus est in inten-
tione et postremus in executione: ac propterea in omnis artificis sapientis mente, praecedit operis
ipsius aggressionem: ut citra ullam exceptionem, unanimi Philosophorum consensu approbatur.
Quocirca Deus sapientissimus generis humani architectus, etsi simul omnia decrevit, ordine tamen
primum proposuit finem hominis creabilis, antequam decreverit creationem: alioqui contra sapien-
tiaeordinem et finis naturam, decrevisset primò media ad finem destinata, quàm ipsum finem.”

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Lapsarian Diversity at the Synod of Dort 109
and then think about their purpose, would deservedly be considered fool-
ish.” He believes that this is an “absurd idea, just as it does not apply to the
wise potter, so it applies all the less to God himself, who is the only source
of sure wisdom and order.”36 At this point, there are those who may accuse
Gomarus of subjecting Scripture to the rigors of logic without properly
exegeting the disputed verse. Gomarus, however, did not restrict his com-
ments to the principles of logic and reason alone.
Gomarus examined the various verses that are related to Romans 9.21
and specifically focuses in on verse seventeen of the same chapter: “Scrip-
ture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate
my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed throughout the
whole earth.’” Gomarus returned to the source of the quote in Exodus 9.17
and notes:
The word of Moses, Kytdmoh properly means, ‘I have caused you to stand or I have
determined.’ For that reason Paul has excellently translated I have raised: just as he
does in Acts 13.23, where he says using a simple term, ‘from this man’s seed (namely
David’s) according to the promise h¡geire he has raised up, he has raised up for Israel
the savior Jesus,’ that is, he has brought him forth, or formed him, from the seed of
David: and Matthew 3.9: ‘God can raise up,’ that is, create, or form, ‘sons of Abra-
ham from these stones.’37
Gomarus goes on to argue grammatically that the Hebrew language sup-
ports his interpretation of the passage in question:
And there is no reason why objection should be raised that in Greek it can have this
meaning: but not in the Hebrew word dmo: for this word does not mean to exist, or to
become, nor in the hiphil conjugation dymoh does it mean to cause to exist, or to cre-
ate; which Hebrew word Moses uses. For, on the contrary, as one must observe, dmo
is understood in Psalm 33.9 in that sense, not for to stand; but metaphorically, for to
arise and to exist: ‘he commanded and it came into existence,’ the Hebrew is dmoyw
and likewise the interpreters of the Septuagint translated kai« e˙kti÷sqhsan as, ‘they
were created.’ As R. D. Kimchi also asserts in his Hebrew commentary this can be
accepted concerning the creation whether of the world or that which followed. And so
for the hiphil conjugation of dymoh, the best interpretation is to cause to stand, instead
of to cause to exist or to create, for just as things which perish are said metaphorically

Gomarus, Opera, 428b: “Figulis ille stultus merito censeretur, qui decerneret vasis effec-
tionem primum, deinde de fine cogitaret. Quod absurdum, ut in figulum sapientem non cadit: ita
multo minus in Deum ipsum, sapientiaeet ordinis certi fontem unicum.” Cf. Brandt, History of the
Reformation, 3.254.
Gomarus, Opera, 426b: “Deinde quia magis congruit cum verbo Mosis Kytdmoh quod
propriè significat, stare te feci, seu constitui. Idcircò optimè vertit Paulus excitavi: quemamodum
idem Actor. 13.23. eadem simplici voce usus, dicit, hujus (Davidis scil.) è semine, secundum
promissionem h¡geire suscitavit, excitavit Israëli servatorem Jesum, hoc est, è semine Davidis
produxit, formavit: et Matt 3. v.9. Deus potest ex lapidibus hisce suscitare, id est, creare, formare,
filios Abrahae.”

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110 J. V. Fesko

to fall: so, things which are said, to rise up; and it is objected that this exposition does
not agree with the words of Moses, verse 15, but it most certainly agrees. God gives
in verse 16 this reason why he did not destroy Pharaoh himself, and the people,
namely because he created him, not expressly to destroy him: but, so that through his
hardness of heart, he might reveal the glory of his power.38
In other words, based upon a dissection of various linguistic and grammati-
cal points of Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and with the help of Hebrew commen-
taries, Gomarus argued that God creates the reprobate, Pharaoh in this case,
for the express purpose of demonstrating His glory through their hardness
of heart. This is why he believed the object of predestination is homo cre-
abilis et labilis. Gomarus did not end his analysis of the chapter at this
point; he goes on to explain the significance of Romans 9.21.
Gomarus comments on Romans 9.21 that he did not believe the verse
supported the infralapsarian position of homo creatus et lapsus because it
did not specifically mention this in the text. Gomarus notes: “Next, if by the
term lump, corrupt mankind is to be understood, God the potter would not
be said to make vessels, some for glory and others for shame, but from
vessels full of shame, or liable to sin and malediction, to renew certain ones
to glory, and to leave others in their own disgrace.”39 In other words, Goma-
rus contends that if the infralapsarian case for homo creatus et lapsus was
correct, Romans 9.21 might read “Or does not the potter have a right over
the [corrupted] clay, to make from the same [corrupted] lump one vessel for
honorable use, and [leave the other in corruption] for common use.” On the
contrary, Gomarus did not view the text according to the infralapsarians’
claim. He also argued that when the infralapsarians tried to support their
claim with verses such as Jeremiah 18.6, this did not refer to predestination
but instead to God’s providence over man and nations: “But it is objected
that the same sentiment which is found in Jeremiah 18.6 and following,
should be found in the same context in Paul. Nevertheless, Jeremiah does
Gomarus, Opera, 427a: “Neque est cur objicatur, in Graeca voce, hoc locum habere posse:
sed non in Hebraea dmo: hanc enim vocem non significare existere, seu fieri, nec in conjugatione
hiphil dymoh existere facere, seu creare; qua voce Hebraeâ Moses utitur: nam contra, quod
observandum est, dmo accipitur Psal. 33.v.9. eo sensu, non pro stare; sed metaphoricè, pro oriri
atque existere: praecepit et extitit, Hebraicè est dmoyw et sic LXX. interpretes rectè verterunt, kai«
e˙kti÷sqhsan et creata sunt. Sicut etiam de creatione vel mundi, vel rerum sequentium, accipi
posse R. D. Kimchi asserit in Hebraicis suis comment. Ideoque optimè in conjugatione hiphil
dymoh stare facere, pro existere facere seu creare accipitur: ut enim quaepereunt, cadere dicuntur
metaphoricè: sic quaeoriuntur, exurgere; atque haec expositio Mosis verbis v.15 non repugnat, ut
objectatur, sed optimè convenit. Causam enim reddit Deus vers. 16 cur ipsum Pharaonem, et
populum non perdiderit, nimirum quod crearit ipsum, non ut ea ratione perderet: sed, ut in illo,
indurato, suae potentiae gloriam patefaceret.”
Gomarus, Opera, 428b: “Deinde si massae nomine, genus humanum corruptum intelligere-
tur, non diceretur Deus figulus vasa facere, alia ad decus, alia ad dedecus: sed ex vasis dedecore
plenis, seu peccato et maledictioni obnoxiis, quaedam ad decus renovare, quaedam in suo dedecore

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Lapsarian Diversity at the Synod of Dort 111
not speak about the creation of man, but only about the governance of man
once created, whose state God changes in accordance with his own power
and just will and the ways of men.”40 Hence Gomarus not only supported
his position logically, but he also supported it with a careful examination of
the key passages, verses, and languages, to support his conclusions; in other
words, Gomarus did not form his opinion based upon the speculation of
metaphysics. The infralapsarians, however, also examined various passages
of Scripture but came to different conclusions.

5.4 The Infralapsarian Position

Over and against Gomarus’ supralapsarianism, the three Dutch professors,

Polyander, Thysius, and Walaeus, define predestination in the theological
text they co-authored, the Leiden Synopsis, as
God’s eternal and immutable decree, by which from the entire human race that had
fallen by its own fault from primaeval integrity into sin and destruction He elected a
fixed multitude of individual men, neither better nor worthier than the rest, of His sole
good pleasure, to salvation in Christ Jesus, and resolved to give them to His Son to
redeem, and by a peculiar and effectual mode of operating to bring them to living
faith in Himself and to a sure perseverance in the same living faith, and that for a
proof of His gracious mercy and for the praise of His glorious grace.41
One can immediately see that this definition is similar to the verdict they
delivered at Dort during the discussions on the first remonstrant article.
What this definition does, however, is give more information as to why the
Dutch professors thought homo creatus et lapsus was the object of predes-
tination. One of the primary presuppositions to this definition is the idea
that those who are predestined to salvation are predestined to salvation “in
Christ Jesus.” The Dutch professors believed that homo creabilis et labilis
was not in need of salvation because he had not yet sinned. The only reason
a person would need a mediator was if he had sinned. What they believed
the supralapsarians did is separate predestination from the means by which
it was executed, namely salvation in Christ. The Dutch professors comment
that they “willingly concede that election to salvation and the means of
Jer 18.6: “‘Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?’ declares the
LORD.’ Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel;”
Gomarus, Opera, 428b: “Sed objicitur, quaemens est in propheta Jeremia cap. 18.v.6 et coeteris,
eadem esse debet hoc in loco Pauli. Atqui Jeremias loquitur non de creatione hominis, sed tantùm
de gubernatione creati, cujus statum Deus, pro sua potestate et justa voluntate et hominum mori-
bus, commutat.”
The Leiden Synopsis, XXIV.24, in Heinrich Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics: Set Out and Il-
lustrated from the Sources, ed. Ernst Bizer, trans. G. T. Thomson (London: George Allen &
Unwin Ltd., 1950), 163.

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112 J. V. Fesko

salvation may be considered separately,” but they “deny that on that ac-
count these acts in God’s decree are truly different.”42 They believe that
predestination may not be severed from the means of execution and there-
fore write:
When it is objected to us that ordination of means is superfluous, when the elect have
already been absolutely ordained to salvation by some antecedent act, this arises from
sheer ignorance of the orthodox view, because God never elected anyone absolutely
to salvation, if ‘absolutely’ excludes the means which God has ordained for securing
salvation. That ordination to salvation involved in God’s purpose the consideration of
the means necessary to salvation, always involved them from eternity in that very
same act.43
Hence, unlike the supralapsarians who considered the initial election and
reprobation of people apart from any consideration of means, the infralap-
sarian Dutch professors considered predestination and salvation in Christ as
a unit. Again, only homo creatus et lapsus is in need of a mediator. In con-
tradistinction to the supralapsarianism of Gomarus, the Dutch professors
have a christological focus. In Gomarus’ supralapsarianism, predestination
is an expression of God’s sovereignty, whereas in the Dutch professor’s
infralapsarianism predestination is an expression of God’s saving mercy in
Christ. For this reason the professors write: “In this decree of election we
assign first place to Christ as the head and redeemer of the Church.”44 A
second reason they argue for homo creatus et lapsus is due to various pas-
sages of Scripture.
The Dutch professors argue that virtually every passage of Scripture that
deals with predestination speaks of homo creatus et lapsus. For example,
they write:
For we are elect in Christ, so that we might be holy, Eph 1.4 and predestined to be
adopted as sons, v. 5. Therefore we were outside of Christ previously, unrighteous,
and unsuitable of the adoption of sons. We are elected unto salvation through the
sanctification of the Spirit and through faith in the truth, 2 Thess 2.12, therefore we
were previously destitute of the sanctification of the Spirit and faith in the truth.
Those whom he foreknew, he predestined to be conformed in the image of Christ, that
image of God therefore, was not in them, Rom 8.30. The elect are vessels of mercy,
just as the reprobate are vessels of wrath, Rom 9. God also exclusively pities the
wretched, just as he only demonstrates his wrath towards sinners, Rom 1.18.45

Leiden Synopsis, XXIV.18, in Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, 171.
Leiden Synopsis, XXIV.19, in Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, 171–72.
Leiden Synopsis, XXIV.24, in Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, 168.
Johannes Polyander, et al., Synopsis Purioris Theologiae, ed. Herman Bavinck (Lugduni
Batavorum: Didericum Donner, 1881), XXIV, 22, (p. 226): “Electi enim sumus in Christo, ut
essemus sancti, Eph 1.4 et praedestinati in adoptionem filiorum, vers 5. ergo antea eramus extra
Christum, injusti, et ab adoptione filiorum alieni. Electi sumus ad salutem in sanctificatione

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Lapsarian Diversity at the Synod of Dort 113
In other words, these passages of Scripture always speak of predestined
man in need of salvation. Moreover, they argue that for God to demonstrate
mercy one must be in a miserable state; likewise, for God to demonstrate
wrath one must be deserving of wrath. This, however, is not the only Scrip-
tural data they bring forth. They conclude based upon two other passages of
Scripture that homo creatus et lapsus is the object of predestination. The
professors argue that the
matter from which God graciously elects, is the human race fallen from its primeval
integrity into sin through its own fault, and therefore liable to condemnation by him.
For God did not plan to make this choice from any other human race, than from that
which was to be continued by procreation. Now Scripture in fact testifies that the
whole world has fallen into sin, 1 John 5.19, likewise Jews and Greeks are all under
sin, there are none that are righteous, not even one. Rom 3.9 and 19. Every mouth is
silenced and the whole world is uJpo/dikoß twˆ◊ qewˆ◊ˆ, liable to divine condemnation;
whence it evidently follows, that from the same human race God has decided to elect
from eternity those who are his.46
Hence, while the supralapsarian Gomarus argues that Romans 9.21
speaks of a massa pura, the Dutch professors would argue that based upon
the analogia fidei the object of predestination is homo creatus et lapsus.
The infralapsarian position as argued by the three professors, therefore
focuses around two major points: (1) the idea that it is contrary to reason to
assign man a mediator if he is not in need of salvation; and (2) that Scrip-
ture speaks of predestined man as having fallen into sin. The supralapsari-
ans thought, however, that this construction had God creating the human
race without an end goal in mind. This is why they gave election and repro-
bation the intended divine auto-doxological telos, primary logical priority.
In contradistinction to the supralapsarians, the Dutch professors believed
God willed first to show what liberum arbitrium amounted to in man, and then what
the benefit of His own grace. So with the infinite light of His own knowledge foresee-
ing that it would turn out, that man created in His image would with his entire poster-
Spiritus et fide veritatis, 2 Thess 2.12. ergo sanctificatione Spiritus et fide veritatis destituti. Quos
praecognovit, eos imagini Christi conformandos praedestinavit, imago ergo Dei in iis no erat. Rom
8.30. electi sunt vasa misericordiae, quemadmodum reprobi vasa irae, Rom 9. Deus autem proprie
miseretur miserorum, quemadmodum non nisi in peccatores iram aut odium demonstrat, Rom
Synopsis Purioris Theologiae, XXIV, 21, (p. 226): “Materia ex qua Deus quosdam gratiose
elegit, est genus humanum e primaeva integritate in peccatum sua culpa prolapsum, ac proinde et
coram eo condemnationis reum. Nam Deus non instituit hanc electionem ex alio hominum genere,
quam quale erat propagandum. Jam vero Scriptura testatur totum mundum jacere in malo, 1 Joh.
5.19, item Judaeos et Graecos omnes esse sub peccato, ac non esse justum ne unum quidem. Rom
3.9 et 19. omne os esse obturatum et totum mundum esse uJpo/dikoß twˆ◊ qewˆ◊, divinae condemna-
tioni obnoxium; unde evidentur consequitur, ex eodem hominum genere Deum suos ab aeterno
eligere statuisse.”

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114 J. V. Fesko

ity abuse his liberum arbitrium[.] God, in order that the more manifest way of an
admirable righteousness and mercy might be opened up, considered it more in accord
with His most almighty goodness to make well of ill, than not to let evil live, as
Augustine reminds us.47
That is to say, the infralapsarians wanted to emphasize the same glory of
God in predestination as the supralapsarians, but they did so in a different
manner. The supralapsarians believed that God’s glory is manifested in the
demonstration of mercy and justice and therefore creatures are created
towards those ends. The infralapsarians, on the other hand, believed that
God’s glory is manifested when man misuses his liberum arbitrium and
then God demonstrates his glorious mercy to some and leaves the others in
their own self-induced condition to demonstrate his justice. The question,
however, remains, What position did the Synod of Dort determine more

5.5 The Lapsarian Outcome of the Canons

Prior to the composition of the Canons, all of the individual verdicts from
each of the delegations were read before the Synod. The foreign delegations
presented first, followed by the Dutch professors, and they were followed
by the various provincial Dutch delegations. Out of all of the verdicts deliv-
ered upon the first article concerning predestination, all but two decided for
homo lapsus as the object of election and reprobation. The two exceptions
were Gomarus, who, as previously noted, argued that man was predestined
from “the whole human race;” the second exception was the delegation
from South Holland who decided that it was not necessary to define
whether or not mankind was homo creatus et lapsus or homo creabilis et
labilis.48 What is also noteworthy is that all of the delegations, save the two
noted exceptions, spoke of reprobation in Augustinian terms of preterition,
or non-election. For example, the English delegation writes: “This non-
election, or preterition, does not presuppose some quality or other condition
in the rejected man than what is found in the elect and what is common to
the whole mass.” In fact, the English delegation delivered the only verdict
that was annotated with multiple references to the works of Augustine in
addition to multiple Scripture references.49 In other words, the Synod over-
Leiden Synopsis, XXIV.23, as cited in Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, 158.
See Acta Synodi, II.1–III.89, for the various verdicts upon the first article on election and
reprobation. Also cf. Sinnema, “The Issue of Reprobation at the Synod of Dort,” 338–90, for a
thorough exposition and analysis of each individual verdict on the issue of reprobation as it relates
to the object of predestination.
Acta Synodi, II.11: “Haec non-electio, sive praeteritio, non praesupponit in homine
praeterito aliquam qualitatem, vel conditionem aliam, quam quaein electo reperta est, et quaetoti

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Lapsarian Diversity at the Synod of Dort 115
whelmingly decided for homo creatus et lapsus as the object of predestina-
tion. Were these verdicts, however, reflected in the Canons themselves?
After the individual delegations read their verdicts upon all five of the
Remonstrant articles, the Synod moved to have the Canons composed. The
Synod decided the best method for composing the canons was to select a
committee to draft a provisional document that could later be voted on by
the members of the Synod for approval. One of the members of the English
delegation suggested the Canons should not include matters of debate such
as the ordo decretorum, that they should be written in a popular rather than
academic style, and that they should follow an analytical approach to the
question of predestination by starting with the creation of man in God’s
image, then the fall, and then on to predestination. This suggestion was
taken under advisement and a committee was selected, which was com-
posed of three foreign and three Dutch theologians: Bishop George Carlton
of England, Abraham Scultetus (1566–1625) of Heidelberg, Jean Diodati
(1576–1649) of Geneva, Polyander, Walaeus, and Jacobus Trigland (1583–
1654), a Dutch minister.50
The committee completed their draft and the following was approved by
the Synod: “As all men have sinned in Adam, lie under the curse, and are
obnoxious to eternal death, God would have done no injustice by leaving
them all to perish, and delivering them over to condemnation on account of
sin, according to the words of the Apostle (Rom 3.19).”51 The very first
article contains the suggestion of the English delegation: it begins with
homo creatus et lapsus; there is no mention of homo creabilis et labilis. The
more specific definition of election under article seven of the first head of
doctrine elaborates how predestination relates to man:
Election is the unchangeable purpose of God, whereby, before the foundation of the
worlds he hath, out of mere grace, according to the sovereign good pleasure of his
own will, chosen, from the whole human race, which had fallen through their own
fault, from their primitive state of rectitude, into sin and destruction, a certain number
of persons to redemption in Christ, whom he from eternity appointed the Mediator
and head of the elect, and the foundation of salvation.52
Once more, in this definition of election, the Canons specify that homo
creatus et lapsus is the object of predestination; this reflects an infralapsar-
ian position. This same emphasis also continues in the Canons’ definition of
reprobation. The Canons note:

massaecorruptaesit communis.” The English delegation cited the following works of Augustine:
On the Predestination of the Saints, Rebuke and Grace, On the Gift of Perseverance, and Against
Sinnema, “Reprobation at the Synod of Dort,” 391–92.
Articles of the Synod of Dort, I.1, in Schaff, Creeds, 3.581.
Articles of Dort, I.7; in Schaff, Creeds, 3.582; emphasis.

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116 J. V. Fesko

What peculiarly tends to illustrate and recommend to us the eternal and unmerited
grace of election is the express testimony of sacred Scripture, that not all, but some
only, are elected, while others are passed by in the eternal decree; whom God, out of
his sovereign, most just, irreprehensible and unchangeable good pleasure, hath de-
creed to leave in the common misery into which they have willfully plunged them-
selves, and not to bestow upon them saving faith and the grace of conversion; but
permitting them in his just judgment to follow their own way; at last, for the declara-
tion of his justice, to condemn and punish them forever, not only on account of their
unbelief, but also for all their sins. And this is the decree of reprobation which by no
means makes God the author of sin (the very thought of which is blasphemy), but
declares him to be an awful, irreprehensible, and righteous judge and avenger.53
The Canons, once again, maintain that homo creatus et lapsus is the object
of reprobation and that man is not reprobated by a specific separate decree.
Instead, man is “passed by in the eternal decree;” the Canons define repro-
bation in Augustinian terms of preterition. A second important point to
notice is that the Canons specifically deny that their definition makes God
the author of sin. They were very careful to place the blame for the fall and
corrupt condition of man upon man himself: “[…] into which they have
willfully plunged themselves.” Hence the Synod decided to specify in the
Canons that the object of predestination was the infralapsarian homo crea-
tus et lapsus despite the reluctance of the South-Holland delegation to de-
fine the object of predestination and Gomarus’ objections and attempts
either to have the object of predestination as homo creabilis et labilis or at
least leave the issue unspecified.54 There are several readily identifiable
reasons for this infralapsarian outcome.
First, the majority of the Dutch professors and ministerial delegates
were infralapsarians. Hence, on the first article concerning predestination,
the infralapsarians simply possessed more influence by virtue of superior
numbers.55 Additionally, members of the committee that drafted the Can-
ons, Walaeus, Polyander, and Carlton, were noted infralapsarians. A second
reason lies in the fact that the Synod’s other supralapsarians, Gisbert
Voetius (1588–1676), Johannes Bogerman and Johannes Maccovius, did
not come to the aid of their fellow colleague during the debates over infra-

Articles of Dort, I.15; in Schaff, Creeds, 3.584; emphasis.
G. C. Berkouwer, Divine Election, Studies in Dogmatics, trans. Hugo Bekker (Grand Rap-
ids: Eerdmans, 1960), 264; Barth, Dogmatics, 127; J. A. Dorner, The History of Protestant Theol-
ogy Particularly in Germany, 2 vol., trans. George Robson and Sohia Taylor (Edinburgh: T & T
Clark, 1871), 1.415, 426; Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 3 vol. (1880; Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 1993), 2.317; Èmile G. Léonard, A History of Protestantism, vol. 2, The Establishment,
trans. R. M. Bethell (London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1967), 253; Sinnema, “Reprobation at the
Synod of Dort,” 411, 431–32.
W. Robert Godfrey, “Tensions Within International Calvinism: The Debate on the Atone-
ment at the Synod of Dort, 1618–1619,” (Ph.D. Dissertation, Stanford University, 1974), 268;
Schaff, Creeds, 1.513; Hodge, Systematic Theology, 2.317.

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Lapsarian Diversity at the Synod of Dort 117
and supralapsarianism; Gomarus virtually stood alone in his affirmation of
homo creabilis et labilis against the Dutch professors and the English dele-
gation.56 The third, and final, reason that the infralapsarians wielded greater
influence was most likely due to Gomarus’ failed attempt to appeal to the
Thirty-Nine Articles. Not only was his attempt incorrect, but he received
words of admonition from the Synod about “meddling in the affairs of other
churches.” Additionally, whether his appeal to the Thirty-Nine Articles was
a subtle attempt at selectively quoting the document or a genuine mistake, it
no doubt left serious questions in the minds of the rest of the delegates
regarding Gomarus’ opinion that the churches of other countries had left the
issue of the object of predestination unspecified. Does this mean, then, that
because the Canons decided for homo creatus et lapsus that it considered
supralapsarianism heterodox?

5.6 Analysis of the Outcome

Because the Canons of Dort decided for an infralapsarian homo creatus et

lapsus rather than a supralapsarian homo creabilis et labilis, some may
assume that this represented a rejection of supralapsarianism. This, how-
ever, is a superficial judgment once all of the facts are taken into considera-
tion. The main focus of the debate between infra- and supralapsarianism
was not primarily over the ordo decretorum as it is commonly caricatured.
For example, Brian Armstrong, notes: “Nevertheless, they would then pro-
ceed to discuss theology by taking as their starting point the decrees of God,
indeed in terms of a specific order in these decrees, giving the impression
that there was nothing incomprehensible about them. The famous infralap-
sarian-supralapsarian debate, of course, offers an excellent example of
this.”57 Armstrong leaves the impression that the debate over infra- and
supralapsarianism was over the specific ordo decretorum. Quite the con-
trary, the ordo decretorum did not surface as a point of contention between
the two parties. Rather, the main focus of the debate was God’s relation to
the fall of man and predestination, or homo creatus et lapsus versus homo

Simon Kistemaker, “Leading Figures at the Synod of Dort,” in Crisis in the Reformed
Churches: Essays in Commemoration of the Great Synod of Dort, 1618–1619, ed. Peter Y. DeJong
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968), 44; Schaff, Creeds, 1.513. Brandt notes about the debate with
the infralapsarians that “Gomarus and his followers said […].” yet there is no mention of any other
supralapsarians who might have assisted Gomarus by Balcanqual or Hales in their records of the
proceedings. Moreover, Brandt fails to list any other supralapsarians who might have sided with
Gomarus. Brandt, History of the Reformation, 3.254.
Brian G. Armstrong, Calvinism and the Amyraut Heresy: Protestant Scholasticism and
Humanism in Seventeenth-Century France (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1969),

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118 J. V. Fesko

creabilis et labilis.58 The main issue of debate from the expressed infralap-
sarian position was, How does God remain righteous in his dealings with
man if he predestines him to an end before he is considered guilty of sin?59
This question was not new to the proceedings at the Synod of Dort. The
same issue arose during the predestinarian controversy between John Calvin
(1509–64) and Jerome Bolsec (d. ca. 1584). Heinrich Bullinger (1504–75)
asked the same question of Calvin. Bullinger was afraid that Calvin inevita-
bly made God the author of sin.60 This is why Bullinger only spoke of
God’s praescientia of the fall to avoid the implication that God might be
made the author of sin. This same issue also resurfaced in the debate be-
tween Jacob Arminius (1560–1609) and Francis Junius (1545–1602): “But
according to the opinion of Calvin and Beza God is made to be necessarily
the author of sin […] they say, that ‘God ordained that man should fall and
become sinful, in order that He might in this manner open the way for His
eternal counsels.’ For he who ordains that man shall fall and sin, he is the
author of sin.” Arminius, however, also noted that he did not believe Calvin
and Theodore Beza (1519–1605) intentionally made God the author of sin,
but he thought it was the legitimate and logical conclusion of their posi-
tion.61 This historic criticism, whether right or wrong, was likely in the back
of the minds of the delegates at the Synod of Dort; it was an issue raised not
only by Arminius but also by the Remonstrants in the first of their five
articles.62 Additionally, there was a case of heresy brought before the
Synod: Johannes Maccovius, one of the professors from the University of
Franeker and a delegate, was under charges of heresy for using phrases

Berkouwer, Divine Election, 257; Barth, Dogmatics, 127.
Brandt, History of the Reformation, 3.254.
See Cornelis P. Venema, “Heinrich Bullinger’s Correspondence on Calvin’s Doctrine of
Predestination, 1551–53,” SCJ 4 (1986): 435–50; idem, Heinrich Bullinger and the Doctrine of
Predestination: Author of ‘the Other Reformed Tradition’? (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), 57–62.
Jacob Arminius, Conference with Junius, in The Works of James Arminius, 3 vol., trans.
James Nichols and William Nichols (London: Longman, Hurst, et al., 1825–75), Prop. 6, 3.74–75;
idem, Amica Cum D. Francisco Iunio De Praedestinatione Collatio (Leiden: Apud Godefridum
Basson, 1629), 498: “At ex sententia Calvini et Bezae Deus necessario autor peccati statuitur […]
dicunt, Deum ordinasse ut homo laberetur et vitiosus fieret, quo hac ratione viam suis aeternis
consiliis patefaceret. Nam qui ordinat ut homo labatur et peccet, ille peccati auctor est.” It should
be noted that Gomarus, though a staunch supralapsarian, speaks of the fall in terms of divine
permission; he notes that God “permit them [man] to fall freely into sin and leave them in their
sin” (Acta Synodi, III.24). Bavinck makes an astute observation on this point: “Accordingly—and
fortunately!—supralapsarianism is consistently inconsistent. It starts out with a bold leap forward
but soon afterward it shrinks back and relapses into the infralapsarianism it has previously aban-
doned. Among the proponents of supralapsarianism this phenomenon is very clear. Almost all of
them were reluctant to place the decree of reprobation (in its entirety and without any restriction)
before the decree to permit sin” (Dogmatics, 2.388). Cf. Barth, Dogmatics, 28.
Sinnema, “Reprobation at the Synod of Dort,” 168–69.

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Lapsarian Diversity at the Synod of Dort 119
duriores and attributing the authorship of sin to God.63 The Synod was thus
faced with the challenge of answering the critics of the Reformed doctrine
of predestination on the topic of whether Reformed theologians made God
the author of sin.

5.7 The Maccovius Case

Johannes Maccovius, born in Poland as Jan Makowsky, was a professor at

the University of Franeker with Sibrandus Lubbertus and was one of the
delegates to the Synod of Dort. There were reasons why heresy charges
were brought against Maccovius at the Synod. First, Maccovius presided
over a public disputation involving several students where one of the stu-
dents presented thirteen theses that were strongly supralapsarian in nature.
Lubbertus, a staunch infralapsarian, heard about this occurrence and was
concerned enough to complain to university officials.64 Second, Maccovius’
own theological views were strongly supralapsarian in nature. Maccovius
emphasized the divine decrees so much that he placed them above the Trin-
ity in his discussion about the essence and attributes of God.65 Moreover, in
his lectures and writings he made a great use of scholastic and Aristotelian
concepts. For example, Maccovius explained that predestination needs a
Mover, which is God; a motion, which is election; an object, which is man;
and the result of the movement, which is salvation itself.66 Lastly, Mac-
covius and his colleague, Lubbertus, had a clash of personalities. Mac-
covius was a young professor and Lubbertus was an older gentleman. Mac-
covius reportedly would carouse with his students and spend the evenings
in pubs. Additionally, Maccovius decided to schedule his lectures at the
same time that Lubbertus was holding his own lectures; this took students
from Lubbertus. Moreover, he also told Lubbertus he was a heretic for
holding to the infralapsarian position. For all these reasons, both theological
and personal, Maccovius was brought up on fifty charges of heresy before
the Synod of Dort.67
The Synod convened on the Maccovius case on 25 April 1619 because
he petitioned the Synod in objection to charges of heresy. The opinions of
This might explain why Maccovius did not come to the aid of Gomarus in his debate with
the infralapsarians; he already had troubles of his own to contend with.
Michael Daniel Bell, “Propter Potestatem, Scientiam, ac Beneplacitum Dei: The Doctrine
of the Object of Predestination in the Theology of Johannes Maccovius” (Th.D. Dissertation,
Westminster Theological Seminary, 1986), 15; Sinnema, “Reprobation at the Synod of Dort,”
Martin I. Klauber, “The Use of Philosophy in the Theology of Johannes Maccovius (1578–
1644),” CTJ 30 (1995): 380.
Klauber, “Johannes Maccovius,” 382; also Sinnema, 292–95, 303–04 nn. 97–100.
Bell, “Theology of Johannes Maccovius,” 15–18; Klauber, “Johannes Maccovius,” 382.

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120 J. V. Fesko

Maccovius were brought before the Synod for examination to see whether
he was guilty of heresy. The charge that he believed that God was the
author of sin was brought to his attention, but Maccovius showed from his
writings that he wrote nothing unlike other Reformed theologians of the
past.68 A small committee was appointed to investigate the charges, and
they determined that Maccovius’ views on predestination and sin were
within the confines of orthodox Reformed theology. On the charges related
to the abuse of the scholastic method, several of the delegates, including
several of the more moderate infralapsarian English delegates, argued in
support of Maccovius’ scholastic methodology in his teaching and writing.69
William Ames, for example, worked vigorously behind the scenes to see
Maccovius exhonerated; he even offered to present a defense of Maccovius
before the Synod.70 The Synod later concluded that Maccovius’ views were
not heterodox, and they acquitted him of any charges of heresy. Maccovius,
however, was admonished on several points by the Synod. The Synod
warned Maccovius that he should not heavily rely upon scholastic language
in his teaching; instead, he should speak in the language of Scripture rather
than that of Roman Catholic theologians Robert Bellarmine (1542–1621) or
Francisco Suarez (1548–1617). Additionally, he was warned that he should
not condemn the teachings of infralapsarianism.71 Hence the Synod deter-
mined that one of its own members was not guilty of making God the
author of sin. Nevertheless, there was still the charge brought by the
Arminians against various theologians within the Reformed camp. Did the
Synod scapegoat some of the esteemed members of its community and
ostracize them as heretics with the Canons of Dort?

5.8 Was Supralapsarianism Rejected?

Several features about the Canons of Dort dismiss the conclusion that the
Canons reject supralapsarianism. First, the delegates, among whom some
were supralapsarians, were well aware that there were several Reformed
theologians of great prestige who held to the supralapsarian position: Beza,
Perkins, and Whitaker, to name a few. Second, while the infralapsarian
Brandt, History of the Reformation, 3.283, 285. Cf. Bell, “Theology of Johannes Mac-
covius,” 93–168, for a complete examination of Maccovius’ doctrine of predestination. Bell
concludes that Maccovius’ views on predestination are within the confines of Reformed Ortho-
Bell, “Theology of Johannes Maccovius,” 20.
Sprunger, Learned Doctor Ames, 60–61.
Brandt, History of the Reformation, 3.289; Bell, “Theology of Johannes Maccovius,” 20.
Cf. Berkouwer, Divine Election, 17–21. It should be noted that Johannes Bogerman, the president
of the Synod, worked behind the scenes with Maccovius and Lubbertus to bring a resolution to
their personal differences (Kistemaker, “Leading Figures at the Synod of Dort,” 40–41).

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Lapsarian Diversity at the Synod of Dort 121
delegates knew that one of the criticisms of the supralapsarian position was
that it appeared to make God the author of sin, they, like Arminius, knew
that its proponents vehemently denied this conclusion.72 There were some,
however, such as the English delegates, who desired to have several
phrases duriores condemned, like those of Maccovius, but the Synod re-
fused this request. The Synod responded that Scripture uses strong expres-
sions at times but that upon examination, in the proper context, the expres-
sions are understood not to be harsh. They believed this was the case with
several theologians whose writings were being quoted out of context.73 For
these reasons, though the Canons decided for homo lapsus, there is no men-
tion, either positive or negative, of the supralapsarian position. The Synod
wished to leave supralapsarianism as a “private opinion” and left the Can-
ons silent on the issue.74

5.9 Why no Rejection of Supralapsarianism?

Ultimately, the Canons neither condemn nor address supralapsarianism

because the delegates wanted to present a unified front against the Roman
Catholics, Anabaptists, Lutherans, and Arminians.75 They did not want to
show that there were any disagreements among themselves and that they
were, supra- and infralapsarian alike, united in their opposition to anyone
who would attempt to assign man too great a role in salvation. For this
reason, when the Synod discussed the various verdicts upon the different
heads of doctrine, they met in closed session so that if there was dissension
or debate it would not be viewed by the public. John Hales (1584–1656)
notes: “Our Synod goes on like a watch, the main wheels upon which the
whole business turns are least in sight. For all things of moment are acted in
private sessions, what is done in public is only for show and entertain-
ment.”76 Moreover, both parties, while they disagreed on the object of pre-
destination, were complimentary of one another and more concerned with
stopping the tides of Pelagian and semi-Pelagian doctrine. For example,
Bavinck notes on this point: “For though one may assume that there is a ‘predestination to
death,’ no Reformed theologian has ventured to speak of a ‘predestination to sin.’ Every one of
them (Zingli, Calvin, Beza, Zanchius, Gomarus, Comrie, et. Al) has maintained that God is not the
author of sin, that humans were not created for perdition, that in reprobation also the severity of
God’s justice is manifested, that reprobation is the ‘primary cause’ but only the ‘accidental cause’
of sin, that sin is not the ‘efficient’ but the ‘sufficient’ cause of reprobation, and so forth” (Dog-
matics, 2.388).
Bavinck, Dogmatics, 2.367; Godfrey, “Tensions Within International Calvinism,” 161–162.
Barth, Dogmatics, 129; Bavinck, Dogmatics, 2.384.
Sinnema, “Reprobation at the Synod of Dort,” 160; Godfrey, “Tensions Within Interna-
tional Calvinism,” 40, 218, 252.
Hales, Golden Remains, 78.

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122 J. V. Fesko

Voetius, a supralapsarian, strongly recommended the works of infra- and

supralapsarians alike. Voetius, commenting about the works of Jerome
Zanchi (1516–1590), Amandus Polanus (1561–1610), Peter Martyr Ver-
migli (1499–1562), Junius, Gomarus, Maccovius, and Wolfgang Musculus
(1497–1563), writes: “So as far as I know, no one, or at least no one who
makes fair and reasonable judgment in such matters, has disapproved of
their labors.”77 Although he is a Reformed theologian of the High Orthodox
period (1630/40–1700), Francis Turretin (1623–1687) best summed up why
the two parties did not condemn each other’s teaching as heterodox. Tur-
retin notes that between the two groups they both agreed upon: (1) the uni-
versal corruption and sinfulness of mankind; (2) the election of certain
people out of the wretched state of sin; (3) effectual grace that works
through the gift of faith given by God alone; (4) and the primacy of the
Gospel and the Scriptures as the only means of salvation and God’s revela-
tion to mankind. Turretin writes: “These are the capital doctrines of faith
which we all constantly defend against the Pelagians and semi-Pelagians.”78

5.10 Summary

The Synod did not reject supralapsarianism likely due to the prominence
and prestige of the theologians who held the position, the knowledge that
the supralapsarians denied that God was the author of sin, and a great desire
to present a unified front against all other critics of the Reformed churches.
The Synod, however, did warn one of its members, Johannes Maccovius, to
use more scriptural language in his teaching and writing to avoid any future
confusion; it also issued denials that God was the author of sin in its defini-
tion of reprobation and in the final statements of the Canons. The Canons
state that the Reformed church staunchly denies “that it makes God the
author of sin, unjust, tyrannical, hypocritical; that it is nothing more than an
interpolated Stoicism, Manicheism, Libertinism.”79 In the concluding re-
marks, the Canons also vaguely allude to the issues regarding the debates
over infra- and supralapsarianism:
Finally, this Synod exhorts all their brethren in the gospel of Christ to conduct them-
selves piously and religiously in handling this doctrine, both in the universities and
churches; to direct it, as well in discourse as in writing, to the glory of the Divine
name, to holiness of life, and to the consolation of afflicted souls; to regulate, by the
Scripture, according to the analogy of faith, not only their sentiments, but also their
Gisbert Voetius, Concerning Practical Theology, in Reformed Dogmatics, A Library of
Protestant Thought, ed. and trans. John W. Beardslee (New York: OUP, 1965), 266.
Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, ed. James T. Dennison, Jr., trans. George
Musgrave Giger (Phillipsburg: P & R, 1992–97), 4.17.12; cf. Barth, Dogmatics, 133.
Articles of Dort, Conclusion, in Schaff, Creeds, 3.596.

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Lapsarian Diversity at the Synod of Dort 123
language, and to abstain from all those phrases which exceed the limits necessary to
be observed in ascertaining the genuine sense of the Holy Scriptures, and may furnish
insolent sophists with a just pretext for violently assailing, or even vilifying, the
doctrine of the Reformed Churches.80
Hence there was no rejection of supralapsarianism. There was a firm denial
by the Synod that Reformed theologians made God the author of sin, and in
its closing remarks a brotherly admonition, perhaps aimed at those like
Maccovius, to handle the doctrine of predestination with care. The Synod
was able to affirm an infralapsarian position of homo creatus et lapsus and
at the same was silent concerning supralapsarianism; they left it to the
realm of private opinion.81

5.11 Conclusion

The Synod of Dort for some represents all that is backwards and inflexible
in Reformed Orthodoxy. True, the Synod did close the door on an Arminian
understanding of redemption. However if careful attention is given to the
various opinions of the delegations, both local and international, one will
easily see that there was a great degree of flexibility exhibited at the Synod,
even over matters that were sometimes strongly disputed. Within the
boundaries of confessional orthodoxy, Dort allowed for a degree of indi-
viduality and a carefully crafted level of cooperation.82 This spirit of flexi-
ble orthodoxy allowed supra- and infralapsarians to coexist at Dort and
codified a spirit of diversity that one can find in subsequent Reformed con-

Articles of Dort, in Schaff, Creeds, 3.597; emphasis.
B. B. Warfield, “Predestination in the Reformed Confessions,” in Studies in Theology, ed.
Ethelbert D. Warfield, et al. (New York: OUP, 1932), 229; Bavinck, Dogmatics, 2.384.
Walter Rex, Essays on Pierre Bayle and Religious Controversy, International Archives of
the History of Ideas, vol. 8 (The Hague: Martinus Nijhof, 1965), 87; cf. Godfrey, “Tensions
Within International Calvinism,” 264, 269.

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6. The Extent of the Atonement: English Hypothetical
Universalism versus Particular Redemption

Jonathan D. Moore

6.1 Introduction

Of all the intramural debates amongst seventeenth-century British Re-

formed Orthodox divines, the one to persist in the popular consciousness
today as being among the most contentious, notorious, and even repugnant
tenets of ‘Calvinism’ is the doctrine of so-called ‘limited atonement’.1 The
Protestant Reformation’s recovery of the free and sovereign, unmerited and
unconditional grace of God in the gospel, led many Reformed theologians
to develop the doctrine of unconditional, particular grace (as opposed to
conditional, universal grace) to the point where it became unacceptable to
say that Christ had died on the cross for every single person, head for head,
rather than specifically for those predestined to salvation. For if Christ had
died for every single person, then Christ’s atonement, while not being lim-
ited in extent, must of necessity be limited in value and rendered ineffectual
unless the sinner himself fulfilled some prior condition, a condition which,
if not all were to be finally saved, could not have been secured directly by
the atonement itself. This would therefore appear to introduce a contin-
gency that threatened the doctrine of sovereign and unmerited grace, and
that resulted in an intolerable synergism in the work of salvation with reso-
nances of the Pelagianism of old.
Furthermore, if Christ had actually died for every single person, then
this introduced questions concerning the divine intentionality in Christ’s
sufferings that tended to undercut the Reformed doctrine of absolute pre-
destination. For after all, how could the Son of God die to save those whom
God had already predestined to destruction, or at least, had altogether
We put these terms in inverted commas because, despite their validity and continuing popu-
larity both in modern historiography and popular discussion, they are generally unhelpful terms –
Reformed Orthodoxy was no more tied to Calvin’s thought than to that of any other leading
Reformed theologian, and even Arminianism has to ‘limit’ Christ’s atoning work in terms of its
nature in order to avoid full-blown eschatological universalism.

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The Extent of the Atonement 125
passed by in the matter of salvation? The very integrity and unity of the
Triune God in his works ad intra et ad extra were at stake. Hitherto tried
and trusted Medieval formulations such as the sufficiency-efficiency dis-
tinction of Peter Lombard,2 that had been used by the early Protestant Re-
formers with varying degrees of enthusiasm, began to display cracks, and,
as the pressure from anti-Reformed protagonists increased, the tendency of
Reformed Orthodoxy was, by and large, to secure the integrity and unity of
God’s works ad intra et ad extra via the doctrine of ‘particular redemption’
in which the scope of the Father’s election and the Son’s redemption were
made more explicitly co-extensive.
We must say ‘by and large’, however, because the Reformed Orthodox
failed to secure unanimous agreement on this matter, and therefore the
formulations that were finally agreed at synodical level were of necessity
capable of a range of interpretations. The purpose of this essay is briefly to
outline the main features of a classic defense of the developed doctrine of
particular redemption as found in the writings of John Owen, and to com-
pare these with one of the most robust defenses of an alternative, more
moderate, position within Reformed Orthodoxy, namely, John Davenant’s
exposition of English Hypothetical Universalism. We will then briefly
consider how this debate within British Reformed Orthodoxy influenced
some of the major Reformed Orthodox confessional statements on the work
of Christ, before turning, even more briefly, to consider whether English
Hypothetical Universalism can in any sense be said to be a ‘softening’ of
Reformed theology.

6.2 John Owen & Particular Redemption

Sometime vice-chancellor of Oxford University and chaplain to Oliver

Cromwell, John Owen (1616–1683) was, in the words of Carl Trueman,
“without doubt not only the greatest theologian of the English Puritan
movement but also one of the greatest European Reformed theologians of
his day, and quite possibly possessed the finest theological mind that Eng-

This historically important formula reads, “pro omnibus quantum ad pretii sufficientiam, sed
pro electis tantum quantum ad efficaciam” (Peter Lombard, Sententiae in IV Libris Distinctae, 3rd
edn, 2 vol., Spicilegiurn Bonaventurianum (Grottaferrata: Editiones Collegii S. Bonaventurae Ad
Claras Aquas, 1971–1981), 2:128 []); “for all with regard to the sufficiency of the price,
but only for the elect with regard to its efficacy” (Peter Lombard, The Sentences, edited by Joseph
Goering and Giulio Silano, trans. Giulio Silano, 1st English edn, 4 vol., Mediaeval Sources in
Translation [St Michael’s College Medieval Translations], vol. 42–45 [Toronto: Pontifical Institute
of Mediaeval Studies, 2007–2010], 3:86).

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126 Jonathan D. Moore

land ever produced.”3 From the outset of his publishing career, Owen was
concerned to defend the particularity and irresistibility of divine grace over
against the Arminian claim that God’s grace was universal and resistible. In
1643 Owen published his first book, “A Display of Arminianism”, and,
dedicating it to the committee for religion in the House of Lords, set out the
basic outline of what was to be for the rest of his life his convinced position
on particular redemption.4 Provoked by continued agitations for universal
grace, Owen then published in 1648 “Salus Electorum, Sanguis Jesu; or the
Death of Death in the Death of Christ,” a thorough, 300-page treatise de-
voted specifically to refuting ‘universal redemption’ and establishing theo-
logically and exegetically that Christ died for the elect only.5 Owen spent
over seven years seriously investigating this issue, and could write, in a
follow-up defense of this book against Richard Baxter, “There hath (sic) not
been many things in my whole enquiry after the Mind of God in his Word,
which have more exercised my thoughts, then (sic) the right ordering, and
distinct disposal of those whereof we treat [in this controversy over the
death of Christ].”6 Although Owen by 1653 was to change his position
Carl R. Trueman, “John Owen,” in Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals, edited by
Timothy Larsen, David W. Bebbington, and Mark A. Noll (Leicester, UK: Inter-Varsity Press,
2003), 494–497, 494.
John Owen, Theomachia autexousiastike: Or, A Display of Arminianisme. Being a Discov-
ery of the old Pelagian idol Free-Will, with the new Goddesse Contingency, advancing themselves,
into the Throne of the God of Heaven to the Prejudice of his Grace, Providence, and supreme
Dominion over the Children of Men. Wherein the maine Errors of the Arminians are laid open, by
which they are fallen off from the received Doctrine of all the Reformed Churches, with their
Opposition in divers Particulars to the Doctrine established in the Church of England. Discovered
out of their owne Writings and Confessions, and confuted by the Word of God, 1st edn (London:
By I. L. for Phil. Stephens, 1643). See also John Owen, The Works of John Owen, D.D., edited by
William H. Goold, 24 vol., Standard Library of British Divines (Edinburgh: Johnstone & Hunter,
1850–1855), 10:1–137, especially 87–100.
John Owen, Salus Electorum, Sanguis Jesu; or the Death of Death in the Death of Christ: A
Treatise of the Redemption and Reconciliation that is in the Blood of Christ with the Merit thereof,
and the Satisfaction wrought thereby. Wherin the proper End of the Death of Christ is asserted:
the immediate Effects and Fruits thereof assigned, with their Extent in Respect of it’s [sic] Object;
and the whole Controversie about Universall Redemption fully discussed. In foure Parts, whereof
the 1. Declareth the eternall Counsell, and distinct actuall Concurrence of Father, Sonne, and
Holy Spirit unto the Worke of Redemption in the Blood of Christ; with the covenanted Intendment,
and accomplished End of God therein. 2. Removeth false and supposed Ends of the Death of
Christ; with the Distinctions invented to salve the manifold Contradictions of the pretended
Universall Atonement; rightly stating the Controversie. 3. Containeth Arguments against Univer-
sall Redemption from the Word; with an Affection of the Satisfaction and Merit of Christ. 4.
Answereth all considerable Objections as yet brought to light either by Arminians, or others, (their
late Followers as to this Point) in the behalfe of Universall Redemption; with a large Unfolding of
all the Texts of Scripture by any produced and wrested to that Purpose, 1st edn (London: W. W.
for Philemon Stephens, 1648). See also Owen, Works, 10:139–428.
John Owen, Of the Death of Christ, the Price he paid, and the Purchase he made. Or, the
Satisfaction, and Merit of the Death of Christ cleered (sic), the Universality of Redemption thereby
oppugned: and the Doctrine concerning these Things formerly delivered in a Treatise against

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The Extent of the Atonement 127
expressed in Death of Death on the necessity of the atonement,7 and al-
though a key part of his argument derives from viewing Christ’s priestly
work in light of a pretemporal intra-Trinitarian covenant of redemption or
pactum salutis – a theme which Owen develops considerably more at length
in his commentary on the Hebrews along with a more elaborate use of Old
Testament typology concerning Christ’s priestly work of atonement8 –
Death of Death can still be seen as Owen’s classic defense of a developed
Reformed particularism in the face of an increasingly bold universal re-
By 1648 John Owen was utterly convinced of particular redemption.
“To me nothing is more certain than that to whom Christ is in any sense a
Saviour in the work of redemption, he saves them to the uttermost from all
their sins of infidelity and disobedience, with the saving of grace here and
glory hereafter.”9 But what made Owen so confident in denying “that Christ
died for any but those who shall certainly be brought unto him by the minis-
tration of the gospel”?10 Some have answered this question in terms of
Owen’s captivity to an Aristotelian “one-end teleology” and a scholastic
logic chopping that forced Scripture into this preconceived philosophical
system.11 However, such recourse to Aristotelianism as an explanatory key
is highly problematical, not least because a modified Aristotelianism was a
standard methodology self-consciously, self-critically and selectively em-
ployed by those on all sides of this debate – even Arminians – and cannot
therefore have been of any decisive influence.12 Rather, a more contextually

Universal Redemption vindicated from the Exceptions, and Objections of Mr Baxter, 1st edn
(London: Peter Cole, 1650), 5. See also Owen, Works, 10:429–479, 436. The result of this sus-
tained attention to this subject is the fact that nearly two whole volumes of Owen’s 24–volume
corpus are taken up with the theme of Christ’s atoning work (vol. 10 and 12).
Owen later conceded that the atonement was absolutely necessary if God was to forgive sin,
and rejected his earlier voluntarist position which he now came to view as leading to Socinianism.
For an excellent discussion of this development in Owen’s thought, see Carl R. Trueman, “John
Owen’s Dissertation on Divine Justice: An Exercise in Christocentric Scholasticism,” Calvin
Theological Journal 33, no. 1 (1998): 87–103.
See especially Owen, Works, 19:77–97.
Ibid., 10:192.
Ibid., 10:219.
E.g. Alan C. Clifford, Atonement and Justification: English Evangelical Theology, 1640–
1790: An Evaluation, 1st edn (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), 95–110; Hans Boersma, A hot
Pepper Corn: Richard Baxter’s Doctrine of Justification in its Seventeenth-Century Context of
Controversy, 1st edn (Zoetermeer: Uitgeverij Boekencentrum, 1993), 211–212.
For specific refutations of this Aristotelian “one-end teleology” charge against Death of
Death, see Carl R. Trueman, The Claims of Truth: John Owen’s Trinitarian Theology, 1st edn
(Carlisle, UK: Paternoster Press, 1998), 203–205, 233–240; Carl R. Trueman, “Puritan Theology
as historical Event: A linguistic Approach to the ecumenical Context,” in Reformation and Scho-
lasticism: An Ecumenical Enterprise, edited by Willem J. van Asselt and Eef Dekker, Texts and
Studies in Reformation and Post-Reformation Thought (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic,
2001), 253–275, 261–273; and Edwin E. M. Tay, “The Priesthood of Christ in the Atonement

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128 Jonathan D. Moore

sensitive reading of Death of Death reveals that Owen’s fundamental influ-

ences were Trinitarian, covenantal and exegetical concerns, even though he
was happy to present aspects of his case in terms of common Aristotelian
categories that he shared with his opponents.

6.2.1 Trinitarian Concerns

Carl Trueman has ably demonstrated that Owen’s theology was deeply
Trinitarian, and, as such, was the theology of a Reformed Catholic develop-
ing and applying Trinitarian orthodoxy to the needs and concerns of his
own day.13 Owen’s Death of Death bears out this claim and in fact it is
significant that Owen begins his treatise by setting out the role of each
member of the Trinity in accomplishing redemption. The Father sends his
Son into the world, appointing and equipping him for his work as Saviour
and Mediator, and lays the punishment for sin upon him. The Son humbles
himself, takes upon himself a human nature, offers himself up to the Father
as an oblation and makes intercession to the Father on the basis of that
oblation. The Holy Spirit overshadows the Virgin Mary to bring about the
incarnation, fills and empowers the Son for his earthly ministry and suffer-
ing, and then quickens the Son from the dead.14 In keeping with the ancient
maxim opera Trinitatis ad extra indivisa sunt, Owen asserts that, “The
agent in, and chief author of, this great work of our redemption is the whole
blessed Trinity; for all the works which outwardly are of the Deity are un-
divided and belong equally to each person, their distinct manner of subsis-
tence and order being observed.”15 For Owen, a consideration of this unity
of the Trinity in the work of redemption is enough on its own to secure the
doctrine of particular redemption, because the work of the Son is the means
by which the Father saves his elect, predestined people, and the Son and the
Spirit fully concur in the Father’s distinguishing mercy, and act in perfect
harmony with the divine eternal purpose of redeeming and glorifying these
foreknown, elect individuals.
This is particularly clear for Owen in the matter of the unity of the Son’s
priestly work. For Owen, oblation and intercession are indissolubly con-
joined, and so the scope of both actions must be identical.16 Christ’s inter-
cession is “an authoritative presenting himself before the throne of his Fa-

Theology of John Owen (1616–1683)” (Ph.D. Dissertation, Edinburgh University, 2009), 218–
Trueman, The Claims of Truth. See also Carl R. Trueman, John Owen: Reformed Catholic,
Renaissance Man, 1st edn (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2007).
Owen, Works, 10:163–179.
Ibid., 10:163.
Ibid., 10:418.

