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Henry Hammond and Covenant Theology

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 July 2009

Michael McGiffert
Michael McGiffert is a professor emeritus of History at the College of William and Mary and editor emeritus of the William and Mary Quarterly.


Henry Hammond (1605–60), the learned and practical English priest who during the Interregnum did as much as any man and a good deal more than most to reinforce and renew the ideational underpinnings of his Church, is a familiar figure in seventeenth-century Anglican studies. Historians speak of his captaincy of a circle of Anglican divines. One names him the “oracle of the High Church party”; another sees him as the principal transformer of Anglicanism. The Independent John Owen likened him to a clerical Atlas bearing on his shoulders “the whole weight of the episcopal cause.” The scholars just quoted call Hammond a “Laudian” but are uneasy with the label and loath to defend it. He appears in their work as an exemplary High Churchman standing for de jure episcopacy, Prayer-Book piety, the Eucharist, and royal headship of the Church. His intransigent Churchmanship contrasts in some degree with his character and temperament. He comes down to us as “the spokesman of those who would make no concession,” yet Richard Baxter, who thought him “the fons et origo of the prelatical bigotry of his day, wrote that he “took the death of Dr. Hammond … for a very great loss; for his piety and wisdom would sure have hindered much of the violence” of the Restoration.

Copyright © American Society of Church History 2005

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1. Bosher, Robert S., The Making of the Reformation Settlement: The Influence of the Laudians, 1649–1662 (London: Dacre, 1651), 17Google Scholar; “[i]t is due in large measure to his efforts and his encouragement of others that the Interregnum became in fact a golden age of High Anglican theology and apologetic,” ibid., 36. Packer, John W., The Transformation of Anglicanism, 1643–1660, with Special Reference to Henry Hammond (Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press, 1969)Google Scholar. See also Whiteman, Anne, “The Restoration of the Church of England,” in From Uniformity to Unity, 1662–1962, ed. Nuttall, Geoffrey F. and Owen, Chadwick (London: SPCK, 1962), 38.Google Scholar

2. Bosher, , Reformation Settlement, 36Google Scholar; Packer, , Transformation, 47.Google Scholar

3. Bosher, , Reformation Settlement, xvGoogle Scholar, speaks of the term as a mere convenience. Packer, , Transformation, viiGoogle Scholar, shares Bosher's reservations. Whiteman, , “Restoration,” 3839Google Scholar, puts “Laudian” in quotation marks, remarking that “it is difficult to find an alternative term, and indeed it might now prove confusing to use one, since ‘Laudian’ has been so generally accepted.” This offishness is understandable because the label, by obscuring change in the Church's sense of self, compromises the alleged Anglican “transformation” of the 1650s and threatens to render Hammond and his circle mere epigones of the late archbishop.

4. Whiteman, , “Restoration,” 3738Google Scholar. Bosher, , Restoration Settlement, 29, quoting Reliquiae Baxterianae (London: T. Parkhurst, 1696), 208.Google Scholar

5. Lettinga, Neil, “Covenant Theology Turned Upside Down,” Sixteenth-Century Journal 24 (1993): 653–69CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Hammond, also holds center stage in Lettinga's “Covenant Theology and the Transformation of Anglicanism” (Ph.D. diss., Johns Hopkins University, 1987)Google Scholar, esp. 163–201, which, however, says nothing of the seventeenth-century predecessors whose path he extended and too little of his covenantal influence on his successors.

6. Paul, , The Assembly of the Lord: Politics and Religion in the Westminster Assembly and the “Grand Debate” (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1985), 105Google Scholar, n. 11. Green, , The Christian's ABC: Catechisms and Catechizing in England, c. 1530–1740 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 296, 311–12, 322, 336, 347, 378, 401, 503, 538CrossRefGoogle Scholar; quotation on 348. Allison, , The Rise of Moralism: The Proclamation of the Gospel from Hooker to Baxter (Wilton, Conn.: Morehouse Barlow, 1966), 96102Google Scholar. Lettinga, “Covenant Theology and the Transformation of Anglicanism,” esp. chap. 4, and “Covenant Theology Turned Upside Down,” passim.

7. Green, , Christian's ABC, 51.Google Scholar

8. Donne, , The Sermons of John Donne, ed. Simpson, Evelyn M. and Potter, George R. (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1962), 10:164–65Google Scholar. See also 2:262; 5:102–3; 8:286; Leslie, Henry, A Sermon Preached before His Majesty at Wokin (London: Humphrey Lownes for James Boler, 1627), 21Google Scholar; and Davenant, John, One of the Sermons Preached at Westminster (London: G. Miller for Richard Badger, 1628), 45Google Scholar. Daniel, E. Randolph, “Reconciliation, Covenant and Election: A Study in the Theology of John Donne,” Anglican Theological Review 48 (1966): 1430Google Scholar, puts covenant at the core of Donne's theology and is rebuked by Johnson, Jeffrey, who prefers the Trinity, in The Theology of John Donne (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1999), 125Google Scholar. Trinity and covenant merge in Donne's teaching of the pactum salis or covenant of redemption.

