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Edmund Calamy and the Covenants: Diversity within Puritan Thought

June 4, 2009

I have started reading the writings and sermons of Edmund Calamy. The other day I came across these opening remarks from Calamy on the diversity of opinion regarding the number of covenants (both of works and grace) held by various Puritans in his day:


There are several opinions about the Covenant of Works, and the Covenant of grace, to the great disturbance of many Christians; some hold that there be four Covenants, two of Works, and two of Grace; the first two, one with Adam before the fall, and the other with Israel at their return out of Egypt, and the Covenant of Grace, the first to Abraham, and the other at the Incarnation 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 Works, and the last of Grace, and this M. Burroughs delivered in his Exposition sermon in Cornhill in my hearing. 3. Others 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 Works 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 there is the law at Mount Sinai was a Covenant of grace, implying that there is more than one Covenant of grace, and this is affirmed by Mr Anthony Burgess in his Vindication of the Moral Law the 24 lecture, text the 4. of Deuteronomy. 5. Others with myself hold that there is but two covenants, the one a Covenant of Works, and the tree, was a Sacrament or sign and token of it, this was made with Adam before his fall and to all his posterity who come under it as soon as they take upon them his nature, for he did bear an Image for himself and all his posterity, so that if he had stood in his integrity he had conveyed his righteousness and holiness to all his posterity, and when he by sin defiled his nature, the whole race of mankind was polluted by him, and also he received a Covenant both for himself and for his posterity, and in case he had been faithful to it, al his posterity stood with him, but he breaking that Covenant brought not only guilt upon himself but upon all his posterity with him, so that now there is none clean, no not one; “how can he be clean that is born of a woman?” Job 25:4, thus man’s nature is polluted. And in regard of the Covenant, let every mouth be stopped, “for all the world is become guilty before God,” Rom. 3:29, “by one man all have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” Rom 3:23, “by one man sin entered the world, and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men that have sinned,” Rom. 5:12, so then all men by nature lie under the pollution and guilt Adam’s sin, and liable to all the curses and penalties due unto them for break of that Covenant.

But 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 Adam to take place at the very moment of his fall, the Justice of God had immediately seized upon the whole Creation under Heaven, and consumed them to their first nothing, but then came Jesus Christ with the covenant in his hand saying, be gracious unto him, and deliver him from going down to the pit, I have found a ransom, Job 33:24, now I shall prove that the covenant of grace was made with Jesus Christ from all eternity, being a contract or plot of God the Father with God the Son from all eternity as mediator of the salvation of the elect.

Edmund Calamy, Two Solemne Covenants Made Between God and Man (London: Printed for Thomas Blake, and are to be sold in Blackfriers at the top of the Bridewell stairs and Westminster Hall at the signe of the Seale, 1647), 1-2.

What I find interesting is the reality of the diversity in his day. They were not able to obtain a sort of uniformity or consensus on all this, which I think is a good thing to some extent. Is it any wonder that we today are not able to obtain consensus on the number and nature of the covenants. After all these years we still have not found our Federal utopia, which is again a good thing to some extent, as all theological utopias can only result in theological Orwellianism.


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