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This section gives an overview of Baxter’s covenant theology and explains how it lead to his neonomian view.  Baxter has influenced 2 contemporary neonomian views, the Federal Vision Movement & the New Perspective on Paul.  See the preceding section that I posted for the introduction and some of Baxter’s basic presuppositions about the law of God to better understand this section.  Baxter’s theology is dense, so this section is fairly technical.  Some might ask why they have never heard of these statements made by Baxter, or why mots Pastors and theologians are unaware of Baxter’s neonomian tendencies and the best answer would be due to the fact that most of Baxter’s republished works are on practical and pastoral theology, whereas the works I cite from in this section are his writings on theology, most of which have not been republished, and therefore are not as well known in comparison to his Practical works.

An Analysis of Richard Baxter’s Covenant Theology and Doctrine of Justification

Before proceeding to analyze Baxter’s theology systematically from his Aphorisms and Catholic Theology, his political method must first be surveyed since it is his hermeneutical framework in which Baxter explains his doctrine of justification.  Baxter viewed God’s Kingship as being over three domains: mankind, earth, and heaven.  Each kingdom is governed by a separate law: the first the law of nature, the second the law of Christ, and the third has no law since the saints will continue in perfect holiness[1].  Based on Baxter’s nominalist presuppositions he viewed the covenant of works as nullified after Adam fell because man was no longer capable of keeping it so the law of Christ provided a weaker covenant of works, which Christ purchased offering satisfaction to the lawgiver, God[2].  Due to Baxter’s view that the covenant of works was nullified, the elect only had to keep the law of Christ to be justified by their evangelical righteousness: sincere evangelical obedience, faith, and repentance[3].  Although this view is similar to Grotius’ government theory of atonement Baxter differed from Grotius by agreeing with Anselm’s view of the atonement that Christ offered satisfaction to God as God rather than satisfaction made to God as a governor, but not as God[4].  Baxter redefined Christ’s righteousness to signify that believers reap the benefits of it, a lighter law to obey, not that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to them as the fulfillment of the requirements of God’s law[5].

Baxter’s Aphorisms contains his first published statements on his views concerning justification, some of which he later revised.  However they still contain the substance of his doctrinal views concerning justification and it is the most cited work of Baxter by his theological opponents[6].    In Baxter’s Aphorisms he distinguishes justification as part of God’s perceptive will, while the rest of the ordo salutis was part of God’s decretive will, which made justification conditional, dependent on man’s obedience to the Gospel covenant[7].  The baptismal covenant plays a key role in Baxter’s covenant theology because it is the means of entrance into the covenant of grace[8].  Those who enter into the baptismal covenant must persevere bearing good works to be justified, “For our believing consent to the baptismal-covenant putteth us into immediate right to all the benefits of the covenant which we are then capable of, but not to all that we shall be made further capable of hereafter…[9]

Based on Baxter’s view of the law of God and the baptismal covenant he formulated a three-stage view of justification: constitutive, judicial, and executive.  Constitutive justification refers to the initial justification of someone who performs the conditions of the covenant of grace: faith, evangelical obedience, and repentance, and their faith is imputed to them for their righteousness[10].  The second stage, judicial justification, refers to the future judgment, when men are judged according to their works, so their works justify them, whereas the confessional divines refer to this as vindication.  Executive justification is when God gives the benefits of redemption to those who obey the Gospel law, which begins at constitutive justification[11].  Baxter affirms that as a result of the three-fold process of justification someone who is constitutively justified may apostatize if they don’t persevere in keeping the conditions of the Gospel covenant,

“As to the question therefore whether justification be losable, and pardon reversible, I answer, that the grant of them in the covenant is unalterable; but man’s will in itself is mutable, and if he should cease believing by apostasy, and the condition fail, he would lose his Right, and be unjustified and unpardoned, without any change in God.  But that a man doth not so de facto is to be ascribed to Election and special grace, of which afterward[12].”

Baxter’s view of the conditions of the covenant of grace is in stark contrast to the position of justification affirmed in the Reformed confessions and he admits that if it weren’t for other differences Protestants would have never separated from the Catholic Church,

“When Bellarmine saith, that our assurance more belongeth to Hope than to faith, and that it is but moral certainty by signs we have of our justification, sincerity and salvation, he so little differeth from the sense of almost all godly Protestants, that were it not through other distances, and partiality, we had never read in Luther’s days, that for this one point alone, we have cause enough of our alienation from the Romanists[13].”