9. Lake, , Ten Sermons Delivered on the Nineteenth Chapter of Exodus, in Sermons with Some Religious and Divine Meditations (London: W. Stansby, 1629), 1st pag., 407.Google Scholar

10. Ibid., 422, 409, 408. Lake shows remarkable sensitivity to the psychological tensions involved in transacting with God: “to capitulate [that is, strike covenant] would imply a denial of our native obligation and that we would not obey were it not for the adoptive [that is, baptism]. Besides, we would seem to doubt whether God will be as good as his word, as God hath reason to doubt of us,” ibid., 422.

11. ibid., 408, 421.

12. ibid., 421.

13. Donne, , Sermons, 1:297Google Scholar (see also 7:127–28).

14. Lake, , Ten Sermons, 1st pag., 470, 418, 470.Google Scholar

15. The poetry of George Herbert (“Obedience,” The Temple, 1633) and Henry Vaughan (“The Agreement,” Silex Scintillans, 1650, pt. 2), glances at the covenant motif.

16. Donne, , Sermons, 2:323–24Google Scholar; see also 3:178 and 4:85, 160. Cowper, William, Heaven Opened, in Three Heavenly Treatises upon the Eight[h] Chapter to the Romans (London: Thomas Snodham, 1609), 141, 162Google Scholar. Andrewes, Lancelot, A Sermon Preached before the King's Majesty at Whitehall on the V. of November, Anno Domini, MDCXVII, in XCVI Sermons (London: George Miller, 1629), 985Google Scholar. Lake, , Ten Sermons, 1st pag., 406.Google Scholar

17. Downame, George, The Covenant of Grace or an Exposition upon Luke (Dublin: n.p., 1631)Google Scholar, passim. Donne, , Sermons, 3:125Google Scholar (see also 5:197). Leslie, , Sermon… at Wokin, 9Google Scholar (“He doth not only give the power but also he brings forth the act”), 23.

18. Cowper, , Heaven Opened, in Three Heavenly Treatises, 140Google Scholar; Donne, , Sermons, 1:295–97.Google Scholar

19. Lake, , Exposition of First Psalm, 2nd pag., 10Google Scholar. Andrewes, , The Moral Law Expounded (London: Michael Sparue, 1642), 71.Google Scholar

20. Playfere, , The Difference between the Law and the Gospel, in Nine Sermons (Cambridge: Cantrell Legge, 1612), 229.Google Scholar

21. McGiffert, Michael, “The Perkinsian Moment of Federal Theology,” Calvin Theological Journal 29 (04 1994): 117–48.Google Scholar

22. Sparke, , The Mystery of Godliness: A General Discourse of the Reason That Is in Christian Religion (Oxford: J. Litchfield for William Webb, 1628), *5r, *6vGoogle Scholar; bk. 1, 5.

23. ibid., 9, 6, 24, 26.

24. Ibid., 31, 46.

25. Ibid., 52, 71, 75; bk. 2, 4–5.

26. Fell, , “The Life of … Dr. Henry Hammond,” in Hammond, The Miscellaneous Theological Works (Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1847), 1:xix–xx.Google Scholar

27. Pemble, , Vindiciae Fidei, or A Treatise of Justification by Faith (Oxford: John Litchfield and William Turner, 1625), 136Google Scholar; see also Vindiciae Gratiae. A Plea for Grace (Oxford: R. Young for I. Bartlet, 1627); Pemble died in 1623.Google Scholar

28. Toynbee, Margaret, “The Two Sir John Dingleys,” Notes and Queries (11 1953): 482.Google Scholar

29. Walker, , Sufferings, pt. 2, 38Google Scholar. Frewen became bishop of Lichfield and archbishop of York.

30. Atherton, Ian, “Robert Sidney (1595–1677),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, vol. 50Google Scholar, notes that Sidney denied the accusation and opines that his preferment of Hammond “does not suggest any radical religious leanings.” Possibly so–unless the earl recognized in Hammond a “puritan” of his own stripe.

31. See, for example, Ussher's, Eighteen Sermons Preached in Oxford, 1640 (London: J. Rothwell and W. Churchill, 1659), esp. 76Google Scholar ff., where hyperconversionist preaching of the law is disapproved and the covenants of nature and grace are highlighted.

32. Fell, “Life of Hammond,” in Hammond, , Works, 1:xviii–xix.Google Scholar

33. Paul's Assembly of the Lord is silent about recruitment to the assembly. For a detailed account, see Jackson Holley, Larry, “The Divines of the Westminster Assembly: A Study of Puritanism and Parliament” (Ph.D. diss., Yale University, 1979)Google Scholar, chap. 2.