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The Extent of the Atonement 129
ther, sprinkled with his own blood, for the making out to his people all
spiritual things that are procured by his oblation.”17 As an ‘authoritative’
intercession it is also effectual – an intercession to the Father that secures its
intent, because no intercession from the Son clashes with the will of the
Father. It should not surprise us therefore that, given Christ does not pray
for the world (John 17:9), neither does he pay for the world.18 So intimately
connected in Owen’s mind is this limited intercession with Christ’s obla-
tion, that he can call Christ’s intercession “his oblation continued.”19

6.2.2 Covenantal Concerns

As well as a Trinitarian theologian, Owen was a covenant theologian. In

more traditional Reformed terms this took the form of a presentation of
Christ as the federal head and public representative of a new humanity,
namely, God’s elect. Christ acting as the public representative of a new
humanity led Owen to particular redemptionism, for after all, “The seed of
the woman was not to be a public person in the place, stead, and room of
the seed of the serpent. [...] Christ was not, in his oblation and suffering,
when he brake the head of the father of the seed, a public person in their
room.”20 Owen also argues from John 17:19 in context (“for their sakes I
sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified”) that Christ only sancti-
fied himself or set himself apart to act as a public representative for those
whom the Father had given him out of the world. Furthermore, Christ as a
public person is a surety (Heb 7:22), and “None can perish for whom Christ
is a surety, unless he be not able to pay the debt.” But of course, Christ can
pay the debt and “therefore, he was not a public person in the room of all”
since some finally perish.21 It is quite clear from these considerations alone
that Owen was driven by his federal theology to conclude that Christ’s
redemptive work was strictly particular and not capable of being extended
in any meaningful way to the reprobate.22
Ibid., 10:177.
Owen frequently cites John 17:9 as part of his argument (ibid., 10:171, 177, 190, 191, 197,
210, 244, 245, 355, 393).
Ibid., 10:184. For a comprehensive study of how Christ’s united acts of oblation and inter-
cession lie at the heart of Owen’s atonement theology, see Tay, “Priesthood of Christ.”
Owen, Works, 10:358 (italics original). Cf. Gen 3:15.
For the avoidance of doubt, when I say ‘driven’ I do not mean that any or all of these con-
siderations would so drive everyone. Richard Muller is of the view that in my book I imply that
supralapsarian predestinarianism and federalism lead inescapably to particularism (Calvin Theo-
logical Journal 43, no. 1 (2008): 149–150; Jonathan D. Moore, English Hypothetical Univers-
alism: John Preston and the Softening of Reformed Theology, 1st edn [Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B.
Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007], 41 – the only place where I speak of Perkins being driven).
However, all I argued is that supralapsarian predestinarianism and federalism drove William

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130 Jonathan D. Moore

In terms of a more recently emerging Reformed covenant theology,

Owen’s covenant theology took the form of viewing redemption from the
perspective of the pactum salutis. Roughly around the time that Owen be-
gan his career as a polemical theologian, developments were being made by
Cocceius and others that Owen was happy to make use of and develop in
his own work.23 These developments involved a more detailed systematisa-
tion of those passages in Scripture24 that appeared to reveal a dialogue be-
tween the Father (LORD) and the Son (Messiah) in the counsels of eternity,
which formed the mutual agreement on the basis of which Christ obediently
came into the world as the servant of Jehovah to save sinners.25 The pactum
salutis features prominently in Death of Death and in Owen’s subsequent
defense of his treatise against the sustained attacks of Richard Baxter. In
fact, despite the relatively recent arrival of a fully developed pactum salutis
in Reformed theologising, Owen soon came to believe that the death of
Christ must not be considered apart from the pactum salutis, as that would
be to consider it out of its true context.26 For example, without the pactum
salutis Christ’s death cannot even be seen as a payment for anyone, never
mind for the elect alone, because “That any thing should have any such
reference unto God as a payment or satisfaction, whether refusable or oth-
erwise, is not from itself and its own nature, but from the constitution of
God alone.”27 It is the pactum salutis which describes that constitution, and

Perkins to particularism. They did not so drive William Twisse, for example, but that is not the
point. Sometimes theologians come to the same conclusions for different reasons. Here in this
case, it happens to be an infralapsarian predestinarianism and federalism that drove Owen to the
same conclusions as Perkins, along with a heavy emphasis on Trinitarian considerations and the
pactum salutis – the latter not being significantly present in Perkins’ thought or context.
Willem J. van Asselt, The Federal Theology of Johannes Cocceius (1603–1669), trans.
Raymond A. Blacketer, 1st edn, Studies in the History of Christian Thought, vol. 100 (Leiden:
Brill, 2001), 227–247, and especially 227–228.
For example, Ps 2:7–9; 16:2–3, 10–11; 40:6–8; Isa 49:6–12; Zech 6:13.
The covenant of redemption was officially a covenant or “compact” between all three per-
sons of the Godhead, but some Reformed theologians, Owen not excluded, struggled, at least
initially, to articulate a compelling role for the Holy Spirit in this Trinitarian counsel, that is, when
they remembered to involve him at all (e.g. Owen, Works, 10:178–179; 12:496–508, 605, 606,
615; 19:58, 67, 77–97; cf. The Savoy Declaration of Faith 8.1 (The Savoy Conference, A Declara-
tion of the Faith and Order owned and practised in the Congregational Churches in England;
agreed upon and consented unto by their Elders and Messengers in their Meeting at the Savoy,
October 12, 1658, 1st edn [London: John Field for John Allen, 1658], 15). However, Edwin Tay
has recently defended the mature Owen from any resulting charge of a binitarian formulation, by
highlighting the Spirit’s instrumental, if not pactional, role in Owen’s understanding of this doc-
trine (Tay, “Priesthood of Christ”, 63–67). Cf. Trueman, John Owen: Reformed Catholic, 86–87.
For a similar defense of Cocceius from the same charge, see van Asselt, Federal Theology, 233–
Owen, Works, 10:441; cf. 10:464; 12:614–615.
Ibid., 10:458.

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The Extent of the Atonement 131
which provided Owen with the framework for understanding Christ’s
priestly work.28

6.2.3 Exegetical Concerns

Inaccurate but convenient caricatures notwithstanding, Owen was su-

premely a biblical theologian, deeply engaged with the biblical data and
willing to change or develop his position as exegetical considerations were
brought to bear. Writing a seven-volume, two-million-word commentary on
the epistle to the Hebrews should alone suffice to establish the importance
Owen put upon careful scriptural exegesis,29 but also in his early publica-
tions this meticulous attention to the text of Scripture is evident. In Death of
Death, abundant places in Scripture are not only cited by Owen, but care-
fully exegeted, with special attention given to linguistic, textual and contex-
tual considerations in order to establish his case positively. Negatively,
every conceivable ‘problem text’ raised by his opponents is also carefully
considered, and, in several instances, Owen does not stop until he has con-
vinced himself that these texts, far from being problems for his position,
actually positively establish it.
One exegetical example must suffice for our purposes here. 1 John 2:2 is
often cited by universal redemptionists as it reads “he is the propitiation for
our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”
But, says Owen, given that John was an apostle to the Jews and is writing to
them and not to the Gentiles; that the gospel is to the Jew first and only
secondly to the Gentiles; that John’s historical context is Jewish prejudice
against Gentile inclusion; that the context of the passage is about assuredly
comforting believers through an advocate; and that hilasmos (Gk.) comes
from kapporeth (Heb.) which means ‘to cover’ or ‘expiate’, Owen con-
cludes that beyond a shadow of a doubt John uses the word ‘world’ to refer
to believers throughout the whole Gentile world, thereby expanding messi-
anic comforts beyond the Jewish people to whom he is writing. Indeed,
John could only communicate the comfort intended by these words if by
them he was referring to a particular, effectual redemption. A non-effectual,
general propitiation also made for those now in hell could offer no comfort
to those currently feeling the guilt of their sins. John’s use of ‘world’ in this
way is consistent with usage elsewhere in the New Testament concerning
not only the word ‘world’ but also the words ‘all’ and ‘every’ in connection
None of this, of course, is to say that the Reformed Orthodox theologians who declined to
present the eternal counsel of the Triune God as a ‘covenant’ could therefore never be as commit-
ted to particular redemptionism as Owen. This is quite clearly not the case.
Owen, Works, vol. 18–24. For the word count, I am relying on Lee Gatiss who is engaged
in doctoral studies on this commentary.

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132 Jonathan D. Moore

with Christ’s saving work, and Owen has already painstakingly established
and schematised how in Scripture the word ‘world’ can have over a dozen
different meanings.30 This is a typical example of how Owen sought to
establish his doctrine of particular redemption by means of lengthy and
careful exegesis of all relevant passages, be they at first sight friendly or
threatening to his case.31

6.2.4 The Nature of the Atonement

So far we have outlined how Owen’s particular redemptionism was part and
parcel of his espousal of an exegetically grounded Trinitarian covenant
theology. But to get to the heart of Owen’s understanding of Christ’s aton-
ing work, we must understand that crucial to Owen’s position is the nature
of that atonement. Too often Reformed historiography has obsessed at a
superficial level about whether or not a particular theologian did or did not
state that Christ did or did not ‘die for all’ or ‘for the world’ or some such
other ambiguous statement, without actually examining their respective
positions on the nature of the atonement itself. But John Owen could im-
mediately see that the Arminian attack on Reformed theology threatened
the received understanding of the nature of Christ’s work as an accom-
plished penal substitution and actual reconciliation, and posited an atone-
ment that merely opened the way for God to offer a potential reconciliation
conditioned on the human response. Owen could also see English Hypo-
thetical Universalists moving in this same direction with their espousal of
“a twofold reconciliation and redemption,” thereby conceding that it is
possible to have a satisfaction for sins that does not satisfy and a reconcilia-
tion that does not in fact reconcile.32 Yet, according to Owen, the Scriptures
know nothing of “being freed so far or so far by redemption, and not
wholly, fully, or completely.”33
Consequently Owen goes to considerable length in Death of Death and
elsewhere to defining the precise nature of Christ’s satisfaction and recon-
ciliation over against Grotian and Socinian teachings as well as those of
hypothetical universalism.34 The death of Christ, while having a govern-
Ibid., 10:330–338; 303–307. This is followed by an examination of the various meanings
that ‘all’ can have in various Hebrew and Greek passages (ibid., 10:307–309).
For more on Owen’s exegetical methodology see Henry M. Knapp, “Understanding the
Mind of God: John Owen and seventeenth-century exegetical Methodology” (Ph.D. Dissertation,
Calvin Theological Seminary, 2002) and Barry H. Howson, “The Puritan Hermeneutics of John
Owen: A Recommendation,” Westminster Theological Journal 63, no. 2 (2001): 351–376.
Owen, Works, 10:222–223.
Ibid., 10:473.
Owen lays the groundwork here for his major refutation of Socinian formulations on
Christ’s death which was to appear seven years later as Vindiciae Evangelicae, or the Mystery of

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The Extent of the Atonement 133
mental aspect, could not be reduced to a governmental role alone. On exe-
getical grounds Owen believed that when the Scriptures say ‘Christ died
for’, the word huper (Gk.), as made clear by 1 Corinthians 1:13, “doth
argue a commutation of change, and not only designs the good of them for
whom he died,”35 still less a simple upholding of the moral law for the gen-
eral good of the created order. Christ therefore died in the place of particu-
lar individuals and not just in an unspecific sense in order to bring about
general effects.
Owen also argued, along with “far the greatest number of protestant di-
vines,”36 that Christ’s satisfaction is the same thing (solutio ejusdem) as
sinners deserve, and not simply a divinely determined equivalent (solutio
tantundem) as Grotius argued.37 By solutio ejusdem Owen meant “essen-
tially the same in weight and pressure, though not in all accidents of dura-
tion and the like.”38 “It was no less than the weight of the wrath of God and
the whole punishment due to sin that he wrestled under.”39 This, for Owen,
constitutes the perfection of Christ’s sacrifice. Admittedly, there was a
relaxation of the law in so far as God accepts a substitution,40 but as con-
cerning the satisfaction made by the substitute, there was no relaxation
whatsoever. Christ suffered the very same punishment that was due to his
people, and this is what constitutes the power of Christ’s satisfaction to free
God’s elect from condemnation – not their own faith or response to Christ’s

the Gospell vindicated, and Socinianisme examined, in the Consideration, and Confutation of a
Catechisme, called A Scripture Catechisme, written by J. Biddle M.A. And the Catechisme of
Valentinus Smalcius, commonly called the Racovian Catechisme. With the Vindication of the
Testimonies of Scripture, concerning the Deity and Satisfaction of Jesus Christ, from the Perverse
Expositions, and Interpretations of them, by Hugo Grotius in his Annotations on the Bible, 1st edn
(Oxford: Leon. Lichfield for Thomas Robinson, 1655). See Owen, Works, 12:1–590, and espe-
cially 411–551.
Ibid., 10:288–290.
Ibid., 10:438; cf. 10:441.
Ibid., 10:265–270. This position is cryptically ascribed to Grotius in ibid., 10:268, 271, 272;
cf. 10:437. Richard Baxter relentlessly opposed Owen on this whole point and also claimed that
Owen had misunderstood Grotius (ibid., 10:438, 447). For more of Owen on this key part of his
argument see also ibid., 10:436, 437; 12:613–615 where Owen revisits these arguments against
Baxter’s defense of the solutio tantundem position, so essential to his own system of universal
Ibid., 10:269–270. “There is a sameness in Christ’s sufferings with that in the obligation in
respect of essence, and equivalency in respect of attendancies.” For example, Christ suffered
“eternal death” in potentia (ibid., 10:448). Owen’s repeated use of the Aristotelian distinction at
this point between essence and accidents is noteworthy. As Edwin Tay has argued, this clears
Owen from Clifford’s reductionist charge that Owen’s defense of solutio ejusdem betrays a crass
commercialism in his understanding of the atonement. Owen was not in fact thinking of sin in
quantitative terms (Tay, “Priesthood of Christ”, 212–215, 266–267; Clifford, Atonement and
Justification, 9–10, 112, 128–129).
Owen, Works, 10:449.
Ibid., 10:270, 440–443, 447, 454.

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134 Jonathan D. Moore

death, but Christ’s very death itself.41 Although there is a logical distinction
and temporal separation between the impetration and application of re-
demption, the impetration contains within itself its eventual application in
the lives of every single person for whom Christ died.42 Because the exact
punishment for the sins of the elect has been visited upon Christ, their sins
are actually remitted on the cross and the final salvation of the elect is cer-
tain. Those in the Reformed churches such as Richard Baxter who argued
against this “actual remission” for sin, were left with only “potential remis-
sion, not once mentioned in the book of God.”43 A ‘hypothetical’ or condi-
tional satisfaction for all without exception is a logical impossibility. Con-
cerning those who suffer eternally in hell, Owen asks “how can the justice
of God require satisfaction of them for their sins, if it were before satisfied
for them in Christ? To be satisfied, and to require satisfaction that it may be
satisfied, are contradictory, and cannot be affirmed of the same in respect of
the same.”44 This is why Owen saw hypothetical universalism as containing
much “venom” as it makes salvation “only a possibility” and of necessity
evacuates the atonement of its intrinsic meaning and power.45
Owen follows the same line of thought concerning Christ’s atonement
considered in the original sense of that word: an at-one-ment, or reconcilia-
tion. For Owen, reconciliatio is by definition mutual. “If one be well
pleased with the other, and that other continue akatallaktos, unappeased and
implacable, there is no reconciliation.”46 A ‘potential’ reconciliation is as
meaningless as it is impossible to achieve. Reconciliation is “the immediate
effect and product of the death of Christ” and cannot therefore be univer-
sal.47 Rather, God “is atoned, appeased, actually reconciled, at peace, with
those for whom Christ died; and in due time, for his sake, will bestow upon
them all the fruits and issues of love and renewed friendship.”48 In Owen,

Owen rejected as groundless the counter-claim that such a perfect satisfaction undermined
the freeness of forgiveness (ibid., 10:446).
This is especially the case as Owen demands that the death of Christ never be considered
outside of the only context that gives it meaning, namely, the pactum salutis and eternal election.
Owen, Works, 10:477.
Ibid., 10:247.
Ibid., 10:226.
Ibid., 10:262.
Ibid., 10:264. Owen means logically immediate and elsewhere emphatically and repeatedly
rejects both “justification before believing” (i.e. from the time of Christ’s cross work onwards) and
“justification from eternity,” although Baxter was determined that some mud should stick (ibid.,
10:449, 478, 274–279, 425–428, 454, 456–457, 465, 470, 472; 12:592, 593, 596, 601–607, 615).
Owen did come closer to teaching justification before faith than many Reformed Orthodox, and
was also of the opinion that some Reformed theologians who saw “justification by faith to be but
the sense of it in our consciences” (i.e. in foro conscientiae as opposed to in foro Dei) were “bet-
ter, wiser, and more learned” than he (ibid., 10:470; 12:593, 596). I am grateful to Richard Snoddy
for helpful clarification on the general issue of justification before faith.
Ibid., 10:459.

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The Extent of the Atonement 135
therefore, the very nature of the atonement demands that all for whom it is
made are actually and finally saved. Given that the reprobate are finally
lost, Christ’s atonement cannot have been made for them in any way what-

6.2.5 The Force of Logic

Having therefore established the nature of Christ’s atonement and posi-

tioned it within the framework of a Trinitarian redemption and a pactum
salutis, Owen is able to harness all the powers of human logic to press upon
his opponents the absurdity of rejecting Reformed particularism. In what
has to be a locus classicus in the particular redemptionist literature, Owen
argues as follows:
God imposed his wrath due unto, and Christ underwent the pains of hell for, either all
the sins of all men, or all the sins of some men, or some sins of all men. If the last,
some sins of all men, then have all men some sins to answer for, and so shall no man
be saved [...] If the second, that is it which we affirm, that Christ in their stead and
room suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the world. If the first, why, then, are
not all freed from the punishment of all their sins? You will say, “Because of their
unbelief; they will not believe.” But this unbelief, is it a sin or not? If not, why should
they be punished for it? If it be, then Christ underwent the punishment due to it, or
not. If so, then why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which he
died from partaking of the fruit of his death? If he did not, then did he not die for all
their sins.49
This is how Owen could conclude “that to affirm Christ to die for all men is
the readiest way to prove that he died for no man, in the sense Christians
have hitherto believed, and to hurry poor souls into the bottom of Socinian

Ibid., 10:173. Owen evidently took delight in presenting this “dilemma” for “our Universal-
ists” and reused it later on in Death of Death: “If Christ died in the stead of all men, and made
satisfaction for their sins, then he did it for all their sins, or only for some of their sins. If for some
only, who then can be saved? If for all, why then are all not saved? They say it is because of their
unbelief; they will not believe, and therefore are not saved. That unbelief, is it a sin, or is it not? If
it be not, how can it be a cause of damnation? If it be, Christ died for it, or he did not. If he did not,
then he died not for all the sins of all men. If he did, why is this an obstacle to their salvation?”
(ibid., 10:249).
Ibid., 10:290.

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136 Jonathan D. Moore

6.3 John Davenant & English Hypothetical Universalism

Despite the rigor and vigor of Owen’s defense of particular redemption, this
was by no means the only option for the Reformed Orthodox in seven-
teenth-century Britain, and many reputable Reformed Orthodox theologians
remained unconvinced by the arguments for particular redemption. One
such theologian was John Davenant (1572–1641), Lady Margaret Professor
of Divinity at the University of Cambridge, who although he did not live to
see the publication of Owen’s Death of Death, did deliver a series of lec-
tures against particular redemptionism some time before being consecrated
Bishop of Salisbury in November 1621.51 These Latin lectures, comprising
over one hundred tightly argued folio pages, were not published until
1650,52 but are to English Hypothetical Universalism what Owen’s Death of
Death is to particular redemptionism – a classic, thorough statement of the
position that arguably was not bettered by a British divine in the Reformed
Orthodox period. Although for the purposes of this essay it would have
been convenient if Owen and Davenant had clashed swords directly,53 it is
still possible, due to the explanatory care of both theologians, and making
use of Davenant’s other material on this debate produced in connection with
the Synod of Dordt, to compare the core tenets of their respective positions,
and, without anachronism, contrast their different approaches to articulating
what Christ accomplished on the cross.

For the issue of dating these lectures see Moore, English Hypothetical Universalism, 187.
John Davenant, Dissertationes duae: Prima de Morte Christi, quatenus ad omnes extenda-
tur, quatenus ad solos Electos restringatur. Altera de Praedestinatione & Reprobatione. [...]
Quibus subnectitur ejusdem D. Davenantii Sententia de Gallicana Controversia: sc. de Gratiosa
& Salutari Dei erga Homines Peccatores Voluntate, edited by Thomas Bedford, 1st edn (Cam-
bridge: Roger Daniel, 1650). For the purposes of this essay, English quotations will be taken from
Josiah Allport’s adequate nineteenth-century translation (John Davenant, “A Dissertation on the
Death of Christ, as to its Extent and special Benefits: containing a short History of Pelagianism,
and shewing the Agreement of the Doctrines of the Church of England on general Redemption,
Election, and Predestination, with the Primitive Fathers of the Christian Church, and above all,
with the Holy Scriptures,” in An Exposition of the Epistle of St Paul to the Colossians [London:
Hamilton, Adams, and Co., 1832], 2:309–569).
Davenant’s 1650 dissertation did not appear until after Owen’s follow-up treatise to the
Death of Death, against Richard Baxter, was already at the printer’s. But there was time enough
for Owen to give a brief assessment in the preface to the reader. He viewed Davenant’s position as
“repugnant unto truth” and not “founded on the word.” He deemed that the “several parts thereof
are mutually conflicting and destructive of each other, to the great prejudice of the truth therein
contained.” He was convinced that Davenant was engaged in a futile attempt to make the gospel
more palatable to “carnal affections” and “the fleshly-minded,” for why else would he have
concocted such an elaborate system of “unscriptural distinctions” and “inextricable entangle-
ments” (Owen, Works, 10:432–433)? Davenant did not live long enough to return such compli-
ments on Owen’s treatise, dying seven years before its publication.

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The Extent of the Atonement 137
6.3.1 Dualism

Perhaps the most striking contrast in the approaches of Davenant and Owen
is that right from the outset Owen addresses Christ’s work in terms of the
“end” (telos) that the Father had in mind and that Christ effectually accom-
plished,54 whereas for Davenant, everywhere he turns he sees the work of
Christ in dualistic or bifocal terms and as admitting of a legitimate refer-
ence at once to both the elect and non-elect. For example, Christ came to
save the elect, but he also came to save all without exception in another
sense, since his work always has a dual aspect to it. The salvation of the
elect is not the “only or sole end” of Christ’s death, and Christ “merited,
and offered his merits, in a different way for different persons.”55 Thus,
Christ had different things in mind for different people when he was dying
on the cross: “there was in Christ himself a will according to which he
willed that his death should regard all men individually; and there was also
a will according to which he willed that it should pertain to the elect alone.”
Both this special reference and universal reference of Christ’s death are
“conformed to the ordination of the Father.”56 Although Davenant subordi-
nates Christ to the Father’s decree of election, Christ himself, while suffer-
ing on the cross, affirms the decree of election and to that extent partici-
pates in his own death’s special application. Trinitarian unity is thereby
maintained even while Christ dies for those whom the Father has not
Davenant’s sensitivity to the charge, much used by Owen, that hypo-
thetical universalism threatens the unity of the Trinity, is also seen when he
refuses to make the more traditional hypothetical universalist concession
that Christ’s priestly intercession is limited to the elect. Instead Davenant
universalises the whole of Christ’s priestly work on one level, in order to
correspond with the Father’s equivalent dual purpose. Thus, “not only […]
the death, but the resurrection and intercession of Christ regards [the non-
elect], as to the possibility of their enjoying these benefits, the condition of
faith being pre-supposed.”58
Similarly, the work of the Holy Spirit in redemption also has a dual as-
pect in so far as “sundry initial preparations tending to Conversion, merited
by Christ” are “wrought by the Holy Ghost in the hearts of many” non-

Ibid., 10:157–163.
Davenant, “Dissertation”, 2:396, 557.
Ibid., 2:398.
It is this teaching that Christ died in a special way for the elect that distinguishes all forms
of Hypothetical Universalism from the Remonstrant or Arminian doctrine of the atonement which
teaches that Christ died for everyone equally and for no one in a special way.
Davenant, “Dissertation”, 2:373.

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138 Jonathan D. Moore

elect.59 In this, Davenant was asserting what the British Delegation to Dordt
as a whole had officially confessed. These men spoke of “some fruits of
Christ’s death, not comprised in the Decree of Election, but afforded more
generally.” By this they meant “true and spiritual Graces accompanying the
Gospel, and conferred upon some non-electi.”60 Granted that “Christ does
not confer anything upon men which he hath not first merited for them by
his obedience,” it follows for Davenant that, “[w]hatever supernatural grace
is given through Christ to any man, is given from the merit of Christ.”61 The
Son and the Spirit therefore both operate with a dual reference to the elect
and reprobate in their respective opera ad extra, and, in so doing, fully
concur with the will of the Father. Against Owen’s claims to the contrary,
therefore, the Trinitarian nature of redemption is upheld within this hypo-
thetical universalist, dualist system.

6.3.2 Potential Redemption

One of Davenant’s main criticisms of particular redemptionism was that it

did not do justice to the received Lombardian sufficiency-efficiency distinc-
tion concerning Christ’s atonement.62 Although the particularists conceded
its sufficiency in one sense due to the divine nature of the sin bearer,63
Davenant was adamant that the sufficiency of the atonement was not a bare
or “mere sufficiency” (nuda sufficientia) but rather an “ordained suffi-
ciency” (sufficientia ordinata).64 This is because the Scriptures “speak of
the death of Christ so as to refer its universal efficacy not to the mere dig-
John Hales, Golden Remains of the ever memorable Mr. John Hales of Eton Colledge &c.
With Additions from the Authours own Copy, viz. Sermons and Miscellanies. Also Letters and
Expresses concerning the Synod of Dort (not before Printed) from an authentic Hand, [1659] 2nd
edn (London: Thomas Newcomb for Robert Pawlet, 1673), 2:187. Davenant’s appeal here is to
Hebrews 6. The position paper from which this quotation is taken is entitled “Doctour Davenant
touching the Second Article, discussed at the Conference at the Haghe, of the Extent of Redemp-
tion.” It is not entirely clear that Davenant is its sole author, but for the evidence in favour of
Davenant’s authorship see Anthony Milton, ed., The British Delegation and the Synod of Dort
(1618–1619), 1st edn, The Church of England Record Society, vol. 13 (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell
& Brewer, 2005), 218.
Hales, Golden Remains, 2:185. The position paper from which this quotation is taken is en-
titled “The British Divines at Dort, March 11. 1618. To the Arch-Bishop of Canterbury. Reasons
of enlarging Grace beyond Election.”
Davenant, “Dissertation”, 2:353.
See above, footnote 2.
There was basic agreement amongst the Reformed Orthodox that Christ’s atonement was
intrinsically or hypothetically sufficient to save all without exception. Owen himself taught that it
“was in itself of infinite value and sufficiency to have been made a price to have bought and
purchased all and every man in the world” (Owen, Works, 10:296 [italics original to 1648 edition].
Cf. ibid., 10:231, 295–298, 397).
Davenant, “Dissertation”, 2:378, 401–403, 409, 412; Davenant, Dissertationes duae, 37, 38.

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The Extent of the Atonement 139
nity of the sacrifice offered, but to the act and intention of the offering.”65
For Davenant, therefore, as for all hypothetical universalists, the sufficiency
of the atonement involves the will of God and not just christological con-
siderations. More specifically it involves the will of God that Christ’s suffi-
cient death should set the foundation for a two-staged reconciliation and
should render all men salvable – in other words, the formal establishment of
a potential redemption for all without exception.
Whereas for Owen reconciliation is always a guaranteed accomplish-
ment or no reconciliation at all, for Davenant reconciliatio has two steps
with the second step not always occurring. Firstly, because Christ has died
sufficiently for all, God is now rendered “placable and reconcilable”
(placabilis & reconciliabilis) to every member of the human race, which
means he is made willing to be reconciled upon “the performance of some
certain condition.” The second step is when a sinner is actually reconciled
to God by meeting that condition of faith.66 Thus, no one has “an hereditary
right to eternal life” or is actually reconciled “by the work of Christ alone.”
Rather, “it is necessary, before he obtains this actual reconciliation, to add
the act or work of the man himself believing in Christ the Redeemer, and
applying the merit of his death to himself individually by faith.”67 Davenant
could not understand why particular redemptionists were “superciliously”
rejecting the term “placability” or “reconcilability,” since “God would not
be actually pacified and reconciled to any man, as soon as he should believe
[...] unless he were placable and reconcilable to any man before he should
Davenant, “Dissertation”, 2:410–411.
Ibid., 2:443, 441; cf. 2:440, 566, 427. This view of reconciliation is not exclusive to Hypo-
thetical Universalists. It is presented here simply because it is a key part of Davenant’s overall
Ibid., 2:441–442. Davenant therefore had to teach a different mode of salvation for infants
and those who lack the intellectual faculties necessary for adult faith (ibid., 2:440–441, 446–447).
For more on the implications of Davenant’s position for infant salvation and how he tried to
reconcile it with his doctrine of baptismal regeneration see Moore, English Hypothetical Univers-
alism, 194–195.
Davenant, “Dissertation”, 2:443. Davenant acknowledged here that only “some persons”
actually used this term, and most likely he was referring primarily to Samuel Ward, Master of
Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. According to fellow British delegate George Carleton, Bishop
of Llandaff, Ward made up the term reconciliabilitas at the Synod of Dordt, specifically to but-
tress his and Davenant’s position on hypothetical universalism. Davenant may also have had
Carleton in mind here as a particularist who “superciliously” scrupled the term. While the Synod
was debating the extent of the atonement, Carleton wrote to his cousin Sir Dudley Carleton on 8
February, 1619, of his having privately opposed Davenant and Ward over their hypothetical
universalism. He confessed to Sir Dudley that this “devising of Words makes me more to suspect
the Doctrine [of universal redemption]; for I think a devised School term should not determine a
Truth in Divinity.” According to Carleton, Ward was also forced at Dordt to coin the terms redi-
mibilitas and impetrabilitas for the same purpose of avoiding full-blown universalism (Hales,
Golden Remains, 2:179–182). The popular notion that particular redemptionists were ‘scholastic’

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140 Jonathan D. Moore

The second aspect of Davenant’s potential redemption based on the suf-

ficiency of Christ’s sacrifice is the rendering of all without exception salvi-
bile. Firstly, because the atonement “is as far applicable as it is announce-
able” (for if it were not applicable, it would not be announceable), Christ’s
death can be seen as “a medicine” or “universal remedy” ready to be admin-
istered or applied to any member of the human family.69 It “is applicable to
all from the Divine loving-kindness to man,” even to the non-elect who are
still in this world.70
Secondly, the corresponding salvability of man (as opposed to angels
and demons) means that as a result of Christ’s universal atonement all men
without exception have “a common right” to salvation.71 Thus salvation
“neither is, nor ought to be conceived by us to be altogether impossible to
any person living.”72 Rather “salvation is procurable” for all without excep-
tion, and “his sins are expiable.”73 Indeed, because of Christ’s universal
satisfaction, there is “an universal capacity of salvation in all persons living
in this world.”74 In concrete terms this means that the death of Christ “was
capable of application to Judas, if Judas had repented and believed in
Christ,” and was genuinely applicable to non-elect Cain before Christ died
in history.75 Cain and Judas were therefore potentially or hypothetically, but
not actually, redeemed by Christ.

6.3.3 Voluntarism

Another key to understanding the school of English Hypothetical Univers-

alism that Davenant represents is an appreciation of the importance of vol-
untarism in this system. Speaking with a Scotist accent of acceptatio,
Davenant stresses that what the satisfaction of Christ achieves depends
utterly on “the ordination and acceptation of God,” and is not determined by
anything arising from the intrinsic nature of justice or satisfactio.76 Daven-
whereas universal redemptionists just took Scripture words at face value does not reflect the nature
of these seventeenth-century debates.
Davenant, “Dissertation”, 2:380, 460, 513, 381, 386, 513, 522. Owen rejected this patristic
medicine metaphor (Owen, Works, 10:150, 232–233, 239).
Davenant, “Dissertation”, 2:358.
Ibid., 2:411.
Ibid., 2:429.
Ibid., 2:372.
Ibid., 2:566.
Ibid., 2:342, 368. Note how Davenant makes the application of the atonement contingent on
faith, whereas in Death of Death Owen always sees faith itself as arising out of an unconditional
application of the atonement.
Davenant claimed that “the merit of Christ is a benefit to us only as far as it was accepted
by God, as Scotus hath taught” (ibid., 2:455). Davenant was of the view that Scotus “has many
things which greatly conduce to the illustration of our opinion” (ibid., 2:543–544).

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The Extent of the Atonement 141
ant even argues that it is only “on account of the want of its ordination and
acceptation as to angels” that it does not save any angels. It is only due to
the acceptatio divina, and not, for example, because Christ did not take
upon himself the nature of angels, that Christ cannot “be said to have died
for [angels] in any way.”77 Similarly, it is only this divine acceptation that
makes the death of Christ pertain to the elect “in some special way.”78 It is
not the effect of propitiation itself that brings about faith in the elect, as in
Owen, but a separate decree of predestinating grace.79 It is the most free will
of God that takes a general atonement and applies it how he wills and to
whom he wills. It just so happens that God used “his own most free
power”80 to apply it not to angels or the reprobate, but to the elect alone. In
that sense, Davenant’s voluntarism stands over against Owen’s pactum
It is also this voluntarist approach to the satisfactio Christi that enables
Davenant to evade, partially at least, the dilemma that Owen sets for hypo-
thetical universalists concerning their apparent presentation of God exacting
a ‘double payment’ from the reprobate in hell. Davenant saw no injustice in
damning those for whom Christ died. He argued that
no injustice is done to those persons who are punished by God after the ransom was
accepted for the sins of the human race, because they offered nothing to God as a
satisfaction for their sins, nor performed that condition, without the performance of
which God willed not that this satisfactory price should benefit any individual.81
However, many Reformed divines would have questioned whether Dave-
nant in this way evades the other aspect of Owen’s dilemma concerning the
fact that this failure to believe merely constitutes the sin of unbelief, a sin
for which perfect satisfaction has in theory already been made. Thus, they
would argue, if Owen was emptying the sufficientia of Christ’s sacrifice of
any real meaning, Davenant was emptying Christ’s satisfactio of any real

6.3.4 Conditionalism & the Evangelical Covenant

Finally, having emphasized how important covenant theology was in

Owen’s form of particular redemptionism, it would be misleading to leave
the impression that Davenant himself did not heavily use covenant theology
in the defense and development of his position. In fact, rather than using
Ibid., 2:386; cf. 2:413; Heb 2:16.
Ibid., 2:547.
Ibid., 2:398.
Ibid., 2:371.
Ibid., 2:376; cf. 2:461.

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142 Jonathan D. Moore

covenant theology, like Owen, to emphasise a unilateral dispensation of

sovereign grace to the elect, Davenant used the covenant motif to empha-
sise the conditionality of salvation to all in the divine economy, developing
a highly elaborate bilateral scheme concerning what he called the ‘Evan-
gelical covenant’ or pactum Evangelicum.82
The first stage of Davenant’s two-staged reconciliation, outlined above,
was to furnish a new covenantal relationship between God and “the whole
human race”83 in the form of an “Evangelical covenant”84 founded upon
Christ’s oblation. This covenant has two main characteristics: its unre-
stricted universality and its conditionality. Faith is annexed to this covenant
as a “condition of works.”85 Thus, by virtue of the Evangelical covenant, “a
right accrued to all men individually, on condition of faith, of claiming for
themselves remission of sins.” Consequently, “through the death of Christ
having been accepted by God as a ransom, now it is lawful for any man
indiscriminately to ascend into heaven by believing.”86
The foedus Evangelicum is to be contrasted with God’s foedus arcanum
or “secret covenant which comprehends some certain individual persons
known only to God” and is “subordinate” to the Evangelical covenant.87
It would be anachronistic to expect Davenant in the 1620s to be interacting with the notion
of a pactum salutis. However, all the evidence suggests that had Davenant been challenged to
articulate what form a pactum salutis might have taken, he would probably have said something
along the lines that the Father covenanted with the Son that he should die for all a death which
would be applicable to all upon condition of faith – a faith that the Father promised he would give
to the elect. It is inconceivable that Davenant would have conceded a pactum salutis without such
a dual reference.
Davenant, “Dissertation”, 2:368.
References to this ‘Evangelical covenant’ are legion: ibid., 2:357, 375, 381, 396, 398, 399,
401, 404–405, 417–429, 439, 440, 442, 449, 473, 478, 511–512, 525, 554–555, 556, 557; Hales,
Golden Remains, 2:187; John Davenant, A Treatise on Justification, or the Disputatio de Justitia
habituali at actuali [...] translated from the original Latin, together with Translations of the
Determinationes, trans. Josiah Allport, [1631, (1634) 1639] 1st English edn, 2 vol. (London:
Hamilton, Adams, & Co., 1844–1846), 1:289; 2:144.
Davenant, Justification, 1:289. By this term, Davenant does not mean to imply some form
of neonomianism: “In fine, the law rests the value and form of its covenant upon the condition of
works, but the Gospel places the value and form of its covenant in the blood of the Mediator,
apprehended by faith; but annexes the condition of works, as subserving this Evangelical cove-
nant, not as comprising or constituting the covenant itself” (ibid.). In other words, faith is still not
to be seen as meritorious (ibid., 2:144; cf. 2:46).
Davenant, “Dissertation”, 2:473, 404. Davenant’s Evangelical covenant also provides the
conceptual environment for his formulations on the free offer of the gospel. However, the nature
of the gospel call for both particular redemptionists and hypothetical universalists is beyond the
scope of this essay. But for an examination of Davenant’s teaching that God loves and desires to
save the reprobate in a gracious gospel call that announces that Christ has died for every hearer,
see Moore, English Hypothetical Universalism, 198–208. For Owen’s denial of the same in Death
of Death see Owen, Works, 10:227–230, 240, 294, 298, 300, 311–316, 328, 384, 393, 395, 396,
Davenant, “Dissertation”, 2:525, 555. Davenant cites Jeremiah 31:33. Davenant usually
employs his own term of pactum Evangelicum in his defense of hypothetical universalism, but

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The Extent of the Atonement 143
Whereas Owen puts conceptual priority on the eternal counsel, the pactum
salutis and the eternal covenant of grace, Davenant puts conceptual priority
on this universal conditional covenant, and not on any absolute covenant:
“Lest, therefore, this universal compact should not bring the effect of salva-
tion to any one, God, by a special and secret intention, hath taken care that
the merit of the death of Christ should be applied to some for the infallible
obtaining of faith and eternal life.”88 Although eternal, this absolute new
covenant comes after the conditional Evangelical covenant, with the pur-
pose of ensuring that salvation becomes a reality.89 In Davenant and English
Hypothetical Universalism, therefore, we have within the ranks of the Re-
formed Orthodox a competing system in which sovereign, particular grace
operates within a conditional, covenantal framework, such that none are
antecedently excluded on the basis of eternal reprobation, but all have equal
access, at least in theory, to the finished, universal work of Christ as set
forth in the gospel.

6.4 English Hypothetical Universalism & Reformed Confessions

We have so far seen something of the considerable differences that lay

between the representative positions of Owen and Davenant on the extent of
the atonement, and the differing extents to which their predestinarian sys-
tems were allowed to control their presentation of the work of Christ. But
could such radically different approaches both be accepted as ‘orthodox’ by
the seventeenth-century British Reformed churches? It is fair to say that
here, in contrasting it with God’s absolute covenant, he adopts the standard Reformed Orthodox
term of foedus Evangelicum (Davenant, Dissertationes duae, 92). This is lost in Allport’s render-
ing of it as ‘covenant’ in all cases.
Davenant, “Dissertation”, 2:555–556. The difference here with Owen is not that Owen de-
nies faith is a condition, but that he teaches that this condition, though still a sine qua non, is
purchased for, and applied to, the elect absolutely and unconditionally (Owen, Works, 10:203, 224,
225, 235, 241, 450, 465; 12:608). For Owen, faith is a necessary “fruit and effect of the death of
Christ” for all those for whom he died, and he vehemently repudiated the conditionalism of hypo-
thetical universalism: “their conditional satisfaction, or their suspending the fruits of the death of
Christ upon conditions, as though the Lord should give him to die for us upon condition of such
and such things, is a vain figment, contrary to the Scriptures, inconsistent in itself, and destructive
of the true value and virtue of the death of Christ” (ibid., 10:254, 450).
In this, Davenant anticipates the Cameronian or Amyraldian placement of the decree of
election as logically following the decree to give Christ for the salvation of the whole world, in
order to pre-empt the otherwise foreseeable outcome of no one believing the gospel. But there
appears to be no evidence that, before Davenant’s lectures were “ready for ye presse” in 1628
(Bodleian Tanner MS. 72 f.298v), Davenant had been consciously following John Cameron in this
regard. In 1630 in a letter to Samuel Ward, Davenant explicitly rejected the notion that election
was on the basis of “ye Forseen Merits of Christ” (Bodleian Tanner MS. 71, f.37r; Morris Fuller,
The Life, Letters and Writings of John Davenant, D.D. 1572–1641 Lord Bishop of Salisbury, 1st
edn [London: Methuen, 1897], 325).

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144 Jonathan D. Moore

Owen’s basic position was generally perceived to be the more orthodox of

the two amongst the seventeenth-century British Reformed Orthodox, if
only because it was manifestly further away from Arminianism than hypo-
thetical universalism could ever be. But that is not the same as saying Eng-
lish Hypothetical Universalists were therefore officially regarded as hetero-
dox, or that they could not themselves offer a robust defense of their own
orthodox credentials.
It goes without saying that particular redemptionism was not excluded
by the final pronouncements of the two greatest synods in the seventeenth-
century for the codification of Reformed Orthodoxy at which British di-
vines were present, namely the Synod of Dordt (1618–1619) and the West-
minster Assembly (1643–1653).90 But was English Hypothetical Universal-
ism excluded? The popular perception, both at the time and subsequently,
that both the Canons of Dordt and the Westminster Confession of Faith
excluded hypothetical universalism was never universally shared and has
always been challenged right from the genesis of these documents.91 A
majority influence at a Synod is not the same as an exclusive influence, and
a minority influence or influences could potentially still have resulted in
modified or necessarily more ambiguous joint codifications.

6.4.1 The Canons of Dordt

In the case of the Canons of Dordt, modifications deriving from a substan-

tial minority influence are exactly what we find.92 It might at first be
thought out of place in an essay on diversity in the British Reformed tradi-
tion to trespass into a consideration of the position on this controversy taken
by the Synod of Dordt. That would doubtless have been the case had it not
been for the fact that a highly significant part of this minority influence at
the Synod came from the British Delegation, and the most influential
among its five delegates was none other than John Davenant.93 Like the

Chad Van Dixhoorn and the Westminster Assembly Project (
have recently redated the end of the Westminster Assembly to 1653 based on local newspaper
evidence (unpublished communication).
In the case of Dordt, Daniel Tilenus’ gross caricature of the Canons did much to promote
this popular perception (Daniel Tilenus, Canones Synodi Dordracenae. Cum Notis et Animadver-
sionibus D. Tileni. Adjecta sunt ad calcem Paralipomena ad Amicam Collationem quam cum D.
Tileno ante Biennium Institutam nuper publicavit lo. Camero, 1st edn [Paris: Nicolas Buon,
W. Robert Godfrey, “Tensions within International Calvinism: The Debate on the Atone-
ment at the Synod of Dort, 1618–1619” (Ph.D. Dissertation, Stanford University, 1974), 263–264.
For a detailed examination of the options on offer at the Synod of Dordt, including an
examination of the views of the continental hypothetical universalist delegates, see G. Michael
Thomas, The Extent of the Atonement: A Dilemma for Reformed Theology from Calvin to the

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The Extent of the Atonement 145
Synod itself, the British Delegation was by no means unanimous on the
extent of the atonement, and the influence of particular redemptionist im-
pulses was felt, initially at least, from three delegates within the British
ranks.94 Tales of the ‘conversion’ of British delegates from particularism to
hypothetical universalism under the influence of Davenant and the other
convinced hypothetical universalist delegate Samuel Ward (1572–1643) are
not implausible, but hard to verify. But certainly ground was conceded to
Davenant and Ward either reluctantly and for tactical reasons, or other-
wise.95 Due to the towering influence of Davenant and his close friend
Ward, it was the position of English Hypothetical Universalism that was
brought to bear powerfully upon the deliberations and final formulations of
the Synod to the extent that the British Delegation were able to subscribe to
the resulting Canons shortly before returning to England.96
In subscribing to the Canons, the British Delegation affirmed the follow-
ing in Article 2.8: “voluit Deus, ut Christus per sanguinem crucis (quo
novum foedus confirmavit) ex omni populo, tribu, gente, et lingua, eos
omnes et solos, qui ab aeterno ad salutem electi, et a Patre ipsi dati sunt,
efficaciter redimeret.”97 But how exactly could a theologian such as John
Consensus, 1st edn, Paternoster biblical & theological Monographs (Carlisle, UK: Paternoster
Press, 1997), 128–159.
Hales, Golden Remains, 2:101, 179–186.
Moore, English Hypothetical Universalism, 213; W. Brown Patterson, King James VI and I
and the Reunion of Christendom, 1st edn, Cambridge Studies in Early Modern British History
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 272–274; Peter White, Predestination, Policy
and Polemic: Conflict and Consensus in the English Church from the Reformation to the Civil
War, 1st edn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 187–192.
The Canons themselves conclude with the claim that they were unanimi omnium et singulo-
rum totius Synodi membrorum consensu firmata (“confirmed by the unanimous consent of all and
each of the members of the whole Synod”) (Philip Schaff, ed., The Creeds of Christendom, with a
History and Critical Notes, edited by David S. Schaff, [1931] 6th Revised reprint edn, 3 vol.
[Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1993], 3:577, 596). For further documentation on the British
Delegation subscribing to the Canons, see Hales, Golden Remains, 2:152–156; Gerard Brandt, The
History of the Reformation and other Ecclesiastical Transactions in and about the Low-Countries,
from the Beginning of the Eighth Century, down to the famous Synod of Dort, inclusive. In which
all the Revolutions that happen’d in Church and State on Account of the Divisions between the
Protestants and Papists, the Arminians and Calvinists, are fairly and fully represented, [1677–
1704] 1st English edn, 4 vol. (London: T. Wood for Timothy Childe, John Childe & John Nicks,
1720–1723), 3:282; James Ussher, The whole Works of the most Rev. James Ussher, D.D., Lord
Archbishop of Armagh, and Primate of all Ireland. With the life of the Author, and an Account of
his Writings, edited by Charles R. Elrington, 17 vol. (Dublin: Hodges and Smith, 1847–1864),
15:144–145. For more detail and key source documents on the theology and influence of the
British Delegation, see Milton, ed., British Delegation.
Schaff, ed., Creeds, 3:562. This forms just part of Article 2.8. The English translation of
this portion published in 1619 reads, “God willed, that Christ by the blood of his crosse (whereby
hee was to establish a new covenant) should effectually redeeme out of every people, tribe, nation,
and language, all them, and them onely, who from eternity were elected unto salvation, and given
to him of the Father” (The Synod of Dordt, The Judgement of the Synode holden at Dort, concern-
ing the Five Articles: As also their Sentence touching Conradus Vorstius, [1619] Another edn

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146 Jonathan D. Moore

Davenant subscribe to this? At first glance the terms efficaciter (‘effectu-

ally’ or ‘efficaciously’) and eos solos (‘those only’) appear to shut up the
would-be subscriber to a particularist understanding of the death of Christ,
as if Christ died to save “only” the elect. This explains why in the twentieth
century this second Article of the Canons was to form the ‘L’ for ‘Limited
Atonement’ in the popular ‘T.U.L.I.P.’ acronym for the so-called ‘Five
Points of Calvinism’.98 But ironically it is the inclusion of the word effi-
caciter that gives the hypothetical universalist room for his position. Had
this word been omitted, the Canons would be teaching that Christ’s redemp-
tive work in all respects was “only” for the elect. But as it stands, what the
Canons teach here is that Christ’s effectual redemptive work was “only” for
the elect. This leaves a door open – even if it is only a back door – for any
subscriber to hold privately to an ineffectual redemptive work for the non-
elect, or, to put it differently, Christ dying for the non-elect sufficiently but
not efficiently – precisely what a hypothetical universalist usage of the
Lombardian formula entailed.
In other words, this section subtly allowed the likes of Davenant to sub-
scribe to the Canons, and, in terms of vindicating the rejection of Remon-
strant errors (the official purpose of the Synod), it was still fit for purpose.99

[London: John Bill, 1619], 20. This translation is, as Milton notes, not the most accurate but the
most contemporary [Milton, ed., British Delegation, 297]). It is with these words that the Synod
explains its immediately preceding statement that God’s intention (intentio) was that the saving
efficacy (salvifica efficacia) of Christ’s death should exert itself (sese exereret) in all the elect, in
order to give them alone (eos solos) justifying faith, and lead them infallibly (infallibiliter) to
salvation (Schaff, ed., Creeds, 3:562).
The ‘T.U.L.I.P.’ acronym appears to have originated no earlier than a 1905 lecture in New
Jersey by Dr. Cleland Boyd McAfee (1866–1944), a leading Presbyterian minister in Brooklyn,
New York (William H. Vail, “The Five Points of Calvinism historically considered,” The Outlook
104, May–August [1913]: 394). For the first influential popularisation of this acronym, still in
print to this day, see Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, 3rd edn (Grand
Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1932), 59–60, 150–161.
It is important to take into account at this point that the Synod’s intention was never to pro-
duce a positive confessional standard, and that requiring the delegates or others to subscribe to the
final document was not initially envisaged. The Synod’s original intention was simply to produce
a negative document that judged and definitively rejected Remonstrant theology. Therefore the
‘Rejection of Errors’ sections of the final document are actually primary, despite the fact that they
eventually took second place and are even sometimes omitted in modern editions of the Canons.
Indeed, the original drafting committee used the term ‘Canons’ to refer only to the Rejectio Er-
rorum in distinction from the positive articles. The positive articles were eventually folded into the
final document in order to vindicate the rejections and demonstrate how an orthodox biblical
alternative was available. Although the Rejectio Errorum gradually faded from view once the final
synodical judgment began to function increasingly as a confessional standard, it follows that the
positive articles can still only be responsibly interpreted with the ‘Rejection of Errors’ as an
interpretive backdrop (Donald W. Sinnema, “The Canons of Dordt: From Judgment on Arminian-
ism to Confessional Standard,” in Revisiting the Synod of Dordt (1618–1619), ed. Aza Goudriaan
and Fred A. van Lieburg [Leiden: Brill, 2011], 313–333). I am very grateful to Professor Sinnema

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The Extent of the Atonement 147
According to the Synod, the Remonstrants maintained that Christ died in
the same manner for all without exception, that is to say, that “God the
Father ordained his Sonne unto the death of the crosse without any certaine
& determinate counsell of saving any particular man expressely” (sine certo
ac definito consilio quemquam nominatem salvandi).100 Against this claim,
both particular redemptionists and hypothetical universalists were united in
maintaining that Christ died efficaciter for the elect. That Christ died effica-
ciously for the elect and “those only” (and therefore not efficaciously for all
equally) was enough to put the Remonstrants well outside the bounds of
Reformed Orthodoxy, while still allowing anti-Remonstrant hypothetical
universalists to remain within the Reformed Orthodox fold.
With regard to Article 2.3, all the Dordt delegates needed to do was to
demonstrate that their rejection of the Remonstrant formulation of a univer-
sal atonement in no way reduced their own ability to uphold the infinite
sufficiency of Christ’s atonement. Accordingly, though internally divided
on this issue, they forged a carefully crafted statement, binding any sub-
scriber neither to the view that it was only an intrinsic sufficiency (derived
from the hypostatic union), nor to the view that it was an ordained suffi-
ciency (with a divine intention to benefit more than the elect in at least one
respect). Article 2.3 simply reads “Haec mors Filii Dei est unica et perfec-
tissima pro peccatis victima et satisfactio, infiniti valoris et pretii, abunde
sufficiens ad totius mundi peccata expianda.”101 Thus it was that particular
redemptionist Edward Reynolds could argue from the floor of the Westmin-
ster Assembly that the Synod of Dordt “intended noe more than” an intrin-
sic sufficiency, whereas, in the same debate, English Hypothetical Univers-
alist Edmund Calamy could argue for an ordained sufficiency by announ-
cing that he held to universal redemption “in the sence of our devines in the
sinod of Dort; that Christ did pay a price for all.”102 Reynolds was conven-
iently closing down an interpretative option, just as Calamy was conven-
for sharing and clarifying with me the above findings from his extensive research into the drafting
of the Canons of Dordt.
Synod of Dordt, Judgement, 21; Schaff, ed., Creeds, 3:563.
Schaff, ed., Creeds, 3:561. “The death of the sonne of God is the onely, and most perfit
sacrifice, and satisfaction for sinnes, of infinite price, and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate
the sinnes of the whole world” (Synod of Dordt, Judgement, 18–19).
Session 522, 22 October, 1645. “Minutes of the Assembly of Divines at Westminster, from
4th September, 1643 to 25th March, 1652 in three Volumes,” Dr Williams Library, London, MS.
35.1–3, 3.104r, 104v. Cf. Alexander F. Mitchell and John Struthers, ed., Minutes of the Sessions of
the Westminster Assembly of Divines while engaged in preparing their Directory for Church
Government, Confession of Faith, and Catechisms (November 1644 to March 1649) from Tran-
scripts of the Originals produced by a Committee of the General Assembly of the Church of
Scotland, 1st edn (Edinburgh: William Blackwood and Sons, 1874), 152, 153. The Westminster
Assembly Minutes are fully reproduced in Chad B. Van Dixhoorn, “Reforming the Reformation:
Theological Debate at the Westminster Assembly, 1643–1652” (Ph.D. Dissertation, University of
Cambridge, 2004), 7 vol, and are shortly to be published by Oxford University Press.

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148 Jonathan D. Moore

iently stating more than was explicitly required by Article 2.3. But reading
a divine intentionality into this section is not itself proscribed by the
Synod’s meticulously crafted wording, and Calamy’s was a fair summary of
the British Delegation’s reading of the Canons, even as Reynolds’ position
was also fully accommodated in Article 2.3.

