Westminster Seminary California
 
 
Understanding the Confession: Thomas Blake’s The Covenant of God
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Understanding the Confession: Thomas Blake’s The Covenant of God

 

Book Review:

Thomas Blake, The Covenant of God (1652; Coconut Creek: Puritan Publications, 2009). 696pp. $60.00. Hardcover.

Who in the world is Thomas Blake (1597-1657)? This is a question that many in our own day might ask, but in his own day Blake was a well-known and highly respected English theologian. Blake was a Reformed theologian who wrote one of the larger books of the period on the doctrine of the covenant. This reprint edition has the abbreviated title The Covenant of God, but the original extended title was: “Vindiciae Foederis, or a Treatise of the Covenant of God entered with Mankind. In the several kinds and degrees of it, in which the agreement and respective differences of the covenant of works and the covenant of grace or the old and new covenant are difficult. The condition of the covenant of grace on man’s part are assigned and asserted. The just latitude and extent clearly held forth and fully vindicated. Several corollaries containing many heads of divinity now controverted and practical points singularly useful inferred. In particular the necessity of a constant settled ministry (to bring men into covenant and to bring them up to the terms of it) and of schools and nurseries of learning and an orderly call in tendency to it. Infant baptism in that latitude as now in use in reformed churches maintained.” Wow. And would you believe that the title still goes on to detail the edition and where Blake served as a pastor.

What the extended title does explain, however, is the significant detail into which Blake goes to explain the doctrine of the covenants. For example, over several chapters (not just a few pages, as in some contemporary systematic-theological treatments) Blake elaborates upon the similarities and differences between the covenants of works and grace. The two covenants agree in the general nature of a covenant, they have the same author, they have the same parties (man and God), both are aimed at man’s happiness—life, i.e., is promised in both, both have requirements from man and an engagement from God, righteousness is required of man in both, and both deal federal heads and those united to them (148-49). The two covenants differ in that the covenant of works was entered in man’s integrity, was for his preservation, was first in time, was in force briefly, and had no mediator. The covenant of grace, by contrast, was entered into in man’s fallen condition, was for man’s restitution, follows the covenant of works in time, is eternal, and has a mediator (150-58). Blake goes on for a number of chapters, however, giving greater detail to these points, both in his argumentation and exegesis.

Blake’s work is also further testimony to the breadth of his reading, indicating the variegated character of the Reformed tradition (in other words, that the theology of Calvin was not normative for the tradition). Blake cites William Ames, John Cameron, John Ball, Peter Bulkeley, Andre Rivet, Franciscus Gomarus, Jean Diodati, Francis Junius, David Pareus, John Preston, John Calvin, Theodore Beza, Peter Martyr Vermigli, Zacharias Ursinus, Anthony Burgess, John Davenant, George Downham, Lutheran theologian Martin Chemnitz, Jerome Zanchi, Wolfgang Musculus, Samuel Ward, medieval theologian Thomas Bradwardine, Johannes Piscator, William Pemble, Bartholomew Keckerman, Richard Baxter, Pierre Du Moulin, Daniel Chamier, and William Whitaker, among many others, throughout his work. In fact, one of the more frequently cited works is that of Westminster divine Anthony Burgess and his Vindiciae Legis.

If all of these facts still leave the reader doubtful as to the relevance of Blake’s work for understanding the theology of the period in which the Westminster Standards was written, perhaps the imprimatur by Westminster divine Edmund Calamy (1600-66) is further evidence that Blake’s work is a must-read for serious students of the Westminster Standards.