34. Millar Maclure's useful but limited register of The Paul's Cross Sermons, 1534–1642 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1958)Google Scholar, omits this one as well as another that Hammond certainly preached there, namely, “Sermon XII. The Poor Man's Tithing,” Hammond, , Works (Oxford: J. H. Parker, 1849), vol. 3, pt. 1,239–69Google Scholar, probably because the caption in the 1664 edition of his sermons names Paul's church as the venue. For the correction, see ibid. (Oxford, 1850), pt. 2, x. Fell states that Hammond “frequently preached” at the Cross (“Life of Hammond,” ibid., 1:xxvi) but gives no titles or dates.

35. Hammond, , “Sermon XXIII,” Works, vol. 3, pt. 2,489–92Google Scholar. “Edified, not instructed” comes from Clement of Alexandria; Hammond also used it in A Practical Catechism, ibid., 1:2. He was fond of classical tags; the Oxford sermons have many such.

36. Hammond, , “Sermon XXIII,” Works, Vol. 3, pt. 2, 489, 490, 495–96Google Scholar. Contrast this with Hammond's much later assault on the “fiduciary” who holds out the possibility of full and perfect assurance, makes faith the be-all and end-all of Christianity, excludes good works from the reckoning of grace, sets justification before sanctification, stands for atonement that is limited by decree, and is in these and other ways an antinomian in High Calvinist dress: Of Fundamentals, ibid. (Oxford, 1849), 2:129–33.

37. ibid., 489, 492, 493, 496.

38. ibid., 496.

39. ibid., 498, 503. This clichéd language bespeaks the psychopathologies of piety that Theodore Dwight Bozeman examines in The Precisianist Strain: Disciplinary Religion & Antinomian Backlash in Puritanism to 1638 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004), esp. chap. 9.Google Scholar

40. Hammond, , “Sermon XXIII,” Works, vol. 3, pt. 2, 505.Google Scholar

41. I am referring to the mid-seventeenth-century emergence in English and Scottish Reformed thought of the covenant of redemption, which can be found in Donne and flashes out in Thomas Goodwin: see The Works of Thomas Goodwin (Eureka, Calif.: Tanski, 1996), vol. 5: Of Christ the Mediator, 1–437, and The One Sacrifice, 479–98. The doctrine came to Britain in competing forms from Olevian of Heidelberg and Arminius of Leiden.Google Scholar

42. Donne, , Sermons, 2:323Google Scholar. Davenant, , Animadversions … upon a Treatise Intitled God's Love to Mankind (Cambridge: Roger Daniel, 1641), 468–69, 447–48Google Scholar, rebutting Hoard, Samuel and Henry Mason's Arminian treatise, God's Love to Mankind. Manifested by Disproving His Absolute Decree for Their Damnation (n.p., 1633).Google Scholar

43. Hammond, , “Sermon XXIII,” Works, vol. 3, pt. 2, 505Google Scholar, referring to the covenant of redemption.

44. ibid., 504–6.

45. For Hammond's mature doctrine of predestination, see Of Fundamentals, ibid., vol. 2, chaps. 15–16, and his “A Letter to Dr. Sanderson Concerning God's Grace and Decrees,” in The Works of Robert Sanderson, D.D., ed. William, Jacobson (Oxford: n.p., 1854), 5:290–35, esp. 320–21Google Scholar, where the divine action shifts from decree to covenant.

46. Hammond, , “Sermon XXIII,” Works, vol. 3, pt. 2, 504–5Google Scholar. Hammond, also castigates any who, by resisting grace, “frustrate the sufferings of Christ,” 497.Google Scholar

47. Packer, , Transformation, 27Google Scholar, drawing on Fell, “Life of Hammond,” in Hammond, Works, 1:xxxi.

48. Green, , Christian's ABC, 55, 200.Google Scholar

49. Packer, , Transformation, 27Google Scholar, drawing on Fell, “Life of Hammond,” in Hammond, Works, 1:xxxi, and quoting Whiston, , Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Mr. William Whiston (London: for the author, 1749), 1:10.Google Scholar

50. Green, , Christian's ABC, 280.Google Scholar

51. Hammond, , A Practical Catechism, Works, 1:2.Google Scholar

52. It is conceivable that Hammond borrowed the first part of this plan—the two covenants, Christ's offices, the three graces—from Sparke's Mystery of Godliness.

53. The depleted state of Hammond's literary remains precludes tracking the movements of his mind during this critical passage, when he realized, as I suppose, that he could no longer be out of step with the Church. The only pertinent document, a Kentish visitation sermon of 1639 (which we will glance at presently), shows him already staking out a future in the Church.