6.4.2 The Westminster Confession

Finding modified or intentionally ambiguous codification in the Westmin-

ster Confession of Faith (WCF) is altogether more difficult, but, just as a
significant body of hypothetical universalists successfully influenced the
final wording at Dordt, so too at the Westminster Assembly do we meet
with a vocal minority who were able to restrain the final codification suffi-
ciently for there to be some significant ambiguity at crucial places. This
may come as a surprise to many, because it is quite clear that the Westmin-
ster Standards not only do not teach English Hypothetical Universalism or
allow it to be deduced or expounded by logical deduction from various
propositional statements made, but the whole exegetical approach and sys-
tematic structures of the finally codified Westminster theology are inimical
to it.103 But that should not take away from the fact that the Westminster
Assembly was far from unanimous on the issue of the extent of the atone-
ment, and the vocal and influential English Hypothetical Universalist mi-
nority pushed hard so as not to be needlessly excluded from orthodoxy at
any crucial point.
And neither was the Assembly unwilling to comply. There is no evi-
dence to suggest that the Assembly excluded views unnecessarily just be-
cause it could. Indeed, to have done so would have been strategically disas-
trous for this parliamentary committee, as well as against the stated will of
some of its leading divines. For example, on the Fast Day of 8 October,
1645, days before the extent of the atonement was debated at the Westmin-
ster Assembly, Edward Reynolds preached a sermon to the Assembly in
which he exhorted the divines to self-denial in relation to the Assembly,
including in the matter of expressing their “judgments and opinions” when
these threatened “to hinder the peace of the church.” Reynolds feared that a
“devided ministry” would only serve as “an advantage for the common
enemy.”104 By ‘common enemy’ Reynolds would have included Papists,
For example, WCF 29.2 speaks of “the alone propitiation for all the sins of his elect.” This
does not necessarily exclude English Hypothetical Universalism as its advocates would argue that
in one sense this is still true, i.e. the elect have no other source of propitiation for their sins other
than in Christ’s one sacrifice (which, for the elect, is effectual). But this is language more charac-
teristic of the particularist, and anticipates Owen’s reading of 1 John 2:2 in his Death of Death.
Session 514, 8 October, 1645. “Minutes,” 3.98r–98v; cf. Mitchell, Minutes, 142.

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The Extent of the Atonement 149
Anabaptists, Arminians and the like, but not – despite his own particular
redemptionist convictions – English Hypothetical Universalists. The printed
edition of this sermon “Published by Authority” indicates that what Rey-
nolds had in mind by judgments and opinions that needed to be suppressed
for the sake of unity were those that were “not in themselves matters of
faith and morall duty” but rather “matters meerly problematicall, and of
private perswasion, wherein godly men may be differently minded, without
breach of love, or hazard of salvation.”105 Reynolds’ spirit here is not out of
keeping with the fact that although the Westminster Confession goes way
beyond Dordt’s calculated ambiguity in the direction of a much more de-
fensive particularism, it too also falls short of explicitly proscribing English
Hypothetical Universalism where, in theory, it could have done so.
An exhaustive investigation of this complicated matter is beyond the
scope of this essay, but one example of this falling short would arguably be
Chapter 3 of the Confession concerning “Gods eternall Decree”. This chap-
ter was debated at length during the Assembly in the autumn of 1645, fol-
lowing the report of the first Committee concerning predestination on Fri-
day, 17 October. It is significant, given his irenicism above, that Reynolds
himself was in charge of this committee.106 A surviving comment from
Scots Commissioner George Gillespie on the opening session of the debate
on the following Monday also gives an indication of the spirit in which its
predestinarian statements were drawn up. Gillespie advocated studied am-
biguity in the confession at this point “soe every one may injoy his owne
sence.”107 Two days later, as the debate continued, the boundaries of Gilles-
pie’s commitment to studied ambiguity were to be put to the test as the
debate moved towards the relationship between the decree of election and
the redemption of Christ. Gillespie, along with Samuel Rutherford, John
Lightfoot, Thomas Goodwin, Anthony Burgess and various other particular
redemptionists, locked horns with the English Hypothetical Universalists
Edmund Calamy, Lazarus Seaman, Stephen Marshall and Richard Vines for
extensive debates on whether “Christ did intend to Redeeme the elect
only.”108 The extent of the atonement was debated at length for the rest of
the week and rolled on into a second week of debates, with the “debate
about Redemption” still appearing in the Minutes as late as 31 October. By
this stage some level of agreement appears to have been reached, for dis-

Edward Reynolds, Self-Deniall: Opened and applied in a Sermon before the Reverend As-
sembly of Divines on a Day of their private Humiliation, 1st edn (London: Robert Bostock, 1645),
For the meticulous care and prolonged revision process that the Assembly employed in the
production of Chapter 3, see Benjamin B. Warfield, The Westminster Assembly and its Work, 1st
edn (New York: Oxford University Press, 1931), 73–151.
Session 520, 20 October, 1645. “Minutes,” 3.103r; cf. Mitchell, Minutes, 151.
Session 522, 22 October, 1645. “Minutes,” 3.105r; cf. Mitchell, Minutes, 154.

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150 Jonathan D. Moore

cussion then proceeded to the doctrine of reprobation. But just what was
this agreement, and to what extent could ‘every one enjoy their own sense’?
WCF 3.6 reads:
Wherefore they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are
effectually called unto faith in Christ, by his Spirit working in due season, are justi-
fied, adopted, sanctified, and kept by his power through faith unto salvation. Neither
are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified and
saved, but the Elect only.”109
As if echoing the phrase “those only” of the Canons of Dordt, the Confes-
sion here speaks of “the elect only” in connection with Christ’s redemption,
and, once again, at first glance it would appear that the particularists won
the day. We have seen how the English Hypothetical Universalist, faced
with Canons Article 2.8, could argue that this limitation to the elect con-
cerned only the ‘effectual’ aspect of redemption. But this is not as easy to
do in WCF 3.6 because the word ‘redemption’ is not proactively qualified
in this way. However, the first sentence above can still be taken to be refer-
ring only to effectual redemption, and the second sentence similarly fails to
close down the English Hypothetical Universalist position.110 Had the Con-
fession said “Neither are any other redeemed by Christ but the elect only”
full stop, or “Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called,
justified, adopted, sanctified or saved, but the Elect only,” even the most
scholastically agile English Hypothetical Universalist would have been in
difficulty, though not, perhaps, insuperably so. But because it says “and
saved” the English Hypothetical Universalist could much more easily argue
that the limitation to the elect here only applies concerning the full set, and
not individually to each component part, i.e. only the elect have the redemp-
tion of Christ fully applied to them, but it just so happens that the non-elect
are also redeemed in another sense. But even with the second sentence as it
finally stood, an English Hypothetical Universalist might still ‘enjoy his
own sense’ by simply confining its scope to the effectual redemption of the
elect, while reserving the right to hold privately to another, ineffectual
redemption. Structurally speaking this would be a contorted reading of the
Confession, because WCF 3.7 immediately contrasts God’s decree concern-
ing the reprobate with that concerning the elect in 3.6, and thereby implies
that the categories of 3.6 do not apply to the non-elect (who are dealt with
in 3.7). These categories are therefore presented only as the ‘appointed

The Westminster Assembly of Divines, The humble Advice of the Assembly of Divines, now
by Authority of Parliament sitting at Westminster, concerning a Confession of Faith: With the
Quotations and Texts of Scripture annexed. Presented by them lately to both Houses of Parlia-
ment, 1st edn (London/Edinburgh: Evan Tyler, 1647), 7–8.
This second sentence remains exactly as proposed by the Committee, despite it being much
debated on the floor of the Assembly (Warfield, Westminster Assembly, 149, 151).

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The Extent of the Atonement 151
means’ for the salvation of the elect. But it still remains a fact that this
Chapter does not exclude English Hypothetical Universalism in a way that
it could have done. For example, on the floor of the Assembly Gillespie
rightly identified the concept of a “conditionall Redemption” as key to a
hypothetical universalist system,111 but the Confession nowhere explicitly
denies the possibility of a conditional redemption as having also been pro-
cured by Christ.112 It nowhere answers the question debated on the Assem-
bly floor explicitly with a simple statement such as ‘Christ intended to re-
deeme the elect only.’ It certainly falls far short of the crystal clear particu-
larism of a Scottish Presbyterian synod a century later which declared, with
breathtaking confidence and a surgical precision that would have attracted
the admiration of John Owen, that Christ “died in one and the same respect,
for all those for whom he in any respect died.”113
Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest that some members of the
Westminster Assembly did detect a hypothetical universalist loophole re-
maining in WCF 3.6. Five of the six members of the main committee at the
Savoy Conference of 1658 had been active members of the Westminster
Assembly: Thomas Goodwin (who had also argued for particular redemp-
tion from the floor of the Assembly), Philip Nye, William Bridge, William
Greenhill and Joseph Caryl.114 The sixth member was none other than John
Owen, who led the committee along with Thomas Goodwin. It was prob-
ably through Owen’s influence, therefore, and certainly with his approval,
that the Committee inserted the crucial word ‘or’, as suggested above, into
3.6 of the Savoy Declaration of Faith – a strategically conservative revision
of the WCF – thereby explicitly denying that Christ redeemed the reprobate
in another sense.115
Similarly, in WCF 8.5 and 8.8, although these sections reflect particular-
istic categories and concerns, they do not do so to the unambiguous exclu-
sion of an English Hypothetical Universalist reading, as strained as it might
come across to the modern reader. For example, 8.8 could have been made
‘bullet proof’ had it read “To all those for whom Christ hath purchased
redemption in any sense” instead of just “purchased redemption.” As it
stands, an English Hypothetical Universalist could, in the absence of any
Session 522, 22 October, 1645. “Minutes,” 3.104v; cf. Mitchell, Minutes, 153.
Another chance to do so was also missed in the Larger Catechism (Qs 57 and 59), where a
hypothetical universalist gloss concerning “special” or “effectual” redemption is also still possible,
though structurally contorted.
Article 3 of the Act of the Associate Synod at Edinburgh, 18 April, 1754 (quoted in Ian
Hamilton, The Erosion of Calvinist Orthodoxy: Drifting from the Truth in Confessional Scottish
Churches, [1990] Revised edn [Fearn, UK: Mentor, 2010], 74).
Arnold G. Matthews, ed., The Savoy Declaration of Faith and Order, 1658 (London: Inde-
pendent Press, 1959), 34.
“Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, or effectually called, justified, adopted, sancti-
fied, and saved, but the Elect onely” (Savoy Conference, Declaration, 8–9).

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152 Jonathan D. Moore

explicitly prohibitive qualifier, simply take this to be referring once again

only to that effectual redemption that God intended for the elect alone.116
As it happened, the Reformed Orthodox had to wait until 1675 before a
Reformed Confession unequivocally and without any possible means of
escape explicitly condemned and excluded Hypothetical Universalism in all
its forms. Yet this Formula Consensus Helvetica, specifically aimed at
Amyraldianism rather than decretally orthodox forms of hypothetical uni-
versalism such as the English variety, never attained widespread and sus-
tained usage.117

6.5 The Case of Richard Baxter

If Davenant produced the most rigorous, scholarly defense of English Hy-

pothetical Universalism in seventeenth-century England, it was Richard
Baxter (1615–1691) who made the most noise and spilled the most ink
about it. Baxter’s literary output was about double that of Owen’s 24 vol-
umes, but the casual reader cannot help but think that few books by Baxter
were ever entirely free of something said in defense of universal redemp-
tion. Baxter’s most extensive defense of universal redemption was not
The extent to which Hypothetical Universalism is excluded by the Westminster Standards
point has been long debated, but the confidence of those who argue that it is completely excluded
has often proceeded from a failure to distinguish adequately between Amyraldianism (which alters
the ordo decretorum) and English Hypothetical Universalism (which does not). Establishing that
the former is excluded does not automatically mean that the latter also is. See Schaff, ed., Creeds,
1:770–773; Mitchell, Minutes, lv–lxi; Warfield, Westminster Assembly, 138–144; William Cun-
ningham, Historical Theology: A Review of the principal doctrinal Discussions in the Christian
Church since the Apostolic Age, edited by James Buchanan and James Bannerman, 1st edn, 2 vol.
(Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1863) 2:326–331; A. Craig Troxel, “Amyraut ‘at’ the Assembly: The
Westminster Confession of Faith and the Extent of the Atonement,” Presbyterion 22, no. 1 (1996):
43–55. For a more recent study, this time more helpfully grounded on making a clear distinction
between English Hypothetical Universalism and Amyraldianism, see Lee Gatiss, “‘Shades of
Opinion within a generic Calvinism’: The Particular Redemption Debate at the Westminster
Assembly,” Reformed Theological Review 69, no. 2 (2010): 101–118, and Lee Gatiss, “A Decep-
tive Clarity? Particular Redemption in the Westminster Standards,” Reformed Theological Review
(forthcoming). It is also noteworthy that Robert Letham, who also acknowledges this distinction
between English Hypothetical Universalism and Amyraldianism in his recent examination of this
debate at the Assembly, and who notes that “roughly one-third of the recorded speeches” favoured
English Hypothetical Universalism, still comes down on the side of Warfield, denying that there is
technically any room for hypothetical universalism in the Confession (Robert W. A. Letham, The
Westminster Assembly: Reading its Theology in historical Context, 1st edn, The Westminster
Assembly and the Reformed Faith [Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Company, 2009], 176–182;
especially, 181–182; Warfield, Westminster Assembly, 142–144). This debate looks set to con-
tinue, but its very existence is enough to establish my main point here.
For more on the Formula Consensus Helvetica, see Martin I. Klauber, “The Helvetic For-
mula Consensus (1675): An Introduction and Translation,” Trinity Journal 11, no. 1 (1990): 103–

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The Extent of the Atonement 153
published until three years after his death,118 but throughout his publishing
career he was in the habit of merging Amyraldianism and English Hypo-
thetical Universalism together in his mind in order to present a united front
of notable authorities who rejected particular redemption. But even Richard
Baxter claimed that he could subscribe to the Canons of Dordt and the
Westminster Confession of Faith, provided he could ‘enjoy his own sense.’
From his first book onwards Baxter’s orthodox credentials were being
questioned. In 1655, in an attempt to counter these charges, Baxter set out
to establish that he could subscribe to the Canons of Dordt and the West-
minster Standards. Concerning the Canons he wrote:
I have perused over all the Articles or Decrees of the Synod of Dort, and unfeignedly
honour them, as containing sound and moderate Doctrine, and heartily lament that
some late Divines have to the great detriment of the Church and Truth, forsaken the
moderate way of that Synod, and laid the weight of the Anti-Arminian Cause, so
much upon higher points not owned by them. And there is nothing that I have ob-
served in it all, that my Judgement doth contradict, if I be allowed these few Exposi-
tions following.119
The exceptions that follow reveal that it was phraseology around the doc-
trines of assurance and the perseverance of the saints that were the problem
areas for Baxter and not the way it handled the matter of the extent of the
atonement. Concerning this latter topic in the Canons, Baxter claimed that
“in the Article of the extent of Redemption, wherein I am most suspected
and accused [...] I do subscribe to the Synod of Dort, without any exception,
limitation, or exposition of any word as doubtful and obscure.”120 He con-
tinued, “A man that holds to the moderation of the Synod of Dort, need not
say that Christ did not dye or satisfie for all men.”121 Three years later, Bax-
ter was more explicit on exactly how he could subscribe to Article 2.8 of
the Canons. As we have already suggested is possible above, he took “those
Richard Baxter, Universal Redemption of Mankind, by the Lord Jesus Christ: Stated and
cleared by the late learned Mr Richard Baxter. Whereunto is added a short Account of special
Redemption, by the same Author, 1st edn (London: For John Salusbury, 1694).
Richard Baxter, Rich: Baxter’s Confession of his Faith, especially concerning the Interest
of Repentance and sincere Obedience to Christ, in our Justification & Salvation. Written for the
Satisfaction of the Misinformed, the Conviction of Calumniators, and the Explication and Vindica-
tion of some weighty Truths (London: R. W. for Tho. Underhil and Fra. Tyton, 1655), 23.
Ibid., 25.
Ibid., 26. Baxter later went even further, claiming that the Synod of Dort disowned “the
Doctrine of Christs dying only for the Elect” (Richard Baxter, The Grotian Religion discovered, at
the Invitation of Mr Thomas Pierce in his Vindication. With a Preface, vindicating the Synod of
Dort from the Calumnies of the new Tilenus; and David, Peter, &c. And the Puritanes, and
Sequestrations, &c. from the Censures of Mr Pierce, 1st edn [London: R. W. for Nevill Simmons
and by Thomas Brewster and by John Starkey, 1658], *3v). For more on Baxter’s assessment of
the “Healing Principles” and moderation of the Synod of Dordt, see Richard Baxter, Richard
Baxter’s Catholick Theologie: Plain, pure, peaceable: For Pacification of the dogmatical Word-
Warriours, 1st edn (London: Robert White for Nevill Simmons, 1675), 1:124–126.

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154 Jonathan D. Moore

only” to be speaking only of an effectual redemption and not of another

more general, ineffectual redemption.122
When it came to the Westminster Confession, in keeping with its in-
creased rigor, Baxter was forced to make “a limiting Exposition” and “Ex-
plications” before he could claim meaningfully to subscribe to them. How-
ever, he could still write of WCF 3.6 and 8.8 that, although these sections
“speak against Universal Redemption,” they do not speak “of all Redemp-
tion, and particularly not of the meer bearing the punishment of mans sins,
and satisfying Gods Justice.” Rather, they only speak “of that special Re-
demption proper to the Elect, which was accompanied with an intention of
actual application of the saving benefits in time.”123 Thus, because Baxter
held to a twofold redemption, like Davenant and all English Hypothetical
Universalists, when the creeds of Reformed Orthodoxy spoke of an effec-
tual, limited redemption but did not go out of their way to explicitly deny
any other kind of redemption, he could still subscribe to these formulations,
while holding to an ineffectual, general redemption that just happened not
to be mentioned in the confessional statement. This, of course, required the
convenient ignoring of any implicit, structural exclusions of a universal
atonement, but Baxter justified this approach by saying, “I have spoken
with an eminent Divine, yet living, that was of the Assembly, who assured
me that they purposely avoided determining that Controversie, and some of
them protest themselves for the middle way of Universal Redemption.”124
If we take the Westminster Confession as the high watermark of British
Reformed Orthodoxy, we can now see how English Hypothetical Univer-
salism never came to be regarded as a heresy in British seventeenth-century
Reformed thought. Although language could be very heated at times, and
this controversy was deemed by many to be of the utmost importance, po-
lemic fell short of using such emotive language, provided that a common
abhorrence of, and separation from, Arminianism could still be estab-
lished.125 Indeed, those sometimes charged with being hard, harsh and ob-
Baxter, Grotian Religion, A3r.
Baxter, Confession, 21.
Richard Baxter, Certain Disputations of Right to Sacraments and the true Nature of Visible
Christianity: Defending them against several Sorts of Opponents, especially against the second
Assault of that pious, reverend and dear Brother Mr Thomas Blake (London: R. White for Nevil
Simmons and Nathaniel Ekins, 1658), B4v.
Davenant’s opposition to Arminian/Remonstrant theology was strenuous and extensive.
Accordingly, Owen never attributed heresy to Davenant, but, on the contrary, spoke reverently of
him, and especially appreciated Davenant’s treatise on justification, employing it in the 1670s in
his own writings on justification and perseverance (Owen, Works, 3:218–219; 5:208, 368; 11:497).
On the other hand, Owen’s chief opponent in Death of Death was an altogether different case.
Unlike Davenant, Thomas Moore was unlearned and unqualified, and went far closer to Arminian-
ism and even Pelagianism in his bold efforts to defend his system of universal redemption. This
provoked sustained and open contempt from Owen and repeated charges of “abominable” or
“gross error” as well as “heresies” (ibid., 10:189, 356–358, 379, 381–382, 398–399, 403, 415). Cf.

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The Extent of the Atonement 155
stinate on this point could sometimes prove to be most charitable in the
larger context of the Puritan brotherhood. For example, it was John Owen
himself who wrote a recommendatory preface in 1674 to Westminster Di-
vine Henry Scudder’s The Christians daily Walk, in which a recommenda-
tory preface by Baxter also appeared. In this book Scudder spends a section
of five pages defending a hypothetical universalist position, and in his rec-
ommendation Owen covers himself accordingly by distancing himself from
some unspecified expressions in the book.126 But his willingness to com-
mend it warmly on the basis of the plain and practical godliness it promotes
is indicative of the relative importance given to this in-house Reformed
debate, at least in Post-Restoration England, even by one of the staunchest
defenders of particularism.
Indeed there is even evidence that might lead one to doubt whether the
later Owen would have ever republished his Death of Death without revis-
ing it in terms of its severe tone and language concerning hypothetical uni-
versalism.127 In his recommendatory preface to English Hypothetical Uni-
versalist Edward Polhill’s book on the divine decrees, of which 65 pages
are taken up with a robust refutation of particular redemptionism and de-
fense of English Hypothetical Universalism,128 Owen ventures

the sentiments expressed in Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise
and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy, ca. 1520 to ca. 1725, 1st edn, 4 vol. (Grand Rapids, MI:
Baker Academic, 2003), 1:76–77, 80 and Trueman, John Owen: Reformed Catholic, 29–31.
Henry Scudder, The Christians daily Walk, in holy Security and Peace. Being an Answer to
these Questions: 1. How a Man may do each present Days work with Christian Chearfullness?, 2.
How to bear each Present Days Cross with Christian Patience? Containing familiar Directions,
shewing 1. How to walk with God in the whole Course of a Mans Life. 2. How to be upright in the
said Walking. 3. How to live without taking Care or Thought in any thing. 4. How to get and keep
true Peace with God, wherein are manifold Helps to prevent and remove damnable Presumption;
also to quiet and ease distressed Consciences [...] commended to the Practice of all Professors, by
Dr Owen and Mr Baxter, [1627] 11th edn (London: For Lodowick Lloyd, 1674), 331–336, A1v.
Scudder’s defense of hypothetical universalism also appeared in the edition that had most likely
enthused Owen as a young man (Henry Scudder, The Christians daily Walke, in holy Securitie and
Peace. Being an Answer to these Questions: 1. How a Man may doe each present Daies Worke
with Christian Chearfullnesse?, 2. How to bear each Present Daies Crosse with Christian Pa-
tience? Containing familiar Directions, shewing 1. How to walk with God in the whole Course of a
Mans Life. 2. How to be upright in the said Walking. 3. How to live without taking Care or
Thought in any thing. 4. How to get and keepe true Peace with God, wherein are manifold Helpes
to prevent and remove damnable Presumption; also to quiet and ease distressed Conscences. First
intended for private Use; now (through Importunity) published for the common Good, [1627] 8th
Corrected and enlarged edn [London: I. L. for Henry Overton, 1642], 350–357; Scudder, Chris-
tians daily Walk, 1674, A1r).
We have already noted above that Owen would have revised it in terms of his change of
mind on the necessity of the atonement.
Edward Polhill, The Divine Will considered in its eternal Decrees and holy Execution of
them, 1st edn (London: For Henry Eversden, 1673), 281–346.

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156 Jonathan D. Moore

to express my own dissent from some of his apprehensions, especially about the
Object and Extent of Redemption. Had I seen this discourse before it was wholly
Printed, I should have communicated my thoughts unto him upon that Subject, and
some few passages in it: but where there is an agreement in the substance and design
of any Doctrine, as there is between my judgment and what is here solidly declared, it
is our duty to bear with each other in things circumstantial, or different explanations
of the same Truth, when there is no incursion made upon the Principles we own.129
So by the 1670s, it was not hypothetical universalists but “Papists,
Socinians, Arminians, [and] Quakers”130 that Owen wanted to see attacked,
and that from the apparently much safer vantage point of a Reformed
Orthodox fortress free from the embarrassing cracks of vituperous intra-
Reformed debates, and lined with a good insulating layer of warm fellow-
ship for the godly.131

6.6 A Softening of Reformed Theology?

Finally, it may be asked whether it is ever correct to see English Hypotheti-

cal Universalism as a ‘softening’ of Reformed theology, a concept that may
be taken to give priority to an earlier ‘harder’ form. Professor Richard Mul-
ler has expressed dissent from such a notion in a review of my book, prefer-
ring to see the existence of a perennial ‘soft’ trajectory in the Reformed
tradition such that Reformed theology as a whole could not be ‘softened’ on
the question of the extent of the atonement, but individual Reformed theo-
logians could always simply choose from a range of parallel trajectories.132
Presenting a monolithic consensus in the history of Reformed theology
against which any newly discovered variant can be pronounced a ‘depar-
ture’ is, of course, a serious mistake, and, in this particular case, the exis-
tence of a ‘softer’ trajectory in the sixteenth century is not denied, and was
even acknowledged in my book.133 But it has to be said that a title should
not interpret a book, but a book the title, and any talk of ‘the softening of
Reformed theology’ has to be understood within the context in which it was
The context of my book on English Hypothetical Universalism and its
main focus was the experience of leading English theologians in the first
Polhill, Divine Will, A6r–A6v. The other recommendatory preface to this volume was writ-
ten by English Hypothetical Universalist and Westminster Divine Lazarus Seaman.
Ibid., A7r.
Soon after the Restoration, a disillusioned Owen had given up hope for a Christian unity
based on confessional uniformity (Owen, Works, 14:314–315).
Calvin Theological Journal 43, no. 1 (2008): 149–150; Moore, English Hypothetical Uni-
Moore, English Hypothetical Universalism, 39, 95, 157, 163, 220 and especially 228.

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The Extent of the Atonement 157
quarter of the seventeenth century, in the light of their Elizabethan heritage,
and in the run-up to the English Civil Wars. In such a context I still have to
maintain that English Hypothetical Universalism can indeed be helpfully
seen as a ‘softening’ of Reformed theology as it was then commonly under-
stood in England. An exciting interplay of various ‘trajectories’ was not how
the Reformed tradition was viewed in Jacobean England, and such a con-
struction could not explain the evident hush, embarrassment and suppression
of views that existed concerning the extent of the atonement amongst the
English Reformed Orthodox until the outbreak of the Civil Wars of the 1640s
and the ensuing eruption of doctrinal chaos. It is significant that James
Ussher’s (1581–1656) and Davenant’s expositions of hypothetical universal-
ism were not first published until posthumously in the 1650s, and England as
a whole saw no significant public or published debates on the extent of the
atonement until the 1640s. This was not because there was a monolithic
consensus in favour of particular redemption – I clearly documented how this
was not the case – but was rather a tacit acknowledgement that if the more
dominant ‘harder’ theology was ‘softened’ too quickly and too publicly, this
might threaten the stability of the whole fortress of Reformed Orthodoxy in
the face of a growing anti-Reformed siege.134
Instead a gradual and covert ‘softening’ process can be traced in early
Stuart England, as the Reformed Orthodox slowly came to terms with a new
polemical context significantly different from that of their sixteenth-century
forbears. During the heady days of Elizabethan supralapsarianism the strict-
est forms of particularism were seen as not only fashionable but also loyal
to the governing authorities and conducive to the public peace. But gradu-
ally as the Jacobean reign continued, the perceived threat of Arminianism
grew and the need for a Pan-Protestant political unity became more acute.
The strict particularist formulations that had come to dominate English
Reformed Orthodoxy came increasingly to be seen as a liability, if not the
very cause of the problem, in that they were arguably what had provoked
the ‘anti-Calvinist’ backlash in the first place. Infralapsarianism and a more
moderate approach in presenting Reformed teaching on divine grace and
the work of Christ came to be seen as the better part of wisdom, until even-
tually even preaching on predestination itself was banned in 1626. But from
as early as the 1610s, from King James downwards, leaders in church and
state were self-consciously eager to ‘soften’ Reformed theology in order to
accommodate an increasing unrest with the legacy of Elizabethan particu-
larism, and by so doing to secure a more durable unity, not only at home but

Cf. David R. Como, “Puritans, Predestination and the Construction of Orthodoxy in early
seventeenth-century England,” in Conformity and Orthodoxy in the English church, c1560–1660,
edited by Peter G. Lake and Michael C. Questier, Studies in Modern British Religious History
(Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 2000), 64–87.

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158 Jonathan D. Moore

abroad.135 This localised softening process appeared to many at the time to

be so significant in its influence and so sophisticated in its increasingly
refined and elaborate formulations, that by 1648 John Owen saw rhetorical
value in distinguishing theologically between “our new Universalists” and
“our old Arminians.”136
Furthermore, there is also another way in which we may rightly speak of
a significant ‘softening’ of Reformed theology, and that is on the level of
changes that occurred in the theology of individual Reformed Orthodox
theologians. For example, John Davenant was not simply born in ‘another
parallel trajectory’ but rather modified, or ‘softened’ the theological posi-
tion that he initially embraced. I have already documented how Davenant,
along with another key Jacobean leader, John Preston (1587–1628), was
taught the tenets of hypothetical universalism by James Ussher and how
both Davenant and Preston consequently softened their earlier particularist
But in addition, even Ussher himself had undergone a similar ‘soften-
ing’ process, quietly moving away from a traditional particular redemption-
ist stance in the 1590s and early 1600s to embrace a ‘softer’ hypothetical
universalist position as his understanding matured.138 In a catechism that
Ussher wrote as a young minister around the age of 22 or 23 he stated that
Christ offered to the Father “a perfect sacrifice for all the sinnes of Gods
children.”139 This catechism remained in manuscript form for the next forty
years, but when it was suddenly published in 1644 with this phrase in-
cluded, but without Ussher’s permission and “contrary to [his] mind,” and
when it was repeatedly reprinted,140 Ussher was decidedly annoyed at the
“very faulty manner” in which this had been done, and decided to do his
For secondary source material supporting these claims, see Moore, English Hypothetical
Universalism, 225–226.
Owen, Works, 10:367.
Moore, English Hypothetical Universalism, 139–140, 173–175, 208–213.
Cf. Baxter’s report that he heard Ussher “rejoycing that hee [i.e. Ussher] sooner owned”
“Universal Redemption” than Davenant did (Baxter, Certain Disputations, C2v). This testimony is
quoted at greater length in Moore, English Hypothetical Universalism, 174.
Trinity College Dublin, MS. 291 f.16v.
James Ussher, The Principles of Christian Religion: With a briefe Method, of the Body of
Christian Religion, shewing the Connexion, and Coherence of the chiefe Points thereof. With a
more particular Declaration of some principall Heads of Doctrine, which for more Plainnes Sake,
were but shortly touched in the former Summe, 1st Unauthorised edn (London: By T. B. for
George Badger, 1644); James Ussher, The Principles of Christian Religion: Summarily sett downe
according to the Word of God: Together with a briefe Epittomie of the Bodie of Divinitie, 2nd
Unauthorised edn (London: By R. B. for George Badger, 1645); James Ussher, The Principles of
Christian Religion: Summarily sett downe according to the Word of God: Together with a breife
Epitomie of the Bodie of Divinitie, 3rd Unauthorised edn (London: By F. B. for George Badger,
1647); James Ussher, The Principles of Christian Religion, summarily set downe according to the
Word of God: Together with a briefe Epitomie of the Body of Divinity, 4th Unauthorised edn
(London: For George Badger, 1650). See page 20 of all these editions for the clause in question.

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The Extent of the Atonement 159
best to remedy the situation by publishing his own revised, authorized edi-
tion.141 One of these revisions to his earlier work involved Ussher changing
this phrase to read “a perfect sacrifice for the sinnes of the world.”142 Ussher
was hereby quietly distancing himself from his earlier particularist position
as if he were simply correcting a pirated edition. But the surviving manu-
script at Trinity College Dublin makes it clear that whatever the faults of
these unauthorised editions, they were at least at this point being faithful to
Ussher’s original manuscript – and his earlier position.143 Although it is true
to say that Ussher had come to tap into and develop another pre-existing
trajectory in the Reformed tradition, and that this mighty patristic scholar
did not see himself as inventing a system of hypothetical universalism out
of thin air, the real problem for Ussher in terms of this unauthorized cate-
chism was that Ussher had indeed ‘softened’ his own Reformed theology. It
is also significant for an historically sensitive reading of English Hypotheti-
cal Universalism that Ussher was extremely reluctant to go public on his
newly embraced ‘trajectory’ and lamented that the manuscript he had qui-
etly shared with enquiring friends had “without [his] privity” been copied
and “scattered abroad,” falling into the hands of people who saw in it con-
firmation that Ussher favoured “Arminianism”.144 As it happened, despite a
prolific publishing career, Ussher’s ‘softer’ position on “the true Intent and
Extent of Christ’s Death” was not actually published until immediately after
his death.145
Examples of such ‘softening’ of Reformed theology in early Stuart Eng-
land could be multiplied,146 but let us return once again to Richard Baxter
James Ussher, The Principles of Christian Religion: With a briefe Method of the Doctrine
thereof. Now fully corrected, and much enlarged by the Author [...] with his Preface thereunto, 1st
Authorised edn (London: For George Badger, 1653), A2v.
Ussher, Principles of Christian Religion, 1653, 21.
I am most grateful to Richard Snoddy for kindly sharing with me the above findings of his
research on Ussher’s catechisms. For further evidence of Ussher’s doctrinal shift and for an
illuminating treatment of Ussher’s whole doctrine of Christ’s atonement in relation to faith and
assurance, see Richard Snoddy, “‘Quicunque Vult’: The Act and Object of Saving Faith in the
Thought of James Ussher” (Ph.D. Dissertation, London School of Theology/Middlesex Univer-
sity) (forthcoming).
Moore, English Hypothetical Universalism, 175; Ussher, Works, 12:563; 16:356.
James Ussher, The Judgement of the late Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of Ireland, 1.
Of the Extent of Christs Death, and Satisfaction, &c. 2. Of the Sabbath, and Observation of the
Lords Day. 3. Of the Ordination in other Reformed Churches. With a Vindication of him from a
pretended Change of Opinion in the First; some Advertisements upon the Latter; and, in Preven-
tion of further Injuries, a Declaration of his Judgement in several other Subjects, edited by Nicho-
las Bernard, 1st edn (London: For John Crook, 1657).
I have also documented the similar transition of Ezekiel Culverwell (c1554–1631) in
Moore, English Hypothetical Universalism, 175–176, 184, and Jonathan D. Moore, “James Uss-
her’s Influence on the Synod of Dordt,” in Revisiting the Synod of Dordt (1618–1619), ed. Aza
Goudriaan and Fred A. van Lieburg (Leiden: Brill, 2011), 163–179, 166–170. Another example
would be John Goodwin (c.1594–1665), the protégé of Preston and Davenant, who not only

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160 Jonathan D. Moore

who played such an active role in the seventeenth-century British debates

on the extent of the atonement. In Baxter, yet again, we find a leading pro-
moter of hypothetical universalism who, this time by his own open admis-
sion, had softened his position from a previously held form of particular
redemptionism. Baxter tells us that he was initially “a Disputer against
Universal Redemption” but was then shaken in his views through contact
with the Arminian, Tristram Diamond, and also Samuel Cradock. As a
result, Baxter put away “prejudice” and, while still denouncing Arminian-
ism proper, came at length to concede that “Christ so far dyed for all, as to
purchase them Justification and Salvation conditionally to be given them, if
they believe.”147
So in terms of outstanding advocates of universal redemptionism in sev-
enteenth-century British Reformed theology, whether it is Davenant,
Ussher, Preston or Baxter, all these men self-consciously ‘softened’ their
earlier Reformed theology as part of a general trend in early seventeenth-
century England to reposition Reformed theology so that it could better
resist the onslaught of an increasingly militant Arminianism. This trend of
self-consciously and warily ‘softening’ earlier received forms of English
Reformed theology can in fact be traced in leading theologians right
through the seventeenth-century.
It should be remembered, therefore, that historical theology is as much,
if not more, about understanding and describing the theology and percep-
tions of individuals in their local historical contexts, as it is about placing
these individuals into ahistorical and aspatial theological categories. The
perception of someone like Thomas Good as he surveyed the English theo-
logical landscape of the 1620s is therefore noteworthy. Writing to Richard
Baxter on 23 March 1625, Good confessed to his own oscillations for
“many years” between Arminianism and Calvinism. He wistfully noted that
after all was said and done, English Hypothetical Universalism – or what he
and Baxter called “the middle way” – despite its strenuous rejection of

softened his particularism into English Hypothetical Universalism under their influence, but
eventually ended up a notorious Arminian (John R. D. Coffey, John Goodwin and the Puritan
Revolution: Religion and intellectual Change in seventeenth-century England, 1st edn [Wood-
bridge, UK: Boydell Press, 2006], passim, but especially 26, 27, 29, 199, 202, 224).
Baxter, Catholick Theologie, 1:a2r–a2v; N.H. Keeble and Geoffrey F. Nuttall, ed., Calen-
dar of the Correspondence of Richard Baxter, 1st edn, 2 vol. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991),
1:43. See also Richard Baxter, Richard Baxter’s Penitent Confession and his necessary Vindica-
tion in Answer to a Book called, The second Part of the Mischiefs of Separation, written by an
unnamed Author. With a Preface to Mr Cantianus D Minimis, in Answer to his Letter which
exhorted this Publication, 1st edn (London: For Tho. Parkhurst, 1691), 24. Baxter says he was also
helped in this transition by the hypothetical universalist writings of Westminster Assembly Pro-
locuter William Twisse (Baxter, Catholick Theologie, 1:a2v; Baxter, Certain Disputations, B3r). It
is also to be noted that it was not the writings of John Cameron or Moïse Amyraut that at first
influenced Baxter.

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The Extent of the Atonement 161
particular redemptionism and appeal to other trajectories within Reformed
Orthodoxy, was still “in effect Rigide Calvinisme in a softer Dresse.”148

Keeble and Nuttall, ed., Calendar, 1:168.

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7. Adam’s Reward: Heaven or Earth?

Mark A. Herzer

7.1 Introduction

What did God promise Adam? The Westminster Confession of Faith de-
clares that “life was promised to Adam” (7.2) and the Shorter and Larger
Catechisms indicate that God entered into a “covenant of life with him”
(LC, #20; SC, #12). What is not explicitly stated is the kind of life promised
to Adam. No divine would have disagreed with those statements because
they were not controversial. But what kind of life would Adam have re-
ceived had he perfectly obeyed? Not surprisingly, a diversity of answers
surrounded this question.
Rowland Ward believes no consensus existed regarding the nature of
life promised to Adam at the time of the Westminster Assembly (1647).1
This may explain why the WCF itself is so indecisive on this. The Socini-
ans were the main targets of those who held to the alleged unorthodox posi-
tion on Adam’s reward and this may have been the main reason for the
consensus that supposedly emerged at the end of the seventeenth century.
Francis Turretin (1623–1687) claimed that his was “the received opinion
among the orthodox.” He says “that the promise given to Adam was not
only of a happy life to be continued in paradise, but of a heavenly and eter-
nal life […].”2 He and others advanced this position at the height of protes-
tant orthodoxy.
Early in the eighteenth century, men such as Thomas Boston (1676–
1732), Thomas Ridgley (1667–1734), and John Brown (1722–1787) em-
braced a position similar to that of Turretin.3 However, there were important
Rowland S. Ward, God and Adam: Reformed Theology and the Creation Covenant
(Wantirna, Australia: New Melbourne Press, 2003), 108.
Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, translated by G. M. Giger (Phillipsburg,
NJ: R&R Publishing, 1992–1997),; cf. VIII.iii.15.
Thomas Boston, The Complete Works of the Late Rev. Thomas Boston (London: William
Tegg & Co., 1853), 8:17; Thomas Ridgley, A Body of Divinity: Wherein the Doctrines of the
Christian Religion are Explained and Defended, Being the Substance of Several Lectures on the
Assembly's Larger Catechism, 4 vol. (Philadelphia: William W. Woodward, 1814–15), 2:85ff.;
John Brown, A Compendious View of Natural and Revealed Religion (London: J. & C. Muirhead,
1817), 200ff.

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Adam’s Reward: Heaven or Earth? 163
Reformed divines like John Gill (1697–1771) and Jonathan Edwards
(1703–1758) who emphatically disagreed.4 On the one hand, standard or-
thodox reformed theologians in the nineteenth century, such as Charles
Hodge (1797–1878), were not as explicit as Turretin, though Hodge was
often heavily dependent on Turretin.5 But Heinrich Heppe (1820–1879)
characterized the Reformed position as being well nigh a consensus on this
Every Reformed divine believed in everlasting life or perpetual life
upon condition of perfect obedience.7 What was not clear is the place and
nature of that life. It is not always clear if eternal life concerned life in
heaven or perpetual life on earth. For example, Amandus Polanus (1561–
1610) taught that the eternal covenant promised men “eternal life” (sempi-
ternam vitam) and the covenant of works (foedus operum) was a pactum
Dei with man concerning “eternal life” (aeterna vita).8 Because he speaks
of “eternal death” (i.e. eternal spiritual death) and also the republication of
the covenant of works in the Mosaic covenant, it may imply that this prom-
ise of eternal life is a heavenly one. But his position is not unambiguous.9
Turretin’s question therefore was: “Whether Adam had the promise of
eternal and heavenly life so that (his course of obedience being finished) he
would have been carried to heaven” (Institutes, This question
accurately framed the debate.

John Gill, A Complete Body of Practical and Doctrinal Divinity (Philadelphia: B. Graves,
1810), 222; Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, 18, The ‘Miscellanies’ (Entry
Nos. 501–832), ed. Ava Chamberlain (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), 512–516.
Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 2:119. Since it is beyond the purview
of this paper, we will not interact with nineteenth-century theologians except to say that Robert L.
Dabney and James H. Thornwell merely talked about “life” without any reference to issue we are
pursuing. See Robert L. Dabney, Systematic Theology (1871; repr., Carlisle, PA: The Banner of
Truth Trust, 1985), 302; James Henley Thornwell, The Collected Writings of James Henley
Thornwell (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1986), 1:270. This suggests that the “received
opinion” was not as universally received or acknowledged (not with the same kind of specificity).
Heinrich Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, translated by G. T. Thomson (Grand Rapids: Baker
Book House, 1950), 294–5. He cites the Formula Consensus Helvetica to support his position (as
well as Heidegger).
Pelagius thought that Adam would naturally die (see Bucanus, Body of Divinity [London,
1659], 127) as did the Socinians (see Turretin, Institutes, Turretin cites Socinus,
Praelectionis theologicae 1; and Volkelius, De vera Religione 3.11. See also Valentin Smalcius
and Faustus Socinus, The Racovian catechisme (Amsterdam, 1652), 10–11.
Amandus Polanus, The Substance of Christian Religion, 2nd ed., translated by Elijah Wil-
cocks (London, 1597), 96; Partitiones Theologicae, 2nd ed. (London, 1591), 53.
For example, Samuel Petto says that Adam was to “seek eternal life in the way of his own
obedience […].” He is not explicit but, like Polanus, implies eternal life in heaven. See Samuel
Petto, The difference between the old and new covenant stated and explained with an exposition of
the covenant of grace in the principal concernments of it (London, 1674), 2, 8.

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164 Mark A. Herzer

Not surprisingly, the Formula Consensus Helvetica (1675) was em-

phatic on this point.10 It states the following in Canon VIII: “Moreover that
promise connected to the Covenant of Works was not a continuation only of
earthly life and happiness, but the possession especially of eternal and ce-
lestial life [vitae aeternae et coelestis], a life, namely, of both body and soul
in heaven [in coelo], if indeed man ran the course of perfect obedience, with
unspeakable joy in communion with God.”11 Without vitae coelestis, the
vitae aeternae could be interpreted to mean perpetual life here on earth.
These explicit uses of eternal and heavenly were not accidental. There
could be no misunderstanding on this. Therefore, J. H. Heidegger, who did
much to advance the reception of the Formula Consensus Helvetica, wrote
emphatically that the promise of the covenant of works was eternal and
heavenly life some twenty years after the Helvetic Consensus.12
Others were not so certain about this conclusion. John Ball, Peter
Bulkeley and Anthony Burgess were agnostic about the matter and were
convinced that it was going too far to decide this issue.13 Some were in-
clined towards Turretin’s position but only tentatively.14
Was this doctrine a critical one? That is, did this doctrine affect other
teachings? Why was there diversity on this matter among the orthodox
divines? Did those reluctant to espouse “the received opinion among the
orthodox” have other doctrinal concerns? We will study the positions of
two orthodox theologians who held opposing positions, Thomas Goodwin
and Francis Turretin. They both gave hearty defenses of their respective
positions on this topic and their arguments will help us to understand some
of their concerns on this theological issue. Although we will also interact
with their contemporaries who have written on this, we will nonetheless
focus mainly on Goodwin and Turretin.
Though they developed different theological structures to this question,
it becomes clear that they both worked with the concept of the covenant of
Heidegger and Turretin were the principal authors of the Formula. See Martin Klauber’s in-
troduction (cited below) to the translation of the Helvetic Formula Consensus. He presents a
helpful background for this document.
The text is taken from Martin Klauber, “The Helvetic Formula Consensus (1675): An Intro-
duction And Translation,” Trinity Journal 11:1 (Spring 1990): 117. Another translation can be
found in A. A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology (1860; reprinted, Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth
Trust, 1983), 656–63. The Latin text is available in H. A. Niemeyer, Collectio Confessionum in
Ecclesiis Reformatis Publicatarum (Lipsiae: Sumptibus Iulii Klinkhardti, 1840), 729–39; Canon
VIII is on pp. 732–733.
“Promissio Foederis Operum fuit vitae aeternae & Coelestis” (Medulla medullae theologiae
christianae [Zurich, 1697], IX:10).
John Ball, A treatise of the covenant of grace (London, 1645), 10; Peter Bulkeley, The gos-
pel-covenant […] (London, 1674), 55; Anthony Burgess, Vindiciae, 136. All of these are cited by
Roland Ward.
For example, Ezekiel Hopkins, “The Doctrine of the Two Covenants,” in The Works of
Ezekiel Hopkins (Philadelphia, 1874), 2:158.

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Adam’s Reward: Heaven or Earth? 165
works, or more precisely, foedus naturae. Both carefully highlighted the
graciousness of both this estate and Adam’s reward. Goodwin emphasized
the distinction between nature and grace in his position while Turretin did
not go so far. They preserved the gracious character of the covenant of
works while utilizing typical scholastic distinctions. Though some of the
language (especially in Goodwin) came from some of the Medieval distinc-
tions, they nonetheless utilized them to advance Reformed orthodoxy. Of
the two, Goodwin is the more interesting on account of his careful emphasis
on Adam in the foedus naturae.

7.2 Thomas Goodwin (1600–1680)

This Westminster divine vigorously defended his understanding of what

Adam would have procured had he perfectly obeyed. Goodwin clearly sets
forth his position as follows: “the reward, the promised life and happiness
that he should have had for doing and obeying, was but the continuance of
the same happy life which he enjoyed in paradise, together with God’s
favour towards him.” Furthermore, he emphatically denies that Adam
would have been translated into heaven: “not the translating him, in the end,
unto that spiritual life in heaven, which the angels have, and which the
saints shall have.”15 He offers five reasons for his position. Before exploring
those reasons, we must examine some of the theological assumptions in his
understanding of the covenant. These assumptions governed his understand-
ing of Adam’s reward.
Though he deals with the covenant of works in chapter six, chapter five
establishes the parameters for his view and sets forth his understanding of
“Adam’s theologia naturalis.”16 He further unpacks the implications of
Adam’s natural theology in the longer seventh chapter where he again in-
sists that heaven could not have been offered to Adam on account of his
noetic and natural constitution.17 Basically, Goodwin’s prelapsarian anthro-
pology served as the foundation for his understanding of Adam’s reward.
In chapter five, Goodwin compares Adam’s knowledge of God to the
redeemed saints’ knowledge. Adam enjoyed God “in a way natural to man”
while redeemed believers know God “in a way supernatural or above na-
ture.”18 Adam’s knowledge of God was completely natural. Even the
“knowledge of this covenant, and of the promise and threatening annexed to

Works, 7:49.
Chapter five is covered in pp. 44–48 while chapter six covers pp. 48–53.
Works, 7:57. The seventh chapter is covered on pp. 54–69. We will come back to this chap-
Works, 7:44.

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166 Mark A. Herzer

it, was natural.”19 This knowledge came to him by creation while the
knowledge of God for the redeemed comes to us by faith: “And thus, to
love God above all, to believe on him, &c., was to Adam but the dictate of
pure nature.” Even the use and observance of the Sabbath was “natural” to
Adam “by the light of common infused principles, and by observation of
God’s works to be improved.” On the one hand, Goodwin concludes that
Adam in his best condition “is called animal and natural” (citing 1 Cor
15:45, 46). Redeemed believers, on the other hand, are called “spiritual or
supernatural.”20 Goodwin developed this line of theological reasoning to
prepare the reader for his argument on the foedus naturae.
In chapter six, Goodwin develops the manner in which the prelapsarian
Adam relates to the covenant. Since Adam was no higher than “the sphere
of nature”, the covenant in which he stood “under was but foedus
naturae.”21 Though the phrase foedus naturae was often used interchangea-
bly with such phrases as foedus operum and foedus creationis among Re-
formed theologians, yet Goodwin has deliberately focused on a more nar-
row reading of the term.22 Since everything Adam did in his integrity was
natural, his righteousness and his justification were natural. Justification
“was a natural due to the creature” for obeying. God’s approbation of his
goodness was therefore “natural.” If Adam’s obedience naturally necessi-
tated a reward, then was God indebted to him? It was by “way of natural
justice” between “a just creator and an holy creature.” This debitum natu-
rale is a “debt of nature, and not a debt of retribution in a mercenary way.”23
Since Adam’s knowledge, obedience, state of integrity, etc., were all
natural, the reward must be of the same kind: “Answerably, the reward, the
promised life and happiness that he should have had for doing and obeying,
was but the continuance of the same happy life which he enjoyed in para-

Works, 7:47.
Works, 7:48.
Works, 7:48–9. Goodwin’s use of this term is not unique to himself. It existed in men like
Ursinus and others. See Lyle D. Bierma, “Law and Grace in Ursinus’ Doctrine of the Natural
Covenant: A Reappraisal,” in Protestant Scholasticism: Essays in Reassessment, ed. Carl R.
Trueman and R. Scott Clark (Carlisle, Cumbria: Paternoster Press, 1999), 96–110.
Goodwin later on narrows the definition of the covenant of works: “Seeing all other things
belonging to him were natural, his covenant, the covenant of works, was but foedus naturae,
founded upon the title of what, as a reasonable creature, was due to his nature […]” (Works, 7:56).
For a good overview of the way the phrase “covenant of works” was used in conjunction with
covenant of nature, covenant of creation, etc. see Willem J. van Asselt, The Federal Theology of
Johannes Cocceius (1603–1669), translated by Raymond A. Blacketer, Studies in the History of
Christian Thought (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2001), 254–257; Richard Muller, “The Covenant of Works
and the Stability of Divine Law in Seventeenth-Century Reformed Orthodoxy,” in After Calvin:
Studies in the Development of a Theological Tradition (New York: Oxford University Press,
2003), 181–183.
Works, 7:49.

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Adam’s Reward: Heaven or Earth? 167
dise, together with God’s favour towards him.”24 This answer conforms
well with Goodwin’s understanding of Adam’s natural state of innocence.
Goodwin makes a sharp distinction between nature and grace to develop
his defense of Adam’s reward. This enables him to draw a sharp contrast
between Adam and Christ since his major concern seems to be Christologi-
cal.25 His five arguments assume Adam’s natural creaturely estate. First, the
reason Adam would have been rewarded an earthly paradise is because
Adam was an earthly man while Christ was the heavenly man (using 1 Cor
15:47, 48). Goodwin suggests that Paul’s argument of Christ procuring
heaven for believers is based not “upon the merit of Christ’s death” but
upon the fact that the Lord is from heaven “because heaven is his natural
due.” Adam could never procure heaven because it was not his natural due.
Second, from a typological standpoint, Adam’s paradise was a type of
“paradise above” whereas Christ’s paradise is the true paradise. Only Christ
procured the true heavenly paradise and without Him, the heavenly paradise
was beyond Adam.26 Goodwin’s third reasoning is the most compelling.
The moral law in “which was the law of nature,” he says, “makes mention
of no such promise as of going to heaven.” The promise of life can only be
the life on earth as Adam already enjoyed. The Old Testament is quite spar-
ing when it talks of heaven, he argues. Only Christ offers heaven.27 The
fourth support for his earthly paradise is similar to the third, the “law of
nature towards all the creatures.” The moral law for Adam in nature could
only attain to the glory of that nature. Man could not be awarded the condi-
tion of the angels (since man’s nature differed from the angels’).28 Once
again, what Goodwin developed in the previous chapter about Adam’s
natural condition is strictly followed in dealing with Adam in covenantal
The final argument is more of a summary of his others. He says, “I think
that Adam’s covenant, and the obedience unto it, was not able to do so
much as confirm him, and secure him in that condition he was created in, so
far was it from being able to have transplanted him into heaven.”29 Adam’s
created natural state relegates him to an earthly paradise. Since the reward
is according to what is due, “the obedience of the creature, could never have
Works, 7:49.
See Mark Jones, Why Heaven Kissed Earth: The Christology of the Puritan Reformed Or-
thodox theologian, Thomas Goodwin (1600–1680) (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2010),
Works, 7:50.
Works, 7:50–51. His reasoning assumes a literal use and non-use of the words heaven, eter-
nal life, etc. If those words are absent, then heaven or eternal life could not be the object of prom-
ise. This literalistic hermeneutic borders on sounding like twentieth-century dispensationalists. On
Goodwin’s literalistic hermeneutic, see Jones, Why Heaven Kissed Earth, 90–92.
Works, 7:51.
Works, 7:51.

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168 Mark A. Herzer

procured indefectibility, for that must be of grace.”30 Heaven, for Goodwin,

required supernatural faith and it was a gift through Jesus Christ. Such was
not offered to Adam in his natural creaturely state; it was not “suitable […]
unto […] his nature.”31
If God offered heaven to Adam, then supernatural faith would have been
required.32 He believed that believers excel the created state of Adam and
that the present believer’s light is supernatural and more glorious than
Adam’s. Adam’s light was modo humano but our light is “the light of the
Spirit that is in Christ.”33 In chapter seven, he not only argues that Adam’s
faith was entirely natural but also shows how our knowledge is better than
Adam’s.34 Adam’s natural light does not compare with our “light of faith
and revelation from God.”35 Our knowledge is superior because it is super-
natural. The things that we know are “utterly above the due and right of
pure nature in Adam.”36
If there is an underlying burden in Goodwin’s argument, it is his empha-
sis on grace over nature. He does not deprecate nature but instead elevates
grace. Christ’s work secured a better reward for us than Adam’s. Our light
is better than Adam’s and everything we have is of faith and heavenly while
Adam’s is natural and earthly. This does not mean that Goodwin viewed the
foedus naturae as being static. Rather, Goodwin’s limited or clearly demar-
cated understanding of foedus naturae enabled him to show in sharp con-
trast how the second Adam was much better than the first. Nature domi-
nated the first Adam; grace dominates the second Adam. He wanted to set
up this contrast for the sake of clarifying and elevating Christ as the Second
Adam and the superior benefits we derive from Him. This he clearly sets
forth in chapter eight.37

Works, 7:52.
Works, 7:54. God’s revelation in the garden suggests the existence of supernatural revela-
tion. This knowledge therefore is above nature (and would also require supernatural faith). Good-
win answers that in chapter seven and argues at length that Adam’s faith was natural and all that
he had was “still but within the compass of nature” (54).
“And I confess, if the promise given him had been that of heaven, and the vision of God, as
there, then it had been necessary for him to have such a supernatural faith as we” (Works, 7:57).
Works, 7:61–62.
Works, 7:67ff.
Works, 7:69.
Works, 7:59; cf. 2:342.
See especially pp. 73–74 where he says, “I proceed to show how Adam and his whole story
was intended by God as a more imperfect type going before, to signify and set forth Christ […]
and that not simply upon the fall, but before in his first creation and estate of innocency.”

