Clarification on the label "1689 Federalism"

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Puritan Board Sophomore
In another thread, MW asked:
Two different positions claim to follow the federalism of the 1689 Confession. One of them, which we might call Waldron's view, is much closer to the reformed covenant theology of the Westminster Confession. The other, which we might call Denault's view, is clearly different. Which one ought to be considered as "1689 federalism?"

You have two competing claimants to the throne. Waldron teaches the historical administration of the covenant of grace under the Old Testament. Denault denies this. In the linked article he states, "The understanding of this particular federalism is that the covenant of grace was not formally established during the O.T. period."

Please specify which "1689 federalism" is being advocated.

The term "1689 Federalism" was coined approximately 5 years ago to describe the majority view of the 17th century particular baptists. It was a view that had been neglected/lost. 20th century Reformed Baptists were not familiar with it, thus a label was necessary to distinguish it from the view that was developed in the latter half of the 20th century. The label "1689 Federalism" was not intended to convey that the formulations of 20th century Reformed Baptists was contrary to the confession. The wording of the confession is broad enough to embrace both views.

Why was "1689 Federalism" used to describe one view and not the other? Because "1689 Federalism" explains the rationale behind the change in language of the 2LBCF with regards to covenant theology (whereas Waldron's view would not) and because it was the vast majority view (I believe only one author has been found to have held something closer to the modern 20th cent/Waldron view).

Waldron has never claimed the "1689 Federalism" label. In his newly revised Exposition of the confession, Waldron says
The New Covenant has sometimes been equated with 'the covenant of grace'. As the Confession remarks, 'the full discovery' of 'the covenant of grace' 'was completed in the New Testament.' However, it is clear that the New Covenant was inaugurated in the events surrounding the first advent of Christ (Jeremiah 31:31; Hebrews 8:13). Thus it is crucial to maintain a clear distinction between 'the covenant of grace' and the biblical, divine covenants. The divine covenants undoubtedly suggested this terminology, but no one of them ought to be equated with it.*

*In the almost 30 years since I wrote this discussion of the covenant of grace a greate deal of historical study has been focused on the subject of covenants in Reformed or Particular Baptist tradition. This has given rise to what is known as 1689 Federalism. There is much of value in this viewpoint. A number of my friends are prominent in this movement. THe defense of the covenant of grace given here, however, distinguishes it from the New Covenant. It is content simply to say what the Confession says - that the covenant of grace is fully revealed in the New Covenant. It does not affirm, what 1689 Federalism affirms, that the New Covenant is the covenant of grace. This, of course, raises the problem I have mentioned in my exposition. How then can the covenant of grace be equated with the New Covenant - if the covenant of grace is a covenant which overarches all of history? Attendant upon this question is another. If the covenant of grace is the New Covenant, how were men saved before the New Covenant was put into effect by the blood of Christ (Hebrews 7:22)? The response of 1689 Federalism to this is that men were saved by the promise of that covenant of grace before it was actually ratified in the blood of Christ. Thus, Old Testament saints, I suppose, were saved by the grace of the covenant of grace before the inauguration of the covenant of grace. I think my friends' position is consistent with the 1689 Confession. I am not, however, ready to affirm it and have remaining questions about it. I think my explanation here is also consistent with the wording of paragraph 3 which says only that 'the full discovery thereof (the covenant of grace) was completed in the New Testament.'

"1689 Federalism" does not claim Waldron is unconfessional in his view. Samuel Renihan has a helpful post on this. He concludes
4. The confession declines to confess the Westminster model of one covenant of grace under two/multiple administrations, when in the preface it is stated that the same words will be used where agreement exists. It does not teach, employ, or endorse this distinction anywhere else in the confession.

5. The confession does not state a difference of substance between the old and new. While that is the best explanation for the changes from WCF 7 to LBCF 7, it is not explicitly asserted.

6. While the confession positively supports that notion (that the old and new differ in substance), it is probable that it also remains broad enough to accommodate some of the variety within Particular Baptist federal thought.

7. From my reading, the majority opinion of the Particular Baptists was a self-conscious rejection of the Westminster model. And in my opinion, making a Baptist argument within the Westminster Paedobaptist framework is fraught with problems, nor does it take advantage of the rich heritage that our forefathers left us in their writings on this topic.

So if you hear someone using the label "1689 Federalism" it refers to the idea that only the New Covenant is the Covenant of Grace. It does not refer to Waldron's view (but neither does it claim Waldron's view is unconfessional). In the future, those with questions about 1689 Federalism should consult the website This particular question/issue is addressed in the FAQ there.

Hope that helps clarify.


Ordinary Guy (TM)
Does anyone have a link to anything Dr. Waldron has written on this topic?

And yes, thanks Brandon, your explanation was very helpful.


Puritan Board Sophomore
Here is a book he wrote

See also

And of course his Exposition of the Confession. I don't think I'm aware of any writings online.

Note that, as a proponent of 1689 Federalism, I can agree with just about everything Waldron says in those two books. Thus there is a great deal of overlap and agreement between the views.

Here are three lectures he gave at a conference several years ago:

And, if you are interested, here are my notes on those lectures:
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