Tuesday, February 26, 2019

John Cotton and Covenant Community

My church holds to the Presbyterian confession of faith, shorter catechism, and larger catechism, believing them to be faithful summaries of the Bible's teachings (see here). They were written by the Westminster Assembly, which met in the 1640s. Yet these were not the only catechisms in use, since a catechism was a common tool used by pastors to teach the doctrines of the faith. One catechism that was written around the same time was John Cotton's "Milk for Babes," first published in 1646. John Cotton (1585–1652) was a Puritan pastor, first in the Boston in England, and then in the Boston in New England, and he wrote the catechism for the children of both Bostons. His catechism is shorter than our Westminster Shorter Catechism, with 64 questions rather than 107, and it was sometimes printed along with the Shorter Catechism in the popular New England Primer during the 18th century.

You can read Cotton's full catechism here, but here is his section on the church and the covenant. Even though Cotton was a Congregationalist, these answers are quite similar to our Presbyterian Westminster Confession, especially its chapter 26, "Of the Communion of Saints." In the last question, he does not go into detail how the children of believers receive the seals of the covenant, but he believed (as I do) that they receive baptism even as infants, but receive the Lord's Supper once they are able to examine themselves and discern the body (1 Cor. 11:28-29). The point here is that they are members of the covenant with their parents and received with their parents into the fellowship of the church. I really appreciate the way these answers make use of the covenant in its explanation of the church. My church uses this concept in our name, Covenant Family Church. This covenant is a covenant of grace and redemption, but it also obligates us to live in relationship with God and His people.


Q. What is the Church?
A. It is a Congregation of Saints joyned together in the bond of the Covenant, to worship the Lord, and to edify one another, in all his Holy Ordinances.
(Psalm 89:5; 50:5, 16; Ezek. 20.37; Acts 2:42, 1 Cor. 14:23, 26)

Q. What is the bond of the Covenant, in which the Church is joyned together?
A. It is the profession of that Covenant, which God hath made with his faithfull people, to be a God unto them and to their seede.
(2 Cor. 8:5, 9:13; Gen. 17:7)

Q. What doth the Lord binde his people to in this Covenant?
A. To give up themselves and their seede first to the Lord to be his people, and then to the Elders and Brethren of the Church, to set forward the worship of God and their mutuall edifycation.
(Josh. 24:15, 21, 24, 25; 2 Cor. 8.5; Eph. 5:21; Neh. 9:38, with 10:28, 29-34)

Q. How do they give up themselves and their seed to the Lord?
A. By receiving through faith, the Lord, & his Covenant, to themselves, and to their seed, And accordingly walking themselves, and trayning up their Children in the wayes of his Covenant.
(John 1:12, Gen. 17:9-10, Isa. 56:6-7, Gen. 18:19)

Q. How do they give up themselves and their seed to the Elders and Brethren of the Church?
A. By confession of their sinnes and profession of their faith, and of their subjection to the Gospell of Christ. And so they and their seede are received into the fellowship of the Church, and the seales thereof.
(Matt. 3:6, Acts 8:37, 2 Cor. 9:13, Acts 2:38-39)

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