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Adam’s Reward: Heaven or Earth? 169

7.3 Francis Turretin (1623–1687)

Francis Turretin regarded his argument on Adam’s reward to be “the re-

ceived opinion among the orthodox.” Because of the nature and method of
his theological work, he takes issue with the Socinians and Moïse Amyraut.
Amyraut’s basic position is the same as Goodwin’s, namely, that Adam was
promised perpetual earthly paradise.38
The first argument he advances remains the most important one. The
“law of works” (Lex operum), he insists, had the promise of vitae coelestis
& aeternae. The general substance of the law is eternal life (he cites various
verses) — “therefore also the law prescribed to Adam” ( Whereas
Goodwin argued that the law did not explicitly promise eternal heavenly
life and that it really could not because of Adam’s nature, Turretin argues
inductively. Since all the other examples promised eternal life and that is
the nature of the “law of works”, it must follow that the law to Adam of-
fered the same. This line of reasoning is advanced in Adam’s comparison to
Christ. Christ acquired “eternal and celestial life” and since He came to
recover what Adam lost, it therefore implies that Adam was promised eter-
nal life ( While Goodwin highlighted the difference between
Adam’s and Christ’s reward, Turretin displayed their similarity and symme-
Turretin advances another argument by appealing to God’s threat of
death in the covenant. That threat was an eternal one. God would not have
delighted in aggravating punishments and lessening rewards, Turretin rea-
sons. Would God threaten spiritual and eternal punishment and bestow only
earthly promises ( The reward therefore had to be heavenly.
Turretin also argues on the basis of God’s nature ( God wants
to fully communicate himself and for his creatures to fully enjoy him can
only mean eternal and heavenly communion with God since this is the
“state of the highest good of God.” J. Mark Beach maintains, “The portrait
here depicts God’s goodness as bursting forth to enter into fellowship with
his rational creatures and image-bearers.”40 From God’s desire to communi-
cate himself, Turretin next turns to the “dignity of man” ( Man’s
noblest part is his spirit “touched with a vehement desire of heavenly
goods” and this could only be satisfied in heaven in communion with God.

Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, translated by G. M. Giger (Phillipsburg,
NJ: R&R Publishing, 1992–1997), 1:583 (–2); Francisco Turrettino, Institutio theologiae
elencticae (Geneva, 1688–90), 1:642.
Goodwin says that eternal life was a gift while eternal death was rightly due; the first came
by grace and the latter came about from works. See Works, 7:52.
J. Mark Beach, Christ and the Covenant: Francis Turretin’s Federal Theology as a Defense
of the Doctrine of Grace (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2007), 134.

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170 Mark A. Herzer

Furthermore, the “absolute fruition of God is not to be sought apart from

the beatific vision which can be looked for only in heaven” (
Finally, he incorporates a teleological or eschatological aspect of Adam.
Adam was in the “state of the way” (status viae). It was not to be perma-
nent; the state of trial had to give way to reward, to “the state of native
country” (status patriae).41 Earth was the status viae and a different place
must be the status patriae. “Otherwise,” Turretin reasons, “it would follow
that no good was promised to him” because it would have been the same
paradise he enjoyed before.42 That is, the reward would have only been
what was before and nothing more. But since Adam was in the status viae,
God must have promised something beyond his current state.
Some of these arguments advanced by Turretin have been addressed by
Goodwin (though it is not clear if Goodwin had Turretin in mind).43 Tur-
retin does entertain some of the problems associated with this topic. In his
section entitled Fontes Solutionum, the question of how one interprets the
“natural covenant” (foedus naturale) is thoroughly addressed. He tackles
the key issue advanced by men such as Goodwin ( He says that
the term is not so called “because it conferred nothing above nature and
condition (which man had from creation).” That is, the term does not mean
that Adam could only receive what was equal to his nature and condition. In
utilizing the same language of “natural covenant,” the two drew different
conclusions. Goodwin literalizes the covenant of nature and adheres to its
strict literal meaning while Turretin has a broader appreciation of the term.
He says that the promises of God are not “regulated according to the pro-
portion of the merit. On the contrary, they depend upon God’s will and
goodness (a voluntate & bonitate Dei).” Goodwin argued that the moral law
and its rewards worked together with Adam’s natural state because Adam’s
obedience could only “secure him in that condition he was created in.”45
Turretin takes up other arguments advanced by the proponents of per-
petual earthly life. The question of 1 Corinthians 15:45, 46 is answered in, while section 17 explains how flesh and blood can inherit

He develops this same argument later on in
Turretin also notes that had man remained perpetually on earth after the test, the population
of the earth would have increased beyond earth’s capacity ( This was considered by
Ezekiel Hopkins (1634–1690) to be the greatest problem associated with the view that taught that
Adam was promised perpetual life on earth, see “The Doctrine of the Two Covenants,” in The
Works of Ezekiel Hopkins (Philadelphia, 1874), 2:157. The problem is also noted by Blake, Vindi-
cae Foederis, 101.
For example, Goodwin takes on the argument that man’s highest good would be fellowship
with God in heaven. He says it would have been “an unlawful and an inordinate desire in him”
because he desired more than what God promised (Works, 7:52–53).
Neither Goodwin nor Turretin refers to each other. They simply interact with the arguments
generally advanced by the opposing side on this theological question.
Works, 7:51.

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Adam’s Reward: Heaven or Earth? 171
heaven. Goodwin bases much of his argument on 1 Corinthians 15.46 For
Goodwin, 1 Corinthians 15 emphatically supports his position. Turretin
shows clear awareness of those arguments and offers a different viable
interpretation of the text. How the two interpret the passage is not of great
concern. As for flesh and blood not being able to inherit the kingdom of
God, Turretin (and all others who hold to the heavenly eternal life position)
assumes that there would be some change before being translated into

7.4 Examining Their Positions

Comparing the two divines reveals that both of them utilized scholastic
distinctions in this debate. They made use of observations found in Medie-
val theology while advancing reformed orthodoxy. Though Thomas Good-
win’s Reformed Orthodoxy remains unquestionable,48 his idea of natural
justice and man in pure nature had a long history in Medieval theology.
Aquinas used 1 Corinthians 15:45 to argue that Adam was not created in
grace. Furthermore, he uses 1 Corinthians 15:46 to speak of Adam’s “natu-
ral life” and his inability to see God’s essence.49 Calvin also spoke of origi-
nal justice and “natural law” as did the Medieval theologians.50 Clearly,
Goodwin used categories reminiscent of both the Reformers as well as the
Medieval divines. This continuity with the scholastic tradition, though
expected, had some differences as well. Goodwin seems to have gone fur-
ther than most Reformed divines in depicting Adam almost as pure nature.51
See pp. 48, 49, 62, 73, 76–91 (ch. 9). Much hinges on his exegesis of this passage.
For example, Guillaume Bucanus argued that if Adam had not sinned he would have been
removed into heaven “indeed without death (which is the dissolution of the soule from the body)
but yet not without some change […].” (Body of Divinity, translated by Robert Hill [London,
1659], 127); William Bates, A sermon preached upon the much lamented death of our late gra-
cious sovereign, Queen Mary (London, 1695), 11: “If he had persevered in his Obedience, after a
short Immortality on Earth, he had ascended to Heaven alive in his intire Person, but he must have
been changed in his Ascension, for Flesh and Blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.”
See Mark Jones, Why Heaven Kissed Earth, passim.
Aquinas, Summa Theologica, P(1)–Q(95)–A(1)–O(1–2); Q(95)–A(1).
Calvin, Interim Adultero-Germanum: cui adiecta est vera Christianae pacificationis, et ec-
clesiae reformandae ratio, in the section “De Conditione Hominis Lapsum”; Henry Beveridge,
ed., The Interim, or Declaration of Religion of His Imperial Majesty Charles V, Selected Works of
John Calvin: Tracts and Letters, vol. 3 (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1849; repr., Grand
Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983), 193–194. For references to the natural law in Calvin, see Peter
A. Lillback, The Binding of God: Calvin’s Role in the Development of Covenant Theology (Grand
Rapids: Baker Book House, 2001), 279–80.
Not in puris naturalibus in the Roman Catholic sense; Adam was endowed with righteous-
ness and created in the image of God. Goodwin could affirm Turrretin’s discussion of this matter
(V.x.1–11) and develops the same idea, although he does not use the exact same language. Re-
member, Goodwin does speak of the “pure nature in Adam” (Works, 7:59). Goodwin’s vigorous

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172 Mark A. Herzer

As noted above, the motivation was to set up a stark contrast with the sec-
ond Adam, Christ. He goes to great length to deny anything supernatural in
Adam. Whereas Medieval theologians argued for a donum superadditum to
elevate man, Goodwin simply relegated Adam to the whole realm of nature
by utilizing foedus naturae (common to most seventeenth-century reformed
orthodox divines).52 That is, what the Papists added as extra grace to Adam,
Goodwin subsumed under pure nature.
Mark Karlberg demonstrates that the use of this scholastic distinction
between nature and grace in Adam among Protestant orthodox divines was
their attempt “to preserve the graciousness of the first covenant with
Adam.” He is convinced that this was a “speculative and dualistic distinc-
tion” and “as a result, the covenant order was set over against the natural
order of creation.” He sees this as a “revision to an older view” and finds it
in men such as Francis Junius, Johannes Cloppenburg, and David Dickson.
He insists that this is a “significant revision of Calvinistic doctrine regard-
ing creation and God’s covenant with Adam.”53 Furthermore, he rightly
finds this expressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith (7.1) and the
Shorter Catechism (the covenant being a “special act of providence”). The
most interesting observation he makes is that this distinction enabled the
divines to draw the following conclusion: “natural life was contingent upon
good works (merit); eternal life was nonmeritorious.”54 This observation
seemingly rings true in some measure, especially in Goodwin. But under
closer scrutiny, even Goodwin would not have accepted the “merit” versus
“nonmeritorious” dichotomy. In fact, he carefully avoided that schema. It
was not a “revision to an older view” but instead a true maturing develop-
ment or improvement of Reformed orthodoxy. Most of the seventeenth-

argument for the natural state of Adam apparently was a hotly contested issue. John Ball says,
“Whether this was naturall or supernaturall unto the first man, is a question needlesse to be dis-
puted in this place, and peradventure if the termes be rightly understood, will be no great contro-
versie” (A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace, 11). Anthony Burgess insists that some things were
supernatural in Adam, Vindiciae legis (London, 1647), 133.
The language is explicitly found earlier in Ursinus and Olevianus. See Bierma, “Law and
Grace in Ursinus’ Doctrine of the Natural Covenant: A Reappraisal,” 96–110; Peter Lillback,
“Ursinus’ Development of the Covenant of Creation: A Debt to Melanchthon or Calvin?,” West-
minster Theological Journal 43 (1981): 247–88. Cf. Charles S. McCoy and J. Wayne Baker,
Fountainhead of Federalism: Heinrich Bullinger and the Covenantal Tradition (Louisville:
Westminster John Knox Press, 1991), 36–39.
Mark W. Karlberg, “The Original State of Adam: Tensions Within Reformed Theology,”
Evangelical Quarterly 59:4 (1987): 295–300. This essay was republished with some spelling
corrections in his Covenant Theology in Reformed Perspective (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock
Publishers, 2000), 95–106. In the republished version he has “revision to an older view” while the
journal article had “revision to an order view.” I take it that the republished version is the more
accurate one.
Karlberg, “The Original State of Adam,” 300.

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Adam’s Reward: Heaven or Earth? 173
century divines did not use the word “merit” when it came to Adam’s re-
ward (which for Goodwin was not heaven).
In a very significant passage, Goodwin carefully utilized debitum natu-
rale in Adam’s covenantal estate. This debt of nature, as we have already
quoted, was “not a debt of retribution in a mercenary way.”55 Though
Goodwin does heighten the contrast between nature and grace, the natural
and the supernatural, yet Adam in his natural condition was not placed in a
strict legalistic context of merit (as Karlberg implies). The language of debt
suggests a strict contractual legalistic structure, but Goodwin carefully
answers what kind of “debt” he has in mind. God owes nothing, he says,
and he is not “obliged unto his creature for anything received from” the
covenant of works. Whatever debitum naturale might mean, it is not strict
merit in a “mercenary way.”56 Furthermore, Goodwin explains that Adam’s
holiness was from God “as well as ours under the new covenant is.” Karl-
berg’s general criticism, if it fits anywhere, should have found a target in
Goodwin’s theological formulation of Adam in his natural state. Whether
Goodwin’s formulation escapes the charge of legalism or not may be a
different question, but he certainly sought to excise the strict mercenary
understanding in the foedus naturae. At least, he attempted to soften it.57
Turretin’s argument for the eternal heavenly life in Adam’s “state of na-
ture” (in statu naturae) was “according to God’s pact” (ex pacto Dei). Fur-
thermore, the foedus naturae could not “promise and confer upon Adam
(persevering) heavenly life” (, 14). The reward viewed as merit
“must not be understood properly and rigorously […] but from the pact and
the liberal promise of God (ex pacto, & liberali Dei promissione)”
(VIII.iii.17). In these statements, the idea of strict merit simply does not
apply. So, Karlberg’s thesis of merit in natural life and nonmerit for the
supernatural life cannot be sustained.58 This will also help us to address the

Works, 7:49.
We read something similar in Anthony Burgess when he says that God entered into a cove-
nant with him. “But in God it is not, because he doth not hereby become obliged to us, to his own
self: so that we have not a right of justice to the thing, because God hath promised it to us; but only
God cannot deny himself nor his word, and therefore we are confident” (Vindiciae legis, 126–27).
In another context, Goodwin states that God was not a debtor to Adam in the strictest sense.
But there was a certain “dueness and a meetness” between the Creator and the creature. He avoids
merit language and will go so far as to speak of some sort of “justice” in the covenant of works but
not in the sense that the Creator is obliged, see Works, 2:223 (I am indebted to Mark Jones for
referring me to this passage).
Cf. J. Ball, A treatise of the covenant of grace, 10: “In this state and condition Adams obe-
dience should have been rewarded in justice, but he could not have merited that reward […] for it
is impossible the creature should merit of the Creator […]” Also, David Clarkson, A discourse of
the saving grace of God (London, 1688), 122: “Eternal Life had not been due to Adam, if he had
performed perfect Obedience; it was only the Promise intitled him to it.” Idem, The Practical
Works (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1864–65), I, 20: “Perfect obedience performed by Adam in the
state of innocency had not been meritorious, could not deserve eternal life, suae naturae, in its

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174 Mark A. Herzer

older interpretation of legalism in federal theology, which we will consider

We can make another observation by analyzing Goodwin and Turretin’s
premises. They both worked with assumption that eternal life was more
than Adam could deserve. Goodwin believed that Adam’s obedience could
only confirm him in the state in which he existed.59 To receive heaven upon
condition of perfect obedience would require supernatural grace – more
than what his nature could muster. Turretin and those who believed in
Adam’s heavenly reward all argued that heaven was indeed beyond what
Adam properly was due — it was “upon a pact or gratuitous promise” (ex
pacto seu promissione gratuita)” (VIII.iii.16). Their premise was the same.
Yet, they drew different conclusions. Goodwin argued that since heaven
was beyond Adam’s nature, it was not (could not be?) promised. Turretin
believed that God’s promises were always disproportionate to our labors
and therefore He could (and did) promise heaven to Adam. He seems to
have in mind the argument of those who limit the reward to Adam’s nature
and to his natural due: “It is gratuitously and falsely supposed that the
promises of God are regulated according to the proportion of our merit.”
Adam’s heaven depends “upon God’s will and goodness (a voluntate &
bonitate Dei)” (, says Turretin. Goodwin remained convinced
that Adam’s earthly reward was a “debt of nature” (debitum naturale).60
Though they both agreed that heaven was beyond Adam’s nature, yet they
applied two different principles to argue for their respective positions. In-
terestingly, they also used the principle of “Do this, and thou shalt live” (cf.
Lev 18:5) to draw very opposite conclusions.61
Surprisingly, Turretin’s position was not limited to the Reformed school
of thought. Though the foedus naturae served as the context for this ques-
tion among all Reformed orthodox divines, some Arminians still managed
to come to the same conclusion as Turretin without embracing his covenan-
tal structure. Philip Limborch believed that God would have translated
Adam into a “heavenly life” (coelestem vitam). This was not promised to
him in the foedus naturae but God would have conferred this benefit out of

own nature, for it was but his duty; nor was eternal happiness due to it in justice, as the nature of
merit requires, but only by virtue of the promise, vi pacti […]” A. Burgess, Vindiciae legis, 119:
“If God required obedience of Adam to keep the law, and happinesse thereupon, it was due not by
way of merit, but condcency to Gods goodnesse, to furnish him with abilities to performe it […]”
“[…] though it were a Covenant of works, it cannot be said to be of merit. Adam though in inno-
cency, could not merit that happinesse which God would bestow upon him […]” (125). Patrick
Gillespie said, “For there was no merit in Adams obedience […] or in ours” (The Ark of the Testa-
ment Opened, 221).
Works, 7:51.
Works, 7:49.
Turretin,; Goodwin, Works, 7:50–51.

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Adam’s Reward: Heaven or Earth? 175
pure grace (ex mera gratia).62 Limborch, who did not accept a covenant
concept in Adam’s prelapsarian state, drew the same conclusion as Tur-
retin’s on the question of Adam’s reward.
In the end, Goodwin did not believe that God promised heaven to Adam
while Turretin did. For that reason, they drew different conclusions on this
question while utilizing their understanding of God and man’s nature.
Though the polemical element is present in Turretin’s work on account of
the nature of his work (contra Socinians and Amyraldians), we find in the
end that these orthodox divines were very close to each other on this ques-
tion. This was truly an intramural debate and one that did not involve seri-
ous theological issues. They both believed eternal life was promised and
that death was the consequence of sin. They differed as to the destiny of
that reward, here on earth in paradise or translated into the paradise in
heaven. Peter Bulkeley says the Adam’s reward was whether “life here on
earth […] or whether a heavenly life and glory […] as some other think
[…].” On this matter, he will not determine whether it is in heaven or earth
because it was not “material” or all that important. “It’s enough to know
that life and blessedness was and is promised in both [Covenant of Works
and Covenant of Grace].”63 Perhaps he is correct.

7.5 Seventeenth-Century Divines and Adam’s Reward

Having looked at two representatives on this question, we now look at

several other writers who have written on this and will also interact with
Holmes Rolston’s theory.64 Though his thesis has been thoroughly corrected
recently (if not refuted), it is still necessary to consider it in the light of our
theological question since it involves the heart of the foedus operum.
Seventeenth-century federal theology as found in the use of foedus
naturae or foedus operum is thoroughly (though not exclusively) gracious.
That is, as these Reformed orthodox divines spoke on the matter of
“Adam’s reward,” they did so in the context of a covenant of works.
Though few developed the doctrine as thoroughly as Goodwin and Turretin,
they nonetheless spoke on the issue. Most of them simply set forth their

Philip Limborch, Theologia christiana (Amsterdam, 1715), III.ii.5. Cf. John Mark Hicks,
“The Theology of Grace in the Thought of Jacobus Arminius and Philip van Limborch: A Study in
the Development of Seventeenth Century Dutch Arminianism,” (Ph. D. Dissertation, Westminster
Theological Seminary, 1985), 113ff. Also see Richard A. Muller, “The Federal Motif in Seven-
teenth Century Arminian Theology,” Nederlands Archief voor Kerkgeschiedenis 62 (1982): 115–
121. Muller gives a full account of Limborch’s “covenant-motif.”
Peter Bulkeley, The Gospel Covenant, 55.
Holmes Rolston, III, John Calvin versus the Westminster Confession (Richmond, VA: John
Knox, 1972).

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176 Mark A. Herzer

position with little exposition. For example, Edward Leigh believed there
was “the promise of eternal life” and argues that Adam’s immortality was
contingent.65 But he does not explicitly argue the nature of that eternal life.
Polemical issues are raised concerning other things but not on this.
Most did believe that Adam’s reward was ultimately heaven.66 Richard
Baxter originally asserted that Adam would have continued in paradise had
he obeyed (in his Aphorismes), but 26 years later, his position changed and
he ended up believing that “man should have been translated to Heaven.”67
The popular Thomas Brooks asserted, “Had Adam never sinned, Adam had
never died; had Adam stood fast in innocency, he should have been trans-
lated to glory without dissolution.”68 Thomas Watson clearly and succinctly
states, “In case Man had stood, it is probable he had not died, but had been
translated to a better Paradise.”69 William Whately believed that Adam had
“the hope and assurance of Eternall life upon condition of their obedience,
of which Paradise it selfe and the tree of life were signes unto them. For if
wee should live the life of glory by obeying the Law, so should they have
done seeing they also were under the same Covenant of workes that we be
under.”70 Similarly, John Maynard said that Adam was “living the life of
nature […] and a supernatural life too […] and, had he continued in that
estate, he should have conveyed the same life, both natural and supernatural
to his posterity […]”71 George Lawson was much more explicit: “The thing
promised was Life, and the same not onely bodily and spiritual, but eternall:
Yet this life was not a new being, but the happinesse of the former Being.
And this happinesse was not merely a continuance of that present estate, he
enjoyed in Paradise but a farr higher condition which might reach Heaven,
and come neere the blisse of Angels […].”72 Junius’ asserted that God had
promised Adam and Eve “supernatural life” (vitam supernaturalem) and

Edward Leigh, A systeme or body of divinity consisting of ten books, wherein the fundamen-
tals and main grounds of religion are opened [...] (London, 1662), 363–64.
Mark Beach and Rowland Ward have given a list of various seventeenth-century writers
who have written on this topic; see Beach, Christ and the Covenant, 130 n.157 and Ward, God and
Adam, 108–111. I have for the most part added new names to the list.
Richard Baxter, Catholic theologie (London, 1675), 2nd Part, 6. For his earlier view, see
Aphorismes of Justification (London, 1649), 14–15.
Thomas Brooks, Paradice opened […] (London: Printed for Dorman Newman, 1675), 13.
Thomas Watson, A body of practical divinity […] (London: Printed for Thomas Parkurst,
1692), 74.
William Whately, Prototypes […] (London: Printed by G. M., 1640), 7.
John Maynard, The beauty and order of the creation […] (London: Printed by T. M., 1668),
George Lawson, A body of divinity […] (London: Printed by J. Streater, for Francis Tyton,
1659), 57. Thomas Blake says that the life promised “was not barely a propagation of his being.”
See The covenant sealed (London: Printed for Abel Roper, 1655), 11.

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Adam’s Reward: Heaven or Earth? 177
Rijssen believed that Adam would have received eternal life in heaven.73
Lastly, William Lyford (1598–1653) clearly argued that it is eternal life and
ultimately “for ever in heaven.”74
As we can see, a great many of these British and continental divines be-
lieved as Turretin did. But on the other hand, very significant divines held
to the position as espoused by Goodwin. Highly recognized theologians
such as Moïse Amyraut (1596–1664), John Cameron (1579/80–1625), John
Ball (1585–1640), Johannes Marckius (1656–1713), James Ussher (1581–
1656), John Downame (d. 1652), and possibly Patrick Gillespie (1617–75)
all believed that Adam would have perpetually remained in earth’s para-
dise.75 A fellow Westminster divine Jeremiah Burroughs (1599–1646) also
needs to be added to the list along with the famous Baptist, John Bunyan.76
This is quite a list of influential writers in the seventeenth century and Tur-
retin’s position was by no means a consensus.
Francis Junius, Theses theologicae in Opuscula Theologica Selecta, ed. Kuyper (Amster-
dam, 1882), 184. Admittedly, he represents the end of sixteenth century and the beginning of the
seventeenth. For Leonard Rijssen, see Summa theologiae elencticae (Bern, 1676), IX.10 (p. 92).
William Lyford, The plain mans senses exercised (London, 1655), 223. It appears Thomas
Blake (1597?–1657) could be on the list as well. See Thomas Blake, Vindiciae foederis; or, A
treatise of the covenant of God entered with man-kinde (London, 1658), 88 and 100–1 (the latter
pages seem to contradict the former). Also, Burgess, Vindiciae legis, 123.
Here I am depending on Mark Beach’s extensive list as cited before, see Christ and the
Covenant, 130 n.157. It is evident that John Ball was reticent about deciding this. In addition,
Blake also cites John Cameron’s De Triplici Foedere (Thes. 9), see Blake’s Vindiciae Foederis,
88, 100. Beach places Gillespie as being uncommitted but Gillespie says God promised “a declara-
tion concerning his continuance in the possession of his Paradise-state, so long as he continued in
his obedience” (The ark of the testament opened, or, The secret of the Lords covenant unsealed, in
a treatise of the covenant of grace (London, 1661), 185; cf. 178, 235. Yet, on p. 250, he states that
he would not determine if it is eternal life eventually in heaven. Cameron’s view can be found in
Praelectionum in selectiora quaedam Novi Testamenti loca, Salmurii habitarum (Salmur, 1628–
1632), III, 611–612 (he says that the Covenant of Nature promised eternal and blessed life but “an
animal [life] in Paradise”). My other reservation on this list is J. Marckius. The reference he cites
seems to state otherwise and the following also makes clear that he is in Turretin’s camp, Chris-
tianae theologiae medulla didactico-elenctica (Philadelphia: J. Anderson, 1824), XIV:19 –
“Promisit vero Deus vitam aeternam et coelestem […].” Beach also places F. Burman in both
groups when in fact, he, along with Marckius, should have been placed within the Turretin’s
perspective. With so many names on his list, it would be understandable if the names were misla-
Burroughs, Gospel-conversation (London, 1653), 43–46. John Bunyan, The Miscellaneous
Works of John Bunyan, ed. Roger Sharrock, 13 vol. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976–94), 2:162:
“The first hath promised nothing but an early paradise, Do this, and thou shalt live. Namely, here
in an earthly paradise. But the other doth bring the promise of a heavenly paradise” (cf. 12:124–
125). Thomas Manton seems to be of this position as well. He said that believers have a better
portion than Adam, “Adam had paradise, we have heaven” (The Complete Works of Thomas
Manton, D. D. [London: James Nisbet, 1870–1875], 10:171; cf. 2:191, 391; 12:429). He is clearer
when he says that Christ will restore what Adam lost (image of God, the favour of God, etc.) and
“bestow upon us a blessedness which possibly we should not have had if Adam had stood – eternal
life and rest in heaven, grace to bear our expenses in heaven, and glory at the end of the way […]

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178 Mark A. Herzer

One would expect a legalistic tendency on this question since these men
wrote on what kind of “reward” Adam received. Is not arguing about re-
wards a deviation from the high emphasis on grace that John Calvin taught?
As is well known, Rolston argues that the Westminster Confession is a
return to the legalism from which the great magisterial Reformers liberated
us. The development of the “covenant of works” which was completely
absent in Calvin emerged to deaden grace. “That it is by a name a covenant
of works has a very deadening effect on anything said about grace. The
overall emphasis was that God did not come to primal man in a relationship
of grace, for man did not yet need that grace, but stood by his works.”77
Much more has been written to counter Rolston but we will use “Adam’s
Reward” to give his thesis another test. Did these seventeenth-century di-
vines fall into legalism on account of their use of the covenant of works?
We have seen how careful Goodwin was in describing the terms of
Adam’s existence in the foedus naturae. It was never in a “mercenary way.”
Other writers, like William Lyford goes a step further and says that this of
the Covenant of Life: “[…] in this Covenant there was some kind of grace,
because God might have required Obedience at his Creatures hands, with-
out any such promise […].”78 Furthermore, the reward was “above the merit
of Adam’s obedience.”79 Then he says, “Thirdly, especially considering that
Adams ability to perform that condition of Life, was of Gods own donation;
and this is almost as much Grace some men allow in the new Covenant.”80
Here, this covenant of works was considered one of grace. Many divines
saw the offer of life to be greater than Adam’s obedience and viewed it with
awe and wonder: “What a God must he be, who will come downe and put
himself in a lovely and gaining capacitie to be a Covenanting debtour to our
feeble obedience, whereas he ow[e]s nothing, and to make heaven and glory
so sure to us, that the heavens should sooner break and melt, like snow

John Calvin versus the Westminster Confession, 17. Donald Bruggink argues similarly in
“Calvin and Federal Theology,” The Reformed Review 13 (1959–60): 15–22. He even suggests
that Richard Baxter’s neonomianism was “facilitated by the triple covenant scheme” (19). Brug-
gink further argues that the introduction of foedus operum “set the mood for putting works be-
tween man and God” (20). Federalism also led to the weakening of the doctrine of the church (20–
21). One is at a loss as to how to respond to these kinds of fallacious arguments.
Cf. Thomas Boston said, “[…] there was grace and free favour in the first covenant […].”
(Complete Works, 8:18).
Cf. John Ball, A treatise of the covenant of grace, 9: “This Covenant God made in Justice;
yet so as it was of Grace likewise to make such a free promise, and to bestow so great things upon
man for his obedience.” Thomas Boston taught similarly: “There was no proportion between the
work and the promised reward” (Complete Works, 8:18) as did Burgess, Vindiciae legis, 129.
Gillespie said, “[…] nor did his work bear proportion to the eternal reward promised for it” (The
ark of the testament opened, 221).
William Lyford, The plain mans senses exercised , 223. The good Adam would receive “did
farre exceed the power and ability of man” (Burgess, Vindiciae legis, 129).

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Adam’s Reward: Heaven or Earth? 179
before the Sun, then his promise can fail.”81 Patrick Gillespie (1617–1675)
says the same, “That by this Law that was written in the heart of Adam, he
had not only the exact knowledge of the Soveraigne will of God concerning
his duty, but also of the gracious will of God and his goodness concerning
the reward of his obediency […].”82
In the full bloom of federal theology in the seventeenth century, the di-
vines saw and argued forcefully that the covenant of works itself and the
required obedience in Adam were gracious acts on God’s part. It is actually
difficult to find examples where this point is not at one place or another
noted when they develop the doctrine of the foedus operum. This gracious
element existed in an earlier generation in men like Ursinus. Bierma notes
that in Ursinus’s writings, the language of grace is not absent when speak-
ing about Adam’s originalis iustitia. He proves that Ursinus did not shift
from grace to law in his writings.83 Leonard Rijssen (1636–1700) believed
Adam’s reward came not from the dignity of the work but from the God’s
generous promises.84 Federal theologians were careful to highlight some
sort of grace even in the covenant of works. This Westminster divine Sam-
uel Rutherfurd states the point emphatically: “God then never loved to
make any Covenant, yea even that of Works, without some acts and out
goings of grace.”85
Lyford’s phrase “some kind of grace” is helpful. The divines recognized
that Adam did not receive redemptive grace before the Fall. They seem to
struggle with the precise meaning of this “grace” in the covenant of works.
The Westminster Confession speaks of the “voluntary condescension on
God’s part” by means of covenant because Adam as a creature “could never
have any fruition of Him as their blessedness and reward” (VII, 1). Though
the term “grace” is not used, yet what emerges is how the Confession
downplays a mercenary merit system.86 For that reason, it was not uncom-
mon for the divines to speak of this covenant as a Pactum Amicitia “be-
cause before the fall, there was nothing at variance or enmity betwixt God
S. Rutherfurd, The covenant of life opened: or, A treatise of the covenant of grace (Edin-
burgh, 1654), 15–16; also, W. Bates, The Whole Works of the Rev. W. Bates, 4 Vol. (Harrisonburg,
VA: Sprinkle Pub., 1990), 2:8.
P. Gillespie, The ark of the testament opened (London, 1661), 183.
Lyle D. Bierma, “Law and Grace in Ursinus’ Doctrine of the Natural Covenant: A Reap-
praisal,” in Protestant Scholasticism: Essays in Reassessment, ed. Carl R. Trueman and R. Scott
Clark (Carlisle, Cumbria: Paternoster Press, 1999), 108–109.
Summa theologiae elencticae, IX.10: “Merces, non ex dignitate operis, sed ex liberalitate
promissa, fuit vita aeterna, in coelis beata, Gal. 3. v. 12.”
Rutherford, The Covenant of Life Opened, 22. Thomas Manton says, “The first covenant, it
was grace for God to make it. It was the grace of God to accept of man’s perfect obedience […]
Grace engaged the reward, there was no more merit in Adam’s obedience than in ours […]” (The
Complete Works, 8:376).
Patrick Gillespie states that the two Covenants agree in that “both God sheweth wonderful
condescensions” (The ark of the testament opened, 225).

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180 Mark A. Herzer

and man; that estate was an estate of love and kindnesse, and friendship;
God was Adams friend, and Adam was a friend to God; they agreed to-
gether, and conversed as loving friends.”87 The covenant of works was
painted as a covenant of friendship to call attention to its goodness and
graciousness. Though it was not grace in the same sense as post-lapsarian
grace, it was “some kind of grace.” Gillespie spent considerable amount of
time showing how the Covenant of Works agreed with the Covenant of
Grace. In the fourteen ways in which they agree, one of the ways was that
they were both of grace: “They agree in this, that there was very much of
Grace Favour in both: the moving cause in both was meer Grace, […] yet
even the Covenant of Works […] even that Covenant was thus far a Cove-
nant of Grace.”88 These are simply stunning statements.
Grace is noted in Eden in the writings of both Calvin and the federal
theologians of the seventeenth century. Both Calvin and the federal theolo-
gians emphasized the obedience required of Adam, a point often over-
looked.89 There is continuity between the two; the language has been re-
fined but that was to be expected. Rolston and others believe this perverts
Calvin’s view of grace while Karlberg believes it was a “temporary set-
back.” Rolston argued that federalism taught a merit system so rejected it.
Karlberg believed that federalism should have accented strict merit in the
covenant of works and is dissatisfied with what he perceived to be “ten-
sions” in covenant theology. Rolston misreads the evidence and argues that
federalism got it wrong while Karlberg reads it correctly and believes the
Puritans confused the issue. Both have an idea of what federalism was
supposed to look like. Of the covenant of works, one says too much merit
and the other, not enough. Federal theology simply does not fit into their
pre-determined definitions.
At times, these seventeenth-century divines highlighted the “works” of
the covenant. Though they avoided strict merit language, they did at times
accentuate Adam’s required obedience, its legal element. But they did it to
emphasize the sheer graciousness and superiority of the Covenant of Grace.
They never underscored the works element for its own sake as if it were the
terms of salvation. Bruggink says, “[…] the federal structure played a cul-
pable part in this theological ascendancy of works.”90 This is a complete
Obadiah Sedgwick, The bowels of tender mercy sealed in the everlasting covenant (London,
1661), 9. Friendship with God in the foedus operum was used by Cocceius and William Ames, see
Willem J. van Asselt, The Federal Theology of Johannes Cocceius (1603–1669), 256–57. Also
interesting is van Asselt’s “Amicitia Dei as Ultimate Reality: An Outline of the Covenant Theol-
ogy of Johannes Cocceius (1603–1669),” Ultimate Reality and Meaning. Interdisciplinary Studies
in the Philosophy of Understanding 21/1 (1998): 35–47.
The ark of the testament opened, 221.
This is perceptively noted by Muller in “The Covenant of Works and the Stability of Divine
Law,” 184.
“Calvin and Federal Theology,” 20.

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Adam’s Reward: Heaven or Earth? 181
misunderstanding of what the seventeenth-century theologians taught. Bur-
roughs emphasized the obedience required in Adam to spotlight the superi-
ority and stability of the Covenant of Grace in Christ.91 Even Patrick Gilles-
pie, who highlighted the agreement between the two covenants, noted the
differences as well. In these examples, like Burroughs, Gillespie does it to
display the glories of the Covenant of Grace.92 The development of the
foedus operum served as a perfect backdrop for the blessings of the Cove-
nant of Grace. The orthodox divines never confused this.

7.6 Conclusion

Perhaps it is an understatement to say that this “debate” was not a major

one among the orthodox divines. Diversity of opinions existed for sure but
it was not one that was hotly debated. However, against the Socinians and
at times Amyraldians, the issue became more focused and polemical.
Goodwin and Turretin differed on this question of Adam’s reward and the
matter probably will not be settled in the theological world. The question
we were not able to pursue is one of eschatology. Their eschatological
outlook no doubt played a significant role on this issue. When it comes to
eschatology, modern Reformed theologians often argue for a “heaven on
earth” — a renewed creation is the believer’s heaven.93 If that is the biblical
position, then the seventeenth-century debate over this question would be
moot for contemporary theologians.
Yet a few things should be noted from this study. One is that Goodwin
and Turretin both labored within the confines of foedus naturae but arrived
at different answers to the “Adam’s reward” question. Interestingly, the
question of Adam’s reward cannot be settled on the basis of the covenant of
works (e.g., P. Limborch). Goodwin argues for what is naturally due but
shies away from arguing for some sort of strict merit. At that point, it all
depended on God’s promise and not the debitum naturale. On the other
hand, Turretin argued that the blessing of the heavenly reward was ulti-
mately based upon God’s will and goodness and not in proportion to merit.
If that is the case, then once again, it falls on God’s promise. Neither one of
them could argue it had to be their respective positions because it ultimately
depended on what God had promised. The implied promise was life and the
nature of that life was never explicitly specified. Peter Bulkeley said that

Gospel-conversation, 42ff.
The ark of the testament opened, 232ff.
For example, see Anthony Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,
1979) and Cornelis P. Venema, The Promise of the Future (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth
Trust, 2000).

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182 Mark A. Herzer

the final answer to the question did not materially affect much – it is suffi-
cient that God promised a blessed life.
The covenant of works, we have tried to show, was not “legalistic” as
some of the writers have tried to argue. We have seen that a great many of
the divines argued for the presence of God’s grace in the covenant of na-
ture. The exact meaning of what kind of “grace” they have in mind is not
always apparent. Condescending grace may be what they believed existed
in the original covenant; it definitely was not salvific grace. One thing be-
comes apparent though, the idea of “strict merit” or “strict justice” is as-
siduously avoided.
Lastly, perhaps the Westminster divines struck the perfect balance on
this question. They stated that life was promised to Adam. With this, all
Reformed orthodox divines would have agreed. It appears that the Formula
Consensus Helvetica’s statement on Adam’s reward effectively answers the
Salmurian view of the three covenants. Adam’s natural covenant differed
from the legal and evangelical covenants.94 Though there is no evidence that
the three covenant view leads to Adam’s earthly reward, Turretin sought to
demolish the De tribus foederibus divinis view along with their view of
Adam’s reward.95 What did The Formula Consensus Helvetica gain from
Canon VIII (its affirmations regarding Adam’s heavenly reward)? Nothing
seems to have been at stake. The one thing that appears problematic is the
way Amyraut used Adam’s reward as part of the progressive redemptive
historical revelation of God’s plan (blessed life in Eden, in Canaan, and
then in heaven).96 Perhaps Turretin wanted to destroy Salmurian theology,
root and branch? But in so doing, he and Heidegger effectively cut off good
British men such as Goodwin and Burroughs in Canon VIII. If Canon VIII
is the received opinion among the orthodox, then why did so many ortho-
dox divines teach differently? Fortunately, the Formula Consensus
Helvetica did not achieve wide acceptance.97

Klauber, “The Helvetic Formula Consensus,” 108; Beach, Christ and the Covenant, 301ff.;
Philip Schaff, ed., The Creeds of Christendom (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985), 1:489;
Brian Armstrong, Calvinism and the Amyraut Heresy (Madison: The University of Wisconsin
Press, 1969), 143ff. Canon XXV: “We disapprove therefore of the doctrine of those who fabricate
for us three Covenants, the Natural, the Legal, and the Gospel, different in their entire nature and
essence; and in explaining these and assigning their differences, so intricately entangle themselves
that they greatly obscure and even impair the nucleus of solid truth and piety. Nor do they hesitate
at all, with regard to the necessity, under the OT dispensation, of knowledge of Christ and faith in
him and his satisfaction and in the whole sacred Trinity, to speculate much too loosely and dan-
Institutes, XIII.xii.1ff.
Armstrong, Calvinism and the Amyraut Heresy, 146.
Klauber, “The Helvetic Formula Consensus,” 114–15.

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8. The “Old” Covenant

Mark Jones

8.1 Introduction

By the seventeenth century, the concept of the covenant of grace (foedus

gratiae) had become a theological commonplace in Reformed orthodoxy.
Beginning with the protoevangelium in Genesis 3:15, the history of re-
demption from Genesis to Revelation was understood covenantally. The
terminology of the covenant of grace was used to express the idea that in
both the Old and New Testaments God provided salvation for his people
apart from any human initiative in and through the person and work of the
Mediator, Jesus Christ. For this reason, the covenant of grace was in the
first place one-sided (foedus monopleuron); humanity’s fallen condition
meant that they could receive the benefits of the covenant only by God’s
grace. That did not, however, rule out conditions for God’s people.
As John Owen (1616–1683) would argue: “if by conditions we intend
the duties of obedience which God requireth of us in and by virtue of that
covenant; but this I say, the principal promises thereof are not in the first
place remunerative of our obedience in the covenant, but efficaciously
assumptive of us in the covenant, and establishing or confirming the cove-
nant.”1 Thus the covenant of grace may be understood as both monopleuric
(foedus monoplueron) and dipleuric (foedus dipleuron). John Calvin (1509–
1564) captures this idea well by noting that God requires “uprightness and
sanctity of life” from those in the covenant; “nonetheless the covenant is at
the outset drawn up as a free agreement, and perpetually remains such.”2
Leonard Trinterud’s contention that a tension existed between the covenant
theology of the Rhineland theologians (e.g., Heinrich Bullinger) and the
covenant theology of Calvin, the latter emphasizing the monopleuric (i.e.,
unilateral) nature of the covenant and the former emphasizing the dipleuric
(i.e., bilateral) nature of the covenant, with the Puritans opposing Calvin,

John Owen, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews in TheWorks of John Owen, D.D.
24 vol. (Edinburgh: Johnstone & Hunter, 1850–55), 23:68–69.
Institutes of the Christian Religion 3.17.5 (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press,

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184 Mark Jones

cannot be sustained.3 As Richard Muller has argued, “the language of mo-

nopleuron and dipleuron describes the same covenant from different points
of view.”4 By the seventeenth century the covenant of grace provided a tool
for understanding not only what God had done for his people, but also what
God required of his people who were in covenant with him. Hence, treatises
on the covenant of grace were essentially bodies of divinity.5
Besides the covenant of grace, by the seventeenth century Reformed or-
thodox theologians also developed the concept of the covenant of works
(foedus operum), which was the first covenant God made with Adam in the
Garden of Eden. The basic question of when precisely the concept origi-
nated has perplexed scholars.6 Tracing the origin of the covenant of works
proves particularly hard given that Reformed theologians each had their
own preferences for describing the nature of the Creator-creature relation-
ship in the garden.7 Moreover, the theology behind the covenant of works
may be found in John Calvin, even though he does not use the exact lan-

For example, Trinterud argues the following: “For Calvin, and so in the Geneva Bible, the
covenant of God is God’s promise to man, which obligates God to fulfill. Moreover, in the incar-
nation, death and resurrection of Christ God did actually fulfill that promise to which his covenant
bound him. Therefore, the sacraments are witnesses, attestations, or seals to the effect that God has
long since fulfilled his covenant, his promise. Therefore, covenant and testament are identical. In
the covenant theory of the Rhineland and of the English reformers the covenant is a conditional
promise on God’s part, which has the effect of drawing out of man a responding promise of
obedience, thus creating a mutual pact or treaty. The burden of fulfillment rests upon man, for he
must first obey in order to bring God’s reciprocal obligation into force. Theologically, of course,
the difference between these two views is of the greatest moment.” (“The Origins of Puritanism,”
Church History 20 [1951]: 45). Two responses to Trinterud are particularly noteworthy. See J.
Mark Beach, Christ and the Covenant: Francis Turretin’s Federal Theology As a Defense of the
Doctrine of Grace (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2007), 22–64; John Von Rohr, The
Covenant of Grace in Puritan Thought (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1986), 17–33. Von Rohr’s
statement on page 33 sums up the issue with regard to Puritan covenant theology rather well: “For
the mainstream of Puritanism, therefore, it would appear that basically the bilateral and the unilat-
eral were conjoined, human responsibility and divine sovereignty were unitedly maintained, and
the covenant of grace was seen as both conditional and absolute.”
Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scho-
lastic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2004), 120.
See John Ball, A treatise of the covenant of grace wherein the graduall breakings out of
Gospel grace from Adam to Christ are clearly discovered, the differences betwixt the Old and New
Testament are laid open, divers errours of Arminians and others are confuted, the nature of
uprightnesse, and the way of Christ in bringing the soul into communion with himself [...] (Lon-
don, 1645).
See, for example, Robert Letham, “The Foedus Operum: Some Factors Accounting for Its
Development,” Sixteenth Century Journal 14 (1983), 457–68; David A. Weir, The Origins of the
Federal Theology in Sixteenth-Century Reformation Thought (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990).
See Willem J. van Asselt, The Federal Theology of Johannes Cocceius (Leiden: E.J. Brill),
254–57. He lists the following terms: foedus naturae (covenant of nature); foedus naturale (natural
covenant); foedus creationis (covenant of creation); foedus legale (covenant of law); amicitia cum
Deo (friendship with God); foedus operum (covenant of works).

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The “Old” Covenant 185
guage of his successors.8 The English Puritan theologian Dudley Fenner
(1558–1587) may have been the first to use the exact phrase foedus operum.
He likely picked up the substance of the doctrine from his teacher Thomas
Cartwright (1535–1603), who in turn may have learned it during his twenty
years of exile on the Continent.9 Whatever the case, the term “covenant of
works” was firmly entrenched in the writings of most Reformed theologians
during the seventeenth century, and thus found its way into the Westminster
Confession of Faith: “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” (7.2).10
Adam’s obedience, however, was neither perfect nor perpetual. There-
fore, the Westminster Confession contrasts the covenant of works with the
covenant of grace: “Man by his fall having made himself incapable of life
by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called
the covenant of grace: wherein he freely offereth unto sinners life and sal-
vation 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 life, his
Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe” (7.3). The Westmin-
ster Confession of Faith upholds what might be termed a dichotomous
understanding of redemptive history by contrasting the covenant of works
with the covenant of grace. Moreover, notwithstanding the distinction be-
tween the time of the law (i.e., the Old Testament) and the time of the gos-
pel (i.e., the New Testament), the Westminster divines made clear that
“there are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but
one and the same, under various dispensations” (7.6). The dichotomist
understanding of redemptive history appears neat so far. However, the
words in the Westminster Confession, “this covenant was differently ad-
ministered in the time of the law,” provide a gateway into a debate among
Reformed theologians that caused Anthony Burgess (d. 1664) to remark
that on the relation between Sinai and the covenant of grace he did “not
finde in any point of Divinity, learned men so confused and perplexed […]

See Peter Lillback’s argument in The Binding of God: Calvin’s Role in the Development of
Covenant Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 276–304.
For Fenner’s explicit use of foedus operam, see Sacra theologia, sive, Veritas quae est
secundum pietatem (1585), 88. Michael McGiffert recognizes Fenner’s importance in the devel-
opment of this doctrine. See “From Moses to Adam: The Making of the Covenant of Works,” The
Sixteenth Century Journal 19, No. 2 (Summer 1988), 131–155.
The doctrine of the covenant of works has received criticism from a number of well-known
theologians. In response to these criticisms, see Cornelis P. Venema, “Recent Criticisms of the
Covenant of Works in the Westminster Confession of Faith,” Mid-America Journal of Theology 9
(Fall 1993), 165–198.

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186 Mark Jones

as here.”11 Burgess was not alone in his assessment of how complex this
point of theology was among the Reformed orthodox.
The highly regarded covenant theologian, John Ball (1585–1640), noted
that most divines understood the old and new covenants (Heb 8; 2 Cor 3) to
be “one in substance and kind, to differ only in degrees: but in setting down
the differences they speake so obscurely, that it is hard to find how they
consent with themselves.”12 John Owen agrees with Ball that most Re-
formed divines have understood the differences between the old and new
covenants to be different administrations of the one covenant of grace. And
he contrasts this “Reformed” position with the “Lutheran” view that argues
“not a twofold administration of the same covenant, but that two covenants
substantially distinct” are intended by Paul when he refers to the old and
new covenants in Hebrews 8:6.13 Though insisting on the unity of the cove-
nant of grace, Owen joins the Lutherans by insisting that the old and new
covenants are two distinct covenants, “rather than a twofold administration
of the same covenant.”14 In other words, the old covenant was “not a mere
administration of the covenant of grace.”15 The complexity of the debate is
exacerbated by the fact that Owen’s position seems to be one of many
among the British Reformed orthodox during the seventeenth century.
These positions will be discussed below, but there is no question that while
there is basic agreement among Reformed theologians on the unity of the
covenant of grace, and the distinction between the covenants of works and
grace, they certainly did not agree on the function of the old covenant in the
history of redemption.

Vindiciae legis: or, A vindication of the morall law and the covenants, from the errours of
papists, Arminians, Socinians, and more especially, Antinomians (London, 1646), 219.
A treatise of the covenant of grace wherein the graduall breakings out of Gospel grace from
Adam to Christ are clearly discovered, the differences betwixt the Old and New Testament are laid
open (London, 1645), 95.
Exposition of Hebrews 23:73. Anthony Burgess makes the same point: “It is true, the Lu-
theran Divines, they do expresly oppose the Calvinists herein, maintaining the Covenant given by
Moses, to be a Covenant of works, and so directly contrary to the Covenant of grace. Indeed, they
acknowledge that the Fathers were justified by Christ, and had the same way of salvation with us;
only they make that Covenant of Moses to be a superadded thing to the Promise, holding forth a
condition of perfect righteousness unto the Jews, that they might be convinced of their own folly
in their self-righteousness. But, I think, it is already cleared, that Moses his Covenant, was a
Covenant of grace.” Vindiciae legis, 251.
Exposition of Hebrews 23:76.
Exposition of Hebrews 23:77.

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The “Old” Covenant 187

8.2 Taxonomies

Edmund Calamy (1600–1666) provides a brief, if somewhat unreliable,

taxonomy of the views among the Westminster divines on the number of
covenants made between God and man. He speaks of “severall opinions”:
Some hold that there be foure Covenants, two of Works, and two of Grace; the two
first, one with Adam before the fall, and the other with Israel at their returne out of
Egypt, and the Covenants of Grace the first to Abraham, and the other at the Incarna-
tion of Jesus Christ; this M. Sympson affirmed before a Committee of the Assembly
of Divines in my hearing. 2. Others hold that there is but three Covenants; the first
with Adam, the second with Israel at their going out of Egypt, and a third with Jesus
Christ, the two first of Workes, and the last of Grace, and this M. Burroughes deliv-
ered in his Exposition Sermon in Cornhill in my hearing. 3. Others hold that there is
but two Covenants, the one of Works, and the other of Grace; yet the first they hold
was made with Israel at Mount Sinai, and no Covenant of workes before that, and
now it is vanished away, and the other a Covenant of grace yet not made till the death
of Christ the testator, and this is affirmed by James Pope, in a Book entitled, the
unveiling of Antichrist. 4. Others hold that the Law at Mount Sinai was a Covenant of
grace, implying that there is more then one Covenant of grace, and this is affirmed by
Mr. Anthony Burgesse in his Vindication of the Morall Law the 24. Lecture, text the
4. of Deuteronomy. 5. Others with myselfe hold that there is but two Covenants, the
one a Covenant of Workes […] then there was a Covenant of grace which God the
Father made with Jesus Christ from all eternity to save some of the posterity of
Regarding his own position on Sinai, Calamy maintains that the law given
at Sinai was neither a covenant of works or covenant of grace; instead, the
law was given to those already in covenant with God as a rule of obedi-
ence.17 Interestingly, in his brief taxonomy Calamy makes generalizations
that need clarification. In the cases of Sidrach Simpson and Jeremiah Bur-
roughs, Calamy relies on what he personally heard; in others, as in the case
of James Pope and Anthony Burgess, he relies on their written works. There
is some truth in Calamy’s description of Burroughs’ position, but in the
latter’s work, Gospel Conversation (1653), the relation of Sinai to Eden
does not constitute a strict parallel. His aim is to make a redemptive-
historical contrast that shows the superiority of living in the time of the
gospel instead of the time of the law. He does not deny that the Israelites in
the time of Moses had the gospel, “but the chief Ministration of God to-
wards them was then in a legal way.”18 Burroughs adopts a position that is
not unlike the view of John Cameron (1580–1625) who viewed Sinai as a
Two solemne covenants made between God and man: viz. [brace] the covenant of workes,
and the covenant of grace (London, 1647), 1–2.
Two solemne covenants, 8.
Gospel Conversation (London, 1653), 47.

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188 Mark Jones

subservient covenant (foedus subserviens) that did not properly belong to

either the covenant of works or the covenant of grace.19 Also potentially
misleading is Calamy’s description of Anthony Burgess’ position. Calamy
identifies the covenant of grace as an eternal covenant between the Father
and the Son concerning the elect only. Many Reformed theologians would
eventually identify this covenant as the eternal covenant of redemption
(pactum salutis) distinct from the temporal covenant of grace. For Burgess,
this eternal covenant provides the foundation for the covenant of grace, but
it is not strictly part of the covenant of grace.20 Thus Burgess sees no incon-
sistency in speaking of one covenant of grace, which included the Mosaic
covenant.21 The above shows that even a delegate to the Westminster As-
sembly can hear and read his contemporaries on the topic of the covenants,
with particular reference to Sinai, and not necessarily provide an altogether
accurate or clear taxonomy of the respective positions.
Recent scholarship has fallen into the same kinds of errors.22 Sebastian
Rehnman has asked an important question about Reformed covenant theol-
ogy with particular reference to John Owen, namely, is redemptive history
trichotomous or dichotomous?23 Rehman makes the argument that “Al-
though criticized by the core group of Reformed orthodoxy and always a
minority view, Owen follows the trichotomist federal theology, possibly in
particular the Cameronian version, in his otherwise standard Reformed
theology.”24 Rehnman does, however, qualify his statement by suggesting
that the difference between Owen and the majority of his Reformed con-

De triplici Dei cum homine foedere theses (Heidelberg, 1608), VII. Samuel Bolton (1606–
1654) provides an English translation of Cameron’s work in The true bounds of Christian
freedome. Or a treatise wherein the rights of the law are vindicated, the liberties of grace main-
tained; and the several late opinions against the law are examined and confuted. Whereunto is
annexed a discourse of the learned John Camerons, touching the three-fold covenant of God with
man, faithfully translated (London, 1656), 351–401. Petto also adopts a “trichotomist” structure:
“It is in no way incongruous to speak of three Covenants, seeing that with Adam is generally
acknowledged to be One, and here [i.e., Gal. 4:24] the Scripture expressly speaketh of two Cove-
nants and that with Adam is none of them.” The difference between the old and new covenant, 94.
The True Doctrine of Justification Asserted & Vindicated (London, 1654), 375–76.
Vindiciae Legis, 251. The Westminster Confession makes clear that there “are not therefore
two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations”
See Brenton C. Ferry, “Works in the Mosaic Covenant: A Reformed Taxonomy” in The
Law is Not of Faith: Essays on Works and Grace in the Mosaic Covenant, ed. Bryan D. Estelle,
J.V. Fesko, & David VanDrunen (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2009), 76–105. Ferry makes a number of
criticisms of past taxonomies in the secondary literature. However, Ferry commits a few errors
himself. Nevertheless, his taxonomy remains generally helpful in understanding the diversity of
opinions on the matter.
See “Is the Narrative of Redemptive History Trichotomous or Dichotomous? A Problem for
Federal Theology,” Nederlands archief voor kergeschiedenis 80 (2000): 296–308.
“The Narrative of Redemptive History,” 302.

