Nehemiah Coxe was a 17th c. Particular Baptist and was almost certainly an editor of the Second London Confession, 1677. His notable works are Vindiciae Veritatis, contra Thomas Collier’s heresies, and A Discourse of the Covenants.
In A Discourse of the Covenants, Coxe raises several objections against the paedobaptist view of the Abrahamic covenant. Below I have transcribed one such objection. In the 17th c., some paedobaptists faced a dilemma. If the Abrahamic covenant is substantially the same as the new covenant, and if it included not only immediate but also remote posterity, then the new covenant should likewise include both.
But paedobaptists generally limited covenant interest only to immediate offspring. This reveals a possible inconsistency in the claim that the Abrahamic covenant was an administration of the covenant of grace and thus the same in substance as the new covenant—the recipients of the covenant promises are apparently not the same between the two administrations. And this would hint at a substantial, rather than a mere administrative, difference.
Nehemiah Coxe Describes the Inconsistency
He who holds himself obliged by the command and interested in the promises of the covenant of circumcision is equally involved in all of them since together they are that covenant. Therefore, he who applies one promise or branch of this covenant to the carnal seed of a believing parent (esteeming every such parent to have an interest in the covenant coordinate with Abraham’s) ought seriously to consider the whole promissory part of the covenant in its true import and extent, and see whether he can make such an undivided application of it without manifest absurdity.
For example, if I may conclude my concern in this covenant is such that by one of its promises I am assured that God has taken my immediate seed into covenant with himself, I must on the same ground conclude also that my seed in remote generations will be no less in covenant with him, since the promise extends to the seed in their generations. I must also conclude that this seed will be separated from other nations as a peculiar people to God and will have the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession since all these things are included in the covenant of circumcision. But because these things cannot be allowed, nor are they pleaded for by anyone that I know of, we must conclude that Abraham was considered in this covenant, not in the capacity or respect of a private believing parent, but of one chosen of God to be the father of and a federal root to a nation that for special ends would be separated to God by a peculiar covenant. When those ends are accomplished, the covenant by which they obtained that right and relation must cease. And no one can plead anything similar without reviving the whole economy built on it. (Covenant Theology from Adam to Christ, 106)
Summarizing Coxe’s Argument
Let’s try to outline Coxe’s argument:
- He who is bound by the commandment of the (Abrahamic) covenant and has an interest in the promises of the same covenant is interested in all the promises of the covenant. Not just one or two. The promises of the covenant made the covenant what it was, and so they come all together or none at all.
- Therefore, a member of the Abrahamic covenant isn’t interested in only one of its promises but all of them.
- This means that not only the immediate seed of Abraham is a recipient of covenant blessing, but also the more remote generations, e.g. grandsons, great-grandsons, etc. And this is to be perpetual.
- If the remote posterity of Abraham had equal rights to nationality and Canaan as did the immediate posterity, then so should the remote posterity of new covenant believers have just as much right to covenant blessing as do their immediate offspring.
A Further Explanation
This deserves some further elaboration.
Many 17th c. paedobaptists understood the new covenant to be substantially identical with, though administratively distinct from, the Abrahamic covenant. And this understanding provides a covenantal basis for paedobaptism.
But most everyone in Coxe’s day would restrict new covenant promises only to their immediate descendants. Virtually no one tried to argue for perpetual covenant blessing upon remote generations. So, Coxe later says, “[The paedobaptists] generally narrow the terms of covenant interest… by limiting it to the immediate offspring. Yet in [the Abrahamic covenant] it was not restrained like this but came just as fully on remote generations.”
In other words, Coxe is saying, “You can’t admit one promise of the Abrahamic covenant (participation of immediate offspring) without also admitting the other promises of the Abrahamic covenant (participation of remote offspring).” If the inheritance will be conferred to the immediate offspring, then so shall it be conferred to the remote offspring. But it’s evident, in both Scripture and experience, that new covenant promises are not conferred upon remote generations of believers.
He further observes, “[The paedobaptists] also exclude the servants and slaves of Christians, with the children born of them, from that privilege which they suppose they enjoyed under the Old Testament in being sealed with the sign or token of the covenant of grace.” While the Abrahamic covenant included servants, slaves, and their offspring in the covenant, and thus proper recipients of the sign of circumcision, the 17th c. paedobaptists did not generally include their servants, slaves, and their offspring in the new covenant administration of the covenant of grace.
He cites an additional inconsistency. He says, “[the paedobaptists] make a believers’ interest in this covenant of larger extent than Abraham’s ever truly was. They have all the immediate seed of believers included in it, while we see only Isaac, of all the sons of Abraham according to the flesh, admitted to the inheritance of the blessing and promises of this covenant.”
Since the paedobaptists believed the new covenant was substantially the same as the Abrahamic covenant, they also believed the recipients of the covenant had to be the same—parents and their children. But they would hold that all the children of believing parents ought to receive the covenant sign of baptism since they were, after all, covenant children. But this isn’t how the Abrahamic covenant worked. Only Isaac (and his line) received the inheritance of the Abrahamic covenant. None of Abraham’s other children, though children of a believing father, received the inheritance.