54. Hammond, , “Sermon XI. The Pastor's Motto,” Works (Oxford, 1849), vol. 3, pt. 1, 226, 228.Google Scholar

55. Ibid., 229.

56. Hammond, Catechism, ibid., 1:3–4.

57. Ibid., 5–6, 8–9, 10–11.

58. See on this point Lettinga, , “Covenant Theology Turned Upside Down,” 659Google Scholar. See also Hammond's, assertion in A Paraphrase and Annotations upon All the Books of the New Testament (London: J. Fletcher for Richard Royston, 1653), 1Google Scholar, that (contrary to puritans like Ames and Anglicans like Sparke) the covenant of grace in the New Testament, whether called berith or diatheke, is always bilateral and conditional “and never a testament.”

59. Lettinga, , “Covenant Theology Turned Upside Down,” 663.Google Scholar

60. Hammond, , Catechism, Works, 1:79.Google Scholar

61. Ibid., 81, 82. Hammond was contending here against the antinomian drift of the High Calvinist doctrine of justification from eternity by decree “before we convert to God and resolve new life,” 81.

62. Ibid., 82–83.

63. Ibid., 79. The prescription also allows for the incidental and moderate use of evangelical threats and terrors, ibid., 37–39.

64. Hammond, , Catechism, Works, 1:83.Google Scholar

65. Ibid., 351 ff. Lettinga points out (“Covenant Theology Turned Upside Down,” 665) that Hammond's discussion of baptism in Of Fundamentals, a decade later, integrates it “more closely into his central concern with the Covenant of Grace.” See Of Fundamentals, Works, 2:175 ff.Google Scholar

66. Hammond, , Catechism, Works, 1:cxxix.Google Scholar

67. Hammond, , “Sermon XXI,” Works, vol., 3, pt. 2, 457, 464Google Scholar. This counsel is embedded in an attack upon puritan criticism of the “mere moral man,” ibid., 460. Cf. Practical Catechism, ibid., 1:57 ff., on preparatives to repentance and regeneration. One may discern in Hammond's positioning of “rack” a rhetorical echo and perhaps a moral hinge.

68. Hammond, “Sermon XIV,” ibid., vol. 3, pt. 1, 299.

69. Ibid., 301, 303. Key texts include Phil. 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me”; John 1:12: “As many as received Him, to them gave he power”; Rev. 2:7: “To him that overcometh will I give.”

70. Ibid., 304–8. “[W]hole duty of a Christian” undoubtedly nods to Hammond's friend Richard Allestree's The Whole Duty of Man.

71. Ibid., 315.

72. Hammond, , “Sermon XXV,” Works, vol. 3, pt. 2, 549.Google Scholar

73. Hammond, , A Pacific Discourse of God's Grace and Decrees, in a Letter of Full Accordance Written to the Reverend and Most Learned Dr. Robert Sanderson (London: R. Davis, 1660), 2122Google Scholar, citing Mark 16:15–16.

74. Hammond, , Of Fundamentals, Works, 2:169–73.Google Scholar

75. Fell, “Life of Hammond,” ibid., 1:xli, lxi–lxii.

76. Lacey, T. A., Herbert Thorndike (1598–1672) (London: SPCK, 1929), 29.Google Scholar

77. Thorndike's theological works were published in six volumes, 1844–56, with a life by the editor, Arthur W. Haddan. See also Miller, Ernest Charles Jr., “The Doctrine of the Church in the Thought of Herbert Thorndike (1598–1672)” (D.Phil, diss., Oxford University, 1990)Google Scholar. W. B. Patterson's article in the ODNB passes too lightly over Thorndike's covenantal pitch and drive.

78. [Allestree, ], The Practice of Christian Graces, or The Whole Duty of Man (London: n.p., 1657), a6r–a7v, 6566Google Scholar. The work, minus its main title, went on to nearly sixty editions by 1700.

79. Taylor, , Unum Necessarium, or, The Doctrine and Practice of Repentance (1655), in The Whole Works of the Right Rev. Jeremy Taylor, D.D., ed. Charles Page, Eden (London: Longman, 1850), 7:189Google Scholar; “The Invalidity of a Late or Death-Bed Repentance,” ibid., 403; “Of Growth in Grace,” ibid., 4:449–50.

80. Taylor, “The Faith and Patience of the Saints; or, The Righteous Cause Oppressed,” ibid., 7:434.

81. Littleton, , Twenty-One Sermons upon Common Subjects of Christian Doctrine (London: S. Roycroft, 1679), 1320Google Scholar, bound with Sixty-One Sermons Preached Mostly upon Public Occasions (London: S. Roycroft, 1680).Google Scholar

82. Twenty years ago, Wallace, Dewey D. Jr., noted in Puritans and Predestination: Grace in English Protestant Theology, 1525–1695 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1982), 197Google Scholar, that “[t]he use of the covenant by Anglican anti-Calvinists is a story yet to be told, and one that might well be long.” I must leave that telling to others.