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The “Old” Covenant 189
temporaries “is more formal than real.”25 The trichotomist label is generally
helpful, but it fails to adequately understand the nuances of Owen’s cove-
nant theology. While others, such as John Cameron, might be accurately
described as reading the history of redemption in a trichotomous fashion,
with regard to Owen that label places him in a category he would likely
have repudiated. The following will set forth a variety of positions with the
goal of showing the diversity that existed within the Reformed theological
tradition concerning how best to interpret the function of the Mosaic cove-
nant in the history of redemption.

8.3 The Majority Position: “Dichotomist”

The vast majority of Reformed theologians from the Reformation onwards

understood the Mosaic covenant to be an administration of the covenant of
grace. As noted above, the pre-Fall covenant of works, not the “old cove-
nant,” provides the basis for the dichotomist position, which is set forth in
the Westminster Confession of Faith (7.6). Those who held to the dichoto-
mous view of redemptive history viewed the law given at Mount Sinai to be
in substance (i.e., broadly considered) part of, not distinct from, the cove-
nant of grace in a manner that was appropriate for the church at that time.
With its heightened legal demands the old covenant functioned in such a
way as to drive the Israelites to seek the mercy of God in the person and
work of Jesus Christ. This function of the law has been typically understood
as the usus elenchticus sive paedagogicus. However, as John Ball argued,
the law also proved to be a direction of “how to walk before God in
holinesse and righteousnesse.”26 The Reformed typically understood this
use of the law as the usus didacticus sive normativus, which has been re-
ferred to as the “third use of the law” (tertius usus legis). Most of the Re-
formed laid great stress on this “positive” use of the law. This helps to
partly explain the divide between the Reformed and Lutherans on the role
of the old covenant in redemptive history.27 As Richard Muller has noted,
“this difference between the Lutherans and the Reformed arises out of the
dialectical relationship of law and gospel in Lutheranism as opposed to the
simple distinction of law and gospel within the one foedus gratiae held
among the Reformed.”28 In connection with this, Ball notes that the “law
was never given or made positive without the Gospel, neither was the Gos-
“The Narrative of Redemptive History,” 302.
A treatise of the covenant of grace, 102.
Mark Beach provides a good discussion of the “controversy with the Lutherans” on this
point. See Christ and the Covenant: Francis Turretin’s Federal Theology As a Defense of the
Doctrine of Grace (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2007), 265–69.
Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms, 321.

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190 Mark Jones

pel [given] without the Law.”29 The positive function of the law (i.e., “old
covenant”) finds its basis in the God’s gracious promises and acts of grace,
which were not limited to the New Covenant era.
Anthony Burgess, another proponent of the dichotomist position, recog-
nizes that among the “Learned and Orthodoxe” there are roughly four posi-
tions concerning the old covenant: “Some […] make it a Covenant of
workes, others a mixt Covenant, some a subservient Covenant; but I am
perswaded to goe with those who hold it to be a Covenant of Grace.”30 He
maintains that the arguments for his position outweigh the difficulties
brought against it. By proving that the old covenant belongs to the covenant
of grace, Burgess feels that the “dignity and excellency of the Law will
appeare the more.”31 His view of the moral law, that is, its dignity and ex-
cellence, fits well within the dichotomous structure of redemptive history,
and best reflects the consensus position of the Westminster documents.
However, Burgess refers to several different understandings of how Sinai
may be said to be an administration of the covenant of grace.32 The view he
adopts belongs to that Reformed tradition found in the writings of John
Calvin, Heinrich Bullinger (1504–1575), Zacharias Ursinus (1534–1583),
Peter Bulkeley (1583–1659) and Francis Turretin (1623–1687), who distin-
guish between the law taken largely and strictly.33
So, Burgess notes that the law may be understood largely, “as that
whole doctrine delivered on Mount Sinai, with the preface and promises
adjoyned, and all things that may be reduced to it; or more strictly, as it is
an abstracted rule of righteousness, holding forth life upon no termes, but
perfect obedience.”34 Taken largely the law was a covenant of grace; taken
strictly, “abstracted from Moses […] it was not of grace, but workes.”35
Francis Roberts adds another distinction to help clarify his own contention
that Sinai was an administration of the covenant of faith (i.e., grace). He

A treatise of the covenant of grace, 102. See also Francis Roberts, Mysterium & medulla
Bibliorum the mysterie and marrow of the Bible, viz. God’s covenant with man in the first Adam
before the fall, and in the last Adam, Iesus Christ, after the fall, from the beginning to the end of
the world (London, 1657), 778.
Vindiciae legis, 222. Francis Roberts (1609–1675) provides an identical taxonomy in his
massive work on the covenants. See Mysterium & medulla, 738–39.
Vindiciae legis, 222.
Vindiciae legis, 222–23.
John Calvin, Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion 2.7.1–9; 2.9.1–5 (Louisville, KY:
Westminster John Knox Press, 2008); Heinrich Bullinger, Common Places of Christian Religion,
trans. John Stockwood (London, 1572), 96–102; Zacharias Ursinus, The Commentary of Dr.
Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism, trans. G.W. Williard (Columbus, Ohio, 1852),
23–29; Peter Bulkeley, The Gospel-Covenant (London, 1674), 196; Francis Turretin, Institutes of
Elenctic Theology 12.8.1–25, 3 vol. Ed. James T. Dennison, Jr. and trans. George Musgrave Giger
(Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R Publishing, 1992).
Vindiciae legis, 223.
Vindiciae legis, 223.

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The “Old” Covenant 191
affirms that the Law given by Moses may be understood 1) more largely; 2)
more strictly; and 3) most strictly. “More largely” includes all of the com-
mandments, the moral, ceremonial, and judicial. “More strictly” refers to
the Ten Commandments, including the preface “and the promises inter-
woven therein.”36 “Most strictly” may be understood as the law abstracted
from Moses, which holds “forth life meerly upon terms of perfect and per-
petual personal Obedience […] And in this sense the Apostle takes the
word [Law] in his dispute about Justification by Faith.”37
These distinctions allowed Reformed theologians to both maintain the
unity of the covenant of grace and explain certain statements in Paul’s writ-
ings that, on the surface, seem to threaten the unity of the covenant of grace
(e.g., 2 Cor 3; Gal 4). Besides the aforementioned distinctions, a number of
arguments were put forward to prove that the old covenant was not distinct
from the covenant of grace. A few of them are worth considering in some
detail.38 Although not everyone shared the same view of Sinai’s relation to
the covenant of grace, there was general agreement on certain points among
the Reformed orthodox. John Owen highlights some of these agreed upon
truths. First, “that from the giving of the first promise none was ever justi-
fied or saved but by the new covenant, and Jesus Christ.” Second, that the
Old Testament contains the doctrine of salvation in and through the person
and work of Christ. Third, that the old covenant, “separated from its figura-
tive relation unto the covenant of grace,” could not save. And, fourth, that
all of the institutions in the old covenant typified Christ.39 Thus, more spe-
cific points of contention will be addressed since the arguments made by
Owen are not in dispute, though the “dichotomists” no doubt felt that
Owen’s arguments favored their own position.
In the giving of the old covenant to the nation of Israel, God declares
himself to be their God and Father. The law-imperatives are based upon the
indicative that God has redeemed Israel out of Egypt (Ex 20:2; Rom 9:4).
Ball argues that God’s redemption of Israel out of Egypt means that God is
their “King, Judge, Saviour, and Redeemer: Spirituall Redeemer from the
bondage of sin and Satan, whereof that temporall deliverance was a type.”40
Burgess asks how can God be the God of sinners unless the old covenant
Mysterium & medulla, 659.
Mysterium & medulla, 660.
Peter Bulkeley advances seven arguments to prove his argument that the old and new cove-
nants are one in substance. His arguments fall under the following headings: 1) both covenants
spring from God’s grace; 2) both covenants carry the same blessings and privileges; 3) both lead to
Christ by and through whom the blessings of the covenant are received; 4) both covenants have the
same condition, namely, faith; 5) both covenants communicate the grace of God; 6) both cove-
nants require obedience to God’s law; and 7) the end of each covenant is salvation. Gospel-
covenant, 114–141.
Exposition of Hebrews, 23:71.
A treatise of the covenant of grace, 104–105.

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192 Mark Jones

were a covenant of grace? He adds that the language of Exodus 19:5–6,

which describes Israel as a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, is applied
by Peter to the new covenant church; “If therefore the Law had been a
Covenant of workes, how could such an agreement come between them?”41
Roberts asks a similar question: “How can the Lord be A Covenant-God to
Sinners, or Sinners be a Covenant-people to God, but only in Christ by
faith?”42 Moreover, he also focuses on the preface to the Decalogue where
the name Jehovah is understood not only doctrinally, signifying his cove-
nant faithfulness, but experimentally, as God fulfills his covenant promise
to Abraham’s seed. Not only the preface, but also the first commandment,
which concerns worship of God, proves that Sinai must belong to the cove-
nant of grace. Roberts insists that true worship of God since the Fall can
only take place through faith in Jesus Christ (Heb 11:6).43 Burgess likewise
strengthens his argument by focusing on the second commandment, which
speaks of God showing mercy, an attribute that refers to God’s grace in the
context of redemption. Peter Bulkeley, another proponent of the dichoto-
mous position, highlights the central place of mercy in the old covenant
(Deut 7:9–12; 2 Chron 6:14; 2 Kings 13:23; Neh 1:5), which shows “that
both beginning and accomplishment of that covenant was out of mercy and
free goodnesse.”44
Samuel Rutherford (1600–1661) provides a slightly more provocative
argument about the positive aspects of God’s moral law by arguing that
even in the covenant of works the “Gospel may be proven out of the Law”
since the first commandment, which was written on Adam’s heart, speaks
of God’s mercy, wisdom, and ability to save.45 Thus, between Adam’s sin
and the promise of Genesis 3:15, he had hope of the gospel based on God’s
character revealed in the law. Even God’s threats to believers, “though
materially legall”, are “formally and in the Lord’s intention directed to them
upon an Evangelick intention.”46 Not surprisingly, then, Rutherford held to
the view that Sinai belonged to the covenant of grace.47
In addition to the moral law, the ceremonial law also provides evidence
that the old covenant was part of the covenant of grace. Burgess makes the
point that all divines reduce the ceremonial law to the moral law, “so that
Sacrifices were commanded by vertue of the second Commandment.”48 The
sacrifices, according to Burgess, did not oppose Christ, or the grace of God,
Vindiciae legis, 224.
Mysterium & medulla, 759.
Mysterium & medulla, 759. Burgess and Ball make the same argument. See Burgess, Vindi-
ciae legis, 225; Ball, A treatise of the covenant of grace, 106.
Gospel-covenant, 116.
The covenant of life opened (Edinburgh, 1654), 7
The covenant of life opened, 8.
The covenant of life opened, 59–60.
Vindiciae legis, 225.

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The “Old” Covenant 193
but included them, a point that carried a lot of significance for confirming
him in his opinion. Moreover, the ceremonial law foreshadowed Christ’s
person and work; “it typically pointed further […] to Christ.”49 The various
typologies of the old covenant cause Ball to suggest that the first covenant,
which is gracious, “must bring forth a second, in which is fulfilled that
which in the first is prefigured.”50
Appealing to both the moral and ceremonial law to prove that Sinai was
part of the covenant of grace was a powerful argument.51 Inevitably, how-
ever, questions concerning the relationship of the law and the gospel would
arise. Immediately after his discussion of the old covenant Anthony Burgess
turns his attention to the law-gospel distinction, which in many ways lies at
the heart of the debate over Sinai’s role in the history of redemption. Bur-
gess notes how the Arminians, Socinians, Roman Catholics, Antinomians,
Lutherans, and Reformed all understood this distinction differently. The
Reformed typically understood the distinction both broadly and strictly. In
the broader sense the distinction between the “law” (i.e., old covenant) and
the “gospel” (i.e., new covenant) “is not essentiall, or substantiall, but acci-
dentall […] [it] is not a division of the Genus into its opposite Species; but
of the subject, according to its severall accidentall administrations.”52 On
this point, notes Burgess, the “Lutheran Divines […] doe expresly oppose
the Calvinists herein, maintaining the Covenant given by Moses, to be a
Covenant of workes, and so directly contrary to the Covenant of grace.”53
Burgess defends his position that the old covenant was a covenant of grace
by understanding the law-gospel distinction largely considered, which “doth
easily take away that difference which seemeth to be among the Learned in
this point.”54
The old covenant, with its emphasis on the law, was not devoid of grace.
The new covenant, with its emphasis on grace, was not devoid of the law.
Bulkeley highlights how this functions in the lives of God’s people by not-
ing that concerning the doctrine of justification the law and the gospel are
opposed; however, regarding the doctrine of sanctification the law consents
with the gospel, “it continues as a guide and rule, even unto those that doe

Mysterium & medulla, 761.
A treatise of the covenant of grace, 119.
Ernest F. Kevan provides a fairly detailed analysis of this argument in his work The Grace
of Law: A Study in Puritan Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1976), 119–134.
Vindiciae legis, 241. Richard Byfield (1598?–1664) similarly notes: “Heb 8.8.10. taken out
of Jer 31.31,32,33. which speaketh of a new & old Covenant, is thus to be understood; not of two
Covenants differing in substance […] but of one and the same Covenant of Grace distinguished in
their different manner of Administration […] Here also we see that a proof out of the old Testa-
ment is as much Gospel if rightly applied, as any in the New-Testament.” Temple-defilers defiled,
wherein a true visible Church of Christ is described (London, 1645), 38–39.
Vindiciae legis, 241.
Vindiciae legis, 241.

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194 Mark Jones

believe.”55 On this view, regarding justification the law is an enemy, but for
those who are justified (through faith in Christ) the law becomes a friend.
Consequently, based on the fact that the Israelites were already God’s peo-
ple when the old covenant was formally administered, the law did not op-
pose grace in terms of its normative function in the Christian life. In fact, as
the above has shown, God’s mercy, love, and forgiveness were displayed in
both the moral and ceremonial law. For these reasons, and many more,
Ernest Kevan has noted that “the Puritans clearly saw how inconceivable it
was to suppose that the Mosaic Covenant could be a cancellation of grace
or a reversion to a basis of salvation by works. They contended, therefore,
that the Mosaic Covenant could not possibly be inconsistent with grace.”56
This was indeed the case. However, not all of the Puritans would under-
stand the old covenant and its place in the history of redemption in quite the
same way as those above.

8.4 Foedus Subserviens: “Trichotomist”

Sebastian Rehnman suggests that the debate over whether there are two
covenants (the majority view) or three covenants (Owen’s supposed posi-
tion) “is more formal than real.”57 Even if Owen does not belong in the
trichotomist camp, the question of what the actual differences between the
positions were, besides semantics, needs to be answered. To that end Alister
McGrath posits that the foedus subserviens employed by John Cameron
“appears to have represented an attempt to incorporate the Lutheran distinc-
tion between law and gospel within the context of a federal scheme.”58 In
fact, McGrath adds that Cameron “seems to have regarded the harmoniza-
tion of law and gospel implicit in the Orthodox Reformed two-fold cove-
nant scheme as compromising the doctrine of justification sola fide.”59
McGrath does not provide any primary source evidence, but his conclusions
warrant further exploration. Any evaluation of McGrath’s contentions de-
pends first upon understanding the position of Cameron and those who
agreed with him.
Cameron’s explains his threefold structuring of the divine covenants:
We say therefore that there is one covenant of nature, one of grace, and one subservi-
ent to the covenant of grace (which in Scripture is called the ‘old covenant’) and
therefore we will deal with that in the last instance, giving the first instance to the
Gospel-covenant, 129.
The grace of law, 122.
“The Narrative of Redemptive History,” 302.
Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2005), 268–69.
Iustitia Dei, 269.

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The “Old” Covenant 195
covenant of nature and of grace, since they are the chief and since they do not refer to
any other covenant.60
Cameron’s trichotomist structure was innovative, but that does not mean his
covenant theology was not in essential continuity with Reformed ortho-
doxy. Richard Muller has argued that Cameron’s federal theology, and that
of his Salmurian succesors, was not in fact heresy and was “consciously
framed to stand within the confessionalism of the Canons of Dort. In the
specific case of Cameron’s covenantal thought, it ought to be understood
not as a protest against various developments in Reformed theology but
rather an integral part of the rather fluid and variegated history of early
Reformed covenantal thought.”61 In proof of this it can be pointed out that a
number of Reformed divines embraced Cameron’s trichotomist reading of
redemptive history. For example, Owen’s close friend, Thomas Goodwin
(1600–1680), refers to the old covenant as “foedus subserviens to the gospel
(as learned Cameron calls it).”62 Besides Goodwin, Samuel Bolton also
holds to the view that the old covenant was foedus subserviens to the cove-
nant of grace.63 That two prominent members of the Westminster Assembly,
Goodwin and Bolton, agreed with Cameron on the nature of the old cove-
nant shows that Muller is correct to argue that Cameron’s covenant theol-
ogy, far from being heretical or even in error, fits within the broad contours
of Reformed orthodoxy.
In Cameron’s work on God’s threefold covenant with man he highlights
the manner in which the foedus subserviens shares certain similarities with
both the covenants of works and grace, but the differences are substantial
enough that the old covenant is distinct from them both. Whereas the theo-
logians who follow the dichotomist structure of redemptive history empha-
size the positive use of the law, Cameron views the old covenant as prepa-
ration for faith rather than the life of faith. Dichotomists also speak of Si-
nai’s pedagogical function, and Cameron does highlight, albeit briefly, the
manner in which Sinai agrees with the covenant of grace, but the difference
between the two schools of thought appears to be one of emphasis.64 Thus
Cameron argues that the old covenant causes men to “fly into the arms of

De triplici Dei cum homine foedere theses,VII. Cf. Bolton, The true bounds of Christian
freedome, 356.
“Divine Covenants, Absolute and Conditional: John Cameron and the Early Orthodox De-
velopment of Reformed Covenant Theology,” Mid-America Journal of Theology 17 (2006), 37.
The work of the Holy Ghost in our salvation in The Works of Thomas Goodwin, 12 vol. (Ed-
inburgh: James Nichol, 1861–66; repr. Reformation Heritage Books, 2006), 6:354. Francis Roberts
also refers to Cameron as “learned Cameron” as he counters the idea of a subservient covenant.
Mysterium & medulla, 748.
The true bounds of Christian freedome, 137ff.
De triplici Dei cum homine foedere theses, LXVII (The true bounds of Christian freedome,

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196 Mark Jones

Christ.”65 Cameron also highlights the discontinuities between the old and
new testaments, for during the old covenant the Israelites did not possess
the Spirit of adoption as those did in the new covenant.66 Moreover, in the
Old Testament the measure of the Spirit was “far different then from what it
is now under the New Testament.”67 Samuel Bolton in particular, and Tho-
mas Goodwin, would follow this basic trajectory.
Bolton uses almost the exact language of Cameron by arguing that the
subservient covenant was given to Israel to “prepare them to faith, and to
inflame them with the desire of the Promise.”68 In highlighting the similari-
ties and differences the subservient covenant shares with the covenants of
works and grace, a methodological point found in Cameron’s work, Bolton
insists that the foedus subserviens “doth not stand in opposition to Grace,
neither is inconsistent with the covenant of Grace […] yet it hath its subser-
vient ends to the Covenant of Grace.”69 In particular, the old covenant had
in view the land of Canaan and “God’s blessing there, in obedience to it,
and not to heaven.”70 The relationship between law and gospel also comes
into Bolton’s purview. He discusses the principle of “do this and live” (Lev.
18:5), and notes the varying interpretations given to this much-vexed pas-
sage of Scripture. For his own part, he notes that “in the externall view of
them […] the Law and Gospel doe seeme to stand upon opposite terms,”
but only if “we looke upon the Law separately [i.e., strictly].”71 When the
law and the gospel are separated by distinguishing the foedus subserviens
from the covenant of grace the Israelites “should have been driven to Christ
by it, but they expected life in obedience to it. And this was their great
errour […] seeking life by their own righteousnesse.”72 Instead, they should
have recognized their inability to attain justification by the works of the law
and so put their faith in Christ for their justification. Only then could the
law, in its substance, function as a “Rule of obedience to the people of God,
and that to which they are to conforme their walking under the Gospel.”73
Thomas Goodwin makes this same point in his short argument for a
subservient covenant. He notes that Joshua, when the covenant was re-
newed, told the Israelites of their inability to keep the covenant (Josh.
De triplici Dei cum homine foedere theses, XLVI (The true bounds of Christian freedome,
De triplici Dei cum homine foedere theses, LII (The true bounds of Christian freedome,
De triplici Dei cum homine foedere theses, LIII (The true bounds of Christian freedome,
The true bounds of Christian freedome, 138. Cf. De triplici Dei cum homine foedere theses,
The true bounds of Christian freedome, 145.
The true bounds of Christian freedome, 145.
The true bounds of Christian freedome, 156–57.
The true bounds of Christian freedome, 160–61.
The true bounds of Christian freedome, 162.

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The “Old” Covenant 197
24:19). Nevertheless, the Israelites “in confidence of their strength, would
take it as a covenant they were to perform.”74 Goodwin adds that in order
for God to convince the Israelites of their inability to save themselves he
gave the law “covenant-wise” that they, “now fallen, might […] acknowl-
edge themselves debtors to this moral law.”75 Goodwin places significant
stress on a redemptive-historical law-gospel contrast to prove his point.
Both dichotomists and trichotomists agree that the components of the old
covenant are typological of new covenant realities, but for Goodwin this
amounts to a distinction and separation of the two covenants.76 On the other
hand, the maxim distinctio sed non separatio best illustrates the dichotomist
reading of redemptive history.
In his rejection of the trichotomist position, Francis Roberts proves his
position both negatively, by answering the main arguments of the trichoto-
mists, and positively, by setting forth reasons why the old covenant belongs
to the covenant of grace.77 A chief argument of those who call the old cove-
nant foedus subserviens is the idea that the old covenant terrifies the con-
science whereas the new covenant comforts the conscience. Roberts recog-
nizes that the old has “much more servitude and terrour in it, then the
New.”78 However, he points out that the old covenant is not only terrifying
as evidenced by the preface to and promises in the moral law. Moreover,
the ceremonial law provided glimpses of Christ, and God provided a num-
ber of promises in the old covenant “with sweet streams of Soul-reviving
Consolations.”79 Roberts adds that the new covenant carries its own “severe
threats against impenitent unbelievers.”80 Again, the issue of continuity
between the two covenants plays a decisive role in understanding their
relation to one another. Cameron, Bolton, Goodwin, and Owen all empha-
sized the differences between the two covenants, while at the same time
insisting on the unity of the covenant of grace, but the majority of Re-
formed divines did not think the trichotomist position could be held with

The work of the Holy Ghost in our salvation in Works, 6:354.
The work of the Holy Ghost in our salvation in Works, 6:354.
Thus, Goodwin argues that God “had not made such an outward covenant with that nation
as a church in such promises, such as justification, adoption, sanctification, outward and carnal,
had not he therein had a farther scope in types, hereby to note out another covenant, church,
promises, justification, sanctification, true and real, whereof he made this the shadow; and this he
did for Christ’s sake also, whom and whose covenant these things typified out” The work of the
Holy Ghost in our salvation in Works, 6:355–56.
Mysterium & medulla, 748–53.
Mysterium & medulla, 753.
Mysterium & medulla, 753.
Mysterium & medulla, 753.
See Heinrich Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics: Set Out and Illustrated from the Sources (Grand
Rapids: Baker Book House, 1978), 395–404; Mark Beach, Christ and the Covenant, 301–16.

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198 Mark Jones

As noted above, McGrath makes the contention that by separating the

old covenant from the covenant of grace Cameron was able to incorporate
the Lutheran law-gospel distinction into his covenant theology. On this
model the foedus subserviens functioned as a law covenant concurrently
with the covenant of grace. In describing the covenant theology of the Sal-
murian theologian Moses Amyraut (1596–1664), Brian Armstrong argues
that Amyraut’s “insistence upon a threefold covenant marks a major point
of divergence on the part of Salmurian theology from the covenant theology
within orthodoxy.”82 He also adds that Amyraut’s terminology of foedus
legale “emphasized the radical opposition of the two covenants in a way
which recalls Luther’s law-gospel distinction.”83 McGrath and Armstrong
touch on an important aspect of this debate, but their conclusions need to be
advanced more cautiously. The “Lutheran” law-gospel distinction did not
only manifest itself among the trichotomists, but even dichotomists em-
ployed this distinction in their writings on the covenant. For example, An-
thony Burgess devotes a whole section of his important work on the law to
explaining the opposition between the law and the gospel.84 He recognizes
that the law and the gospel may be understood either largely or strictly.
Thus, concerning the gospel, if taken largely, “there is no question, but [the
Apostles] pressed the duty of mortification and sanctification […] but if you
take the Gospel strictly, then it holdeth forth nothing but remission of sin-
nes through Christ.”85 Burgess argues, therefore, that the law understood
largely, as in the time of Moses, was a gracious covenant. Indeed, it is
“folly” to make the law and the gospel, largely considered, “to hinder one
another.”86 The debate, then, has to do with the application of the law-

Calvinism and the Amyraut Heresy; Protestant Scholasticism and Humanism in Seven-
teenth-Century France (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1969), 144. Incidentally, Arm-
stong’s view that places Amyraut’s view outside of orthodoxy ends up “excommunicating” a
number of theologians (e.g., Goodwin) who were clearly within the “orthodox” camp.
Calvinism and the Amyraut Heresy, 144.
See Vindiciae legis, 228–53.
Vindiciae legis, 250. Herman Witsius likewise comments: “It is known to all who are ac-
quainted with theology, that the law is sometimes used in such an extensive signification, that it
contains the whole system of the doctrine of salvation, the better part of which is the gospel: Isa ii
3. xlii. 4. and that also the gospel is sometimes signifies all that doctrine which Christ and the
Apostles delivered, in which are comprehended both commandments, and prohibitions, and
upbraidings, and threatenings, Mark xvi. 15. compared with Matth. xxviii. 20. Rom ii.16.” Con-
ciliatory or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies Agitated in Britain: Under the Unhappy
Names of Antinomians and Neonomians (Glasgow, 1807), 180–81.
Vindiciae legis, 252. Samuel Rutherford holds to a view of the law and the gospel that helps
explain why he viewed Sinai as an administration of the covenant of grace. Positively, the law and
the gospel are not contrary to one another: “Perfect obedience, which the Law requireth, and
imperfect obedience which the Gospel accepteth are but graduall differences.” Furthermore, “the
Gospel abateth nothing of the height of perfection, in commanding what ever the law commandeth
in the same perfection […]. In acceptation of grace, the Gospel accepteth lesse than the law, but

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The “Old” Covenant 199
gospel hermeneutic. What Mark Beach notes about Turretin’s rejection of
the threefold schema could well describe the views of those in Britain who
held to a twofold covenant schema: “Turretin rejects the Amyraldian
scheme, for it blurs, if not obliterates, the gospel and grace present in the
law.”87 Dichtomists had a strict law-gospel distinction on the matter of
justification, but they also applied this distinction less strictly to the time of
the law and the time of the gospel where not only justification, but sanctifi-
cation was also in view. In the time of the law there was gospel, and in the
time of the gospel there is law. In justification the law and the gospel are
opposed, but in sanctification they are friends. Those who argued for a
subservient or superadded covenant to the covenant of grace not only em-
phasized the distinction between the law and the gospel in justification, but
they also placed great stress on the superiority of the time of the gospel (i.e.,
new covenant) over the time of the law (i.e., old covenant).

8.5 John Owen: Dichotomist or Trichotomist?

A brief analysis of John Owen’s understanding of the relation of the old

covenant to the covenant of grace may shed some light on why this debate
was so complex. Rehnman’s contention that Owen adheres to a threefold
covenant structure is close to the truth, but does not quite capture the nu-
ances of Owen’s covenant theology. While his view of the old covenant
basically reflects the trichotomist position, he does not actually call the old
covenant a subservient covenant; instead, he refers to Sinai as a “superad-
ded covenant.”88 More than that, the evidence suggests that Owen may in
fact be a dichotomist, despite calling the old covenant a “superadded cove-
nant.” In his comments on Hebrews 7:9–10 Owen argues the following:
There were never absolutely any more than two covenants; wherein all persons in-
definitely are concerned. The first was the covenant of works, made with Adam, and
with all in him. And what he did as the head of that covenant, as our representative
therein, is imputed unto us, as if we had done it, Rom v. 12. The other is that of grace,
made originally with Christ, and through him with all the elect. And here lie the life
and hope of our souls, – that what Christ did as the head of that covenant, as our
representative, is all imputed unto us for righteousness and salvation.89
This statement reveals that Owen clearly held to a dichotomist reading of
redemptive history. Yet, given his position on the relation of Sinai to the
commandeth no lesse” A survey of the spirituall antichrist opening the secrets of familisme and
antinomianisme in the antichristian doctrine of John Saltmarsh […] (London, 1648), Pt. II.7–8.
Christ and the Covenant, 316.
Exposition of Hebrews, 23:113.
Exposition of Hebrews, 22:391.

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200 Mark Jones

covenant of grace, further clarification is needed, which is precisely what he

provides in his exposition of Hebrews 8:6.
The old covenant referred to in Hebrews 8:6 does not have reference to
the covenant of works, according to Owen, because the old covenant (dia-
theke) “was such a covenant as was a testament also.”90 A testament re-
quires a death, which explains a fundamental difference between the cove-
nant of works and the old covenant. Accordingly, for Owen, the old cove-
nant is “not a covenant properly and strictly so called, but such a one as
hath the nature of a testament also […] the first covenant made with Adam
was in no sense a testament also.”91 Owen identifies, as the majority of
Reformed theologians did, certain parallels between the covenant of works
and the old covenant, and he even maintains that the old covenant “revived,
declared, and expressed all the commands of [the covenant of works] in the
decalogue.”92 However, he indicates that the moral law was revived declara-
tively and not covenantally at Sinai.93 If the Israelites had been placed under
the covenant of works, as Adam was, the promise given to Abraham would
have been annulled (Gal 3:17). All of this suggests that the old covenant
operated alongside of the covenant of grace and, unlike the covenant of
works, was also a testament. Owen aims to remain consistent and therefore
argues that the new covenant is not strictly co-extensive with the covenant
of grace. During the Old Testament, beginning with the protoevangelium
(Gen 3:15), the covenant of grace consisted only in a promise. The “full
legal establishment of it, whence it became formally a covenant unto the
whole church, was future only.”94 The law given at Sinai became a covenant
only with the blood of sacrifices. In the same way, the covenant of grace
did not have the formal nature of a covenant or a testament (Heb 9:15-23)
until the death of Christ.95 He adds that the “covenant of grace” implies
salvation; “yet by ‘the new covenant,’ we intend its actual establishment in
the death of Christ.”96 This manner of understanding the various covenants
Exposition of Hebrews, 23:61.
Exposition of Hebrews, 23:61.
Exposition of Hebrews, 23:77. The idea that the old covenant was “in some sense” a revival
or renewing of the prelapsarian covenant of works was widely held among the Reformed ortho-
dox. What they generally had in mind was the idea that the moral law engraven on Adam’s heart
was “republished” at Sinai on tables of stone. This seems to be the intent of the Westminster
Confession of Faith (ch. 19).
Exposition of Hebrews, 23:77. Note his comments elsewhere: “God did never formally and
absolutely renew or give again this law as a covenant a second time. Nor was there any need that
so he should do, unless it were declaratively only, for so it was renewed at Sinai.” Justification by
Faith, 5:244. Goodwin likewise argues that the old covenant “was truly the promulgation of the
covenant of nature made with Adam in paradise (in the moral part, the ten commandments).” The
work of the Holy Ghost in our salvation, 6:354.
Exposition of Hebrews, 23:74.
Exposition of Hebrews, 23:74.
Exposition of Hebrews, 23:75.

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The “Old” Covenant 201
in Scripture helps explain not only Owen’s position, but also why this de-
bate has historically been covered in confusion.
For Owen, all persons indefinitely considered are guilty before God by
virtue of the federal nature of the covenant of works. But, for the elect, they
are saved according to the fulfilled promise of the covenant of grace. Fram-
ing it this way, Owen advocates a dichotomist reading of redemptive his-
tory. However, he also maintains the view that the old and new covenants
are real covenants, that is, they are also testaments. Neither the covenant of
works nor the covenant of grace, considered simply as promises in the Old
Testament, is a testament. Thus there are, properly speaking, only two
covenants mentioned in Scripture, the old and the new. The old covenant
was confirmed by the death of sacrificed animals; the new was ratified by
the death of Christ. Understood this way, one can understand why Owen
persists in the opinion, even if it runs counter to the majority, that the old
and new covenants “can hardly be accommodated unto a twofold admini-
stration of the same covenant.”97 Reconciliation could never come by virtue
of the old covenant since it lacked the death of an atoning sacrifice, and was
never intended to save the church. Believers in the old covenant were there-
fore “reconciled, justified, and saved, by virtue of the promise, whilst they
were under the [old] covenant.”98 In terms of covenant-testaments, Owen is
a dichotomist. In terms of soteric principles, only two covenants could ever
save, the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. The idea that Owen
holds to a trichotomist reading of redemptive history only works if one
allows that the covenant of grace flowers into the new covenant whereas the
old covenant is abrogated by the new covenant and remains distinct from
the covenants of works and grace.
Owen’s covenant theology raises questions about the strengths and
weaknesses of terminology in theology. On the one hand, Owen, like his
Reformed contemporaries, adopts the language of the covenant of grace to
describe God’s redemptive activity through Jesus Christ in both the Old
and New Testaments. The actual term does not, of course, occur in the
Scriptures, but it does describe the basic way in which God relates to his
people. The same is true for the prelapsarian covenant of works. Again,
the term does not occur in the Bible, but theologians felt this terminology
accurately conveyed the nature of Adam’s relationship to God in the gar-
den. However, the old and new covenants in Scripture are explicitly men-
tioned in the Scripture. Moreover, Owen attaches to them a unique mean-
ing because of their testamentary character. Neither the covenants of
works nor the covenant of grace is a covenant in the same sense that the
old and new covenants are. Consequently a dichotomist understanding of

Exposition of Hebrews, 23:76.
Exposition of Hebrews, 23:77.

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202 Mark Jones

redemptive history characterized seventeenth-century Reformed ortho-

doxy, both for those (e.g., Ball, Roberts, & Burgess) who viewed the old
covenant as part of the covenant of grace and for those (e.g., Cameron,
Goodwin Owen, & Petto) who did not view the old covenant as an ad-
ministration of the covenant of grace.

8.6 Conclusion

The evidence clearly shows that Reformed theologians in Britain during the
seventeenth century did not agree on how to relate the old covenant to the
covenant of grace. Was this debate more formal than real, especially when
certain distinctions are made? However tempting it may be to deny any
substantial differences between the two sides, the debate centers on a major
aspect of theological hermeneutics. In his impressive study on the seven-
teenth-century Antinomian controversy, David Como makes an interesting
point about the debates on ecclesiology, namely, that they “masked a more
fundamental intellectual and emotional bifurcation within puritanism, a split
over that most basic of Christian antinomies, the relationship between Law
and Gospel.”99 Como’s understanding of how various Puritans understood
the “law” and the “gospel” leaves much to be desired, however. His view of
the Puritan law-gospel distinction amounts to a contrast between the subjec-
tive (law) versus the objective (gospel), with the Congregationalists empha-
sizing the former and the Presbyterians favoring the latter. This view cannot
stand up to the evidence in the writings of both the Presbyterians and Con-
gregationalists whose law-gospel dichotomy defies such a neat categoriza-
Nonetheless, when the law and the gospel are understood as redemptive-
historical contrasts between the old covenant (law) and the new covenant
(gospel) we are getting closer to understanding the debate regarding Sinai.
Most Reformed theologians, often the Presbyterians, generally emphasized
the similarities between the old and new covenants; but some significant
Puritan thinkers, often the Congregationalists, were quick to point out their
differences. For the likes of Owen and Goodwin, the new covenant ushered
in a massive redemptive-historical shift in the history of God’s dealings
with his people, and hence a stronger law-gospel (Old Testament versus
New Testament) contrast. Further research may show that soteriology is not
in fact the only issue at hand in this debate, but also ecclesiology, particu-
larly the nature of worship in the new covenant as opposed to the old. To
that end, the law-gospel contrast should not be understood primarily in
Blown by the Spirit: Puritanism and the Emergence of an Antinomian Underground in Pre-
Civil-War England (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2004), 451.

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The “Old” Covenant 203
soteriological terms, but also ecclesiological ones too. This contention will
not answer all of the questions, but it is one that ought to be considered if
we are to understand why Puritan theologians disagreed on the precise
relationship between the old and new covenants.

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9. The Necessity of the Atonement

Carl R. Trueman

9.1 Introduction

When John Owen wrote his Dissertation on Divine Justice in 1652, he was
not only attacking a view of Christ’s atonement that was held by those
whom he would ordinarily have regarded as his allies, he was also in effect
publishing a retraction of his own earlier position.1 The question he ad-
dressed was one of fundamental importance to the Christian faith: Given the
existence of sin, was God’s vindicatory justice absolutely necessary, or
could he pardon sin by a mere act of his will? The answer to this question
had important repercussions for doctrines both of salvation and of Christ: If
God wished to forgive sinners, was the death of Christ necessary on the
basis of God’s essential justice or simply of his voluntary decree? In other
words, given God’s decision to save sinners, was atonement something
demanded by the very being of God or simply by a free act of his will?
While the young Owen, along with many of his Reformed colleagues, had
originally held to the latter position, by 1652 he had come to the conclusion
that any understanding of atonement that did not insist on the absolute ne-
cessity of Christ’s death, opened the door to views of salvation that were
inimical to the Gospel. Indeed, at one point in the treatise, he makes a direct
connection between denial of the absolute necessity of atonement and the
birth of Socinianism:
For Owen’s writings, see The Works of John Owen, ed. W.H. Goold, 24 vol. (Edinburgh,
1850–55), hereafter cited as Works. The only modern biography is P. Toon, God’s Statesman: The
Life and Work of John Owen (Exeter, 1971). For studies of his theology, see Joel R. Beeke, Assur-
ance of Faith: Calvin, English Puritanism, and the Dutch Second Reformation (New York, 1991);
P. DeVries, Die mij hefft liefgehad: de betekenis van de gemeenschap met Christus in de theologie
van John Owen (1616–1683) (Heerenveen, 1999); Sinclair B. Ferguson, John Owen on the Chris-
tian Life (Edinburgh, 1987); R.C. Gleason, John Calvin and John Owen on Mortification: A
Comparative Study in Reformed Spirituality (New York, 1995); Kelly M. Kapic, Communion with
God: The Divine and the Human in the Theology of John Owen (Grand Rapids, 2007); Robert W.
Oliver (ed.), John Owen: the Man and His Theology (Phillipsburg, 2002); Sebastian Rehnman,
Divine Discourse: the theological methodology of John Owen (Grand Rapids, 2002); Alan Spence,
Incarnation and Inspiration: John Owen and the Coherence of Christology (Edinburgh, 2007);
Carl R. Trueman, The Claims of Truth: John Owen’s Trinitarian Theology (Carlisle, 1997); idem,
John Owen: Reformed Catholic, Renaissance Man (Aldershot, 2008).

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The Necessity of the Atonement 205
I have engaged in this task from an earnest desire of preserving undiminished the
glory of divine justice, and of establishing the necessity of the satisfaction of Christ,
lest the Socinians should wrest to their purpose the arguments of this learned man
[William Twisse], on the principal of which they place a principal dependence, and
by which they acknowledge that they have been induced to adopt heretical opinions.2
It was, he felt, a small step from denying the necessity of vindicatory justice
to denying the punitive, substitutionary character of Christ’s sacrifice. This
was a hallmark of Socinianism, based upon the rejection of any notion of
God being essentially just. For this reason, he was quite prepared to go into
print and attack men such as William Twisse and Samuel Rutherford with
whose orthodoxy on other central Christian doctrines he would have had
little argument.3
While the treatise itself is primarily aimed at defining divine justice both
in terms of God’s own being and in its relation to the sinner, it raises a
number of other questions that have an important bearing on Owen’s theol-
ogy and method as a whole. This essay is therefore an attempt not simply to
expound Owen’s position on this one issue, but to see how his understand-
ing of the nature of vindicatory justice is rooted in both his doctrine of God
and his understanding of revelation. It will also demonstrate that Owen’s
arguments in this treatise provide a good example of how philosophical
concepts drawn from scholastic authors could be used to strengthen the
christocentric focus of Reformed theology rather than to weaken it, as much
of the previous generation of scholarship on Reformed Orthodoxy seems to

Works, 10:594.The classic Socinian statement of Christology is Faustus Socinus’s 1578 trea-
tise, De Jesu Christo Servatore. This work was a sustained attack on the doctrine of satisfaction
and does contain some indications that emphasis on God’s absolute power, an element held in
common with men such as Twisse and Rutherford, was a contributing factor in this rejection of the
orthodox position: see A.W. Gomes, “De Jesu Christo Servatore. Faustus Socinus on the Satisfac-
tion of Christ,” WFJ 55 (1993): 209–31. For a good general discussion of Reformed and Socinian
Christology, see R.S. Franks, A History of the Doctrine of the Work of Christ, vol. 2 (London,
n.d.). Owen’s views, including his change of mind, are discussed on pp. 135–50.
Twisse’s views on this subject are expressed in Vindiciae Gratiae Potestatis ac Providentiae
Divinae (Amsterdam, 1632) 1.25, digr.8 (pp. 198–207), and Rutherford’s in his Disputatio Scho-
lastica de Divina Providentia (Edinburgh, 1649) and The Covenant of Life opened; or, a treatise
on the Covenant of Grace (Edinburgh, 1654). The emphasis of these men upon God’s absolute
power is a point of contact with Socinus’s De Jesu Christo Servatore, which Owen would no
doubt have regarded as pointing to voluntarist theological presuppositions that could not provide a
firm basis for avoiding the excesses of the Socinian position which made God’s justice merely an
act of his will, not part of his essential nature, and dismissed any notion of propitiatory atonement.
Thus, while the debate is primarily about the necessity of Christ’s atonement, the really important
issue is the presuppositional framework underlying this: in terms of the order of being, the doctrine
of God; in terms of the order of knowing, the relationship between God’s revelation and his
essence. For further discussion of Twisse’s arguments, particularly in relation to his use of medie-
val sources, see Trueman, The Claims of Truth, chapter 3.

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206 Carl R. Trueman

assume.4 In doing this, Owen’s position will be contrasted with other Re-
formed theologians in an attempt to highlight the diversity of opinion on
this particular theological question. First, however, it is important to see
how Owen’s own view on the atonement underwent change. Only then can
the significance of his 1652 treatise be truly appreciated.5

9.2 Owen’s Early Position

In 1647, Owen published his most important work on the atonement, The
Death of Death in the Death of Christ. The treatise was an anti-Arminian
polemic, aimed at asserting that Christ’s death actually accomplished salva-
tion for the elect and did not simply make it possible. In book 2, chapter 2,
Owen addresses the question of the end purpose of Christ’s death, and it is
here that he deals with the teaching of “Arminius with his followers” that
Christ’s death was necessary because God wished to pardon sinners but
could not do so until the obstacle of sin had been removed by Christ’s
atonement.6 The first criticism Owen makes of this position is that it is built
on a flawed foundation: the notion that God could not have pardoned sin
without Christ’s atonement. In this context, he makes the following une-
quivocal statement:
The foundation of this whole assertion seems to me to be false and erroneous, namely
– that God could not have mercy on mankind unless satisfaction were made by his
For example, see E. Bizer, Frühorthodoxie und Rationalismus (Zurich, 1963); B.G. Arm-
strong, Calvinism and the Amyraut Heresy: Protestant Scholasticism and Humanism in Seven-
teenth Century France (Madison, 1969). For an example of scholarship that draws on Armstrong
and that is directed specifically at Owen, see A.C. Clifford, Atonement and Justification: English
Evangelical Theology 1640–1790, an Evaluation (Oxford, 1990). Clifford’s work should be read
in conjunction with the critique of his views in Trueman, The Claims of Truth, passim. In recent
years, the approaches of Bizer, Armstrong et al. have come under increasing criticism: see, for
example, Richard A. Muller, “Calvin and the ‘Calvinists’: Assessing Continuities and Discontinui-
ties Between the Reformation and Orthodoxy,” Calvin Theological Journal 30 (1995): 345–75 and
31 (1996): 125–60. For a good synopsis of the history of scholarship on Reformed orthodoxy, and
a clear exposition of the significance of the approach developed by Muller et al., see W.J. van
Asselt, “Studie van de gereformeerde scholastiek: Verleden en toekomst,” Nederlands Theologisch
Tijdscrift 50 (1996): 290–312.
Previous scholars have noted the change in Owen’s thinking on divine justice and have seen
its implications as primarily Christological and soteriological. While they are substantially correct
in this, they have not attempted to probe deeper into Owen’s argument and thus not noticed the
wider implications of it for other aspects of his theology: see D. D. Wallace, Puritans and Predes-
tination: Grace in English Protestant Theology 1525–1695 (North Carolina, 1982), 152–53; H.
Boersma, A Hot Pepper Corn: Richard Baxter’s Doctrine of Justification in Its Seventeenth-
Century Context of Controversy (Zoetermeer, 1993), 130–31; R.K.M. Wright. “John Owen’s Great
High Priest: The High Priesthood of Christ in the Theology of John Owen (1616–1683)” (PhD
dissertation, University of Denver, 1989), 142–44.
Works, 10:205–8.

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The Necessity of the Atonement 207
Son. It is true, indeed, supposing the decree, purpose, and constitution of God that so
it should be, that so he would manifest his glory, by the way of vindicative justice, it
was impossible that it should otherwise be [...] but to assert positively that absolutely
and antecedently to his constitution he could not have done it, is to me an unwritten
tradition, the Scripture affirming no such thing, neither can it be gathered from thence
in any good consequence.7
It is quite clear from this passage that Owen regards the necessity of the
atonement as based on God’s decree, and thus vindicatory justice as resting
upon his will as expressed in his potentia ordinata, and not on his essence
as such. While he does not explicitly say so, he is clearly operating with an
implicit distinction in his doctrine of God between absolute and ordained
power.8 According to God’s absolute power, he could forgive sin in any
way that did not involve logical contradiction; thus, it is only after God has
ordained, or decreed, that sin must be punished, that Christ’s atonement can
be described as necessary, and then only on the basis that God is immutable
and thus cannot change what he has willed.
In asserting this ordained necessity, Owen actually stands within the
mainstream of Western views of atonement. While Anselm had argued for
the absolute necessity of the Incarnation and the Atonement on the basis of
his doctrine of God and sin, his position had been considerably modified by
the Medieval Schoolmen who otherwise adopted the basic structures of his
argument. For example, Thomas Aquinas addressed the issue in the Summa
Theologiae, and argued that while Christ’s passion was indeed the most
suitable way for God to save humanity, there was no absolute need for him
to have acted in this way if he wished to forgive sin.9 This tendency to make
God’s will the decisive factor in the atonement’s necessity became more
pronounced in the Scotist school and continued into Reformed theology,
Thus, Calvin, in commenting on John 15:13, makes the following com-

Works, 10:205.
The distinction between God’s absolute power (the set of all possibles that he could enact)
and his ordained power (the subset of those possibles that he had decided to enact) had a long
medieval pedigree and became in later medieval theology a means for safeguarding God’s tran-
scendence and unknowability while maintaining the fundamental reliability of the created order. It
had a somewhat mixed reception among Protestants, with some, such as Calvin, explicitly reject-
ing it while, arguably, implicitly assuming much of its content, On the medieval use of the distinc-
tion, see H.A. Oberman, The Harvest of Medieval Theology: Gabriel Biel and Late Medieval
Nominalism (Durham, 1983); F. Oakley, Omnipotence, Covenant, and Order: An Excursion in the
History of Ideas from Abelard to Leibniz (Ithaca, 1984); Eef Dekker, “Duns Scotus over absolute
en geordineerde macht,” in AiltueeI Filosoferen, ed. W. van Dooren and T. Hoff (Delft, 1993). On
Calvin’s attitude to the concept, see David C. Steinmetz, “Calvin and the Absolute Power of God,”
in his Calvin in Context (Oxford, 1995), 40–52, where he argues that Calvin rejects the terminol-
ogy while actually employing its content.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 3a.46.14.

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208 Carl R. Trueman

God could have redeemed us by a word or a wish, save that another way seemed to
him best for our sakes: that by not sparing His own and only begotten Son, he might
testify in His person how much he cares for our salvation. And those hearts must be
harder than iron or stone which are not softened by the incomparable sweetness of the
divine love.10
Here, it is clear that Calvin grounds the necessity of Christ’s death in an
act of God’s will, not in his vindicatory justice. This view was not found to
be at all unacceptable amongst the Reformed orthodox in seventeenth–
century Britain, and the Westminster Confession, not surprisingly, makes
no explicit ruling on this issue. As noted above, it is found in the writings of
such impeccably Orthodox figures as Twisse and Rutherford and is thus
scarcely a peculiar or innovative position for a Reformed theologian to
Before moving to a discussion of Owen’s later position, it is worth not-
ing one more aspect of his objection to the Arminian position that will have
significance for the 1652 treatise: his attitude toward Scripture. Owen is
quite confident that there is no direct scriptural affirmation of the absolute
necessity of atonement and that no such inference can legitimately be
drawn. In view of the fact that he is later to deploy scriptural texts and in-
ferences to establish just such a case, it is obvious that the alteration in his
understanding of atonement requires an alteration in his understanding of
the general relationship that exists between God’s essence and his revela-
tion. While the full significance of this change can only be understood from
the perspective of the later treatise, it would appear that in 1647 Owen is
operating with the implicit assumption that God’s revelation, in whatever
form, is of his decretive will and not necessarily of his essential being. It is
thus not legitimate to use this revelation to make inferences about what is
and is not necessary for God in terms of his absolute power.
John Calvin, The Gospel According to St John 11–21, ed. T. F. and D. W. Torrance (Edin-
burgh, 1961), 100; cf. John Calvin, Institutes (Philadelphia, 1961), 2.xii.1 and xvii.1.
Patrick Gillespie, in The Ark of the Covenant Opened; or, a Treatise of the Covenant of Re-
demption (London, 1677), 35–39, offers a brief account of the range of Reformed opinion on the
matter, rejecting both extremes and arguing that vindicatory justice is both essential to God but
that atonement is still a free act of God’s will, and that God could have acted in another way. The
marginalia to his argument indicate his dependence upon Rutherford, Covenant of Life Opened,
and Anthony Burgess, The True Doctrine of Justification Asserted and Vindicated (London, 1648).
It is interesting that John Owen wrote the foreword to this posthumously published treatise, indi-
cating that he did not regard his difference with Gillespie on this point as fundamental. Indeed, the
position Owen came to reject was that also held by his friend and Independent colleague, Thomas
Goodwin: see Thomas Goodwin, Works, 12 vol. (Edinburgh, 1861–66), 5:72. Both Gillespie and
Goodwin find a rationale for the necessity of atonement in its consequential benefits, particularly
in terms of what it reveals about God. Thus, they stand close to the kind of rationale offered by
Thomas Aquinas, where the atonement was not strictly necessary but had obvious advantages to
commend it as a way of divine action, and not the more radical position of Scotus where no
rationale was offered other than the mere will of God.

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The Necessity of the Atonement 209

9.3 The Argument of the Dissertation

By 1652, it is clear that Owen no longer considered the Arminians as the

major threat to orthodoxy, even though he still regarded them as a signifi-
cant foe. Instead, his attention had turned to the Socinians, whose principle
crimes included the denial of the punitive nature of the sacrifice of Jesus
Christ. This denial was itself rooted in their understanding of God’s vindi-
catory justice and thus intimately linked to their doctrine of God. What
concerned Owen was the fact that some of the most orthodox of his con-
temporaries, in rejecting the absolute necessity of Christ’s atonement,
seemed to concede just a little too much to the Socinian viewpoint. In his
“Preface to the Reader,” Owen makes it quite clear that it was with some
reluctance he took up his pen to write about this issue, being intimidated
both by its doctrinal complexity and by the caliber of some of those with
whom he had to disagree. Nevertheless, the nature of the issue compelled
him to deal with it.
[I]t is intimately connected with many, the most important articles of the Christian
doctrine, concerning the attributes of God, the satisfaction of Christ, and the nature of
sin, and of our obedience, and that it strikes its roots deep through almost the whole
of theology or the acknowledging of truth which is according to godliness.12
Thus, the nature of God’s justice is of such importance that it stands at the
very center of true Christian doctrine, and that a correct understanding of it
is the key to a true doctrine of God and of Christ.
The treatise itself is comprised of eighteen chapters that divide into two
parts: The first, consisting of chapters 1 to 7, deals with the problem sys-
tematically, moving from definition to proof; the second, chapters 8 to 17,
deals with the arguments alleged by specific opponents or allies of Owen’s
view. Chapter 18 summarizes the applications of the doctrine. For the stu-
dent of Owen’s theology, part 1 is without doubt the most significant sec-
tion of the treatise. However, while part 2 is, in the main, simply an applica-
tion of the principles elaborated in part 1, it does nevertheless contain pas-

Works, 10:487. The opponents Owen mentions by name include his beloved Augustine,
Calvin, Musculus, Twisse, and Vossius. He also lists his allies on this issue: Paraeus, Piscator,
Molinaeus, Lubbertus, Rivetus, Cameron, Maccovius, Junius, and the professors at Saumur: see
Works, 10:488–89. The inclusion of such as Cameron and the school of Saumur is interesting as it
is the tendency of modem scholarship (e.g., the works of Armstrong and Clifford) to portray
Reformed scholasticism, as epitomized by Owen, as antithetical to Saumurian Amyraldianism,
especially on the atonement. Owen’s comment here clearly points to the fact that the relationship
between himself and Amyraldianism is more subtle than previous scholarship has supposed, a
view that is confirmed by the persuasive arguments of Rehnman for Cameron as the source of
Owen’s structuring of the historical covenants in Theologoumena Pantodapa: see Divine Dis-
course, 164–65.

