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by John Flavel  


John Flavel (1628-1691) was a Presbyterian minister at Dartmouth in Devon, England, whose teaching is still highly valued as most helpful and strengthening. The son of a minister who died in prison for his noncomformity, John Flavel knew what it was to suffer hardship, and in his life he showed the evangelical graces of a strong man of God. Under his influence, a union of the Presbyterian and Congregational (Independent) churches in his area was accomplished.  



Thesis 1. It hath pleased God, in all ages of the world, since man was created, to deal with his church and people by way of covenant, and in the same way he will still deal with them unto the end of the world.


God might have dealt with us in a supreme way of mere sovereignty and dominion, commanding what duties he pleased, and establishing his commands by what penalties he pleased, and never have brought himself under the tie and obligation of a covenant to his own creatures: but he chuses to deal familiarly with his people by way of covenanting, being a familiar way, 2 Sam. vii. 19. Is this the manner of men, O Lord God, or, (as Junius renders it) and that after the manner of men, O Lord God! it is a way full of condescending grace and goodness: he is willing hereby his people should know what they may certainly expect from their God, as well as what their God requires of them. Hereby also he will furnish them with mighty pleas and arguments in prayer, succour their faith against temptations, strengthen their hands in duties of obedience, sweeten their obedience to them, and discriminate his own people from the world.


As soon therefore as man was created and placed in paradise, being made upright and thoroughly furnished with abilities perfectly and completely to obey all the commands of his Maker, the Lord immediately entered into the covenant of works with him, and all his natural posterity in him: And in this covenant his standing or falling was according to the perfection and constancy of his personal obedience, Gen. ii. 17. Gal. iii. 10. But in this first covenant of works no provision at all was made for his recovery (in case of the least failure) by his repentance or better obedience; but the curse immediately seized both soul and body: and sin, by the fall entering into man’s nature, totally disabled him to the perfect performance of any one duty, as that covenant required it to be done, Rom. viii. 3. nor would God accept any repentance or after-endeavours in lieu of that perfect obedience due by law. So that from the fall of Adam to the end of the world this covenant ceaseth as a covenant of life, or a covenant able to give righteousness and life unto all mankind for evermore, Rom. iii. 20. “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight.” Gal. iii. 11. “But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, is evident.” And it being so evident, that righteousness and life being for ever impossible to be obtained upon the terms of Adam’s covenant, it must therefore be a self-evident truth, That since the fall God never did, and to the end of the world he never will open that way or door to life (thus blocked up by an absolute impossibility) for the justification and salvation of any man.


Thesis 2. Soon after the violation and cessation of this first covenant, as a covenant of life, it pleased the Lord to open and publish the second covenant of grace by Jesus Christ, the first dawning whereof we find in Gen. iii. 15. where the seed is promised which shall bruise the serpent’s head. And though this be but a very short, and somewhat obscure discovery of man’s remedy and salvation by Christ; yet was it a joyful sound to the ears of God’s people, it was even life from the dead to the believers of those times. For we may rationally conclude, That that space of time betwixt the breaking of the first and making 1 of the second covenant was the most dismal period of time that ever the world did or shall see. This covenant of grace now took place of the covenant of works, and comprehended all believers in the bosom of it. The covenant of works took place from the time it was made until the fall of Adam, and then was abolished as a life-giving covenant. The second covenant took place from the time it was made soon after the fall, and is to continue to the end of the world. And these only are the two covenants God hath made with men; the latter succeeding the former, and commencing from its expiration; but both cannot possibly be in force together at the same time, and upon the same persons, as co-ordinate covenants of life and salvation. For in co-ordination they expel and destroy each other, Gal. v. 4. “Whosoever of you are justified by the law, ye are fallen from grace.” The first covenant was a covenant without a mediator; the second is a covenant with a mediator. Place a believer under both at once, or put these two covenants in co-ordination, and that which results will be a pure contradiction, viz. That a man is saved without a mediator, and yet by a mediator. Moreover, if there be a way to life without a mediator, there was no need to make a covenant in and with a mediator; nor can these words of Christ be true, John iv. 6. “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh to the Father but by me.”


The righteousness of the first covenant was within man himself; the righteousness of the second covenant is without man in Christ. Put these two in co-ordination, and that which results is as pure a contradiction as the former, viz. That a man is justified by a righteousness within him, and yet is justified by a righteousness without him, expressly contrary to the apostle’s conclusion, Rom. iii. 20. “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight.” It is therefore an intolerable absurdity to place believers under both these covenants at the same time; under the curse of the first, and blessing of the second. For whensoever the state of any person is changed by justification, his covenant is changed with his state, Col. i. 13. It is as unimaginable that a believer should thus stand under both covenants, as it is to imagine a man may be born of two mothers, Gal. iv. 22, 23, 24, 25. or a woman lawfully married to two husbands, Rom. vii. 1, 2, 3, 4. and more absurd (if it be possible any thing can be more absurd) to attribute the most glorious privilege of the covenant of grace, (viz. “I will be a God to thee, and to thy seed after thee,” Gen. xvii. 7.) to the impotent and abolished covenant of works; both which absurdities are asserted in defence of Antipćdo-baptism.