Crucial to understanding Baxter’s view of the conditions of the Gospel covenant, covenant of grace, is the distinction between evangelical and legal righteousness.  The confessional divines excluded evangelical obedience as a pre-condition for justification and affirmed that Christ’s imputed righteousness was the grounds of justification, legal righteousness, but the neonomians argued that evangelical righteousness is the grounds for justification, fulfilling the obligations of the covenant of grace[14].  Baxter quotes the following from a puritan who affirms Christ’s legal righteousness as the grounds for justification and responds to him,

“…And so we are as righteous as Christ himself, because all Christ’s righteousness is ours.  And we have no other, nor need no other righteousness, at least in order to our justification: The righteousness of Christ is it by which we are justified by the law of works…[Baxter’s response]  If these words did offer me any light which we had before received, I should gladly learn, and give you thanks.  But if such talk as this, be all that must show you to be wiser than your neighbors, and such as teach Justification by works, my soul must pity you, and all such poor sinners as are troubled or seduced by you[15].”

Due to Baxter’s denial of legal righteousness as the grounds of justification it is no surprise that Baxter denied the active and passive obedience of Christ because the purpose of the law according to Baxter was to display God’s justice, “The end of the Law is the Law, and that end being the manifestation of Gods Justice and hatred of sin was fulfilled, and therefore the Law was fulfilled[16].”  Baxter denied the double debt paradigm and therefore denied Christ’s active and passive obedience and imputed righteousness which he viewed as the cause of antinomianism removing the necessity for holiness[17].  He cites both Grotius and Bradshaw as influencing his denial of Christ’s active and passive obedience,

“And for my own part I think it is the truth, though I confess I have been ten years of another mind for the sole Passive Righteousness, because of the weakness of those grounds which are usually laid to support the opinion for the Active and Passive; till discerning more clearly the nature of satisfaction, I perceived that though the sufferings of Christ have the chief place there in, yet his obedience as such may also be meritorious and satisfactory.  The true grounds and proof whereof you may read in Grotius de Satisfact. Cap. 6 and Bradshaw of Justification in Preface and cap. 13[18].

Baxter’s first objection is that only Christ’s passive righteousness was needed to satisfy the demands of the law in order that Christ could be qualified for the office of mediator[19].  His second objection is that Christ’s obedience was not always to his duty as to the moral law because Christ was not a sinner and all of Christ’s works were meritorious and satisfactory[20].  Baxter affirmed that the purpose of Christ’s death and sufferings was to be a demonstration of God’s justice of his government tying in his doctrine of the atonement with his view of God’s kingship,

“The true reason of the satisfaction of Christ’s sufferings was, that they were a most apt means for the demonstration of the Governing Justice, Holiness, Wisdom, and Mercy of God, by which God could attain the ends of the Law and Government, better than by executing the Law on the world in its destruction, (as in general was before intimated)[21].”

[1] J. I. Packer, The Redemption and Restoration of Man in the Thought of Richard Baxter (Vancouver: Regent College, 2003), 215

[2] ibid, 224, “When man had fallen, and God purposed to glorify Himself by restoring him, he carried out His plan, not by satisfying the law, but by changing it. God’s law is thus external to Himself…Baxter held that Christ satisfied the lawgiver and so procured a change in the law.  Here Baxter aligns himself with Arminian thought rather than with orthodox Calvinism.” ibid, 262 [Italics from Packer]

“To the second I answer, I. God did not lay aside his first Covenant, but man by sin did lay it aside, by making the condition impossible.” Richard Baxter, Catholike Theologie (London: n.p., 1675), accessed February 20, 2014, http://books.google.com/books?id=dbnmAAAAMAAJ&num=13, 153

[3] Redemption in the Thought of Baxter, 222

[4]ibid, 224; Grotius’ influence on Baxter  is undeniable by his citations from him: Richard Baxter, Aphorismes of True Justification (London: n.p., 1649), accessed February 20, 2014, http://digitalpuritan.net/richard-baxter/,  39, 55, 80, 94, 146

[5] ibid, 247; Baxter made the distinction that Christ paid the tantundem (equivalent payment) rather than the idem (identical payment), which was affirmed by Keach and Owen.  Baxter’s view is adapted from Grotius, “According to Baxter’s reading of Grotius, when the law’s penalties, or threatenings, are merely part of God’s preceptive will, and are not part of his decretive will, then those penalties may be dispensed or relaxed without doing damage to divine justice, since divine justice is based on divine government, which is chiefly concerned with the end and only secondarily with the means by which the end is achieved.” Tom Hicks, “an Analysis of the Doctrine of justification in the Theologies of Richard Baxter and Benjamin Keach” (PhD diss., Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2009), 38-39