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210 Carl R. Trueman

sages of significance for an understanding of the importance of Owen’s

Owen starts his work by carefully defining the precise point at issue: the
nature of God’s justice. The fundamental distinction Owen makes is be-
tween God’s justice as it is in himself and God’s justice as it manifests itself
in his external acts. This is the crucial distinction in his argument on which
all else depends. As we shall see, it also points to the deeper problem of the
nature of revelation to which we have already referred. For Owen’s argu-
ment to work, he must not only demonstrate that God’s external acts of
justice have to conform to his inner justice, but that the knowledge of God’s
external acts which we have through revelation does actually tell us some-
thing about God as he is in himself. Considered absolutely, Owen regards
God’s justice simply as God’s perfection: “The justice of God, absolute1y
considered, is the universal rectitude and perfection of the divine nature; for
such is the divine nature antecedent to all acts of his will and suppositions
of objects towards which it might operate.”14 In other words, God’s justice
as it is in himself, is simply the sum of all his perfections, and these perfec-
tions stand logically prior to his acts of will, acts which therefore have to be
consistent with his antecedent perfection.
The implications for God’s external works are immediately obvious, and
Owen proceeds to make the connection explicit. God’s justice, he says,
performs two kinds of external acts: those that are absolute and which he
characterizes as words (i.e., when God speaks or legislates, his utterances
are based on eternal, absolute truth); and those that are necessary and which
he speaks of as deeds (i.e., when God acts toward an object outside of him-
self, he necessarily acts in a manner consistent with his antecedent perfec-
tion, e.g., he gives to each what they deserve).15 This distinction parallels
another that Owen makes between the attributes: those which presuppose
no external object and those which do; or, between those which simply exist
in God, and those which only exist in relation to external objects. Among
the former, Owen lists wisdom and power. God can be said to exercise
these simply in his very act of existence. For God to be is for God to be
wise and powerful. Among the latter, Owen specifies vindicatory justice:
God cannot be said to exercise such sin–punishing righteousness unless one

For further discussion of Owen’s doctrine of God, see Trueman, The Claims of Truth, chap-
ters 2 and 3.
Works, 10:498
See Works, 10:499–500. Cf. his comment on p. 503: “Justice presides as it were, in all the
divine decrees, actions, works, and words, of whatsoever kind they be. There is no egress of the
divine will, no work or exercise of providence, though immediately and distinctly breathing
clemency, mercy, anger, truth, or wisdom, but in respect there of God is eminently said to be just,
and to execute justice.”

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The Necessity of the Atonement 211
presupposes the existence of sin and thus of something external to the God-
The key point that emerges from this argument is the relational nature of
God’s vindicatory justice. Having deemed God’s essential justice to be the
sum of all his perfections, he argues that vindicatory justice is one part of
the outworking of God’s perfect nature, simply the external working of
God’s perfections in the manner demanded by the sinfulness of the creature.
There is, in other words, no single internal attribute that corresponds to
God’s justice and upon which his vindicatory justice is based. As a conse-
quence of this, God’s vindicatory justice must be understood not as some-
thing that possesses existence of its own right but as something that exists
only as part of the relationship between a perfect God and his creatures.17
This relationship of God to his creatures is defined by his omnipotent
perfection. Having created rational beings that depend on him, God’s per-
fection first manifests itself absolutely in terms of a penal law. This is be-
cause such a penal law makes explicit the nature of the Creator-creature
relationship and thus simply reflects the unalterable ontological truth of
humanity’s subordination to God. Furthermore, this penal law also points to
the second aspect of God’s justice: the necessity of the punishment of sin.
For God to forego his right to punish the sinner would therefore amount to a
denial of the relationship that exists between Creator and creature, a rejec-
tion of the immutable fact that humans are rational beings dependent upon
God for their existence and answerable to him for their deeds. This relation-
ship is ontological, rooted not merely in God’s decretive will but in the fact
that he is the uncreated source of all being. Therefore, the implication of
Owen’s analysis is that the position of theologians such as Twisse and Ru-
therford amounts to saying that God is capable of rejecting the real relation
between himself and his creatures and thus, by implication, of contradicting
his own essence.18
At this point, Owen anticipates a number of objections that could be di-
rected at him. First, does he not thus make retribution something that must
follow immediately upon sin?19 His answer is to assert that God’s justice
demands punishment in general, but that this demand does not necessitate
that this be instantaneous. God has established a dispensation whereby the
need for punishment does not in itself specify the time at which such pun-
ishment must take place.20 Second, and more seriously, there is the problem
See Works, 10:508.
Works, 10:509–10.
Works, 10:509.
This point is made by Gillespie, Ark of the Covenant, 38. While this treatise post-dates that
of Owen, it is indicative of the kind of argument being made in this discussion.
Elsewhere in the treatise, Owen also contends that he is not arguing for the necessity of any
particular kind or degree of punishment, simply that punishment of some form is a general neces-
sity: See Works, 10:613.

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212 Carl R. Trueman

of the implications that Owen’s view holds for God’s freedom. Indeed,
God’s freedom is one of the central issues in the debate, as no orthodox
divine would have denied the fact of Christ’s atonement, or its necessity in
light of the decree; however, Owen’s insistence on its absolute necessity in
the light of God’s decision to save could well be construed as a denial of
God’s freedom to act in any other way, and thus of his omnipotence.
Owen’s defense of God’s liberty against the background of such views is
twofold. First, it is clear from his argument that God’s vindicatory justice is
not absolutely necessary in the strictest sense, but, as its relational nature
shows, it is contingent on the existence of rational, sinful creatures and,
thus, on the creation. Creation, as an uncoerced, entirely voluntary act of
God’s will, is not necessitated by his own being but is an act of free choice;
thus, no act involving the creation is, in an absolute sense, necessary.21 Sec-
ond, Owen denies that God’s freedom requires that he be able to choose
whether to punish sin or not, but simply that such punishment must be per-
formed with a concomitant liberty, i.e., in a way that is entirely consistent
with his own nature.22 In asserting this, Owen argues for an intellectualist
view of God in language with which any scholastic Thomist, or indeed
Arminius himself, would have agreed:
[T]hat God punishes sins with a concomitant liberty, because he is of all agents the
most free, we have not a doubt. Thus, his intellectual will is carried towards happi-
ness by an essential inclination antecedent to liberty, and not withstanding it wills
happiness with a concomitant liberty: for to act freely is the very nature of the will;
yea, it must necessarily act freely.23
Therefore, God’s freedom is not his ability to choose between alternative
courses of action but his ability to will happiness without hindrance. Thus,
Works, 10:509, 511. Gillespie seems not to understand this point, arguing that those who
hold to the necessity of atonement based upon the essential nature of divine justice are using logic
which would demand that, because it is part of human nature to be able to speak, therefore all
human beings must actually speak. The analogy is poor: all Owen is arguing is that, once the
decision to save sinners is made, then God must act in accordance with his nature; by analogy,
once a human being makes the decision to speak, he must speak in accordance with his nature. See
Gillespie, Ark of the Covenant, 37–38.
Works, 10:509–10.
Works, 10:510. Cf. Arminius comment to Perkins: “Velim autem, mi Perkinse, ut libertatem
voluntati Dei nullam tribuas, quae in ipsius justitiam impingat. Iustitia enim voluntate prior est et
istius regula, voluntati libertas ut modus eius attribuitur. Quare etiam modus iste ajustitia
circumscribitur. Neque tamen propterea negabitur Deum esse volens liberrimum. Quum enim
volens liberrimum sit, non quod omnia vult, sed quod quaecunque vult, libere vult, quid officit
libertati Dei, si dicatur quaedam non velle, quia per justitiam suam illa velle non possit, quum illa
libertas non a superiore extra Deum, sed ab ipsa justitia Dei circumscribitur?” Opera Theologica
(Leiden, 1629), 68. Arminius’s Aristotelianism, and his use of Thomistic and Suarezian patterns of
thought is well-documented in Richard A. Muller, God, Creation, and Providence in the Thought,
of Jacob Arminius (Grand Rapids, 1991); also Eef Dekker, Rijlrer dan Midas: Vrijheid, genade en
predestinatie in de theologie van Jacobus Arminius, 1559–1600 (Zoetermeer, 1993).

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The Necessity of the Atonement 213
to assert that Owen denies God’s freedom by arguing for the necessity of
atonement is simply to betray a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature
of that freedom. One might as well argue that the fact that God cannot tell a
lie makes him less than all-powerful.24
This, then, is Owen’s argument for the necessity of atonement: God’s
justice is the sum of all his perfections and has priority over his will; all of
his external acts are to be consistent with this; given the existence of sinful
creation, God must punish because failure to do so would amount to a de-
nial of the necessary relationship that exists between creature and creator.
Having laid out the doctrinal content of his argument in such a careful fash-
ion, he now proceeds to justify his claims by advancing evidence, first, for
God’s essential justice, and then for its necessary outworking in punish-
ment. It is the nature of this evidence that points to the deeper shift that has
occurred within his theology. However, before this shift can be examined, it
is first necessary to have some overview of the kind of evidence Owen
regards as proving his case.

9.4 The Evidence for Essential Vindicatory Justice

In presenting the evidence for his position, Owen distinguishes between that
which proves God’s essential justice and that which proves that the out-
working of this justice is necessary. The former falls into four major catego-
ries: the word of God; the rational conscience; works of providence; and
Christology, The latter is also divided into four: the nature of God’s hatred
of sin; the scriptural description of God in respect of sin; the nature of
God’s glory; and the necessity of Christ’s death.
Bearing in mind that Owen had stated just five years earlier that no pas-
sage of Scripture could be adduced in support of the position for which he
is here arguing, it is surprising how much scriptural evidence he now feels
able to bring forward. This evidence he divides into three categories: those
verses that oppose God’s holiness to sin; those that depict God as judge;
and those that refer to the punishment of sin. The passages that he chooses
make it clear that the reason for God’s vindicatory justice is not simply his
will but the attributes of his very being. For example, in the first category
he starts by commenting on Habakkuk 1:13, “Thou art of purer eyes than to
behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity,” upon which he makes the fol-
lowing observation:
Francis Turretin clarifies the issue of God’s freedom by arguing that God has freedom of
indifference in primo actu, i.e., in his decision of whether to create or not to create, but subse-
quently, in secundo actu, no freedom of indifference but only freedom of spontaneity, i.e., freedom
from external coaction: see Institutio Theologiae Elencticae (Geneva, 1688), and

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214 Carl R. Trueman

The prophet here ascribes to God the greatest detestation, and such an immortal
hatred of sin that he cannot look upon it, but, with a wrathful aversion of his counte-
nance, abominates and dooms it to punishment. But perhaps God thus hates sin be-
cause he wills to do so, and by an act of his will entirely free, though the state of
things might be changed without any injury to him or diminution of his essential
glory. But the Holy Spirit gives us a reason very different from this, namely, the
purity of God’s eyes: “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil.” But there is no one
who can doubt that the prophet here intended the holiness of God. The incomprehen-
sible, infinite, and most perfect holiness or purity of God is the cause why he hates
and detests all sin; and that justice and holiness are the same, as to the common and
general notion of them, we have shown before.25
As is clear from the last sentence, Owen is here expounding this text in
line with his understanding of God’s justice as the outworking of his inner
perfection in its relationship to sinful creatures. The other texts he lists are
all dealt with in a similar fashion.26 The second and third categories, dealing
with God as judge and sin as punished are also expounded as reflecting
God’s essential being.27 In doing so, Owen reveals that his change in under-
standing of God’s justice is paralleled by a change in his understanding of
the nature of revelation. Five years earlier he himself would no doubt have
referred all of these verses to God’s decretive will; here he asserts that they
refer to God’s essential being. Clearly, there is now a much closer correla-
tion of God’s being and God’s revelation in Scripture than was the case in
Owen’s argument from the testimony of conscience is based in part on
biblical considerations and in part on reason and empirical evidence from
the world around. These two strands, reason and revelation, he sees as
bound together in a syllogism: “What common opinion and the innate con-
ceptions of all assign to God, that is natural to God; but this corrective
justice is so assigned to God: therefore, this justice is natural to God.”28
Owen regards the middle term of the syllogism as taught by Romans 1:32.
Thus, in terms of the seventeenth–century Reformed understanding, the
syllogism possesses biblical legitimacy because, although his crucial as-
sumption in the major premise (that common consent refers to what is natu-
ral, i.e., essential to God) is a supposition based on reason rather than faith,
the middle term is, in this particular instance of the argument, a truth of

Works, 10:513.
The other texts with which he deals are, in order: Josh 24:19; Exod 34:5–7 and 23:7; and Ps
Under the second category, he deals with Gen 18:25, Rom 3:5–6, Acts 17:31, Rom 2:5, Rev
16:5–6, Ps 9:4–5, and Ps 119:137. Under the third category, he expounds Rom 1:32, 2 Thess 1:6,
Heb 2:2, and Jude 7.
Works, 10:517.

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The Necessity of the Atonement 215
revelation.29 Again the theological model with which he is working is one
whereby revelation, in this case a form of general revelation, gives insights
into God’s actual being rather than merely into his will. We shall have to
return to this assumption later, but for the moment it is sufficient to note
that, in the form of the syllogism, it enables Owen to quote all manner of
non-Christian authors, from Homer to Pliny, in support of his general the-
sis. He also adds an entire chapter on the prevalence of human sacrifices
amongst primitive peoples. This, he argues, reflects an innate understanding
of the need to propitiate God with blood sacrifice, an understanding that
does not relate to what God may or may not have chosen to will, but, to
what his very essence demands.30
Owen’s argument from providence starts with his defining precisely
what he means by anger. Anger, he observes, is the human emotion most
frequently ascribed to God in the Scriptures. As such, “anger” and its cog-
nates actually denotes various effects of God’s being on the world around
us. Evils, punishments, misfortunes–all are evidence of God’s wrath. So
self–evident is this, that Owen feels no need to elaborate further, although
he does make the point that such evidence reveals God’s essential character;
Again, the close relationship between God as he is in himself and God as he
has revealed himself to be is quite striking.31
Christology forms the next part of Owen’s positive exposition of his
doctrine, and gives a clear indication that his theology is, at heart, thor-
oughly christocentric.32 God reveals himself through both nature and law,
says Owen, but these cannot ultimately compare with Christ:

On the use of syllogisms in Reformed Orthodox theology, see Richard A. Muller Post-
Reformation Reformed. Dogmatics, 4 vol. (Grand Rapids, 2003), I, 403.
See Works, 10:541. This is one of the most interesting and unusual parts of the whole trea-
tise. In order for this evidence to be of use, Owen has to argue that the universal existence of this
tendency is the result of an innate principle implanted by God and not through contact with the
Jews, as Rutherford asserted. This is a fascinating example of how primitive social anthropology
was utilized by theologians in doctrinal controversy: See Works, 10:525–41. Of course, the prob-
lem with Owen’s argument from universal consent is that the very controversy in which he is
engaged effectively precludes its use in establishing his case. If God’s vindicatory justice was
universally acknowledged, then the controversy would never have arisen. That Socinus and others
did deny it points to the inadequacy of this argument from natural theology, even with the biblical
warrant of Rom 1:32, to deal with this issue in a decisive manner. Nevertheless, Owen seems to
have been blissfully unaware of this difficulty.
See Works, 10:546
I use the term “christocentric” here simply on the grounds that it has been so beloved of
Barthian critics of Reformed Orthodoxy. In itself, it is virtually worthless: Socinian theology, with
its focus on a creature Christ as moral example, is arguably “christocentric,” even without any
concept of incarnation. I suspect those who criticize Reformed Orthodoxy for not being christo-
centric are indicating merely that Reformed Orthodoxy disagrees with their own distinctive Chris-
tological constructions.

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216 Carl R. Trueman

[T]here are some attributes of his nature the knowledge of which could not reach the
ears of sinners but by Christ, such as his love to his peculiar people, his sparing
mercy, his free and saving grace, even the others, which he hath made known to us in
some measure by the ways and means above mentioned, we could have no clear or
saving knowledge of unless in and through this same Christ.33
One of these attributes that is revealed in nature but more perfectly so in
Christ is that of vindicatory justice. In setting forth Christ as a propitiation
for sin, God demonstrated to humanity that sin required punishment. In one
of the most powerful and hard to refute statements in the treatise, Owen
asks: “what kind of love can that be which God hath shown, in doing what
there was no occasion for him to do?”34 It is only in the light of the atone-
ment’s absolute necessity, he contends, that Christ’s death can truly reveal
both God’s justice and his mercy. In dealing with the necessity of the out-
working of God’s justice, Owen’s arguments add little to what he has al-
ready said. It is, however, interesting to summarize briefly the points he
makes in this context. First, he addresses the nature of God’s hatred of sin:
“He who cannot but hate all sin cannot but punish sin, for to hate sin is, as
to the affection, to will to punish it, and as to the effect, the punishment
itself. And to be unable not to will the punishment of sin is the same with
the necessity of punishing it.”35 Thus, God’s hatred of sin must manifest
itself in an act of God’s will to punish sin because not to do so would in-
volve a contradiction in God’s being, implying that his intellect hated sin
but that his will acted in a manner contrary to this. Such a position would be
a denial of Owen’s intellectualist doctrine of God where the intellect appre-
hends the good and directs the will toward it. In advancing this argument,
Owen is attempting to force his opponents into the embarrassing position of
having to deny that God has any essential hatred for sin.
The second type of evidence, that from Scripture, focuses on the de-
scription of God as “a consuming fire.” Drawing on the analogy of fire,
Owen points out that fire necessarily burns all that it comes into contact
with; thus, if God comes into contact with what is sinful, he too must neces-
sarily consume it. Again, a close connection between God’s essence and his
revelation is assumed, with the language of the Bible, while not precisely
realist, being all the same very closely analogous to divine realities.36
The last two pieces of evidence are, in effect, reiterations of earlier
statements: God’s position as a just ruler demands that he punish sin, as
failure to do so would be a contradiction of his position, of his holiness, and
Works, 10:547. This passage is unequivocal evidence that Reformed orthodoxy’s so-called
Biblicist emphasis on the written word of Scripture did not necessarily undermine a Christ-centred
understanding of revelation.
Works, 10:548.
Works, 10:550.
Works, 10:553–54

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The Necessity of the Atonement 217
thus of his being;37 and Christ’s death, if it was not absolutely necessary,
appears an unnecessary and meaningless act. In other words, theological
rationality demands that atonement is necessary in an absolute sense.38
This, then, is the evidence Owen offers for his position. One central pre-
supposition is obvious throughout: the close correlation of God’s essence
and his revelation. It is this assumption that must therefore form the focal
point of the final section of this paper.

9.5 Revelation and the Doctrine of God

In terms of being, God obviously precedes his revelation – logically, he

must first exist before he can be revealed as existing – but in terms of hu-
man knowledge, the order is reversed – we first apprehend his revelation by
which we then know of his existence. In the case of Owen’s Dissertation,
the content of his doctrine of God can be brought into sharpest focus by a
close examination of the presuppositions that underlie his notion of revela-
tion. While the major argument of this treatise is obviously about God’s
justice and the necessity of punishing sin, it is clear that Owen’s under-
standing of revelation in this work of 1652 is significantly different from
that expressed in The Death of Death. It is most likely that this change is a
consequence, not a cause, of Owen’s broader theological and Christological
shift, but without it Owen’s mature view of Christ’s atonement could claim
no superiority in terms of biblical rationale to that which he had come to
reject. The essence of this new position is an assumption that, just as God’s
external acts conform to his internal perfection, so also his revelation gives
genuine insights into the nature of his internal being. There must, in other
words, be an epistemological pathway from God’s revelation to his essence.
This pathway is provided by Owen’s adoption of certain metaphysical con-
cepts that clarify the relationship between God and creation.
First, this relationship is understood by Owen, as also for Thomas Aqui-
nas and Thomism in general, in terms of the Aristotelian notion of cause
and effect. Owen applies this notion particularly to the Scriptures as a way
of reasoning back from statements about God’s external works to his essen-
tial being. Indeed, at one point in the Dissertation, he makes the following
A second act presupposes a first, and a constant manner of operating proves a habit; a
sign also expresses the thing signified. Because God doeth good to all, we believe
him to be good, and endowed with supreme goodness; for how could he so constantly
and uniformly do good, unless he himself were good? Yea, from second acts the holy
Works, 10:554–56.
Works, 10:556–58.

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218 Carl R. Trueman

Scriptures sometimes teach the first; as, for instance, that God is the living God,
because he giveth life to all, that he is good, because he doeth good. Why may we not
also say that he is just, endowed with that justice of which we are treating, because
“God perverteth not judgment, neither doth the Almighty pervert justice,” but “the
LORD is righteous, and upright are his judgments”? A constant, then, and uniform
course of just operation in punishing sin proves punitory justice to be essentially
inherent in God. 39
The presuppositions behind this passage are obvious and undergird the
crucial connection between God, being and his revelation, which Owen
needs as a basis for his argument. In the order of being, God’s first acts, his
attributes, determine the character of his second acts, his effects; thus, in the
order of knowing, God’s second acts give real insights into his essence. The
interesting thing is that Owen sees the Bible itself as teaching the validity of
inferences from effect back to cause. As far as he is concerned, this is no
purely rationalist theory of analogy based on the metaphysics of being but a
method of doing theology that possesses clear biblical sanction. His implicit
adoption of Aristotelian concepts are not here an example of any tendency
to exalt human logic over against the Bible but, on the contrary, of his de-
sire to be faithful to the Bible. Nevertheless, he does remain vulnerable to
the criticism that his belief that there is such a necessary connection be-
tween God’s being and his effects, and that this is indeed a valid way of
understanding the Bible’s relationship to God, is an assumption; and that
nowhere in the treatise does he feel obliged to justify this.
A second element in his use of Thomist patterns of thought is his reli-
ance on analogical predication. Right at the very start of the work, Owen
defines how words can be predicated of God. Discussing how definitions of
justice are used by non-Christian philosophers in discussions about civil
administration and government, he points out how such concepts are to be
understood of God: “[I]n ascribing the perfection of excellencies to him
[God], we exclude the ratio of habit or quality, properly so called, and every
material and imperfect mode of operation.”40 Thus, when speaking of God,
it is quite legitimate to apply to him human concepts of perfection, provid-
ing that we understand such predication is analogical and that these perfec-
tions, as they exist in God, have none of our creaturely limitations and
imperfections. Thus, the works of secular thinkers on perfection and virtue
in the realm of creation can become useful for gaining insights into the
nature of God. This is a somewhat broader application of philosophical
concepts to theology than that based on analogical reasoning from biblical
texts and does appear to open the way for a more purely philosophical ap-
proach to God based on the analogy of finite being in general to the infinite

Works, 10:558–59.
Works, 10:558–59

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The Necessity of the Atonement 219
being of God. This is, of course, strongly suggestive of the influence of
Thomistic patterns of thought upon Owen.41
This notion of analogy is, of course, useful both for asserting and for
denying arguments based on natural theology. As in the above example,
Owen can use it to legitimize use of secular philosophy in supporting his
notion of justice. However, he can also deploy it as a way of delimiting
natural theology when it suits his cause. For example, faced with Twisse’s
argument that, as humans can forgive sin without retribution or satisfaction,
then so can God, Owen denies that such reasoning is legitimate: “[D]ivine
and human forgiveness are plainly of a different kind. The forgiveness of
man only respects the hurt; the forgiveness of God respects the guilt. Man
pardons sins so far as any particular injury hath been done himself; God
pardons sin as the good of the universe is injured.”42 In this case, where the
argument from analogy appears to be going against him, Owen is careful to
stress that God’s forgiveness is fundamentally different from that of hu-
mans. This would seem to imply that Owen’s attitude toward natural theol-
ogy is inconsistent, but this is not so. While analogy presupposes differ-
ence, it also requires similarity. What Owen is doing here is denying that
there is any similarity between the actions of private individuals and those
of God. He is not denying the usefulness of analogy in general. As this
passage continues, he returns to a positive reliance on analogy by arguing
that God must not be compared in this context with a private individual but
with a civil official. A private person is free to forgive an injury, but a mag-
istrate is bound by his office to punish; thus, God, by definition ruler of the
universe, cannot pardon sin either.
Of course, the epistemological reliability of the analogy of being de-
pends entirely on the doctrine of God. As was noted earlier, Owen’s under-
standing of God is defined by his belief that God’s works are determined by
his intellect apprehending the good and his will moving toward it. This is an
essential aspect of his nature and marks a clear departure from Owen’s
earlier voluntarist understanding of God.43 It is also true that God is the only
necessary being. He necessarily wills himself in his trinitarian form.44 By

At one point when he is using analogical reasoning, Owen does explicitly acknowledge the
influence of Aquinas. This is in the context of a discussion concerning how tile idea of anger can
be applied to God. Owen cites with approval Aquinas’s view as expressed in Summa Theologiae
1a2ae 47.1: See Works, 10:544. Regarding the scholastic framework employed by those orthodox
divines maintaining the opposite position on the atonement’s necessity to that of Owen, it is
interesting, though perhaps hardly surprising, that William Twisse’s use of Aristotle is shaped by
Scotistic, rather than Thomistic concerns: See S. Hutton, “Thomas Jackson, Oxford Platonist, and
William Twisse, Aristotelian,” Journal of the History of Ideas 39 (1978), 635–52, esp. 649ft:
Works, 10:588.
See Works, 10:510. Cf. Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 1a.21.1.
“[God is] necessary in respect of all his actions internally, or in respect of the persons in the
Godhead toward one another. The Father necessarily begets the Son, and loves himself. As to

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220 Carl R. Trueman

implication, therefore, he also wills his own happiness. The logical priority
of intellect to will imposes ontological limits on God’s external acts. Good-
ness and happiness are not arbitrarily dependent on God’s will but rooted in
his own unchanging being. It is this intellectualist view of God that both
ensures the objective reliability of natural theology and precludes any no-
tion of sin’s going unpunished. In a passionate passage close to the end of
the treatise, Owen makes it quite clear that sin can only be properly under-
stood in its relationship to God:
Sin opposes the divine nature and existence; it is enmity against God, and is not an
idle enemy; it has even engaged in a mortal war with the attributes of God. He would
not be God if he did not avenge, by the punishment of the guilty, his own injury. He
hath often and heavily complained in his word, that by sin he is robbed of his glory
and honor, affronted, exposed to calumny and blasphemy; that neither his holiness,
nor his justice, nor name, nor right, nor dominion, is preserved pure and untainted: for
he hath created all things for his own glory, and it belongs to the natural right of God
to preserve that glory entire by the subjection of all his creatures, in their proper
stations, to himself.45
Sin must, therefore, be understood from a theocentric, rather than an-
thropocentric, perspective, and its punishment must be seen as part of God’s
overall purposes. As God’s primary act is to will his own happiness, his
own glory, then all secondary, external acts must conform to this. Sin is, by
definition, the contradiction of God, a denial of God’s own willing of his
own essential glory. As such, God cannot be indifferent to it. The punish-
ment of sin is demanded by the fact that he wills the good, which requires
him to act in such a way that his purposes are not frustrated.46 As sin repre-
sents the creature’s attempts to be free of God, so punishment of sin be-
comes the only way in which God is able to reassert his authority and so to
maintain the proper order of being that, creation being presupposed, is a
necessary part of God’s glory and happiness. As with his use of analogy,
Owen’s intellectualist doctrine of God shows clear affinities with Thomistic
theology. This, of course, raises the question of the sources of his thinking.
The Dissertation is explicitly dependent on scholastic writers at a number
of points, particularly in the early chapters.47 This is hardly surprising, as
these and such like actions, he is of all necessary agents tile most necessary.” Works, 10:510. Cf.
Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 1a.21.1.
“[T]he infliction of punishment belongs not to God as injured [...] but as he is the ruler of
all and the judge of sinners, to whom it belongs to preserve the good of the whole, and the depend-
ence of his creatures on himself.” Works, 10:567.
E.g., Works, 10:497 [Aristotle], 501 [Lombard, Aquinas, Cajetan, Biel, and others], 505
[Aquinas, Cajetan]. On p. 502, Owen explicitly agrees with Suarez on the formal inherence of
Punitive justice in God, but, without being specific, does distance himself from his method: “His
conclusions here 1do not oppose, though 1 cannot approve of many of his reasonings and argu-

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The Necessity of the Atonement 221
the debate as a whole can be seen as another example of the periodic battles
between intellectualists and voluntarists that had started in the Middle Ages.
In the light of his obvious intellectualism, it is not insignificant, nor in-
deed surprising, that Owen feels able to draw positively upon Aristotle,
Thomas, and later Aristotelian traditions, particularly that of Suarez, to
support his argument. While Owen is careful to distance himself from these
individuals at points, it is quite clear that he is happy to use Thomist and
Aristotelian patterns in his theology. This fact, perhaps somewhat ironi-
cally, brings his argument very close in terms of content, especially as re-
gards its foundation in an intellectualist understanding of God, to the posi-
tion of one for whom Owen usually reserved the greatest scorn: Jacob
Arminius. This points us once again to the complexity of the historical
development of Reformed theology, a complexity that defies any attempt at
explanation in terms of simplistic models and categories.48

9.6 Conclusion

It has become the vogue for scholars of Reformed thought to see a funda-
mental antithesis between Christ-centered theology and the presuppositions
and methods of a Reformed Orthodoxy that employs scholastic method and
borrows language and argumentation from medieval theology and from
traditions of Aristotelianism. In the main, this is no doubt the result of an
uncritical and unhistorical acceptance of Barth’s belligerent Nein! to natural
theology, even by those scholars who do not adopt his positive theological
While the whole notion of judging Reformed scholasticism by the crite-
ria of twentieth-century theology of any variety, be it neo-orthodoxy or
conservative Calvinism, is highly dubious, historical analysis of the relevant
documents demonstrates that many of neo-orthodoxy’s dearest histori-
ographical shibboleths are unsustainable in the light of the evidence.
Owen’s treatment of divine justice is a case in point. Here is a theologian
guilty of all the worst sins: positive use of Aristotelian categories; a disposi-
tion toward scholastic distinctions and methods of argumentation; and,
worst of all, a dependence on the analogy of being, that mark of Barth’s
antichrist. According to the received wisdom, the result should be a theol-
ogy that undermines the Christological focus of Christianity and replaces it
with a human-centered caricature. However, the end result is actually a

Further parallels between the arguments of Owen and Arminius on divine justice can be
found by comparing Owen’s arguments in his Dissertation about the priority of the divine intellect
with those in Arminius’ Diputatio Privata 21, Opera Theologica; 360–62.

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222 Carl R. Trueman

theology that, on this issue at least, is arguably not less Christocentric than
those of Owen’s opponents, including Calvin himself, but actually more so.
Further, it is also worth noting that commitment to scholastic method
and the use of broad Aristotelian categories does not mean that Owen and
his contemporaries were agreed in all the details, and even in some of the
major doctrinal conclusions. In fact, Owen’s critique of Twisse and Ruther-
ford is a reminder of the diversity of theological opinion, even on relatively
important matters, which could exist within both the scholastic tradition and
the confessional boundaries of Reformed theology.
In asserting the necessity of Christ’s sacrifice, Owen is presenting a Re-
formed theology that cannot displace the historical person of the mediator
from the center of the drama of redemption. There can be no eternal justifi-
cation based purely on the decree. Salvation is as surely linked to history as
it is to eternity. It is those who predicate the necessity of incarnation and
atonement solely on the decretive will of God who run the risk of marginal-
izing the historical person of Christ and undermining the importance of
salvation history. In this context, Owen’s scholasticism serves not to eclipse
Christ but to place him at the center. Indeed, as is clear from his argument,
if it was not for his Thomist understanding of the epistemological implica-
tions of God’s causal relationship to creation and his acceptance of the
validity of the analogy of being, Owen would have no way of attacking his
opponents’ position. While it is true that his use of such arguments depends
on assumptions that he does not justify, it is also true that any rejection of
their validity renders his Christocentrism epistemologically unsustainable.
In the context of this dispute, at least, it is the rejection or radical delimita-
tion of natural theology, not its acceptance, that is the enemy of Christ–
centered theology,
This is not to say that Owen’s position is correct or in any way superior
to those of his opponents; it is merely to point out that in the seventeenth
century, use of scholastic argumentation, and even of the analogy of being,
did not necessarily disrupt the Christological focus of Reformed theology
but could in fact be used to strengthen it. Just as scholasticism should be
regarded as a method rather than a result, so Owen’s use of Aristotelian
language and concepts, and of a Thomist natural theology should not be
prejudged by anachronistic criteria but seen as a means to an end rather than
as an end in itself.

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10. “That Error and Pillar of Antinomianism”:
Eternal Justification

Robert J. McKelvey

10.1 Introduction

Martin Luther may never have called justification the “article by which the
church stands or falls” (articulus stantis aut cadentis Ecclesiae), yet the
concept certainly belonged to him. He labels the doctrine the “head and
cornerstone” (caput et angularis lapis) of the Church, and “without it the
church of God cannot exist for one hour” (sine eo Ecclesia Dei non potest
una hora subsistere).1 Regardless of its origination, in the seventeenth cen-
tury John Owen uses the “stands or falls” phrase when referring to justifica-
tion as “the main hinge” of the Reformation and “Articulus stantis aut ca-
dentis Ecclesiae,” the article by which the church stands or falls. “In my
judgment,” claims Owen, “Luther spake the truth when he said; amisso
Articulo Justificationis, simul amissa est tota Doctrina Christiana. The loss
of the article of Justification, involves the loss of the whole Christian doc-
trine.”2 The foundation for such sweeping statements exists in the Reforma-
tion emphasis upon divine grace in salvation to the exclusion of human
effort. Justification by faith alone emerged as a conscious departure from

Martin Luther, D. Martin Luthers Werke, 120 vol. (Weimar: Hermann Böhlaus, 1883–2009),
30/3:650. Though the “stands or falls” wording is often attributed to Luther, a primary source has
never been cited. He could still be the originator of the phrase, as attribution to him comes as early
as the seventeenth century. For example, William Eyre (without a citation) refers to justification as
“articulus stantis aut cadentis Ecclesiae, as Luther calls it.” William Eyre, Vindiciae justificationis
gratuitae (London, 1654), 17. Thus, Richard John Neuhaus in “The Catholic Difference,” Evan-
gelicals and Catholics Together: Toward a Common Mission, ed. Charles Colson and Richard
John Neuhaus (Dallas: Word, 1995), 199, wrongly argues that the “stands or falls” phrase did not
originate until the eighteenth century.
John Owen, The Doctrine of Justification by Faith Through the Imputation of the Right-
eousness of Christ (London, 1677), 83, 87. As Carl R. Trueman observes, Owen does not provide
a citation of Luther for this quote “John Owen on Justification,” in Justified in Christ: God’s Plan
for Us in Justification, ed. K. Scott Oliphint (Fearn, Scotland: Mentor, 2007), 81. Owen may also
be calling attention to John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 3.11.1, ed. John T. McNeil
and trans. Ford Lewis Battles, 2 vol. (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1960), where he refers
to justification as “the main hinge on which religion turns.”

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224 Robert J. McKelvey

the medieval system of merit and the connected ideas of infused grace and
imparted righteousness.
While justification by faith alone received such high esteem among the
seventeenth-century English heirs of the Reformation, similar tribute never
came for the post-Reformation doctrine of eternal justification. The teach-
ing emerged to protect the free and sovereign grace of justification against
any perceived human contribution. In the end, anyone embracing justifica-
tion in foro Dei, in the court of God and before faith, was readily suspected
of embracing eternal justification. Rather than being praised as a defender
of forensic justification in the spirit of Luther, they were typically maligned
as antinomians in the spirit of Agricola.
“The Antinomians erroneously hold,” asserted Thomas Watson (1620–
1686), “[t]hat we are justified from Eternity. This Doctrine is a Key which
opens the Door to all Licentiousness; what sins do they care they commit,
so long as they hold they are ab Aeterno, justified whether they repent or
no.”3 The neonomian Richard Baxter (1615–1691) assigned to “justification
from eternity” such a foundational role that he called it, “that error and
pillar of Antinomianism.”4
This essay will explore the nature of this supposed “error and pillar of
Antinomianism” and the debate surrounding it in seventeenth-century Eng-
land. This will involve understanding both the convictions and misconcep-
tions about the doctrine emerging in polemical debate. Concerning the
controversy, we will examine its historical background, some highly visible
deliberation within it, and some of the individuals and theological issues
pertinent to it. The tendency towards broad generalizations within the de-
bate manifests itself. The labels of antinomianism and eternal justification
were given at times to being loosely defined and hastily applied. For exam-
ple, David Como observes that the term “antinomian” was “primarily a
hostile term of abuse, often used imprecisely, sloppily or maliciously for
polemical purposes.”5 Due to its attachment to antinomianism, the doctrine
of eternal justification also suffered such misapplication.
For a working seventeenth-century definition of eternal justification,
Francis Turretin (1623–1687) provides a helpful start in Institutio theolo-
giae elencticae (vol. 2, 1682), where he speaks of those who “maintain that
[justification] is an immanent act in God which was performed from eter-
nity.” This differs from those who either regard justification as “transient,
terminating in us and which takes place only in time and in this life,” or
those “who hold that it is postponed to the last and decretory day” at the
“public tribunal of Christ.” Turretin agreed that justification “was decreed
Thomas Watson, A Body of Practical Divinity (London, 1692), 132.
Richard Baxter, Aphorismes of Justification (Hague, 1655), 112.
David Como, Blown by the Spirit: Puritanism and the Emergence of an Antinomian Under-
ground in Pre–Civil-War England (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2004), 33.

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Eternal Justification 225
from eternity,” yet objected that, as such, it should consequently be “called
eternal.” He rejected the idea that the eternal decree for what will take place
in time constitutes its actual execution: “The decree of justification is one
thing; justification itself another – as the will to save and sanctify is one
thing; salvation and sanctification itself another. The will or decree to jus-
tify certain persons is indeed eternal and precedes faith itself, but actual
justification takes place in time and follows faith.”6
This position echoes Samuel Rutherford’s (1600–1661) in Survey of the
Spirituall Antichrist (1648), where he maintains: “But justification in Gods
decree and purpose from eternity, is no more justification than Creation,
sanctification, glorification, the crucifying of Christ, and all things that fall
out in time; for all these were in the eternall purpose of God.” Rutherford in
this context makes an important clarification that Turretin omits. As an
opponent of eternal justification, Rutherford describes as antinomian the
positions that “from eternity we were justified” or “from the time that the
Messiah dyed, all sins were finished, and wee justified.” As an opponent of
justification from eternity, Rutherford makes a distinction between it and
the connected concept of justification at the death of Christ.7
In line with Turretin and Rutherford, as seventeenth-century Reformed
orthodox theologians, this study defines eternal justification as the doctrine
equating the eternal decree to justify with actual justification. In line with
Curt Daniel, we recognize that the controversy over eternal justification
involves two main issues, “the time of justification (eternal or temporal)
and its relation to faith (before or after faith).” These issues in connection
with the above definition will be the preoccupation of this study. In the
process, we will not regard positions showing affinity to but falling short of
the above definition as eternal justification properly speaking, even though
others do. For example, in spite of many past and present claims to the
contrary, actual justification before faith at the death of Christ will not be
regarded as eternal justification.8 As we will see, this position does not
Francis Turretin, Institutio theologiae elencticae, 3 vol. (Geneva: S. de Tournes, 1679–
1685), 2:746. Volume 2 was published in 1682. English translation from Francis Turretin, Insti-
tutes of Elenctic Theology, trans. George Musgrave Giger, ed. James T. Dennison, Jr. (Phil-
lipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1994), 2:682–83.
Samuel Rutherford, A Survey of the Spirituall Antichrist, 2 vol. (London, 1648), 2:19.
Curt Daniel, “Hyper-Calvinism and John Gill” (Ph.D. Diss. University of Edinburgh, 1983),
306. For clarification and within the context of the debate studied here, the phrase “justification
from eternity” will be used synonymously with “eternal justification.” Baxter in his Aphorismes,
speaking out against the doctrine, uses the phrase “from eternity” repeatedly as a primary title
(e.g., 60, 112, 117, 123, 293, 318), yet also seems to equate justification as an “eternall” act, which
is synonymous with justification as an act “from eternity.” This is not the same as saying that it is
an eternal process. Those who held to the doctrine or something similar to it form were conscious
to guard justification as one total act even if it involved progression from eternity. See also, Rich-
ard Davis, A Vindication of the Doctrine of Justification and Union before Faith (London, 1698),
where the phrases are used interchangeably, yet where the title “eternal justification” is used more

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226 Robert J. McKelvey

regard the eternal decree to justify as actual justification, which takes place
in time only upon the satisfaction paid by Christ at his death yet prior to
saving faith. For the sake of brevity and clarity, and without introducing a
novel theological concept, we will at times refer to this teaching simply as
“justification at satisfaction.”

10.2 The Antinomian Endorsement

Discussion about justification from eternity necessitates understanding its

connections to antinomianism traced back to the sixteenth century and at
times given to overstatement. Prior to Martin Luther, there existed no clear
teaching of justification by imputation of sin to and righteousness from
Christ and received by faith alone.9 Justification in the patristic and medie-
val periods, while soaked in grace, was generally connected with merit and
moral effort.10 Justification was viewed as a process where the individual
becomes more and more righteous by way of Christ’s righteousness im-
parted to him and infused by grace.
Luther himself only gradually developed a concept of justification by
imputed righteousness. As Carl Trueman shows, it emerged in the context
of union with Christ rather than the legal-forensic language later articulated
by Melanchthon. After 1520 Luther increasingly prioritized justification in
terms of status before and relation with God over against the medieval
emphasis on intrinsic substance and moral transformation. In this manner,
the believer was simul peccator et justus, sinful in the world and just before
God at the same time.11 This development emerged partly from the late
medieval focus on “the decisive role of the divine will in justification,”
which detracted from “infused habits of grace in justification.”12 Eventually,
Luther evidenced a more mature Christocentric emphasis on the divine will

predominantly. An example of the synonymous use in a pronounced manner occurs in John
Brine’s early eighteenth-century Defence of the Doctrine of Eternal Justification (London, 1732),
where in the first two sentences, he speaks of objections to the “doctrine of Eternal Justification”
and his own attempts in the book to defend the “scriptural doctrine” of “Justification from Eter-
See Peter Toon, Justification and Sanctification (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1983),
See Alister E. McGrath, Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification, 2
vol. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 1:17–23.
Carl Trueman, “Simul peccator et Justus: Martin Luther and Justification” in Justification
in Perspective: Historical Developments and Contemporary Challenges, ed. Bruce McCormack
(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Books, 2006), 73–97. See p.79 for a citation from Luther’s
Freedom of the Christian (1520) where imputation of sin to and righteousness from Christ
emerges clearly in the transfer occurring in the union between bride and bridegroom.
Trueman, “Simul peccator et Justus,” 81.

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imputing an alien passive righteousness, through grace alone and by faith
J. Wayne Baker discusses the disagreement in seventeenth-century Eng-
land over faithfulness to Luther’s sola fide, sola gratia justification. The
controversy centered upon the antinomian rejection of the law’s continuing
validity in the Christian life. Luther himself battled the antinomianism of
Johann Agricola (1494–1566) earlier, which resulted in Luther’s Against
the Antinomians (1539). Here, he maintains observance of the law does not
contribute to justification, yet must be preached to stir up repentance lead-
ing to justification. Agricola believed that only the gospel must be pro-
claimed to elicit repentance. Luther defends the ongoing validity of the
moral law, “daily preached and practiced in our churches,” and claims that
believers deluded by their “sweet security” in Christ need to hear the terrors
of the law. In the end, Agricola failed to understand Luther’s two-kingdom
emphasis as it viewed the Christian simul justus et peccator, simultaneously
righteous through Christ in the sight of God and still sinful in the temporal
kingdom and so subject to the law in this life.13
With this background in mind, Rutherford in the seventeenth century re-
sisted what he saw as an Agricola-type antinomianism in England, which he
believed distorted Luther’s teaching on the law, gospel, justification and
sanctification. Opposition to such thinking came from both Calvinistic and
Arminian perspectives and those labeled antinomian included some high
Calvinists (supralapsarians) who stressed sovereign grace and imputed
righteousness to such an extent that they downplayed the role of the moral
law in the Christian life.14 As Peter Toon shows, hyper-Calvinism went
beyond this perspective to emphasize the eternal immanent acts of God to
an even greater degree in the treatment of the covenant of grace. This stress
heightened man’s passivity in salvation to the point that the free offer of the

Martin Luther, “Against the Antinomians,” in Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings,
ed. Timothy F. Lull (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2005), 203–207; J. Wayne Baker,
“Sola Fide, Sola Gratia: The Battle for Luther Seventeenth-Century England,” The Sixteenth
Century Journal, 16, no. 1 (1985): 115–118.
Baker, “The Battle for Luther,” 118–19; Rutherford, Spirituall Antichrist. While Baker pro-
vides a helpful account of the debate over Luther in the seventeenth century, he fails to understand
some of the subtleties of the arguments of men such as Samuel Rutherford who may have gone too
far in criticizing the perceived antinomianism of individuals such as John Eaton and Tobias Crisp
yet without being guilty of an incipient moralism in his sanctification views, as Baker charges.
Such a tendency is paralleled by his later claim that in England a bilateral and contractual covenant
tradition traced to Bullinger and Zwingli was pitted against the unilateral and promissory tradition
traced to Calvin. See J. Wayne Baker, Heinrich Bullinger and the Covenant: The Other Reformed
Tradition (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1980). For a critique of Baker’s theory as well as
the unified duality of emphasis on both the absolute and conditional nature of salvation in Ruther-
ford, see John Von Rohr, The Covenant of Grace in Puritan Thought (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press,
1986), 31–32.

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228 Robert J. McKelvey

gospel was denied.15 For these two Calvinistic strains, charges of antinomi-
anism and eternal justification abounded.
Como discusses the emerging antinomian tendency by the 1620s in Eng-
land that exalted the saving merits of Christ to the exclusion of human
effort. Characteristics held in common in all antinomianism, especially as it
flowered in seventeenth-century England, included the tendency to view the
Ten Commandments as “abolished” for Christians in some sense; to reject
the perceived “pharisaical” demand for piety as evidence for justification;
to simultaneously stress human passivity and the power of the divine will in
salvation through Christ; to claim an exalted status in believers who, in
Christ, were free from the Mosaic Law; to declare that believers were effec-
tively free from sin “in the sight of God” and to give Christians a fuller
“sense of assurance and joy” based on the objective merits of Christ rather
than on the subjective “hand-wringing” of self-examination.16 Such charac-
teristics together represent the effort to exalt the grace of God in and eradi-
cate human participation from redemption as totally as possible.
Baker discusses antinomian defenders of “free grace” such as John Ea-
ton (c.1574–1641) and John Saltmarsh (d.1647), who appealed to Luther for
their distinction between the law and gospel.17 Eaton, for example, argued
in his Honey-Combe of Free Justification (1642) that we receive justifica-
tion by free grace without conditions, “objectively and passively” simply by
feeling our lost condition and “by the power of Gods imputation” being
“cloathed” with Christ’s righteousness. The justified are truly without sin in
God’s sight and find assurance in Christ’s righteousness and the free bene-
fits of salvation not in anything in them. “[T]hankful obedience” exists as
the fruit from not the ground for assurance, yet justification “makes us […]
to walk in all Gods Commandents zealously.” Still, contrary to Luther,
Eaton as an antinomian rejected preaching the terrors of the law to believ-
ers, which only leads to “hypocriticall legall holinesse.”18
The seventeenth-century zeal in England to claim allegiance to Luther
usually meant repudiating antinomianism whether from a defensive or an
offensive posture. Most Protestant theologians wanted to align themselves

Peter Toon, The Emergence of Hyper-Calvinism in English Nonconformity, 1689–1765
(London: The Olive Tree, 1967), 144–45. See also Curt Daniel, “John Gill and Calvinistic An-
tinomianism” in The Life and Thought of John Gill (1697–1771), ed. Michael A.G. Haykin (Lei-
den, Netherlands: Brill, 1997), 171–90, for discussion of eternal justification and antinomianism
within high and hyper-Calvinism in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Como, Blown by the Spirit, 34–37.
See Henry Denne, The Doctrine and Conversation of Iohn Baptist Delivered in a Sermon
(London, 1642); John Eaton, The Honey-Combe of Free Justification by Christ alone (London,
1642); John Saltmarsh, Free grace, or, The Flowings of Christs Blood Free to Sinners (London,
Baker, “The Battle for Luther,” 121–25; Eaton, Honey-Combe of Free Justification, 7, 25–
26, 29, 115.

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Eternal Justification 229
with Luther not the “filthy Swine” antinomians such as Luther’s Agricola.
William Eyre utilized this derogatory label while defending himself from
the charge of antinomianism.19 The fact that theologians did not agree on
how to recognize such “Swine” complicated the matter.
Rutherford in Survey of the Sprituall Antichrist, claimed that antinomi-
ans such as John Saltmarsh, John Eaton and Tobias Crisp had distorted
Luther. Rutherford argued that Luther set forth such ideas as non-
meritorious conditions (such as faith) in the covenant of grace, the sins of
believers being counted as real sins, and the law remaining a rule of obedi-
ence for believers. By denying the presence of sin in the believer, the an-
tinomians had confused justification with sanctification. In reference to the
conviction that the sins of the justified are not truly sins, Rutherford calls
the licentious freedom from obligation to the law, “the mother Heresie” of
On the one hand, the antinomian emphasis on free grace endeavored to
safeguard the sola gratia aspect of justification from the encroachment of
legalism. Such remained a concern even in the mainline Puritan emphasis
that good works are merely the evidence of justification. On the other hand,
opponents to antinomianism sought to protect that same grace of justifica-
tion from the perceived excesses that fostered licentiousness. Thomas
Goodwin, for example, argues that while faith remains “the sole instrument
of justification” such ought not to “cause a neglect in holiness.” A distinct
yet intimate relationship existed between justification and sanctification
which rises out of union to Christ: “[T]he object of faith is Christ as he is
presented to us in the gospel. Now he is presented not as justification only,
but as sanctification also; therefore he that takes Christ as he is given, takes
Christ for both.”21 The antinomians remained concerned that an undue stress
on sanctification in connection with justification dangerously allows obedi-
ence onto the ground of the believer’s hope.
Jeffrey Jue calls attention to the foundational role of assurance for an-
tinomians as they condemned not only the Roman Catholic and Arminian
stress on inherent righteousness for justification but also the Reformed
tendency to do the same with sanctification as the evidence of grace. As a
result, self-examination became an unwelcome “barometer for justifica-
tion,” as far as the antinomians were concerned. David Como and Theodore
Bozeman observe a consequent “antinomian backlash” to this “precisionist”
Puritan theology. The stress on practical divinity in no way meant to un-
William Eyre in Vindiciae justificationis gratuitae, 21, used this title while resenting the
fact that those embracing justification in foro Dei, before faith, as he did, were considered antino-
mian by men such as Benjamin Woodbridge (1622–84).
Rutherford, Spirituall Antichrist, 1.112–115; 2.19, 24–25, 225–230.
The Works of Thomas Goodwin, 12 vol., ed. Thomas Smith (Edinburgh: James Nichol,
1861–66), 8:476, 478, 479.

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dermine the doctrine of justification by free grace, yet the heightened stress
on sanctification as the proper evidence of grace became oppressive to the
consciences of believers and introduced a subtle legalism reminiscent of
Roman Catholicism. A renewed emphasis on free grace was meant to re-
lease Christians from this perceived bondage.22
This reaction in part helps to explain the emphasis on eternal justifica-
tion in seventeenth-century England in the quest to exclude any hint of
human contribution to justification. Within the controversy over one’s right
standing before God due to the imputed righteousness of Christ, justifica-
tion from eternity would become an issue. If one is freely justified without
faith as a condition, then justification could truly occur independently of
man at the time of Christ’s death or even from eternity in the mind of God.
As Carl Trueman testifies,
[T]he Protestant doctrine of justification by imputation was always going to be vul-
nerable to criticisms of tending towards eternal justification. Late medieval theologi-
ans had used the distinction between God’s absolute power and his ordained power,
along with that between congruent and condign merit, to break the necessary connec-
tion between the logical priority of actual righteousness in a real sense, and God’s
declaration that a particular person was justified. Thus, in placing the declaration in
God’s will, not the intrinsic qualities of the one justified, it is arguable that the neces-
sary connection not only between ontological factors and justification but also be-
tween chronological factors and justification had been decisively abolished. Given
that Protestantism actually intensified this medieval emphasis, it is not surprising that
some reformed theologians, […] should find themselves under suspicion of holding to
eternal justification.23
With the exaltation of sovereign grace external to man and simultaneous
downplay of anything inherent in him, the concept of justification before
faith from eternity or at satisfaction found fertile ground in antinomianism.
For example, Como calls attention to the antinomian doctrine of justifica-
tion before faith by way of the disputes that John Crandon (d.1654) had
with Somerset antinomians in the 1630s. Crandon in Mr. Baxters Apho-
risms Exorized and Anthorized (1654) attests that Baxter wrongly labeled
many orthodox men as antinomians and desires to show what “reall An-
tinomians” are. His list shows significant overlap with Como’s list above,
but one item that manifests importance in relation to eternal justification
concerns the proposal that the phrase, “Justification by Faith,” which attrib-
utes something to man, needs to be exchanged instead with “Justified by
Jeffrey K. Jue, “The Active Obedience of Christ and the Theology of the Westminster Stan-
dards: A Historical Investigation,” in Justified in Christ: God’s Plan for Us in Justification, ed. K.
Scott Oliphint (Fearn, Scotland: Mentor Press, 2007), 110; Theodore Dwight Bozeman, The
Precisianist Strain: Disciplinary Religion & Antinomian Backlash in Puritanism to 1638 (Chapel
Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2004), 3–7; Como, Blown by the Spirit, 29–32.
Trueman, “John Owen on Justification”, 91.

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Eternal Justification 231
Grace, or by Christ or by being found in Christ, or by our union unto Christ,
that the praise of our Justification might be reserved whole and entire to the
Grace of God in Christ alone.” The function of faith was diminished to the
point that its instrumental role and position as a non-meritorious condition,
which was ardently defended by mainstream Puritanism, was obliterated.
“Faith, on this view,” states Como, “did not really justify; rather, it recog-
nized or apprehended a prior justification which had already been effected
by Christ’s death.”24 We will see later that Crandon himself, though an anti-
antinomian, consciously embraced eternal justification without repudiating
justification by faith.
Como observes that the idea of justification before faith had already be-
came common among antinomians by the 1620s and he notes the charges of
it leveled against different individuals from 1629–31.25 Likewise, Thomas
Taylor in 1631 relates his debates with London antinomians and their em-
phasis on union “with Christ before faith.” Como notes the connection in
these antinomians with Eaton’s justification before faith at the death of
Christ, the benefits of which are received at baptism. Further, Thomas
Bakewell speaks of London antinomians “flying for shelter to Gods de-
crees” and who since 1630 had been teaching that justification occurred
“actually in election.” Bakewell, in a manner that anticipates the arguments
from Rutherford noted earlier, rejects this notion. God’s decrees are from
eternity, but to prove that justification actually takes place from eternity, we
have to say that “all the works of God were created and actually made, from
all eternity.”26
Dewey Wallace maintains that Saltmarsh, along with Eaton, manifested
the tendency to “push justification back into predestination” without prop-
erly teaching justification from eternity even if they did argue that justifica-
tion occurred prior to faith.27 Saltmarsh taught that faith rested upon Christ
for justification, which then elicited assurance through the promises of God
and obedience as evidence of grace. Yet, he also maintained that justifica-
tion was “antecedent” to faith. Faith and the connected grace of repentance
were “fruits” of justification with faith acting as a “manifestation” of prior

John Crandon, Mr. Baxters Aphorisms Exorized and Anthorized (London, 1654), 263–66;
Como, Blown by the Spirit, 201.
High Commission Act Book, Manuscript Dd.ii.21, fols. 77v–78r, 1631 (Cambridge Univer-
sity Library), cited in Como, Blown by the Spirit, 202.
Como, Blown by the Spirit, 201–203; Robert Towne, The Assertion of Grace (1645), cited
in Como, Blown by the Spirit, 201; Thomas Taylor, Regula Vitae, the rule of the law under the
gospel (London, 1631), 124; Thomas Bakewell, A faithfull messenger sent after the Antinomians
(London, 1644), 1.
Dewey D. Wallace, Jr, Puritans and Predestination: Grace in English Protestant Theology,
1525–1695 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1982), 114, 118, 119–120. See
also Daniel, “John Gill and Calvinistic Antinomianism,” 174, where he speaks of Crisp and Eaton
as more moderate than Saltmarsh who was “more reckless and extreme.”