And thought it be true, that after the first edition of the covenant of grace, the matter of the first covenant was represented to the Israelites in the moral law; yet that representation was intended and designed to be subservient, and added to the promise, Gal. iii. 19. and so (as an acute and learned divine 2 speaks) the very decalogue or moral law itself pertained to the covenant of grace; yea, in some sort flowed out of this covenant, as it was promulged by the counsel of God to be serviceable to it; both antecedently to lead men by the conviction of sin, fear of wrath, and self-despair, to the covenant of grace; and also consequently as it is a pattern of obedience and rule of holiness. For had it been published as a covenant designed intentionally to its primitive use and end, it had totally frustrated the covenant of grace.


Thesis 3. Though the primordial light or first glimmerings of this covenant of grace, were comparatively weak and obscure; yet from the first publication of it to Adam, God in all ages hath been amplifying the privileges, and heightening the glory of this second covenant in all the after expressures and editions of it unto this day, and will more and more amplify and illustrate it to the end of the world.


That first promise, Gen. iii. 15. is like the first small spring or head of a great river, which the farther it runs, the bigger it grows by the accession of more waters to it. Or like the sun in the heavens, which the higher it mounts, the more bright and glorious the day still grows.


In that period of time, betwixt Adam and Abraham, we find no token of God’s covenant ordered therein to be applied to the infant seed of believers. But in that second edition of the covenant to Abraham, the privileges of the covenant were amplified, and his infant-seed not only taken into the covenant (as they were before) but also added to the visible church, by receiving the token of the covenant, which then was circumcision; and so here is a great addition made to the visible church, even the whole infant off-spring of adult believers.


From that period, until the coming of the Messiah in the flesh, the Jewish church, and their infant-seed, except only some few proselytes out of the Gentile nations, made up the visible church of God, and the poor Gentiles were without Christ, being aliens from the common-wealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world, Eph. ii. 12. but in this glorious third period the covenant again enlarges itself more than before, and the privileges of it are no longer limited, and restrained to the Jewish believers, and their infant-seed; but the Gentiles also are taken into the covenant, and the door of faith was opened unto them, Acts xiv. 27. the partition-wall was now broken down, which separated the church from the Gentile world, Eph. ii. 14. This was a glorious enlargement of the covenant, and many glorious prophecies and promises were fulfilled in it; such as those, Isa. xi. 10. and xlii. 1, 6. xlix. 22. liv. 3. lx. 3, 5, 11, 16. lxii. 2, &c.


And though the covenant, as to its external part, seems to have lost ground in the breaking off of the Jewish nation from the church; yet, like the sea, what it loses in one place, it gains with advantage upon another: The addition of many Gentile nations to the church, more than recompenses for the present breaking off of that one nation of the Jews. And indeed they are broken off but for a time, for God shall graff them in again, Rom. xi. 23. This therefore being the design of God, and steady course of his covenant of grace, more and more to enlarge itself in all ages; nothing can be more opposite to the nature of this covenant, than to narrow and contract its privileges in its farther progress, and cut off a whole species from it, which it formerly took in.


Thesis 4. It is past all doubt and contradiction, that the infant-seed of Abraham, under the second edition of the covenant of grace, were taken with their believing parents into God’s gracious covenant, had the seal of that covenant applied to them, and were thereby added to the visible church, Gen. xvii. 7, 8, 9, 10, 11. which was a gracious privilege of the covenant superadded to all the former, and such as sweeps away all the frivolous and groundless cavils and exceptions of those that object the incapacity of infants to enter into covenant with God, or receive benefit from the external privileges of the visible church. Nor can the subtlest enemy to infant-baptism give us a convincing reason why the infants of Gentile believers are not equally capable of the same benefits that the infants of Jewish believers were, if they still stand under the same covenant that the former stood under; and God hath no where repealed the gracious grant formerly made to the infant-seed of his covenant-people.


Thesis 5. It is to me clear, beyond all contradiction, from Rom. xi. 17. “If some of the branches be broken off, and thou being a wild olive-tree, wert grafted in amongst them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive-tree:” I say I can scarce desire a clearer scripture-light than this text gives, to satisfy my understanding in this case, that when God brake off the unbelieving Jews from the church, both parents and children together, the believing Gentiles, which are as truly Abraham’s seed as they were, Gal. iii. 29. yea, the more excellent seed of Abraham, were implanted or ingrafted in their room, and do as amply enjoy the privileges of that covenant, both internal and external, for themselves and for their infant-seed, as ever any members of the Jewish church did or could do.