[6] See Redemption in the Thought of Baxter, 415-417 for a list of Baxter’s retractions and corrections from his Aphorisms.  “In this case I wrote my first book called Aphorisms of Justification and the Covenant, &c.  And being young, and unexercised in writing, and my thoughts yet undigested, I put into it many uncautelous words (as young writers use to do) though I think the main doctrine of it is sound.” Richard Baxter, Catholic Theology, The Preface

[7] “God hath first a will of purpose, whereby he determineth of events: what shall be, and what shall not be, and what shall not be, de facto: secondly, And a Legislative, or Preceptive will, for the government of the rational creature: whereby he determines what shall be, and what shall not be…” Richard Baxter, Aphorisms, 1-2

[8] “It is a true covenant between God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and man, which is solemnly entered in baptism: and this is a covenant of grace, even that proceedeth purely from grace; and of grace, as given by God, and by us accepted.”Richard Baxter, Catholic Theology, 129

[9] Ibid, 204, “Infant baptism began the process of salvation by engaging parents and child to covenant obligations; but this was not the sum of the process, it simply pointed the individual to the greater matter of justification.”  James M. Renihan, “Reforming The Reformed Pastor: Baptism and Justification as the Basis for Richard Baxter’s Pastoral Method,” The Reformed Baptist Theological Review 2, no. 1 (2005): 119

[10] Redemption in the Thought of Baxter, 251

[11] “Thus, justification appears, not as a single momentary event, but as a complex, tripartite Divine act, which begins with a man’s first faith in Christ and is not completed until he has received his whole reward in the world to come.” ibid, 253, this view of increasing in justification is similar to the Council of Trent, “… they, through the observance of the commandments of God and of the Church, faith co-operating with good works, increase in the justice received through the grace of Christ, and are still more justified, as is written,—He that is righteous, let him be made righteous still; and again, Be not afraid to be justified even to death; and also, Ye see how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” Theodore Alois Buckley, The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent (London: Geroge Routledge and Co., 1851), 36.

[12] Richard Baxter, Catholic Theology, 217; “God by commanding faith and repentance, and making them necessary conditions of justification, and by commanding perseverance, and threatening the Justified and Sanctified with damnation if they fall away; and making perseverance a condition of salvation, doth thereby provide a convenient means for the performance of his own decree…” ibid, 186

[13] ibid, 223; “De nomine some of them deny that this is any merit at all, as well as you.  And their council asserteth it not (that I see) 2. De re: They mean the same thing by Merit of Congruity, which Mr. Rogers, Bolton, Hooker, and the rest call preparation for Christ or for conversion; and so the Council of Trent calls it: which maketh a man a more congruous receiver of Grace than the unprepared, but doth not prove God obliged to his reward.  And do you not hold all this de re?” ibid, 531

[14] WCF 11.1, SDF 11.1

[15] Richard Baxter, Catholic Theology, 488; Baxter continues to say, “Let us see the Concordance.  Here you find it about six hundred times used, besides the words [justify, justifying, and justification].  Shew me how many of these six hundred texts do not speak of such inherent or performed personal righteousness, as is distinct from such as you describe in your sense of imputation.  Try whether one of twenty or forty or an hundred have such a sense.  Lib.  Not if such false teachers as you must be the expositor of them.” ibid, 488

[16] Richard Baxter, Aphorisms, 37

[17] Ernest F. Kevan, The Grace of Law: A Study in Puritan Theology (Grand Rapids: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 2013), 146, “This view, to Baxter, was worse than the other; not only did it involve the false conception of imputation, but it rested the case for it on a false premise.  Man is not justified, Baxter insisted, by a fictitious, imputed fulfillment of the law of works, but in virtue of a real, personal compliance with the terms of the new law of grace.  Moreover, the original criticisms of imputed righteousness remain unanswered. [Baxter Quoted by Packer]: “Inculpability Imputed” “seemeth to me to leave no place or possibility for Pardon of Sin”; and an imputed holiness takes away any need for a real one, so that the doctrine must inevitably prove Antinomian.” Redemption in the Thought of Baxter, 245-246;  Richard Baxter, Aphorisms,52-55

[18] Richard Baxter, Aphorisms, 55

[19] ibid, 55-56

[20] ibid, 58

[21] Richard Baxter, Catholic Theology, 173