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232 Robert J. McKelvey

justification and not related to it “instrumentally.” The imputation of right-

eousness that brings forth faith is transacted for the elect at the death and
resurrection of Christ.28
Como testifies to the wide acceptance of justification before faith among
the English antinomians. He affirms that it was very natural for them “to
exclude even faith from the process of justification” as they sought to “ban-
ish any hint that that intrinsic human qualities” such as faith “might earn
salvation.” However, he maintains that the doctrine of justification before
faith had “grown and evolved directly out of mainstream puritanism” and
“was little more than an embellishment of the utterly respectable and emi-
nently puritan concept of justification through the alien righteousness of
Christ.” Further, “the notion that the elect were justified before faith was
not exclusively antinomian; it had cropped up repeatedly in the history of
Puritanism and always apparently for very much the same reason – in order
to eliminate any hint that faith itself might be seen as meriting or deserving
For example, Thomas Wilson in 1610 referred to some opponents in
Kent who affirmed, “the Elect are imputed righteous and so accounted of
God even from everlasting.” They also reduced faith to recognition of justi-
fication, since “Christ is mine and I have benefit of his death before faith,
but I know not so much till I beleeve.”30 Likewise, Ezekial Culverwell in
1623, before Pemble’s explicit teaching of justification at satisfaction in
foro divino in Vindiciae Gratiae (1627), mentioned those who, while “hon-
estly minded” were “beguiled” into believing that someone “may be a true
member of Christ, and so be justified, before he thus actually beleeue, and
thereby apprehend Christ.” By apprehension Culverwell means saving faith,
which may be real even if “we feele it not.” How one could be in Christ
before such apprehension, muses Culverwell, “I cannot see.”31 This view of
justification before faith bears some similarity to the orthodox Pemble who
will be considered later. Como argues that the “honestly minded” reference
is “almost certainly a coded reference to their puritanism,” though no sup-
port is given. He calls attention to other examples, yet the claim that eternal
justification was mainstream Puritan could be much stronger. Still, just the
early date of the citations, before any significant rumblings of antinomian-
ism, lends support to the contention that eternal justification was not exclu-
sively antinomian.

John Saltmarsh, Sparkles of Glory, or Some Beams of the Morning Star, 1647 (London:
William Pickering, 1847), 121–23.
Como, Blown by the Spirit, 203.
T. Wilson, A Dialogue About Justification by Faith (London, 1610), 98, 102, 131, cited in
Como, Blown by the Spirit, 204.
Ezekial Culverwell, A Treatise of Faith, 2nd ed. (London, 1623), 16–17. See Como, Blown
by the Spirit, 204.

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Eternal Justification 233
Tobias Crisp (d.1643) emerged as one of the most prominent defenders
of free justification and one of the most targeted antinomians as evidenced
by his theology being labeled “Crispianism.”32 Of “the Antinomians (trulyer
called Libertines),” Baxter asserted, “Dr. Crispe was the most eminent
Ring-leader whose books took wonderfully with ignorant Professors under
the pretence of extolling Christ and free-Grace.”33 As noted earlier, the
orthodox Rutherford also accused Crisp of antinomianism, and he did not
help himself with such volatile claims as, “There is not one sin you commit,
after you receive Christ, that God can charge upon your person.” Still, Crisp
qualifies this by noting that one “instantly justified” remains free from the
condemnation of sin. Crisp also said of Christ that God “makes him as
really a transgressor, as if he himself had actually committed it.” Still, for
Crisp, “God reckons Christ the very sinner,” though he “is not an actual
sinner” but “by imputation.” Christ is “the transgressor […] not that ever
Christ was, or ever could be the actor, or committer of transgression, for he
never committed any.”34
Still, Rutherford misrepresents Crisp on this issue claiming “Crispe
saith,” that Christ was made sin in an “intrinsecall” manner when he was
only “the sinner imputatively, not inherently, and formally.” The position
Rutherford used against Crisp was the very one he held. As Daniel points
out, Crisp here “is in perfect accord with mainstream Reformed theology”
related to the double imputation of our sin to Christ and his righteousness to
us.35 Crisp did not emphasize obedience as evidence of grace in the manner
of mainstream Puritanism, but he did stress the obligation of Christian holi-
ness as in: We must perform good works in response to redemption as “we
do not the duty to be delivered, but we do the duty because we are deliv-
ered;” There exists “no believer who hath received Christ but he is created
in him unto good works, that he should walk in them;” God cleanses sinners
and puts a new spirit in them, “and doth cause them to walk in his statutes
and testimonies;” and the Christian “must serve in duty and obedience, but
look not that that duty bring any thing.” For Crisp, “sanctification of life is
an inseparable companion with the justification of a person by the free
grace of Christ.” Still he issues this caution to highlight the unconditional
Daniel, “John Gill and Calvinistic Antinomianism,” 172–75; See, for example, the anony-
mous Crispianism unmask'd, or, A discovery of the several erroneous assertions and pernicious
doctrins maintain'd in Dr. Crisp's sermons occasion'd by the reprinting of those discourses (Lon-
don, 1693).
Richard Baxter, A treatise of justifying righteousness, 2 vol. (London, 1676), 1:21.
Tobias Crisp, Christ Alone Exalted, 3 vol., with explanatory notes by John Gill (London,
1791), 1:7–8, 11, 16, 429–30, 437–40.
Daniel, “John Gill and Calvinistic Antinomianism,”184; Rutherford, Spiritual Antichrist,
2:18; From his marginal citation, Rutherford appears to be referring to the sermon, “Christ the
great Paymaster of all the Debts of his people,” in Crisp, Christ Alone Exalted, 3 vol. (London,
1643), 2:90–93. All other citations to Christ Alone Exalted will come from the Gill edition.

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234 Robert J. McKelvey

nature of salvation: “But I must withal tell you that all this sanctification of
life is not a jot of the way of that justified person unto heaven.”36
Such statements call into question whether Crisp was properly antino-
mian, which becomes relevant when considering whether he embraced
eternal justification as some allege. Regarding faith, he claims, “no person
under heaven shall be saved till he have believed,” yet faith must not be
viewed as a condition of the covenant. Christ alone justifies and an “un-
godly person, after he is justified believes.” The act of justification having
occurred, it then terminates in the conscience by faith at which time justifi-
cation is manifested to the believer: “But he is first justified before he be-
lieves, then he believes that he is justified.” Thus, we are justified before we
know it, and faith simply provides to us the knowledge or the “evidence”
for our justification.37 This constitutes justification at satisfaction, which for
Crisp is intimately connected to identification with Christ covenantally.
We are made “partakers of the covenant,” claims Crisp, as Christ
“makes us to be in covenant, for his own sake” and not due to the fulfill-
ment of any condition. Not only does Christ bring us into the covenant, but
“Christ himself can be said to be the covenant,” and such occurs three ways.
First, “Christ is the covenant fundamentally” in that “[t]he covenant of
grace takes its being from Christ” as the second Adam who both makes the
covenant with God the Father in the counsel of redemption and undertakes
to accomplish all of its conditions. Thus, as a mediator, he brings God and
man together within a covenantal arrangement. Second, Christ “is materi-
ally, the covenant” as he, in his person, exists as “God unto the people” in
his divine nature and “the people unto God” in his human nature. Thus, God
the Father views the deity and humanity of Christ and then can embrace the
members of Christ’s unified “mystical body” as “part of him,” who is head
of that body. Third, Christ is “the covenant equivalently,” in the sense that
the conditions of the covenant are “fulfilled to the uttermost” at his death
when he redeems the elect as their surety. In this manner, Christ was “de-
livered over in justification” as though he were delivering money and re-
ceiving a “pawn” worth its entire value. This earnest belongs to the elect,
though in time the fruits of it are yet to be worked out in them.38
This covenantal development, Trueman argues, warns against the “bald
characterization” of Crisp as someone who holds to eternal justification.
Instead, he manifests a detailed Christological and covenantal scheme for
justification at satisfaction. The argument reflects the pains taken, as unsuc-
cessful as they may have been, to understand how human experience in
time connects to God’s relationship to it from an eternal perspective.39
Crisp, Christ Alone Exalted, 1:68–69, 76–77, 123
Crisp, Christ Alone Exalted, 1:143–45.
Crisp, Christ Alone Exalted, 1:146–52.
Trueman, “John Owen on Justification,” 92–93.

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Eternal Justification 235
Likewise, Curt Daniel in a similar manner discusses Crisp’s views on
justification in conjunction with the quest of John Gill (1697–1771) to
defend him from the charge of antinomianism. Rather than call such high
Calvinists as Crisp antinomians, “it is best to refer” to them as “so-called
Antinomians.”40 Isaac Chauncy (1632–1712) went a little further when he
referred to men such as Crisp as antinomians “falsely so called” believing
that the neonomian Daniel Williams (c.1643–1716), who took the lead from
Baxter after his death (1691), misrepresented Crisp.41
In addition to some of the volatile comments made by Crisp, the opposi-
tion of Baxter to him is understandable, given his position that faith and
works possess causality in justification as conditions of the New Covenant.
In this scheme, faith exists as “the great principall master duty of the Gos-
pell” (the New Law) and works as “the secondary, lesse-principall part.”
Baxter thus rejected the orthodox position on good works that teaches
“Faith alone justifieth, but not that faith which is alone.” He was very sus-
picious that this led to license in the name of free grace. For him believers
are declared righteous on the basis of faith and obedience, which is called
“new Covenant-Righteousness” kept under the new law of Christ. This
“Evangelical Righteousness” differs from the “Legal Righteousness” pro-
posed by Roman justification, and the former remains “the Condition upon
which Christ’s Righteousness shall be ours.”42
The thinking of Baxter on justification, nicknamed “Baxterianism,”
eventually became known as neonomianism.43 Daniel summarizes the sys-
tem this way: “The theory was that the Gospel was a ‘new law,’ which a
sinner obeyed by faith, and that this faith, together with the righteousness of
Christ, was the ground for justification. But this obedience was more than
merely faith in Christ; it necessarily included obedience to the law, which
has not been abolished.”44 This position smacked of Arminianism and was
resisted by the Reformed orthodox, which found itself battling excesses
related to sovereign grace and human responsibility, on the fronts of anti-
antinomianism and anti-neonomianism, respectively.
That justification involves ongoing gospel obedience as a condition for
receiving Christ’s righteousness highlights for Baxter how loathsome justi-
fication before faith was to him. This is especially true, since he equated it
Daniel, “John Gill and Calvinistic Antinomianism,” 185–89, 190.
Isaac Chauncy, Neonomianism Unmask’d: or, The Ancient Gospel Pleaded (London, 1692),
2, 14–15; Daniel Williams, Gospel-truth stated and vindicated wherein some of Dr. Crisp’s
opinions are considered, and the opposite truths are plainly stated and confirmed (London, 1692);
Daniel, “John Gill and Calvinistic Antinomianism,” 177. In addition to Daniel, “John Gill and
Calvinistic Antinomianism,” 171–190, see also Trueman, “John Owen on Justification,” 92–93,
for a challenge to Crisp’s alleged antinomianism.
Baxter, Aphorismes of Justification, 72, 181–86, 191, 198.
See, for example, Chauncy, Neonomianism Unmask’d.
Daniel, “John Gill and Calvinistic Antinomianism,” 177.

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236 Robert J. McKelvey

with eternal justification, a distinctly antinomian doctrine as far as Baxter

was concerned. No individual attacked the doctrine more forcefully and
accused more individuals of embracing it. This brings clarity to his insis-
tence that “this doctrine of Christs immediate Actuall delivering us from
guilt, wrath and condemnation, is the very pillar and foundation of the
whole frame and fabrick of Antinomianisme.”45
The nonconformist John Bunyan (1628–1688) also emerges as an ex-
ample of one with leanings towards antinomianism and eternal justification
yet without firm roots in either position. Still, the latitudinarian Edward
Fowler (1632–1714) accused Bunyan of “filthy libertinism and mad licen-
tious principles,” while Baxter claimed that Bunyan “ignorantly subverted
the gospel of Christ,” as an “unlearned Antinomian-Anabaptist,” even if he
was “an honest, Godly man.”46 Regarding his inclinations toward eternal
justification, Bunyan manifests in his writings a departure from the earlier
view that faith was a necessary yet non-meritorious instrument of justifica-
He eventually claimed in his Discourse upon the Pharisee and the Pub-
lican (1677) that justification precedes faith and comes while one is yet
“graceless.” Notes Bunyan, “Justification before God is one thing; and
Justification to the Understanding and Conscience is another. Now I am
treating of Justification before God, not of it as to mans Understanding and
Conscience: And I say, a man may be justified before God, even then when
himself knoweth nothing thereof, […] and so when, and while he hath not
Faith about it, but is ungodly.” This is continuous with but not necessarily
equivalent to eternal justification proper, due to what appears to be Bun-
yan’s emphasis on justification at the death of Christ. Bunyan seems to
imply that justification in the conscience is assurance of justification, yet
claims men “gather” it in time. He comes close to suggesting that actual
justification or the “applying of that righteousness to the Understanding and
Conscience” occurs personally only when faith is expressed: “Here you see,
that to be reconciled to God by the death of his Son, is one thing; and for us
actually […] to receive by Faith, this reconciliation, is another.” Bunyan
does little to solidify this possible position by stating, “He then that is justi-
fied by Gods Imputation, shall believe by the power of the Holy Ghost […]
because imputed righteousness has gone before.” Thus, “believing is a sign,
not a cause, of his being made righteous before God by his imputation.”47
Baxter, Aphorismes of Justification, 319.
Edward Fowler, Dirt wipt off, or, A manifest discovery of the gross ignorance, erroneous-
ness and most unchristian and wicked spirit of one John Bunyan (London, 1672), 71; Richard
Baxter, The Scripture Gospel Defended, in 2 vol. (London, 1690), 1:A2, 2:49.
John Bunyan, The Miscellaneous Works of John Bunyan, ed. Roger Sharrock, 13 vol. (Ox-
ford: Clarendon Press, 1976–94), 10:194–95. Compare, for example, the earlier view in A Defence
of the Doctrine of Justification (1672) in Miscellaneous Works, 4:18–19, 38–39, 84–91; with the
later view in A Discourse upon the Pharisee and the Publican (1685), 10:176–77, 194–96; and

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Eternal Justification 237
In the end, even with the lack of clarity in his position and in a less re-
fined manner, Bunyan’s position shows similarity to Crisp’s and may mani-
fest awareness and even dependence upon it. Bunyan’s relationship to fel-
low nonconformist George Cokayne makes such a connection likely as the
latter wrote an epistle dedication for the complete works of Crisp (1690),
calling them “a full vindication of the truth of Christ.” Further, while deny-
ing that the works were antinomian, Cokayne boldly declares, “if the world
shall baptize this Doctrine Antinomianism, the Lord grant that all the Doc-
trine preached throughout the world, may be deservedly called by that

10.3 The Westminster Resistance

The deliberation at the Westminster Assembly in the seventeenth century

over the doctrine of justification sheds light on not only the English Re-
formed consensus concerning justification but also the opinions on justifi-
cation from eternity. The Westminster Confession especially indicates a
bias against justification from eternity and anything that resembles it.
The Anglican Church up to the Civil War in the 1640s upheld forensic
justification by the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ as evidenced in
the Eleventh Article of the Thirty-Nine Articles.49 Eventually, the Puritan
heirs of the Reformers clarified this doctrine and defended it against the
perceived threats of Romanism, Arminianism, antinomianism, and neono-
mianism. By the time of the Westminster Assembly, the first three of these
were treated extensively in debate and in the resultant creed.
The Desire of the Righteous Granted (composed 1685), 13:110–11. Richard Greaves first called
attention to the shift in John Bunyan (Berkshire, UK: The Sutton Courtenay Press, 1969), 81. See
also Greaves, Glimpses of Glory: John Bunyan and English Dissent (Stanford, CA: Stanford
University Press, 2002), 532–33. Pieter de Vries defends Bunyan from eternal justification but
glosses over the important statements related to justification before faith, John Bunyan on the
Order of Salvation, trans. C. van Haaften (New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., 1994),
151–53. Anjov Ahenakaa notices the distinction between justification before God and the con-
science in Bunyan, but does not interact with the view that faith is a fruit of justification by im-
puted righteousness, which was a mark of the antinomian system from which he sought to insulate
Bunyan. “Justification and the Christian Life in John Bunyan: A Vindication of Bunyan from the
Charge of Antinomianism” (Ph.D. diss., Westminster Theological Seminary, 1997), 20, 116–120,
George Cokayne, “To all that Live Godly in Christ Jesus,” epistle dedicatory to Tobias
Crisp, Christ Alone Exalted: Being the compleat works of Tobias Crisp, 3 vol. (London, 1690),
1:Aaaa2. For reference to this epistle and Bunyan’s relationship with Cokayne, see Greaves,
Glimpses of Glory, 92, 126, 150, 158, 532, 595–96, 607, 619, 621. See also George Cokayne, “A
Continuation of Mr. Bunyan’s Life,” in John Bunyan, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners,
ed. Roger Sharrock (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1962), 171.
Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, vol. 3 (1877; Grand Rapids: Baker Book House,
1977), 494.

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238 Robert J. McKelvey

First, in early seventeenth-century England and during the Civil War,

the threat of Roman Catholicism remained real and the Assembly issued
strong statements against any possible role of inherent righteousness in
justification. The perceived dangers of encroaching Popery had already
surfaced in the previous Laudian policies of Charles I. As Anthony Milton
has shown, the religious background to the Civil War consisted of more
than a Calvinist-Arminian divide. The Laudian establishment showed grow-
ing adversity to continental Reformed theology and increased affinity to
Rome, which catalyzed a heightened Reformed response. Second, the grow-
ing presence of Arminianism threatened to usurp the role of Christ with the
human will as the ultimate ground of justification. Further, faith was viewed
in part as a sincere act of the semi-depraved will graciously accounted as
the believer’s personal and whole righteousness. Within the 1650s and
eventual Restoration of 1660 and beyond, this threat manifested itself in the
Arminian resurgence among the Caroline Anglicans, Cambridge Platonists,
and latitudinarians. Third, antinomianism displayed the tendency to couple
the free grace of justification with freedom from obligation to the moral
law, connected with the conviction that God sees no sin in the justified.50
Baxter as a military chaplain complained about the antinomian outburst
in the Parliamentary Army during the Civil War. Of personal concern were
the teachings of high Calvinist and fellow parliamentary chaplain, Salt-
marsh.51 As Robert Paul testifies, it is no surprise that antinomianism cre-
ated a stir at the Westminster Assembly as evidenced in the petition against
antinomianism (August 10, 1643) and the Parliamentary order to investigate
it (September 12, 1643).52 So great was the perceived threat of antinomian-
ism at the Assembly, Chad Van Dixhoorn maintains that in the discussion
over revising just the heading of the Eleventh Article on justification, the
burden was not for “a little more antipopery, but a little more anti-

Anthony Milton, Catholic and Reformed: The Roman and Protestant Churches in English
Protestant Thought, 1600–1641 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 2–3, 529–546;
For a discussion on the threats of Popery, Arminianism and antinomianism at the Assembly, see
Jeffrey K. Jue, “The Active Obedience of Christ and the Theology of the Westminster Standards:
A Historical Investigation,” in Justified in Christ: God’s Plan for Us in Justification, ed. K. Scott
Oliphint (Fearn, Scotland: Mentor Press, 2007), 103–114.
For discussion on Baxter’s experiences with antinomians in general and John Saltmarsh in
particular in the Civil War, see Hans Boersma, A Hot Pepper Corn: Richard Baxter’s Doctrine of
Justification in Its Seventeenth-Century Context of Controversy (Vancouver, British Columbia:
Regent College Publishing, 2004), 31–32, 69; and Trueman, “John Owen on Justification,” 90–91.
Baxter has in mind the views of Saltmarsh expressed in Free Grace.
Robert S. Paul, The Assembly of the Lord: Politics and Religion in the Westminster Assem-
bly and the ‘Grand Debate’ (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1985), 176ff.
Chad B. Van Dixhoorn, “Reforming the Reformation: Theological Debate at the Westmin-
ster Assembly 1643–1652,” 7 vol. (Ph.D. diss. University of Cambridge, 2004), 1:276. See Van

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Eternal Justification 239
As a result, members of the Assembly such as Thomas Hodges objected
to a heading reflecting justification “in the sight of God,” because the
phrase had become a badge of honor for the antinomians. As Hodges noted,
some antinomians believed that “God sees no sin in his children” and they
would take the title as an endorsement for their position. Along with the
other titles suggested (“before God,” or “Before Gods tribunall”), Lazarus
Seaman believed they all failed to signify whether it referred to “actuall” or
“intentionall” justification.54
In the Assembly minutes, no elaboration emerges upon this distinction,
but John Flavel’s appendix on antinomianism in Planelogia speaks of
God’s eternal “intention to justify” as his decree or purpose to justify,
which is inseparable to but distinct from the actual justification that results
from it. Further, he speaks of “the Intention of Christ, who died intention-
ally for the Sins of the Elect, and rose again for their Justification.”55 In this
manner, the eternal purpose of God to justify guarantees both the accom-
plishment of justification and the application of it to the believer. Yet, the
eternal intention to apply justification must not be confused with the actual
execution of that application, which takes place within the confines of his-
tory and upon the exercise of faith. This distinction was blurred by those
who held to the idea that justification could occur prior to faith.
As the discussion on the Eleventh Article moved beyond the title to the
contents of the article, Seaman again reveals the concern about what is
“meant by actuall Justification.” The proposed revision, he maintains,
“seemes to hold out that the use of faith is only to apprehend that which is
already done, which doth entirely jumpe with the opinion of the Antinomi-
ans that a man is Justifyed before he repents & believes.” He desired to
avoid the view that actual justification takes place in the sight of God prior
to faith. Clearly, men such as Seaman alleged that anyone embracing justi-
fication prior to faith was guilty of antinomianism.56
Van Dixhoorn argues that for both justification from eternity and at sat-
isfaction, the reduction of faith to “a recognition of earlier justification” was
“a distinctly antinomian concept” at this time. He also calls attention to the
antinomian opposition to the Arminian understanding of saving faith, a
hostility which paralleled the Reformed orthodox concern that such fostered
“a form of legalism or nomism.” Yet, antinomians so zealously sought to
Dixhoorn’s detailed discussion over the revision of the Eleventh Article in this volume, 1:270–
Van Dixhoorn, “Reforming the Reformation,” 3:12–13. The deliberation here comes from
the minutes of the Assembly compiled by Van Dixhoorn, with Volumes 3–7 of his thesis provid-
ing a full transcript of the extant Assembly minutes.
John Flavel, Planelogia (London, 1691), 334–35. The second part of the appendix is enti-
tled, “[A] synopsis of ancient and modern Antinomian errors, with scriptural arguments and
reasons against them.”
Van Dixhoorn, “Reforming the Reformation,” 3:13–15.

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240 Robert J. McKelvey

guard the free grace of God in salvation that they denied faith any involve-
ment at all in the actual justification of sinners. Thus, as John Lightfoot
observes in his journal entries from the Westminster Assembly, they main-
tained a “justification without faith” with faith being only a “manifestation”
of justification.57
Van Dixhoorn observes that some “labeled as antinomian by the As-
sembly” may have embraced only a “soteriological” antinomianism without
any “anti-legal” elements in their theology. The Assembly’s original peti-
tion that the moral law was being denigrated “in different degrees” impli-
cated the high Calvinists whose antinomian tendencies were less radical and
departed more from orthodoxy than orthopraxy. This soteriological strain
operated in a strongly anti-Arminian manner to protect the free grace of
justification. For Van Dixhoorn, justification before faith appears to be the
defining characteristic of what he calls “soteriological antinomianism.”
While the perspective contained no inherent anti-legal component, it re-
mained difficult to avoid the charge, since the radically unconditional justi-
fication before faith readily fostered an anti-legal mindset. In the end, he
claims that soteriological and legal antinomianism “were psychologically
Curt Daniel maintains a similar recognition in calling hyper-Calvinists
and some high Calvinists “Doctrinal Antinomians” over against the “Practi-
cal” version emphasizing freedom from the moral law. For the opponents of
the doctrinal strain, the “basic charge,” observes Daniel, “was that this
theological movement (Doctrinal Antinomianism) was unbiblical and pro-
duced licentiousness (Practical Antinomianism). Though much of the de-
bate was about justification, its root issue was the Law.”59 This raises the
question of how helpful the distinction soteriological or doctrinal antinomi-
anism was and can be, since its association to its legal or practical counter-
part seems impossible to avoid.
At the Assembly, the revision of the Eleventh Article was eventually
abandoned due to the Solemn League and Covenant (1643) with the Scots
and a call for an entirely new confession.60 The eventual expression of justi-
fication in the Confession of Faith reflects arduous consideration and debate
on the doctrine of justification. The Confession manifests the foundational
role of covenantal and Christological theology for the Puritans as evidenced
in chapter seven, “Of God’s Covenant with Man,” which sets forth the

Van Dixhoorn, “Reforming the Reformation,” 1:277, 280.
Van Dixhoorn, “Reforming the Reformation,” 1:280–82.
Daniel, “Hyper-Calvinism and John Gill,” 305, 631, 645; Curt Daniel, “John Gill and Cal-
vinistic Antinomianism,” in The Life and Thought of John Gill (1697–1771), ed. Michael A.G.
Haykin (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1997), 171, 175, 176.
Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, vol. I, The History of Creeds, 6th ed. (Grand
Rapids: Zondervan, 1977), 754–755.

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Eternal Justification 241
federal theology of the Puritans and provides coherence for the entire con-
fession.61 With this framework in mind, chapter eleven, “Of Justification,”
lies within the area focusing upon divine activity in salvation: effectual
calling, justification, adoption, and sanctification. This portion is followed
by one that focuses upon human activity or response in salvation: saving
faith, good works, and perseverance. In this way, the covenantal relation-
ship between God as Creator and man as creature ultimately secured in
Christ forms the basis for the restoration of fallen man in salvation. In this
scheme, justification abides as a display of God’s gracious and condescend-
ing entrance into a covenantal relationship with man through Christ as
federal head.
Chapter eleven, “Of Justification,” contains six sections, with the first
two showing that justification occurs by grace alone through faith alone in
Christ alone. Section three emphasizes the imputed righteousness of Christ,
which is nevertheless “proper, real, and full,” for those who receive it.
Though forensic justification occurs freely by grace and “not for anything
in” its recipients, it is by no means a legal fiction as the Romanists often
alleged. Section five stresses that God continues “to forgive the sins” of the
justified who cannot lose their salvation but can still displease God. On the
one hand, continual forgiveness negates the need for the Romanist sacra-
mental scheme of satisfaction for post-baptismal sins. On the other hand,
God’s displeasure with the justified refutes the antinomian notion that God
does not remain concerned with the sins of his children. Section six argues
for the continuity of justification and unity of God’s people from Old to
New Testaments under the overarching covenant of grace.62 Section four
remains of greatest concern to eternal justification:
God did, from all eternity, decree to justifie all the elect, and Christ did, in the full-
nesse of time, die for their sins, and rise again for their justification: nevertheless,
they are not justified, untill the holy Spirit doth in due time, actually apply Christ unto
The earlier discussion over “intentionall” and “actual” justification informs
us here as this section clearly links the decree or intention to justify “from
all eternity” to actual justification in due time. This language manifests the
goal to keep the eternal will to justify and actual justification as inseparable
yet distinct as possible. Further, the section denies the possibility of justifi-
cation at the death of Christ.

See Benjamin B. Warfield, The Westminster Assembly and Its Work (Edmonton, Canada:
Still Waters Revival Books, 1991), 60, where he notes that the “schematization of the Federal
theology” in the Westminster Confession (1646) exists as the “architectionic principle” or govern-
ing principle of the Confession.
The Westminster Confession of Faith (Edinburgh, 1649).
The Westminster Confession of Faith.

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242 Robert J. McKelvey

Chapter eleven does not manifest the language of the revised Eleventh
Article, which includes the idea that the “whole obedience” of Christ is
“imputed to us.” This statement came after intense debate over whether
passive obedience only was imputed or both active and passive.64 The Con-
fession remains somewhat non-committal to both positions. Vagueness on
this matter highlights the pronounced rejection of justification before faith
whether from eternity or at the death of Christ. The position of William
Twisse (c.1578–1646), the prolocutor of the Assembly who embraced eter-
nal justification, was thus clearly rejected. The majority of the Westminster
divines believed that justification must occur properly with the application
of Christ by the Holy Spirit “in due time.”65
The overwhelming concern for antinomianism at the Assembly remains
clear. Yet, the semi-Pelagian justification schemes of Arminianism and
Rome were still perceived dangers. Further, the majority position does not
indicate that antinomianism remained the greatest fear for all commission-
ers at the Assembly. Further, it is not the case that justification from eternity
or at satisfaction were viewed unanimously as distinctly antinomian doc-
trines. Twisse, for example, was not regarded as an antinomian by main-
stream Puritanism and yet he embraced eternal justification and apparently
held Tobias Crisp in high esteem. Samuel Crisp shares the testimony con-
cerning “the eminently famous Doctor Twiss” that “he had read Dr. Crisp’s
Sermons, and could give no reason why they were opposed, but because so
many were converted by his preaching, and so few by ours (saith he.)” J.I.
Packer suggests that Twisse may have influenced Crisp concerning justifi-
cation before faith.66
Additionally, the position of Thomas Goodwin, an Independent present
at the Assembly, must be considered here. In a manner consistent with the
Confession, Goodwin placed considerable covenantal and Christological
stress on his doctrine of justification. Yet, there exist indications that he
would have preferred an adjustment to the Confession’s statement on eter-
nal justification. Trueman attributes to him the position of eternal justifica-
tion as a Reformed orthodox theologian who was at the same time a strong
The vote after debate on the Eleventh Article on September 12, 1643 revealed overwhelm-
ing support for including active obedience as part of justification by the “whole” obedience of
Christ. Van Dixhoorn, “Reforming the Reformation,” 3:77, 1:321. The absence of the term
“whole” in chapter eleven of the Confession, not written until 1645, remains somewhat of an
enigma with such support. Van Dixhoorn, “Reforming the Reformation,” 3:27. See also Jue, “The
Active Obedience of Christ,” 121–28. For the statement of the revised article, see S.W. Carruthers,
The Everyday Work of the Westminster Assembly (Philadelphia: The Presbyterian Historical
Society, 1943), 109.
See Van Dixhoorn, “Reforming the Reformation,” 1:277–78; and Jue, “The Active Obedi-
ence of Christ,” 115.
Samuel Crisp, Christ Made Sin (London, 1691), preface; J.I. Packer, The Redemption &
Restoration of Man in the Thought of Richard Baxter (Vancouver, Regent College Publishing,
2003), 250

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Eternal Justification 243
anti-antinomian.67 We saw evidence of his anti-antinomianism earlier and
need to consider his convictions related to eternal justification here.
Goodwin held to a sophisticated tria-momenta view of justification in
which he calls attention to “three stages of motion” in justification not
“three parts,” for it is “an individual act.” The first stage occurred “at the
first covenant-making and striking of the bargain from all eternity,” the
covenant of redemption between God the Father and God the Son. “Justi-
fied then we were,” argues Goodwin, “when first elected, though not in our
own persons, yet in our Head, as he had our persons then given him.” The
second stage concerns “the payment and performance by Christ at his resur-
rection.” Christ at his satisfaction acted as our representative, so that “we
were justified in him” and “God justified us all, when he died and rose
again.” These are both immanent acts “wholly out of us” and “not acts of
God upon us.” The elect are justified in “in foro Dei, in God’s court” or
“Coram Deo, in the sight of God” according to his “secret will transacted in
Christ” while yet unjustified according to his “revealed will.” The third
stage concerns the application of justification by the Spirit to those still
considered the children of wrath when, by faith, a transaction occurs to
properly and personally bring us into “an estate of justification.” Against
what he sees as an antinomian view of justification “in foro conscientiae,”
when the conscience attains an awareness of the justification already pos-
sessed, Goodwin believes it involves an actual change of status and claim
personally. Here he distances himself from the tendency to reduce faith to
assurance of justification. In this manner, faith exists as a condition for the
actual transaction of justification to occur personally. Thus, in one sense the
elect are justified in Christ as their representative head in the pactum salutis
and at his death and resurrection. At the same time they are not justified
personally until they receive justification by faith.68
Goodwin’s three stages of justification were intimately connected to his
views on union with Christ, which Mark Jones believes is the key for un-
derstanding Goodwin’s view that we are justified in a sense from eternity as
an immanent act of God but not truly until faith receives justification as a
transient act in time. Goodwin argues, “all acts of God’s justifying us de-
pend upon Union with Christ,” which also occurs in three stages from being
“one in Christ before God” by virtue of his eternal covenant, his death and
resurrection, and finally through the “actual implanting and engrafting us
Carl R. Trueman, The Claims of Truth: John Owen’s Trinitarian Theology (Carlisle, UK:
Paternoster, 1998), 28.
Thomas Goodwin, The Works of Thomas Goodwin, 12 vol. (Edinburgh: James Nichol,
1864), 8:134–39. I am grateful to Mark Jones for calling my attention to Goodwin’s views on
eternal justification and some key passages dealing with them. This section has gleaned much
from his research. See Mark Jones, Why Heaven Kissed Earth: The Christology of the Purtian
Reformed Orthodox theologian, Thomas Goodwin (1600–1680) (Göttingen, Germany: Vanden-
hoeck & Ruprecht, 2010), 230–38.

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244 Robert J. McKelvey

into Christ” that we partake of the benefits of salvation.69 Here Goodwin’s

strong Christocentric and covenantal views of justification become clear.
Goodwin stands out as a high Calvinist who possessed some inclinations
toward eternal justification yet without embracing eternal justification
proper. Further, Goodwin, in opposition to antinomianism and without
surrendering ground to Arminianism, views faith as one of the “conditions
of the covenant” of grace as such were “necessary means of being made
partakers of Christ, and Salvation.”70
In his commentary on Ephesians, the tension heightens. Here he dis-
cusses the distinction between being “in Christ” and “with Christ.” Before
faith, Goodwin maintains that the elect are “justified in Christ” but “not
with Christ; that is, it is not actually applied to the man’s person.” Such a
distinction Goodwin believes would “clear the great controversy that is now
between the Antinomians, as they call them, […] whether a man be justified
before conversion or no?” He concludes the elaboration on this distinction
with his own striking and enigmatic solution to the above question: “I say,
we are justified in Christ from all eternity, and we are justified with Christ
when we believe.”71
Goodwin’s contribution to the Savoy Declaration (1658), the confes-
sional statement of the Congregational churches, should also be considered.
The Declaration largely followed the Westminster Confession of Faith with
some changes primarily concerning Congregational polity. Still, regarding
its statement on eternal justification in chapter eleven, “Of Justification,”
the Declaration inserts the word “personally,” which reflects the position of
God did from all eternity decree to justify all the elect, and Christ did in the fulness
of time die for their sins, and rise again for their justification: nevertheless, they are
not justified personally, until the Holy Spirit doth in due time actually apply Christ
unto them.72
Given the distinction noted above between justification in Christ and with
Christ, related to personal justification, the influence of Goodwin on the
Declaration is undeniable. “By adding ‘personally’” here, argues Jones,
“the Congregationalists, no doubt influenced by Goodwin, still reject a form
of eternal justification, but leave open the possibility that the elect are, in
some sense, justified not in themselves, but in their Head before their exis-
tential coming to faith.”73 In the end, the insertion seems to attach Goodwin
Goodwin, Works, 8:406; Jones, Why Heaven Kissed Earth, 238.
Goodwin, Works, 9:72.
Goodwin, Works, 2:246–47.
A Declaration of the Faith and Order Owned and Practiced in the Congregational Churches
in England (London, 1659), 9. This Declaration was the publication in 1659 of the 1658 statement
agreed upon as the “Savoy Declaration.”
Jones, Why Heaven Kissed Earth, 234.

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Eternal Justification 245
firmly to the Westminster Confession while simultaneously alienating him
from it.
Tensions are evident in a system that states, “I say, we are justified in
Christ from all eternity, and we are justified with Christ when we believe.”
On this basis, it remains understandable that some see Goodwin embracing
eternal justification. Still, his opposition to the position, his views on saving
faith, and his refined tria-momenta scheme release him from the charge at
least in how we have defined eternal justification in this study. Distinct
from this definition, Jones maintains that Goodwin held to a “nuanced”
doctrine of eternal justification based on the scheme developed above.74
Help in resolving the tension comes from Goodwin’s perspective on the
secret and revealed will of God. This reflects the Reformed orthodox dis-
tinction, as observed by Richard Muller, between “the ultimate divine good
pleasure” (voluntas beneplaciti) and “the outwardly designated divine will”
(voluntas signi) or similarly between the “hidden will” (voluntas arcanum)
and “revealed will” (voluntas revelatum). The distinctions did not allow
“contrary wills in God, but only the fact that the entirety of God’s will is
never revealed to finite creatures.” Among the Reformed, there existed a
distinction without contradiction between an absolute and conditioned will
of God, as aspects of one divine will, so long as the former was antecedent
making the latter immutable as it was “willed eternally by God.” In this
manner, a condition such as faith can never be outside of God and so inde-
pendent of him.75 From the Reformed perspective, such an understanding
acted as a corrective for both the Arminian understanding of conditions and
the antinomian repudiation of them altogether. In this manner, Goodwin
could without necessary contradiction speak of both the absolute and condi-
tional nature of justification in foro Dei and in foro conscientiae, respec-
Goodwin does not equate the decree to justify with actual justification
meaning “that a Man is justified from all Eternity” the way he sees “An-
tinomianism” maintaining. “A man, before he believeth,” argues Goodwin,
“is unjustified, therefore he is said to be justified by faith.”76 In summary,

Jones, Why Heaven Kissed Earth, 235, 237; Jones, 235, claims that Peter Bulkeley (1583–
1659) in The Gospel-Covenant or the Covenant of Grace Opened (London, 1646), 321–22, may be
presenting a similar position as Goodwin with his three-fold understanding of justification as
“purposed” eternally, “obtained” by Christ, and “applied” for actual justification in the sight of
God. However, he may be simply reflecting a Reformed orthodox understanding of justification
related to decree, satisfaction and application as reflected in the Westminster Confession’s treat-
ment of eternal justification (10:4).
Richard A. Muller, “Grace, Election, and Contingent Choice: Arminius’s Gambit and the
Reformed Response,” The Grace of God, the Bondage of the Will, vol. 2 in Historical and Theo-
logical Perspectives on Calvinism, ed. Thomas R. Schreiner and Bruce A. Ware (Grand Rapids,
MI: Baker Books, 1995), 273–78.
Goodwin, Works, 4:277.

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246 Robert J. McKelvey

we can conclude that Goodwin did not embrace eternal justification proper,
even if he did admit, “Justified then we were, when first elected.” Such
justification, though continuous with it, did not constitute actual justifica-
tion in and of itself.

10.4 The Anti-Arminian Foundations

Richard Baxter testifies to being drawn to the opinions of William Pemble

(c.1592–1623) and William Twisse concerning justification from eternity,
the antinomianism of which he “narrowly escaped.” Further, he expresses
grief that so many endeavor “to fight against Jesuites and Arminians with
the Antinomian weapons.”77 Boersma notes that Pemble and Twisse im-
pacted many with the concept of justification before faith, including several
high Calvinists, such as George Kendall, John Owen, Lewis Du Moulin,
William Eyre, and John Crandon. This position included the distinction
between justification in the divine forum (in foro divino) and awareness of
justification in the forum of man’s conscience (in foro conscientiae).78
Pemble’s most influential works were Vindiciae fidei (1625) and Vindi-
ciae gratiae (1627), both published posthumously. In the latter work, he
proposes his double justification, in foro divino from eternity “before all our
sanctification,” and in foro conscientiae in time after the elect individually
receive “the grace of sanctification.”79
Justification in foro divino for Pemble means that “even whilst the elect
are unconverted, they are then actually justified & freed from all sin by the
Death of Christ.” God “from eternity […] did actually love the elect before
Christs time,” though the “actuall reconciliation was not yet made” until
Christ’s death. Thus, benefits of salvation flow from Christ as the “fruits
[…] of Gods actuall love.”80 Justification in foro conscientiae occurs “in our

Baxter, Aphorismes of Justification, 318–19.
Boersma, Hot Pepper Corn, 66–69.
William Pemble, Vindiciae Gratiae: A Plea for Grace (London, 1627; 2d ed., 1629), 21–22.
See Boersma, Hot Pepper Corn, 71–72. Boersma sees development in the thought of Pemble from
the time he wrote Vindiciae Fidei (1625), where he speaks of faith as a condition of the covenant
of grace laying hold of Christ who promises “remission of sinnes to such as repent and believe.”
Pemble has something more than justification in foro conscientiae in mind here as he calls it “the
gracious act of Almighty God whereby he absolutes a beleiving sinner accused at the Tribunall of
his Justice, pronouncing him just and acquitting him of all punishment for Christs sake.” In this
manner, he refers to justification by faith as in foro divino, since it leads to the appeasement of
“the infinite indignation of an angry Judge,” which transcends awareness in foro conscientiae of
justification already accomplished in foro divino (Hot Pepper Corn, 78–79). See Pemble, Vindi-
ciae Fidei (London, 1625), 17–18, 21, 22–24, 61, 153.
Pemble, Vindiciae Gratiae, 16–17, 22.

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Eternal Justification 247
owne sense” and is a “declaration of God’s former secret act of accepting
Christ’s righteousness to ours.” 81
Baxter charges “Mr. Pemble” with the “error and pillar of Antinomian-
ism,” justification from eternity, with the accusation that his position is
justification as an immanent act in God’s sight.82 Baxter’s Confession of his
Faith (1655), equates an immanent act with an actual one not simply in the
tribunal of God. Baxter summarizes eternal justification this way: “Pardon
of sin, Reconciliation, and Justification are Immanent Acts in God, and
from Eternity: So that even before men believe, yea before they were born,
yea before ever Christ dyed for them, the Elect were Actually Justified,
pardoned, and Reconciled to God; though not manifested such, nor Justified
in conscience or feeling.” He sets this perceived error against his own con-
victions in a parallel column: “God did of his own good pleasure Decree
from Eternity, […] to give to certain Individual determinate persons, saving
faith in Christ, and thereupon pardon, and Justification […] But this Decree
is no Actual Justification or pardon, nor gives them the said Right; but
supposeth it not yet given; else God could not Decree hereafter to give it:
Justification is not therefore an Immanent act, nor is any Eternal act called
Justification in Scripture, nor any Infidel or impenitent sinner, said to be
By implication, Baxter condemns Pemble’s justification at satisfaction
and identifies it with actual justification from eternity as an immanent act in
foro divino. Later, in his Reduction of a Digressor (1654), Baxter clarifies
his accusation of Pemble in light of his justification at satisfaction view:
“Justification in foro Dei […] on Christ’s dying” is “as if he maintained it
to be from eternity.”84 For Baxter, the distinction between justification from
eternity or at satisfaction is not real and, once held, will not allow someone
to deny that the decree to justify must be equated with actual justification.
Baxter expressed similar concerns about John Owen, which we will con-
sider later.
Pemble does make “an extremely tight connection between election and
reconciliation,” argues Boersma.85 For Pemble, the eternal love of God is
bound up within his absolute immutable will out of which arises actual
reconciliation at Christ’s death. Thus, “before conversion, much more be-
fore actuall faith, God actually loves the elect, and out of that his great love,
bestowes upon them the grace of conversion” as the starting point “in time”
of the “manifestation of this love to our hearts and consciences.”86
Pemble, Vindiciae Gratiae, 22.
Baxter, Aphorismes, 112, 123. See Boersma, Hot Pepper Corn, 73.
Richard Baxter, Rich: Baxter’s Confesssion [sic] of his Faith (London, 1655), 151–52.
Richard Baxter, Reduction of a Digressor (London, 1654), 6.
Boersma, Hot Pepper Corn, 72–73.
Pemble, Vindiciae Gratiae, 18. See Boersma, Hot Pepper Corn, 72–73.

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248 Robert J. McKelvey

Faith for Pemble is not simply awareness of justification in the con-

science, since he argues for a progression in which a unified faith, an “in-
fused grace” or “sacred Habite” arising out of prior sanctification, first
makes “Legal” assent to the revealed moral will of God then embraces it
with an “Evangelicall” assent to the promise of forgiveness and life in
Christ revealed in the gospel. This faith or fiducia expresses itself more than
intellectually as it first “casteth and reposeth itselfe onely upon Gods Prom-
ise in Christ for the obtaining of eternall happinesse.” Still, he assigns peace
of conscience or the “full perswasion of the pardon of our sins” to a second
aspect of fiducia, which is “the proper act of justifying faith” in foro con-
scientiae and emerges as a fruit to the first aspect.87 While this first aspect
of fiducia sounds something like faith as an instrument resting upon Christ
for the transaction of justification, Pemble’s insistence that justification
occurs prior to faith negates this possibility.
Still, faith necessarily occurs in the justified even “as all other Moral
dueties are required of us in their degrees, as parts of our outward obedi-
ence and inward sanctity necessary to salvation.” Faith is thus “com-
manded” and is a “principall grace” and rightly called “Saving,” since it is,
“as all other Graces are, […] required in their measure as needful to Salva-
tion.”88 Founded upon God’s eternal and electing love, justification as an act
occurs at the death of Christ which issues forth in faith and other benefits as
necessary graces in the process of salvation. Faith may not be essential for
justification in Pemble’s view, but it remains necessary for salvation. These
convictions held in conjunction with justification before faith hardly qualify
Pemble as an antinomian.
For Pemble, faith as an instrument to make us partakers of the benefits
of Christ is neither “absolutely necessary” nor “anteceding” for “participa-
tion in those benefites.” His conviction on justification before faith allows
for the idea that elect infants dying in infancy “enjoy all the benefits of
Christs merit in their Justification, Sanctification and Glorification, without
this instrumentall means of their actuall faith.”89
While the Westminster Confession of Faith clearly rejects justification
from eternity, it does affirm in chapter ten, section three, “Of Effectual
Calling,” that some may be saved without faith: “Elect infants, dying in
infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who
worketh when, and where, and how He pleaseth: So also, are all other elect
persons who are uncapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the
Word.”90 It appears that the section teaches that elect infants and others can
be justified without faith. Do these individuals possess the habit of the
Pemble, Vindiciae Gratiae, 244–45, 258–61. See Boersma, Hot Pepper Corn, 78.
Pemble, Vindiciae Gratiae, 244–45. See Boersma, Hot Pepper Corn, 77–78.
Pemble, Vindiciae Gratiae, 22–23.
The Confession of Faith.

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Eternal Justification 249
grace of faith through regeneration? Possibly, but they still may be justified
without the active expression of faith. If some of the elect can be justified
without actually believing on Christ, why not all the elect and why not from
eternity? In this manner, the Confession is not entirely free from the di-
lemma of how anyone could participate in the benefits of Christ without
Pemble, an ardent opponent against Arminianism, sees his position on
justification as distinctively anti-Arminian:
Our justification in God’s sight; which even long before we were borne is purchase
for us by Christ. For tis vaine to think with the Arminians, that Christs merits have
made God only Placebilim, not Placatum, procured a freedome that God may be
reconciled if hee will, and other things concurre, but not an actuall reconciliation. A
silly shift, devised to uphold the libertie of mans will, and universality of Grace. No,
tis otherwise, the Ransome is paid and accepted, full Satisfaction to the Divine justice
is given and taken, all the sinnes of the Elect are actually pardoned, Gods wrath for
them is suffered and overcome, he rests contented and appeased, the debt book is
crossed, and the hand-writing cancelled. This grand transaction between God and the
mediator Christ Jesus, was concluded upon and dispatcht in heaven long before we
had any being, either in Nature or Grace: Yet the benefit of it was ours, though we
never knew so much till after that by faith wee did apprehend it.91
Pemble here repudiates the hypothetical universalism of Arminianism that
the sacrifice of Christ makes redemption possible for all but definite for
none until faith is expressed. Instead, he argues that those “actually justified
& freed from all sin by the Death of Christ” before faith in foro divino are
“actually reconciled” to God in an unconverted state and will then have the
Spirit come into their hearts to convert them. Faith is the necessary fruit of
justification declared for the elect at the death of Christ.92 Pemble’s primary
focus is to defend God’s unconditional and eternal love against any contin-
gency that might be placed on it by the will of man. Further, he seeks to
safeguard the efficacy of the atonement of Christ. This being the case, we
see that the earliest expressions of justification before faith did not have
distinctive ties to antinomianism but to anti-Arminianism.
For Pemble, in spite of God’s eternal love to the elect as “persons,” God
remains “angry” with them as to their “qualities and actions” making them
liable to his punishment. They do not “feele” his love until they are con-
verted unto him. The differentiation here between what God expresses in
secret and what man becomes conscious of stands or falls with the distinc-
tion between justification in foro divino and in foro conscientiae. As actual
reconciliation comes only at the death of Christ, the cross of Christ still
“occupies a central place in Pemble’s soteriology,” notes Boersma. Yet, the
Pemble, Vindiciae Gratiae, 23.
Pemble, Vindiciae Gratiae, 23.

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250 Robert J. McKelvey

dilemma raised by an opponent such as Baxter remains. If God loved un-

converted sinners from eternity and such love remains inseparable from
reconciliation, does this not make the sacrifice of Christ superfluous for
justification? Pemble would not surrender any ground to maintaining the
inseparability of eternal love with justification while highlighting the cen-
trality of sacrifice within time for declaration of that justification. In the
end, “tension” remains in his doctrine of justification.93
Like Pemble, the high Calvinist William Twisse also set forth his doc-
trine of justification from an anti-Arminian position. As prolocutor of the
Westminster Assembly, his position on eternal justification was a minority
report and rejected in the resultant Confession of Faith. Important for un-
derstanding Twisse is the distinction he made between the decreed and
revealed will of God in his Discovery of D. Iacksons vanitie (1631), which
was written against the Oxford Armininian Thomas Jackson (1579–1640).
Here, he builds upon the scholastic distinction between voluntas bene-
placiti, the will of God according to his good pleasure, and voluntas signi,
the will of God according to his sign or precept. In this context, he denies
the Arminian allegation that Calvinism teaches that God “willeth the salva-
tion of any but his elect.” Twisse argued that the will of God is one, but that
only voluntas beneplaciti can be called the will of God “properly so,” since
voluntas signi “sheweth what is our duty” while in voluntas beneplaciti “he
determineth what shall be done or not done, what shall come to passe, or
not come to passe in the world.” As it relates to redemption, “from voluntas
beneplaciti, whereby God doth will the salvation of one man, it followeth,
such a one shall be saved; yet upon voluntas signi, whereby God doth will
their salvation, it shall not follow that such shall be saved.”94 In other
words, it is no contradiction that God wills the salvation of all men accord-
ing to voluntas signi but only the elect according to voluntas beneplaciti. Or
to put it differently, Twisse asserts that God can will (according to voluntas
signi) and not will (according to voluntas beneplaciti) the salvation of one
man at the same time without contradiction.
From this distinction, Twisse in Vindiciae Gratiae (1632) maintains that
faith is a condition of justification as it relates to voluntas signi. Yet, he
simultaneously states that “even before faith” (etiam ante fidem) Christ’s
righteousness is “applied” in justification on the basis of “an act of the
divine immanent will, […] from eternity” (actum Divinae voluntatis imma-

Pemble, Vindiciae Gratiae, 17–21; Baxter, Confession, 236; Boersma, Hot Pepper Corn,
See Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms, Drawn Princi-
pally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2003), 331, 334;
William Twisse, Discovery of D. Iacksons Vanitie, Or A perspective glasse, wherby the admirers
of D. Iacksons profound discourses, may see the vanitie and weaknesse of them (London, 1631),
536–37, 546.

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Eternal Justification 251
nentem […] ab aeterno). Twisse also states, “before faith, this righteous-
ness was ours” (ante fidem, haec Christi justitia nostra fuit), since it was
executed for us by the “intention of God the Father and Christ the Media-
tor” (intentione Dei Patris & Christi Mediatoris).95 This brings us back to
the debate at the Westminster Assembly and the concern of Lazarus Sea-
man, no doubt with Twisse in mind, to distinguish between intentional and
actual justification. For Twisse, they were one and the same.
Twisse concludes that while redemption occurred through Christ’s
death, God could have provided remission for sin without this death, which
takes actual justification back to the eternal counsel of God. As Boersma
notes, in spite of the “tension between justification from eternity and actual
reconciliation by Christ’s death,” Twisse seeks to “maintain both, side by
side.” Twisse tries to protect, yet diminishes in the process, the role of faith
in justification by arguing that through faith God declares a forensic absolu-
tion within the heart of man, which amounts to an assurance of justification
in the conscience.96 The tendency of this position towards antinomianism
cannot be denied. Still, given the anti-Arminian approach to this doctrine
foundationally taken by Twisse, we must not conclude that eternal justifica-
tion is distinctively antinomian. While all antinomians were anti-Arminian,
it does not follow that all anti-Arminians were antinomian.
Further, Carl Trueman observes that apart from the English, only the
Dutch and not the “broader Continental tradition” set forth the concept of
justification from eternity. One accused of advocating eternal justification is
Johannes Maccovius (1588–1644), who taught at the University of Franeker
and was charged then cleared at the Synod of Dordt (1618–19) for views
related to his supralapsarianism. He proposes a unique doctrine of active
justification (from God’s perspective) before faith as a transient act at the
“maternal promise” of Genesis 3:15. Thus, the elect are declared righteous
by God, which will be followed in the ordo salutis by regeneration, faith,
and passive justification (from man’s perspective) when the justification
already imputed is then applied.97
Herman Witsius (1636–1708) in his Economy of the Covenants (1677)
refutes the Arminian understanding of justifying faith as he sets forth the
Twisse, Vindiciae Gratiae, Potestatis, ac Providentiae Dei (Amsterdam, 1648), 252–53.
Translations by Boersma, Hot Pepper Corn, 84.
Boersma, Hot Pepper Corn, 84–86.
Trueman, Claims of Truth, 28; Johannes Maccovius, Loci communes theologici (Amster-
dam, 1658), 602–603, 608, 713–14. I have gleaned much from the research of Mark Jones and
Gert Van der Brink on Maccovius here in “Thomas Goodwin and Johannes Maccovius on Justifi-
cation from Eternity” (Unpublished paper, 2010). The key passages considered here from Jones
and Van der Brink are from Johannes Maccovius, Collegia theologica, 1623 (Franeker: U. Balck
1641), 129–30, 423–25. See also Eyre, Vindiciae justificationis gratuitae, 24; Baxter, Aphorismes
of Justification, 292–93, 307 (p.307 refers to Maccovius by his Polish name, Maccowski); Herman
Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 4 vol. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 3:583.