Our adversaries in this controversy do pitifully and apparently shuffle here, and invent many strange and unintelligible distinctions to be-cloud the light of this famous text. What they are, and how they are baffled, the reader will easily discern from what hath already past betwixt my antagonist and me, in p. 108, &c. of my Vindicić Legis et Fśderis. It is plain that Abraham is the root; the olive-tree, the visible church; the sap and fatness of the olive, are church-ordinances and covenant-privileges; the Gentile believers, who are Abraham’s seed according to promise, are the ingrafted branches standing in the place of the natural branches, and with them, or in like manner as they did, partaking of the root and fatness of the olive-tree, that is, as really and amply enjoying all the immunities, benefits, and privileges of the church and covenant (among which the initiating sign was one, and a chief one too) as ever the natural branches that were broken off, that is, the Jewish parents and their children, did or might have done. And to deny this, (as before was noted) is to straiten covenant-privileges in their farther progress.


Thesis 6. Suitable hereunto we find, that no sooner was the Christian church constituted, and the believing Gentiles by faith added to it, but the children of such believing parents are declared to be fśderally holy, 1 Cor. vii. 14. and the unbelieving Jews, who were superstitiously fond of circumcision, and prejudiced against baptism as an injurious innovation, are by the apostle persuaded to submit themselves to it, Acts ii. 38, 39. assuring them that the same promise, viz. I will be a God to thee, and to thy seed after thee, is now as effectually sealed to them and their children by baptism, as it was in the former age by circumcision: And that the Gentiles, which are yet afar off, whenever God shall call them, shall equally enjoy the same privilege, both for themselves and for their children also.


We also find a commission given by Christ to the disciples, Mat. xxviii. 19, 20. To disciple all nations, baptizing them, &c. from which discipleship, infants ought not to be excluded, Acts xv. 10. Yea, we find, that as at the institution of circumcision, Abraham, the father and master of the family, was first circumcised in his own person, and then his whole household, Gen. xvii. 23, 24. answerably, as soon as any person by conversion or public profession of faith became a visible child of Abraham, that person was first baptized, and the whole household with him or her, Acts xvi. 15, 33. It is unreasonable to put us upon the proof, that there were infants in those houses; it being more probable that in such frequent baptizing of households belonging to believers, there were some infants; but if there were none, it is enough for us to prove from their fśderal holiness, 1 Cor. vii. 14. and the extent of God’s promise to them, Acts ii. 38, 39. if there had been never so many infants in those households, they might and ought to have been baptized. How the true sense and scope of the last two mentioned scriptures are maintained and vindicated against Mr. Cary’s corrupt glosses and interpretations, see my Vindicić Legis et Fśderis, p. 90, 91. We do not lay the stress of infant-baptism upon such strictures as the baptizing of the household’s of believers, or Christ’s taking up in his arms, and blessing the little ones that were brought to him. These and many other such things found in the history of Christ, and Acts of the apostles, have their use and service to fortify that doctrine. But if we can produce no example of any believer’s infant baptized, the merit of the cause lies not in the matter of fact, but covenant-right. For our adversaries themselves, if we go to the matter of fact, will be hard put to it to produce one instance out of the New Testament of any child of a believing Christian whose baptism was deferred, or by Christ or his apostles ordered to be deferred, until he attained the years of maturity, and made a personal profession of faith himself.


Thesis 7. The change of the token and seal of the covenant from circumcision to baptism, will by no means infer the change or diversity of the covenants, especially when the latter comes into the place, and serves to the same use and end with the former, as it is manifest baptism doth, from Col. ii. 11, 12. as it hath been, I think, sufficiently argued against Mr. Cary’s glosses and exceptions, p. 100, 101. of my Vindicia Legis et Fśderis. The covenant is still the same covenant of grace, though the external initiating sign be changed. For what is the substantial part of the covenant of grace now, but the same it was to Abraham and his seed before? Is not this our covenant of grace, Heb. viii. 10. “I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me “a people?” And in what words was Abraham’s covenant expressed, Gen. xvii. 7. “I will establish my covenant between me and thee, and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.” This makes Abraham’s covenant, sealed to him and his seed, as truly and properly the covenant of grace, as that which baptism now seals to believers and their seed. The rash ignorance of those that affirm, God may become a people’s God in the way of special interest, by virtue of the broken and abolished covenant of works, rather deserves sharp reprehension and sad lamentation, than a confutation; which, nevertheless out of respect to my friend Mr. Cary, I have given it in its proper place in this rejoinder.



1 That is, the revelation. Editor.

2 Turretini Pars 2da loc. 12. p. 248.




The Works of John Flavel, Vol. 3, Banner of Truth 1982. pp 541-547. Vindiciarum Vindex