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252 Robert J. McKelvey

ideas of general and particular justification as well as active and passive

justification. The two articles or moments of general justification involve a
declaration at the maternal promise, that elect debtors are freed “from all
obligation to make satisfaction,” and at the death of Christ, that “full satis-
faction was made.” General justification is followed by particular justifica-
tion when the regenerated sinner is “united to Christ by faith” and “de-
clared” to actually pass from condemnation into favor. Witsius makes a
similar distinction between active and passive justification as Maccovius, as
“the one precedes faith […]; the other follows it.” In active justification the
righteousness of Christ is “even ours before faith” and is “in respect of
right, because both in the decree of God the Father, and the purpose of the
Son, it was wrought out for us, and the appointed time to be certainly ap-
plied to us.” Passive justification “fiducially apprehended” makes the right-
eousness of Christ “ours by possession, as to our actual translation from a
state of wrath, to a state of grace.” This position, not eternal justification as
defined in this study, shows significant overlap with Goodwin’s nuanced
form of justification from eternity. The elect are justified before faith in a
sense but not in actual possession of it until faith is expressed in a sense.98
Wilhelmus á Brakel (1635–1711), a contemporary of Witsius, makes a
distinction between active justification from God’s perspective and passive
justification from man’s perspective. However, possibly with Witsius in
mind, when he argues that the two are “one and the same act” not meant to
be separated: “Wherever there is active justification there will also be pas-
sive justification, and vice versa.” He then refutes eternal justification and
justification at satisfaction and makes it clear that God’s eternal “purpose”
to justify is “never referred to as the act of justification.” He does allow for
virtual justification at the death of Christ, which “by its virtue and efficacy,”
sinners are reconciled unto God. This is distinct from actual actual recon-
ciliation or justification at faith, as the latter is the only one that constitutes
proper justification according to the Scripture. Witsius may be in view to
some degree, but á Brakel’s real target comes into focus. Á Brakel is attack-
ing an antinomian sect, the “Hebrews,” who embrace eternal justification
proper and, in connection with it, have a reputation for very licentious liv-
Outside the English Reformed context, the unique views of Maccovius
and Witsius both arose as part of distinct anti-Arminian polemics in seven-
teenth-century Dutch context with no connection to antinomianism. The
Dutch did have their own antinomian problem with connections to eternal

Herman Witsius, The Economy of the Covenants between God and Man, 2 vol. (Edinburgh:
Thomas Turnbull, 1803),;, 47–48, 51–52, 56–57.
Wilhelmus á Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, 4 vol. (Ligonier, PA: Soli Deo
Gloria, 1993), 2:376–81.

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Eternal Justification 253
justification. But these views appear to be rather detached from Maccovius
and Witsius.
Wallace discusses the high Calvinism emerging especially in the 1650s,
which remained much more concerned with Arminianism than antinomian-
ism. He asserts that while the Westminster Assembly distanced itself from
the extreme emphasis of grace and predestination in antinomianism, it did
so in a manner that evidenced paranoia. High Calvinism recognized the
excesses of antinomianism, yet considered Arminianism to be a greater
danger due to its tendency to denigrate salvation by grace with a semi-
Pelagian emphasis on moral effort finding its logical conclusion in Socini-
anism. Thomas Goodwin (1600–1680) and John Owen (1616–1683)
emerged as leaders of this anti-Arminian stress as they highlighted the
sovereign grace of justification. Still, they simultaneously stressed the grace
of sanctification in a manner that safeguarded them from the charge of
That did not stop Richard Baxter from calling Owen an antinomian who
held to eternal justification. Trueman observes the link between Crisp and
Owen on the atonement manifested in The Death of Death and the connec-
tion of this to Baxter’s charge that Owen embraced justification from eter-
nity. For example, Baxter in his Confession (1655), speaks of “one learned
man” making a distinction between justification in foro Dei and in foro
conscientiae in the sense that the former denotes virtual justification while
the latter actual justification. Baxter here refers to Owen who argues that, in
the progress of justification, “complete justification” does not occur “before
believing,” since “Absolution in heaven” and actual “justification” are not
identical. For Baxter, this is a mere chronological delay and the distinction
between payment and release from debt for Owen constitutes a “fiction.”
Baxter here cites Owen’s Of the Death of Christ (1650), which dealt with
Baxter’s arguments against him in Aphorismes of Justification (1649).
There, Baxter had taken issue with Owen’s position in The Death of Death
that Christ’s sacrifice “actually” brought satisfaction for the sins of the elect
or “ipso facto, delivered us from the curse, by being made a curse for us.”
Owen attempts to explain the position by describing a prisoner whose paid
ransom gives him a right to liberty yet who has not yet experienced such
freedom. Trueman finds the analogy “weak” and Boersma observes “ten-
sion” in Owen’s overall position. His interaction with Baxter does little in
the end to remove the insistence that Owen’s position showed no essential
no difference from those who reduce justification by faith to mere assurance
in foro conscientiae.101
Wallace, Puritans and Predestination, 134–57.
Baxter, Confession, 190–91; Aphorismes, 303–20; Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed.
William Goold, 24 vol. (Edinburgh & London: Johnstone & Hunter, 1850–53), 10:268–69, 470,
471–79. See also 5:217–18; Trueman, “John Owen on Justification,” 94. For detailed discussion

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254 Robert J. McKelvey

Owen’s brief preface to William Eyre’s Vindiciae Justificationis Gratui-

tae (1654), a treatise that clearly sets forth justification from eternity, pro-
vides no relief from the above charge. He commends the work as a vindica-
tion of the “absoluteness” of free grace in Christ. Eyre clearly saw Armini-
anism as a greater concern than antinomianism, of which he was charged
and which he vehemently denied. Anglican Arminianism, observes
Wallace, especially in the 1650s, responded to encroaching antinomianism
by openly supporting the teachings of Arminius and rejecting the reception
of justification by a faith granted solely by sovereign grace. The Cambridge
Platonists supported Arminius in a more subtle fashion, yet the attack on
Calvinism remained.102 Within such a context, Eyre sought to defend the
free grace of justification.
Owen parallels Eyre’s distinction between justification in foro Dei and
in foro conscientiae as part of a refined understanding of how justification
unfolded through eternity to finally come to fruition in the believer as a
result of what Christ provided. However, virtual justification in the tribunal
of God does not complete the transaction of justification, for the elect are
“not in actual possession” of it until union with Christ and the “actual inser-
tion into his mystical body by faith.”103 As we will see below, Eyre equated
the decree to justify with actual justification. Certainly, Owen recognized
the distinction between his and Eyre’s position, yet he still commended
Eyre’s work. It is reasonable to assume that Owen risked identification with
Eyre’s position due to a conviction that Arminianism posed a greater danger
to the gospel than the supposedly antinomian inclinations of Eyre.
Further, it may be possible that Owen did not view eternal justification
proper as necessarily antinomian. Dissatisfied in his ongoing debate with
Baxter that Baxter will not accept Owen’s claim that he does not embrace
eternal justification, Owen asserts, “I neither am nor ever was of that judg-
ment; though, as it may be explained, I know better, wiser, and more
learned men than myself, that have been and are.”104 Does he possibly have
Eyre in mind or perhaps Goodwin, whose position bears significant overlap
with his own? Owen would not make such bold statements as Goodwin,
such as “we are justified in Christ from all eternity.” It may be the case that
he saw Goodwin’s unique position as eternal justification and viewed it
with respect. This makes even more sense considering that Owen partici-
pated with Goodwin in formulating the Savoy Declaration with its insertion
of justification in time “personally” when speaking of eternal justification.
on the debate between Owen and Baxter, see Trueman, “John Owen on Justification,” 90–97; and
Boersma, Hot Pepper Corn, 68, 88, 103–108.
Wallace, Puritans and Predestination, 112–132; Boersma, Hot Pepper Corn, 114; Eyre,
Vindiciae justificationis gratuitae, preface opposite title page.
Owen, Works, 5:217–18.
Owen, Works, 12:596.

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Wallace, in discussing Owen’s preface for Eyre and guilt by association
with him, comments on the antinomian crisis of the 1640s. He maintains
that it acted as a “catalyst” for dividing moderate Calvinists who “abhorred”
antinomians and high Calvinists “who found them incautious allies.” David
Field, in agreement with Wallace, notes the substantial influence of Baxter
in rousing antinomian suspicions in this context and the lengths to which
men such as Owen went to defend themselves from what they viewed as
unwarranted allegations. These suspicions certainly contributed to a jaun-
diced view of eternal justification in terms of what constituted it and
whether it was essentially antinomian.105
In the end, affirms Trueman, Owen’s theology of justification lies
within classic Reformed orthodoxy, which was “rooted in the ongoing anti-
Pelagian trajectory of Western theology and operating within the estab-
lished Protestant consensus.” The “covenantal/Christological heart of his
theology” allowed him to repudiate Baxter’s longstanding allegations of
antinomianism and justification from eternity.106

10.5 The Anti-Antinomian Connections

As noted, Eyre denied the charge of antinomianism while insisting that the
“whole Work of our Salvation” rested on “the Grace of God.” He attributed
antinomianism to “filthy Swine” such as Luther’s Agricola and Calvin’s
libertines, not those who affirmed “the unsoundness” of a faith that “doth
not work by love” and the hypocrisy of “Believers who do not bring forth
the Fruits of a holy life.” He claims that the law was used to drive men to
Christ who by faith became aware of justification “in foro Conscientiae,” as
“the Sentence of Forgiveness […] terminated in their Consciences.” He
denies that one is an antinomian just by affirming “Justification in foro
Dei,” an immanent act in eternal the tribunal of God, “without Works or
Conditions performed by us.” He does admit that the “loose” lives of many
professing believers has given “too much occasion” for some to “Blas-
pheme” the doctrine of free justification. Still, that God “imputes” the right-
eousness of Christ before faith, in no way remains “contrary to the Law,
seeing the Law prescribes not the rules of this imputation,” which will
necessarily issue forth in obedience to the law “because we are justified.”107
Eyre testifies that God “from all eternity immutably willed the Right-
eousness of his Son to all his Elect,” and so “we were justified in his sight
when he willed […] to deal with us as righteous persons, having given us
Wallace, Puritans and Predestination, 120.
Trueman, “John Owen on Justification,” 97.
Baker, “The Battle for Luther,” 126; Eyre, Vindiciae justificationis gratuitae, 19–26, 72–

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256 Robert J. McKelvey

the Righteousness of his own Son.” The “act of justifying, is compleat in

itself, for God by his eternal and unchangeable Will.” This does not render
the death of Christ “useless,” since it still remains “a meritorious cause of
all the effects of this Justification.” In this manner, faith plays a role as “the
Sentence of Forgiveness is terminated in [the] consciences” of the elect in
their awareness of the justification they already possessed. In this manner,
Eyre makes the distinction between justification in foro Dei and in foro
conscientiae. He defends his convictions as he points out that many, includ-
ing Pemble and Twisse, who were “never accounted Antinomians” yet
embraced justification in foro Dei, with justification truly existing in the
tribunal of God before faith.108 Eyre seems to equate any form of justifica-
tion as an immanent act in foro Dei as eternal justification, which he attrib-
utes to Pemble’s position considered earlier. In this respect, he shows
agreement with Baxter while rejecting his claim that either position is es-
sentially antinomian.109
Rutherford, in Spirituall Antichrist (1648), and in spite of Eyre’s claim
that he held to the notion, rejected as antinomian the idea that “from eter-
nity we were justified” or “from the time that the Messiah dyed, all sins
were finished, and wee justified.” We earlier noted the distinction Ruther-
ford makes between eternal justification and justification at satisfaction and
saw that he, as a seventeenth-century opponent of eternal justification, did
not affix every form of justification before faith with the label of eternal
justification. Rutherford himself, as a commissioner to the Westminster
Assembly and in a manner consistent with the Westminster Confession,
keeps the decree for justification distinct from actual justification: “But
justification in Gods decree and purpose from eternity, is no more justifica-
tion than Creation, sanctification, glorification, the crucifying of Christ, and
all things that fall out in time; for all these were in the eternall purpose of
God.” God loves from eternity and there exists a “union of love in Gods
minde from eternity” yet we are not truly united to Christ and justified until
faith is exercised. At his death, Christ certainly purchased for the elect the
benefits of salvation such as justification and sanctification, but they will
possess “none of these, till they be justified by Faith.” To make a “distinc-
tion” between “justification in, or before God” and “our own sense by faith,
will not help,” for Scripture speaks of justification “by faith onely; the
meritorious price of our justification is payed on the Crosse, but that is not
A noteworthy dispute over eternal justification and its connections to
antinomianism came between Crandon, a friend of Eyre, and Baxter, who
Eyre, Vindiciae justificationis gratuitae, 21–22, 61, 62, 67.
Eyre, Vindiciae justificationis gratuitae, 25–26.
Rutherford, Spirituall Antichrist, 19–20; See Eyre, Vindiciae justificationis gratuitae, 22,

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Eternal Justification 257
saw eternal justification and the unconditional nature of justification as the
two pillars holding up antinomianism.111 These pillars, as far as Baxter was
concerned, were set in place by Pemble and Twisse. Crandon as an anti-
neonomian repudiates Baxter’s claim that embracing eternal justification
makes one an antinomian. He challenges Baxter to show that justification is
“conditionall” rather than “absolute” and “purchased” by Christ. Crandon
defends himself against the charge of antinomianism stating that the moral
law “is a perfect rule” of righteousness and no Christian is “exempt” from
its “obligations” yet free from the “sting and curse” of them as they have
nothing to do with our acceptance before God. He also speaks of Pemble
who defends justification by the righteousness of Christ without anything of
our own contributing to it against Baxter’s neonomian notion that we are
not justified by the works of the law apart from grace but by gospel obedi-
ence empowered by grace. Thus, he claims that Baxter “fights the Popes
battle with the Popes weapons.”112
Crandon argues that Baxter’s embrace of the eternal decree to justify yet
while refusing to see it as an “immanent” act in God slanders the “Protes-
tant Divines” who recognized such an immanent act. In other words, it is
“secret, abiding, and hidden in God” before “passing into the knowledge
and conscience of man.” Thus, election and reprobation have “complete
being” in God before the individuals have being. Justification brought home
“to the conscience of a man, […] is a transient act of God” as the individual
becomes aware of his standing before God, “convinced of his sinnes, […]
yet resting upon, and cleaving to Christ by faith; that his sinnes are for-
given.” Justification in the former sense is “antecedaneous, or foregoing to
all covenants whatsoever.” The eternal willing of justification in the mind
of God takes logical priority over the covenant of grace between the Father
and Son in which he willed to accept “Christs satisfying of his justice.” Yet,
the former did not precede the latter “in time” for both are “coeternal, and
before all times.” Those God loved and forgave he did so “in and through
Christ from all eternity” and before the temporal “Covenant of Grace, made
after by Gospel promise, by Christ, or God in Christ, to us and with us. For
these had all their being in time.” Still, actual justification is received by
personal faith, for “[n]one else but a believer, nor he, until he actually
beleeveth, is thus actually justified […] And thus to be justified in Christ, or
in God, is one thing and to bee justified in our selves by God through Christ
is another. The former is an antecedent, the latter an effect or consequent of
the Covenant of Grace.”113 Like Goodwin, Crandon seems content to live
For the connection between Crandon and Eyre, see Boersma, Hot Pepper Corn, 54, and
Packer, Redemption & Restoration, 260.
Crandon, Mr. Baxters Aphorisms Exorized and Anthorized, 115, 142.
Crandon, Mr. Baxters Aphorisms Exorized and Anthorized , 115, 231–37. See also p.256,

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258 Robert J. McKelvey

with the tension of embracing justification in foro Dei from eternity to-
gether with actual justification in foro conscientiae in time.
In his response to Baxter’s challenge that “the Antinomians shew but
one Scripture that speaketh of justification from eternity,” Crandon notes
that the very words do not appear yet neither does the phrase “justification
by faith” in the teaching of Christ. Still, by inference Crandon maintains,
“the Scripture delivereth this doctrine which he opposeth, viz. justification
from eternity.” He points to 2 Timothy 1:9, which notes that we have been
“saved […] according to his purpose and grace, which was given us in
Christ, before the World began.” “See,” argues Crandon, “the grace of
justification and salvation was given us in Christ from eternity.” To the
argument that God simply “decreed from eternity” to justify believers, but
justification itself “must be in time.” Crandon argues less than persuasively
that even this position does not “deny that wee were justified in God, and in
Christ from Eternity.” Besides, Paul does not in this verse speak of the
believer’s participation in and justification by Christ “in time” but before
“we had any actual being in our selves.”114 Crandon summarizes his position
in the following manner:
That this immanent Act in God doth not deny his Transient Act of Justifying man
when he beleeveth, any more than this latter doth that former.
That the Transient Act of Justification consisteth not onely in Gods evidencing and
manifesting to the believer that he was really justified in God from eternity; but also
in Gods Actual, and Judiciall pronouncing of the sentence of Absolution to the soul
drawn to Gods Tribunal, and gasping for pardon thorough Christ. By means whereof
the poor sinner is constituted, as well as declared actually, and personally righteous,
and that before God his Justifier.
That as oft as the Gospel speaketh of Justification by Faith, it is in reference to this
Transient Act of God, not that Immanent.
That as I conceive the Covenant between God and Christ to be (if I may so term it) a
fruit, in order to that immanent act in God; so I think also that the Covenant of Prom-
ise, the Covenant under the Law, the Covenant under the Gospel, and the very Cove-
nant of Works to be subservient to this Covenant made with Christ as a publick per-
son, representing us, to work all coordinately to the advancing of the glory of Gods
Grace to this Elect, in justifying them in himself from Eternity.115
Crandon, charged with antinomianism due to his embrace of eternal justifi-
cation, as far as he admits it, in turn levels the allegation against Baxter that
his neonomianism is nothing more than Arminianism and papism:

Crandon, Mr. Baxters Aphorisms Exorized and Anthorized, 238–40; See also 240–42; 245–
46. See Baxter, Aphorismes, 93.
Crandon, Mr. Baxters Aphorisms Exorized and Anthorized, 246.

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As to Mr. Baxter, let him pretend what he will of his zeal against this Doctrine, be-
cause it is a Pillar of Antinomianism, yet his conscience tells him that his rage against
it is under this consideration, as it is a sledge to beat in peeces the conditional Justifi-
cation, Election, Redemption, and Grace; together with the pride of mans Free-will,
Works, and Righteousnesse, uncertainty of Perseverance, &c. Which are the Articles
of Faith common to Mr. Baxter with the Papists and Arminians. If Justification, as an
immanent act in God from Eternity, hold, all these must fall, and Master Baxter and
his fellows bee crushed with the ruines thereof.” 116
Crandon’s connection with Eyre helps to explain some similarities between
the two, though Eyre reduced faith to awareness while Crandon leaves faith
a role in actual justification. Analogous to Owen and Goodwin, Crandon
observed a progression in justification from eternity past with the transac-
tion of it terminating in the conscience by faith as an instrument of actual
justification. Yet, unlike Owen, he openly calls this position eternal justifi-
cation. His position bears greatest likeness to Goodwin, with the exception
that Crandon more boldly labels his position eternal justification. Given the
Eyre-Owen link between Crandon and Goodwin, the similarities with Owen
and Goodwin are not surprising. What remains striking about Crandon is
the fact that, whereas many sought to distance themselves from the label
eternal justification due to the ties it possessed with antinomianism, Cran-
don unflinchingly embraced it from both an anti-Arminian and anti-
antinomian stance.

10.6 Conclusion

During the Reformation, the flowering of the doctrine of justification by

free grace and an imputed righteousness concentrated the focus of justifica-
tion on God’s eternal will as the source and Christ’s finished work as the
ground of justification. Against existing Romanism and soon-to-arise
Arminianism, this shift moved justification away from the semi-Pelagian
emphasis on the role played by human will initiative in that justification.
This context facilitated the rise of a federal theology emphasizing the Chris-
tocentric and covenantal nature of justification. The accent on the absolute
nature of justification by free grace also highlighted the importance of un-
derstanding how human activity fit into the scheme. On the one hand, an
over-emphasis on the divine will and the expression of free grace within it
acted as a catalyst for antinomianism. On the other hand, an imbalance
towards the conditional nature of salvation fostered Arminianism. In post-
Reformation England, the Westminster Confession both defensively com-
Crandon, Mr. Baxters Aphorisms Exorized and Anthorized, 247. See Baxter, Aphorismes,
93, 177–180.

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260 Robert J. McKelvey

bated the dangers and positively articulated a theology stressing both divine
and human activity within a covenantal framework cautiously connecting
eternity and time, and along with it, historia salutis and ordo salutis.
Within this milieu, the doctrine of eternal justification became a hot
topic. As Trueman noted earlier, the heightened stress on God’s eternal
decree for and sovereign declaration of a non-intrinsic righteousness af-
fected the doctrine of justification concerning both its ontological and
chronological natures. This created fertile soil out of which eternal justifica-
tion and positions approximating it quickly arose. In seventeenth-century
England, the quadruple threat to Reformed orthodoxy of anti-precisionist
antinomianism, Anglican Arminianisn, Romish Laudianism, and Baxterian
neonomianism manifested an environment in which these controversial
doctrines were promulgated, popularized, attacked, defended, ostracized,
and misrepresented from various angles and in different degrees.
Disputes arose and theologians sought, at times in an imbalanced man-
ner, to zealously defend their positions. In the process, generalizations and
associations were made on both sides that did not fit well. Once the charge
of eternal justification was leveled, the title of antinomian was sure to fol-
low due to what appeared to be the logical inseparability of the two. Those
embracing the doctrine or anything close to it were often quick to defend
themselves against the charge of antinomianism and/or eternal justification,
titles that continue to stick in the minds of contemporary scholars, even if
the adhesion is truly of little substance.
Of the list of individuals studied in this debate, which is not meant to be
exhaustive, the following observations are offered. Twisse, Eyre, and Cran-
don all laid claim to the position, but none were antinomian. This is not
meant to suggest that no antinomians held the position. Bakewell’s antino-
mian encounters in London and Á Brakel’s in the Netherlands show that
antinomians readily embraced eternal justification. Twisse held his position
from within an anti-Arminian context and no Reformed orthodox thinker
has accused him of antinomianism. Eyre claimed eternal justification from a
vehemently anti-antinomian posture. Still, that both men reduced faith to an
awareness of the actual justification preceding it, leaves them outside the
Reformed orthodox camp at this point. Interestingly, Owen may not agree
with this assessment, especially considering his commendation of Eyre and
men “better” than he who held the position, even though he both opposed
and categorically denied it.
Crandon boldly owned the position, yet from the definition used in this
study he does not fit the category. By maintaining that one is not actually
justified until he believes, his position more closely resembles that of
Goodwin. Still, Goodwin himself opposed eternal justification as defined
by this study. This warrants attributing to men such as Goodwin, Crandon,
and possibly Owen, a “nuanced” version of eternal justification, as Jones

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Eternal Justification 261
calls it, continuous with yet distinct from the definition used here. Interest-
ingly, such a position does not exclude these men from the boundaries of
Reformed orthodoxy. All three wrote from an anti-Arminian and anti-
antinomian perspective, with the added feature of Crandon’s anti-
neonomian zeal. The independent anti-Arminian approach of Witsius and
his own Goodwin-like version of eternal justification bears testimony from
the Dutch context to the orthodoxy of such a position.
Several of the individuals examined held to the teaching of justification
at satisfaction, three of whom were accused of justification from eternity.
Pemble’s foundational thinking here did readily give rise to full blown
eternal justification as his position was carried to its logical conclusion. He
and men such as Eaton, Saltmarsh, Crisp, and Bunyan, did not embrace
eternal justification even if they did believe that actual justification came
before faith. Pemble’s position was held from a predestinarian anti-
Arminian perspective. Like Twisse, the neonomian Baxter may have con-
sidered him an antinomian, but the charge does not stick. Eaton, Saltmarsh,
Crisp and Bunyan have all been charged with antinomianism, though Crisp
and Bunyan do not completely fit the mold. This may be due to their Chris-
tocentric and covenantal approach to justification, which develops upon yet
moves beyond Luther’s law-grace distinction. Like those who adhere to
eternal justification as defined, the justification at satisfaction position
places these men outside mainstream Puritanism, especially the antinomian
Eaton and Saltmarsh.
Of the opponents to eternal justification and positions approaching it,
Baxter remains the proverbial pitbull, and he did at times misrepresent
those supposedly embracing the doctrine and the antinomianism attached to
it. No individual did more to vilify and sound the alarm about the position
than he. Still, his polemics contributed to the discussion and raised impor-
tant issues. For example, in a manner that warrants serious reflection, he
claimed that any focus on actual justification in foro Dei, either from eter-
nity or at satisfaction, constitutes eternal justification. Eyre agreed as he
attributes eternal justification to any form of justification before faith. How-
ever, both Eyre and Crandon resented the fact that Baxter viewed the posi-
tion as necessarily antinomian. Baxter claimed as well, to the consternation
of Owen, that softening the stress from actual to virtual justification in foro
Dei could not keep the labels of eternal justification and antinomianism
from sticking.
Concerning opposition from the Reformed orthodox side, we have con-
sidered the arguments of men such as Rutherford, Seaman, Lightfoot, and
Goodwin, all of whom were commissioners at Westminster. They all ap-
peared to hold in common that any form of actual justification before faith
either from eternity or at satisfaction was distinctly antinomian. By implica-
tion, anyone adhering to justification before faith, showed some affinity to

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262 Robert J. McKelvey

licentious freedom from the law, that “mother Heresie” of antinomianism as

Rutherford called it. Within this milieu, he, as an anti-antinomian cham-
pion, misrepresented an individual such as Crisp whom he charged with
antinomianism. Still, Rutherford made an appropriate distinction between
eternal justification and justification at satisfaction, both of which were
forms of justification in foro Dei. Further, he confronted eternal justifica-
tion with brevity, clarity and cogency with the argument that the decree to
justify no more constitutes actual justification than the decree to create or
crucify Christ constitutes actual creation or crucifixion. Watson provides an
example of the distortion that could occur in the quote cited at the begin-
ning of this study. The statement implies that eternal justification belongs to
the antinomians and necessarily leads to licentiousness. Watson generalizes
that those holding the position do not care whether they sin “so long as they
hold they are ab Aeterno, justified whether they repent or no.” While such
individuals may have existed, none surveyed here made such a categorical
In this study, we have seen that the doctrine of eternal justification fell
outside the bounds of seventeenth-century English Reformed orthodoxy.
Antinomians readily embraced the doctrine and it fit well with their zeal to
eradicate any hint of human participation in justification. At the same time,
the doctrine was neither essential to antinomianism nor exclusively antino-
mian. Not all antinomians embraced it and not all who held it were antino-
mians. Within such development, its proponents could remain not only anti-
Arminian but also anti-antinomian. All antinomians were anti-Arminian but
not all anti-Arminians were antinomian. In the end, we are led to the con-
clusion that the unorthodox teaching of eternal justification was not a “pillar
of Antinomianism.” It was not even an essential building block.

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11. The Assurance Debate: Six Key Questions

Joel R. Beeke

11.1 Introduction

The Puritans treasured assurance of salvation. They viewed the assurance of peace
with God as a fountain that waters the Christian in his trials on the road to glory
(Rom. 5:1–5). According to Thomas Brooks (1608–1680), assurance makes
“heavy afflictions light, long afflictions short, bitter afflictions sweet.” It makes
the soul “sing care away.” It also makes the believer “more motion than notion,
more work than word, more life than lip, more hand than tongue.”1 Anthony
Burgess (d. 1664) describes how assurance produces fruit:
[Assurance] keeps up excellent Fellowship and Acquaintance with God [...]. It will
work a Filial and an Evangelical frame of heart [...]. [It] makes us also have the hum-
ble disposition of Sons; hereby we are carried out to do him service for pure inten-
tions and motives [...]. It will support, although there be nothing but outward misery
and trouble [...]. It will much inflame in Prayer [...]. It makes a man walk with much
tenderness against sin [...]. [The] heart will be impatient and earnest till the coming of
Christ [...]. The soul is more inflamed and enlarged to love God [...]. [It] will breed
much spiritual strength and heavenly ability to all graces and duties, to go through all
relations with much holiness and lively vigor [...]. [It] is a strong and mighty buckler
against all those violent assaults and temptations that the devil uses to exercise the
godly with [...]. [It] is a special means to breed contentment of mind, and a thankful,
cheerful heart in every condition [...]. [It] is a sure and special antidote against death
in all the fears of it.2
Instead of making a believer proud, secure, and “presumptuous in sin-
ning,”3 assurance helps him fervently love the Lord and carefully obey
“The Unsearchable Riches in Christ” in The Works of Thomas Brooks (1861–1867; reprint,
Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2001), 3:54, 160; “Heaven on Earth” in Works, 2:41. Parts of
this chapter have been adapted from my The Quest for Full Assurance: The Legacy of Calvin and
His Successors (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1999). I wish to thank Paul Smalley for his
research assistance on this chapter.
Anthony Burgess, Spiritual Refining: or a Treatise of Grace and Assurance (1652; reprint,
Ames, Iowa: International Outreach, 1990), 26, 681–83. Modernized spelling is used for all
quotations. Cf. Thomas Boston, The Complete Works of the Late Rev. Thomas Boston, Ettrick
(reprint, Wheaton, Ill.: Richard Owen Roberts, Publishers, 1980), 2:17–18.
The Works of Thomas Goodwin (reprint, Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2006),

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264 Joel R. Beeke

Him.4 John Ball (1585–1640) says, “He who is best assured hath most
power of God’s Spirit, and the stronger the Spirit of God is within, the more
holiness and fruits and grace without.”5 The very nature of assurance cannot
“breed any arrogance, or neglect of God and godliness,” Burgess says, since
“it is only maintained and kept up by humility and holy fear, so that when a
man ceaseth to be humble, to have an holy fear of God, his certainty like-
wise ceaseth, even as the lamp goeth out when the oil is taken away.”6 Hu-
mility is a special fruit of assurance. With assurance, self decreases and
Christ increases (John 3:30). As Robert Harris (1581–1658) writes, “The
more one grows in grace, the more he grows out of himself […]. We be-
come more humble and low in our own eyes.”7
Puritan pastors and theologians were deeply concerned with how believ-
ers may know that they have eternal life (1 John 5:13). They often studied
this subject. The Westminster Assembly met in the 1640s at the apex of
Puritanism. At least twenty-five members of the assembly wrote treatises on
the doctrines of faith and assurance, including: John Arrowsmith, William
Bridge, Anthony Burgess, Cornelius Burgess, Jeremiah Burroughs, Richard
Byfield, Joseph Caryl, Daniel Cawdrey, Thomas Gataker, George Gillespie,
Thomas Goodwin, William Gouge, William Greenhill, Robert Harris, John
Ley, John Lightfoot, Philip Nye, Edward Reynolds, Samuel Rutherford,
Henry Scudder, Obadiah Sedgwick, William Spurstowe, William Twisse,
Richard Vines, and Jeremiah Whitaker.
Puritan thought on assurance was largely unified; no significant debate
accompanied the writing of the Confession’s chapter on assurance.8 Chapter
18 of the Westminster Confession represents in mature form the unity of
Puritan teaching on the subject of assurance.9 However, some differences
do exist in Puritan thoughts on assurance.10 Some of the differences are
George Downame, A Treatise of the Certainty of Perseverance (Dublin: Society of Station-
ers, 1634), 410.
John Ball, A Treatise of Faith (London: for Edward Brewster, 1657), 278.
Burgess, Spiritual Refining, 679–80.
Robert Harris, The Way to True Happinesse (London: I. Bartlett, 1632), 2:91.
Minutes of the Sessions of the Westminster Divines, ed. Alexander F. Mitchell and John
Struthers (London: William Blackwood & Sons, 1874), 282. See Chad B. Van Dixhoorn, “Re-
forming the Reformation: Theological Debate at the Westminster Assembly, 1643–1652,” 7 vol.
(Ph.D. dissertation, Cambridge University, 2004), 6:331–33, 411–12. Debate took place on assur-
ance issues on February 17–18, 1646, and July 24 and 30, 1646.
For an examination of Westminster’s doctrine of assurance, see Beeke, Quest for Full As-
surance, 119–64.
The most reliable secondary sources on the Puritan doctrine of assurance are Richard M.
Hawkes, “The Logic of Assurance in English Puritan Theology,” Westminster Theological Journal
52 (1990): 247–61, and “The Logic of Grace in John Owen, D.D.: An Analysis, Exposition, and
Defense of John Owen’s Puritan Theology of Grace” (Ph.D. dissertation, Westminster Theological
Seminary, 1987), 344–67; Geoffrey F. Nuttall, The Holy Spirit in Puritan Faith and Experience
(Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1946), 34–61, 138–41; John von Rohr, “Covenant and Assurance in
Early English Puritanism,” Church History 34, no.2 (1965): 195–203 and The Covenant of Grace

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The Assurance Debate 265
fairly substantial, while others are more minor and nuanced. We will exam-
ine these differences under the following six questions.

11.2 Is the Seed of Assurance Embedded in Faith?

The Puritans distinguished faith from the assurance of faith. Samuel Ruther-
ford (1600–1661) writes, “That faith is essentially a persuasion and assur-
ance of the love of God to me in Christ, it is more than I could ever learn to
be the nature of Faith, a consequent separable I believe it is.”11 “It is one
thing for me to believe, and another thing for me to believe that I believe,”
says Brooks.12 William Ames (1576–1633) adds, “It also appears that assur-
ance of salvation is not, properly speaking, justifying faith but a fruit of
such faith.”13
This distinction between faith and assurance has profound doctrinal and
pastoral implications. To make justification dependent upon assurance
compels a believer to rely upon his own condition rather than on the suffi-
ciency of the triune God in redemption. Self-reliance is not only unsound
doctrine but also has adverse pastoral effects. God does not require full and
perfect faith but, rather, sincere and unfeigned faith. The fulfillment of
God’s promises depends on receiving Christ’s righteousness, not upon the
degree of assurance in that act.14 The smallest spark of faith is as valid as
mature assurance in terms of salvation. “Neither are we saved by the worth
or quantity of our Faith, but by Christ, which is laid hold of by a weak
Faith, as well as a strong,” writes John Rogers (c. 1570–1636).15 If salvation
depends on full assurance of faith, many believers would despair, for then
“the palsied hand of faith should not receive Christ,” says John Downame
(d. 1652).16
Most Puritans did not deny there was some assurance in every exercise
of faith, so they could say all believers possess at least some assurance at
in Puritan Thought (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1986), 155–91; C.J. Sommerville, “Conversion,
Sacrament and Assurance in the Puritan Covenant of Grace to 1650” (M.A. thesis, University of
Kansas, 1963); William K. B. Stoever, ‘A Fair and Easie Way to Heaven’: Covenant Theology
and Antinomianism in Early Massachusetts (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1978), 119–
Samuel Rutherford, Christ Dying and Drawing Sinners to Himselfe (London: J. D. for An-
drew Cooke, 1647), 85.
Thomas Brooks, Heaven on Earth (1657; reprint, London: Banner of Truth, 1961), 14.
William Ames, The Marrow of Theology, trans. John Eusden (Boston: Pilgrim Press, 1968),
167 (I.xxviii.24).
Ball, A Treatise of Faith, 84–87.
John Rogers, The Doctrine of Faith: wherein are particularly handled twelve Principall
Points, which explaine the Nature and Vse of it (London: N. Newbery and H. Overton, 1629), 201.
John Downame, A Treatise of the True Nature and Definition of Justifying Faith (Oxford: I.
Lichfield for E. Forrest, 1635), 12–13.

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266 Joel R. Beeke

times. “There be Christians of all ages and of all sizes in God’s family,”
writes Robert Harris; hence, “all God’s children have some assurance,
though all have not alike.”17 Rutherford writes, “Faith is an assurance of
knowledge that Christ came into the world to die for sinners, and a resting
and a hanging upon Christ with all the heart for salvation.”18
Most Puritans teach that assurance grows organically out of faith like a
plant out of a seed. Assurance then pertains to one’s present degree of faith.
Ames writes, “Believers do not have the same assurance of grace and favor
of God, nor do the same ones have it at all times.”19 Richard Hawkes rightly
notes, “While the Puritans distinguish full assurance from the initial trust of
faith, they will not allow a division between the two, for full assurance
grows out of an assurance implicit in the first act of faith.”20 Thus Puritan
divines could speak of assurance growing out of faith as well as of faith
growing into assurance. For example, Brooks writes, “Faith, in time, will of
its own accord raise and advance itself to assurance.”21
But the Puritans usually focus on full assurance rather than the small but
growing element of assurance present in faith from its conception. They
differentiate between the faith of adherence to Christ and the faith of assur-
ance (or evidence) in Christ, whereby the believer knows that Christ has
died specifically for him.22 According to Anthony Burgess, “Faith of adher-
ence is many times where this faith of evidence is not […]. [By sin we
often] chase away our assurance; many times the people of God may walk
without this comfortable persuasion” of the faith of evidence.23
The Westminster Confession (18.3) states, “This infallible assurance
doth not so belong to the essence of faith, but that a true believer may wait
long, and conflict with many difficulties, before he be partaker of it.” Eng-
lish, Scottish, and Dutch theologians have written much about the Confes-
sion’s assertion that assurance does not belong to the essence of faith. Some
critics argue against it, saying the assembly denies an organic relationship
between faith and assurance. As evidence, they cite question 81 of the
Harris, The Way to True Happinesse, 2:51.
Catechisms of the Second Reformation, ed. Alexander F. Mitchell (London: James Nisbet &
Co., 1886), 203.
William Ames, Medvlla SS. Theologiae, ex sacris literis, earumque interpretibus, extracts
& methodice disposita (Amsterodami: Joannem Janssonium, 1627), 1.27.19.
Hawkes, “The Logic of Assurance in English Puritan Theology,” 250.
Brooks, Heaven on Earth, 15, 21. John Dod and Robert Cleaver distinguished between
“moon-shine” assurance given upon assenting to and trusting in the promise and “sun-shine”
assurance attained with “full assurance” (A Plaine and Familiar Exposition of the Ten Comman-
dements [1603]), 10.
Ames, Medvlla, 1.27.16; Ball, A Treatise of Faith, 90ff.; Robert Bolton, Some General Di-
rections for a Comfortable Walking with God (London: Felix Kyngston, 1625), 321–22; John
Preston, The Breast-Plate of Faith and Love, 5th ed. (London: W.I. for Nicholas Bourne, 1632),
part 1, 63–64.
Burgess, Spiritual Refining, 672.

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The Assurance Debate 267
Larger Catechism, which includes the words, “Assurance of grace and
salvation not being of the essence of faith.” These critics fail to recognize
that in this context the Confession speaks of assurance in the sense of
faith’s well-being, not of its essence or being, which must necessarily in-
clude assurance.24
Though some Puritan writings speak of assurance as the mature confi-
dence that one is a child of God and other writings speak of assurance as
something present in all faith, the organic relationship between faith and
assurance shows this is not a great theological difference. As John Rogers
says, “The greatest Giant was in swaddling clothes, the tallest Oak was a
twig, and Faith groweth from a grain of mustard seed to a tall tree.”25
The context of the Puritan writing being examined usually determines
whether the author is speaking of assurance embedded in faith in seed form
or a fulsome kind of conscious assurance that reveals very mature faith.
This accounts for why some Puritans speak of assurance being the posses-
sion of all believers while the majority of Puritans put the focus on assur-
ance as a scarce gift. The latter are not really contradicting the former, but
are referring to what the Puritans often called “full assurance,” which can
be known by its luxurious fruits such as a profound delight and joy in God,
a close life of filial fellowship with Him, a diligent use of spiritual exercises
that extol Him, a big evangelistic heart for every unconverted person, and a
hankering for the Second Advent and being with Christ in heaven.

11.3 Is Faith a Condition of the Covenant?

The Puritan writers said assurance is based on the covenant of grace and the
saving work of Christ. In turn, the covenant and redemption are grounded in
God’s sovereign good pleasure and love in eternal election.26 Assurance
flows out of the certainty that God will not disinherit His adopted children.
His covenant cannot be broken, for it is fixed in His eternal decrees and
promises. God’s covenant may be viewed as conditional upon faith, but also
as unconditional by sovereign grace.
On the one hand, the Puritans sometimes emphasized faith as a condi-
tion of the covenant. They cite God’s promise “that whosoever believeth in

Brooks, Works, 2:371. Cf. Louis Berkhof, Assurance of Faith (Grand Rapids: Smitter Book
Co., 1928), 27–29, 43–44; James Buchanan, The Doctrine of Justification (1867; reprint, Grand
Rapids: Baker, 1977), 185, 378; Alexander M’Leod, The Life and Power of True Godliness (New
York: Eastburn, 1816), 246–47.
Rogers, The Doctrine of Faith, 200.
Jeremiah Burroughs, An Exposition of the Prophecy of Hosea (reprint, Morgan, Pa.: Soli
Deo Gloria, 1988), 590. Cf. Peter Lake, Moderate Puritans and the Elizabethan Church (Cam-
bridge: University of Cambridge Press, 1982), 99–104.

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268 Joel R. Beeke

him should not perish, but have everlasting life,” and “He that believeth on
the Son hath everlasting life” (John 3:16, 36). Hence faith is the condition
of the covenant, and assurance depends upon the reality of faith. Ames
writes, “He that doth rightly understand the promise of the covenant cannot
be sure of his salvation, unless he perceives in himself true Faith and repen-
tance.”27 Peter Bulkeley (1583–1659) says, “The absolute promises are laid
before us as the foundation of our salvation […] and the conditional as the
foundation of our assurance.”28
On the other hand, the Puritans sometimes emphasized the uncondi-
tional nature of the covenant. This is not a contradiction, for in the covenant
God promises to give the conditions of the covenant. He says, “A new heart
also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take
away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh”
(Ezek 36:26). Thus, Ames could write, “The present covenant requires no
properly called or prior condition, but only a following or intermediate
condition (and that to be given by grace as a means of grace), which is the
proper nature of faith.”29
William Bridge (1600–1671) quips: “What if the condition of one prom-
ise be the thing promised in another promise? […] Now so it is that the
condition of one is the thing promised in another promise. For example: in
one promise, repentance is the condition of the promise (2 Chron 6:37, 38;
Joel 2:15–19). But in another promise, repentance is the thing promised
(Ezek 36:6) […]. The Lord Jesus Christ hath performed the condition of the
promise for you better than you can perform it.”30
The conditional yet unconditional nature of the covenant lends itself to
different emphases throughout Puritan teaching on assurance. Perry Miller
says: “The end of the Covenant of Grace is to give security to the transac-
tions between God and men, for by binding God to the terms, it binds Him
to save those who make good the terms.”31 John von Rohr points out, how-
ever, that Miller overlooks the Puritan teaching that the ultimate security of
the covenant rests in the one-sided action of God’s sovereign grace. Von
Rohr explains:
The Covenant of Grace is both conditional and absolute. Faith is required as a condi-
tion antecedent to salvation, but that very faith is already granted as a gift of election.

Von Rohr, “Covenant and Assurance in Early English Puritanism,” 197.
Peter Bulkeley, The Gospel-Covenant; or the Covenant of Grace Opened, 2nd ed. (London:
Matthew Simmons, 1651), 323–24.
Ames, The Marrow of Theology, 151 (I.xxiv.19). See also von Rohr, “Covenant and Assur-
ance,” 201.
The Works of William Bridge (1649; reprint, Morgan, Pa.: Soli Deo Gloria, 1989), 2:132–
Perry Miller, The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century (Cambridge: Harvard Uni-
versity Press, 1939), 389.

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The Assurance Debate 269
As Ames put it, “the condition of the Covenant is also promised in the Covenant.”
For Ames, the promise of the fulfillment of covenant conditions is itself a covenant
promise. Preston designated this as a “double covenant” in which “God doth not only
promise for his part, but makes a covenant to enable us to perform the conditions on
our part.”
In the Covenant, in this final sense, grace does all, and reliance must be upon this
promise […]. The doctrines of total depravity and of total divine sovereignty could
not be relinquished. Thus as God’s Covenant was also his divine gift of faith to his
elect, assurance must likewise look to the absolute character of his promises and to
that immutable good pleasure of his will upon which all things depend.32
Miller exaggerates the Puritan concept of covenant, saying it weakens or
even usurps divine predestination. But, in reality, the Puritans taught that
election and covenant reinforce each other. William Stoever notes, “Puritan
covenant theology offered troubled saints a double source of assurance. It
allowed them to plead the covenant with God, importuning him to fulfill his
part of the bargain by performing what he had promised; and it encouraged
them to seek comfort in the sufficiency of prevenient grace and in the im-
mutability of God’s will in election, which underlay the covenant itself and
their own participation in it.”33
God’s absolute promises in election and the covenant convince the be-
liever that even if he lacks the acts of faith at a given moment, he cannot
utterly lose the principle of faith, for faith is rooted in the electing, covenan-
tal God.34 Not even sin can break that covenant.35 Nevertheless, assurance is
affected by the conditional dimension of the covenant.36 The conditional
promises are inseparable from the believer’s daily renewal of the covenant
by means of prayer, meditation, and worship. The sacraments also offer
important seasonal reminders of covenant renewal.37 “To gather up assur-
ance from the conditions of the covenant is the highest pitch of Christian-
ity,” Thomas Blake (c. 1597–1657) says.38
Ultimately, however, even a believer at the “highest pitch” must return
to God’s absolute promises, for, as William Perkins (1558–1602) says, “the
Von Rohr, “Covenant and Assurance in Early English Puritanism,” 199–202.
Stoever, ‘A Faire and Easie Way to Heaven,’ 147–48. Cf. David C. Lachman, The Marrow
Controversy, 1718–1723 (Edinburgh: Rutherford House, 1988), 53–54.
Bulkeley, The Gospel-Covenant; or the Covenant of Grace Opened, 276.
The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes, ed. with memoir by A. B. Grosart (Edinburgh:
James Nichol, 1862), 1:220.
Bulkeley, The Gospel-Covenant; or the Covenant of Grace Opened, 323–24.
Von Rohr, The Covenant of Grace in Puritan Thought, 186. See E. Brooks Holifield, The
Covenant Sealed: The Development of Puritan Sacramental Theology in Old and New England,
1570–1720 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974), 38–61 for how the Puritans viewed the
sacraments as fostering assurance.
Thomas Blake, Vindiciae Foederis, or a Treatise of the Covenant of God entered with man-
kinde, in the several Kindes and Degrees of it (London: A. Roper, 1653).

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270 Joel R. Beeke

anchor of hope must be fixed in that truth and stability of the immutable
good pleasure of God.”39 This “good pleasure” is not arbitrary, but testifies
of God’s faithfulness to His covenant. The God of election, of the covenant,
and of absolute promises also grants grace to perform the conditional prom-
ises. So von Rohr concludes: “Though grounds for assurance are in the
conditional covenant, they are not removed from the covenant as absolute.
Reliance must somehow be upon the promises of the latter in order that it
may also be on the conditions of the former.”40

11.4 Is Assurance Primarily Grounded in God’s Promises?

The Westminster Confession (18.2) says of assurance, “This certainty is not

a bare conjectural and probable persuasion grounded upon a fallible hope;
but an infallible assurance of faith founded upon the divine truth of the
promises of salvation, the inward evidence of those graces unto which these
promises are made, the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with
our spirits that we are the children of God, which Spirit is the earnest of our
inheritance, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption.”
The first foundation of assurance, then, is “the promises of salvation.”
Some Puritans greatly emphasize the role of God’s promises in assurance.
John Owen (1616–1683) writes, “This assurance did not arise nor was taken
from anything that was peculiar unto [the believer,] but merely from the
consideration of the faithfulness of God himself.”41 Puritans like Owen
stress that assurance does not arise primarily by looking to oneself but by
looking to God’s faithfulness in Christ crucified.
The promises center personal assurance upon Christ Himself. Jesus
Christ is the “sum, fountain, seal, treasury of all the promises,” Edward
Reynolds (1599–1676) writes.42 In Him, the promises of God are “yea and
amen” (2 Cor 1:20). Though the Savoy Declaration would more poignantly
state that assurance is “founded on the blood and righteousness of Christ
revealed in the gospel,” the Westminster divines viewed Christ as insepara-
ble from a promising God. Rutherford thus states in his catechism, “The
new covenant is a mass of promises laying the weight of our salvation upon
a stronger one than we are, to wit, upon Christ, and faith grips [i.e., grasps

William Perkins, The Workes of that Famovs and VVorthy Minister of Christ in the Vniuer-
sitie of Cambridge, Mr. William Perkins (London: John Legatt, 1612), 1:114.
Von Rohr, The Covenant of Grace in Puritan Thought, 190.
John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold (reprint, Edinburgh: Banner of
Truth Trust, 1976), 3:367.
Edward Reynolds, Three Treatises of the Vanity of the Creature. The Sinfulnesse of Sinne.
The Life of Christ (London: R. B. for Rob Boftocke and George Badger, 1642), part 1, 365.

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The Assurance Debate 271
or seizes hold of] the promises and makes us go out of ourselves to Christ
as being at home [i.e., familiar] with Christ.”43
God’s promises are the pathways on which Christ meets the soul. So
Thomas Goodwin writes, “For if one promise do belong to thee, then all do;
for every one conveys [the] whole Christ in whom all the promises are
made and who is the matter of them.”44 William Spurstowe (c. 1605–1666)
writes, “The promises are instrumental in the coming of Christ and the soul
together; they are the warrant by which faith is emboldened to come to him,
and take hold of him; but the union which faith makes is not between a
believer and the promise, but between a believer and Christ.”45
Reynolds explains: “All the promises are made in Christ being pur-
chased by his merits, and they are all performed in Christ, being adminis-
tered by his power and office […]. Promises […] are the Rays and Beams
of Christ the Sun of Righteousness, in whom they are all founded and estab-
lished […]. Every promise by Faith apprehended carries a man to Christ,
and to the consideration of our unity with him, in the right whereof we have
claim to the Promises.”46 “Let thy eye and heart, first, most, and last, be
fixed upon Christ, then will assurance bed and board with thee,” says
Nevertheless, some Puritan treatments of assurance scarcely mention the
promises of God. Instead they focus upon the evidences of grace in a per-
son’s life. Thomas Hooker (1586–1647) spends 447 pages on describing
contrition of sin, with rare mention of the promises of grace.48
He and some other Puritans may scarcely treat the subject of the prom-
ises because of practical concerns. The Puritans tended to give a topic time
and attention proportionate to its difficulty instead of its relative impor-
tance. They might develop a single point at great length, while holding that
point within a broader framework of theology. For example, Hooker
preached his soul-convicting sermons within the framework of the doctrines
of grace.49 Furthermore, Hooker did not seek to write with theological bal-
Catechisms of the Second Reformation, ed. Alex. Mitchell, 176.
Works, 3:321.
William Spurstowe, The Wells of Salvation Opened: or, A Treatise discerning the nature,
preciousness, and usefulness of the Gospel Promises and Rules for the Right Application of Them
(London: T.R. & E.M. for Ralph Smith, 1655), 44–45.
Reynolds, Three Treatises, part 1, 345, 356–57.
Brooks, Heaven on Earth, 307.
Thomas Hooker, The Application of Redemption: The Ninth & Tenth Books (reprint, Ames:
International Outreach, 2008).
“His system of theology may sometimes be kept in the background but it never ceases to
have a controlling influence upon his understanding” (Iain H. Murray, “Thomas Hooker and the
Doctrine of Conversion: 4,” The Banner of Truth, no. 199 [April 1980], 17). In the first eight
books of his treatise Hooker presented the doctrines of grace in a very Christ-centered manner.
There he counseled his readers to “First look to Christ; first make sure of him, as he in whom all
our good is laid up […] Look at all graces as either they lead to Christ or come from Christ, else

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272 Joel R. Beeke

ance as much as pastoral balance. The glaring need of the people of his time
was to be shaken out of complacent, nominal Christianity.50 To emphasize
the promises could sing a lullaby to those who were already spiritually
asleep. Instead, Hooker shined the brilliant light of self-examination upon
their souls.
Did some Puritans believe that the inward evidences of grace, not the
promises, are the primary ground of assurance? That might be one’s first
impression of Anthony Burgess’s magnum opus on conversion and assur-
ance, Spiritual Refining. A quick glance at Burgess’s table of contents re-
veals over one hundred sermons on the signs of true conversion and how
they differ from counterfeit faith. Yet Burgess writes,
The great work of a Christian is, out of a sense and feeling of its own want and spiri-
tual poverty, to roll himself, and rest only upon Christ for Atonement and Reconcilia-
tion […]. Though the sight of thy graces be comfortable, yet that of Christ ought to be
much more. These graces are but the handmaids and servants that wait upon Christ,
they are but tokens from him, they are not himself: A man is not only to go out of his
sins, but also out of his graces unto Christ. See Paul in Phil. 3. How excellently doth
he debase all his own graces to be found in Christ. Let not therefore the desire after
inherent righteousness make thee forget imputed righteousness, for this is to take the
friend of the Bridegroom for the Bridegroom Himself.51
Here again the pastoral emphasis must not be interpreted as the theological
and logical priority of personal evidences of Christ over scriptural promises
of Christ. The Puritans were always people of the Book. Nevertheless their
Reformed Christianity has a strong experiential emphasis, and this empha-
sis sometimes leads them to give greater attention to testing one’s soul.
Burgess does not neglect the promises but seeks to find a copy of them
written in the heart.52
In conclusion, all Puritans believed that the foundations of assurance are
grounded in the promises of God and evidenced in the inward evidences of
grace. Some laid more stress on the former and some on the latter. Those
who emphasized the inward evidences of grace do not necessarily view
those evidences as primary, however. Rather, their emphasis is on the in-
ward evidences primarily for two reasons: (1) inward evidences require a
more detailed and nuanced treatment than do the promises of God, as the
inward evidences can encounter more pitfalls and dangers than the promises
they will lose their life and sweet, and we shall lose the comfort of them, unless we look at them
thus, either as they bring us to Christ by the power of his spirit, or as they come from Christ by his
spirit inhabiting in us” (Thomas Hooker, The Application of Redemption [...] The first eight Books
[Cornhil: Peter Cole, 1657; reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1972), 105.
Iain H. Murray, “Thomas Hooker and the Doctrine of Conversion: 2,” The Banner of Truth,
no. 196 (Jan. 1980): 22–24.
Burgess, Spiritual Refining, 56–57.
Burgess, Spiritual Refining, 5–6.

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ISBN Print: 9783525569450 — ISBN E-Book: 9783647569451
The Assurance Debate 273
of God; and (2) pastorally speaking, some believers who fear they are just
taking the promises to themselves without warrant may actually be more
helped in acquiring assurance, at least for a time, by ascertaining inward