The best known and most lengthy confession put forth by the Particular Baptists was the one known as the Assembly’s Confession or the Second London Confession. Since the time of the 1644 or First London Confession much had happened in England in both the political and the religious realms. The nation had seen the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell with freedoms hitherto not known by Englishmen, and then it had seen these freedoms taken away by the restoration of Charles II. The Declaration of Breda made by Charles at the inception of his return to England promised toleration to dissenters, but his actions (and those of Parliament) were far from tolerable. Charles was viewed with suspicion of secretly being a Roman Catholic and all acts he desired for toleration of religious dissent from the Church of England were looked upon as his way of bringing Popery again to England. The acts against conventicles, religious meetings not conducted according to the Common Prayer Book of the Church of England, and non-conforming ministers coming within five miles of where they were silenced were all designed to suppress dissent from the national church which had flourished in the days of Cromwell. All dissenters were looked upon with suspicion, but the Baptists were particularly hated by the persecuting powers.
In 1677 a group of Baptists set to once again try to show their orthodoxy by issuing a Confession of Faith. This was the first uniting of Baptists in London and in the countryside for the production of a Confession. Between 1644 and 1677 there had been several other confessions and declarations by Baptists, but, for whatever the reason, the Baptists in the country had not joined with their brethren in the city for these productions. Now, after being invited in 1675, they met together to consider this document.
In seeking to prove their orthodoxy the Baptists decided rather than to create a new document as they did in 1644, they would rework an older one. For this purpose they chose the Presbyterian’s Westminster Confession, but probably not in that form. The Independents had already revised the Westminster into their famed Savoy Declaration. They modified the sections on the Church to reflect their congregational tendencies, leaving the bulk of the Confession unchanged. These being well known, and recognized as standards of Calvinistic orthodoxy, Elder William Collins of the Petty France Church of London, revised them to reflect Baptist sentiments. It was first published in 1677; then when toleration came under the reign of William and Mary, was subscribed in the name of over one hundred congregations and republished in 1689. It has been reprinted countless times since and is still highly regarded among those Baptists who hold to the free grace of God.
It said in the preface to the original that in the production of this new confession they agreed with the old one (1644), and only because of the scarcity of copies of the older one, they are now putting out this new confession. (This reminds us of the desire of the “Revisers” of the Bible in 1881 who were going to make a good translation “better” and did so by scrapping it and making a new one. God willing, we shall cover that in a future article.) In the course of this article we shall see how they managed this agreement with the older confession.
The first thing to strike our minds when reading this confession is Chapter III, where we read, “God hath Decreed in himself from all Eternity, by the most wise and holy Councel of his own will, freely and unchangeably, all things whatsoever comes to passe....” Just as in the older confession, these Baptists professed a belief in the absolute predestination of all things. “Whatsoever comes to pass” God has decreed of His own will, without consulting anyone else or considering any other thing. We must ask, does “whatsoever comes to pass” include only good things? Can we not determine that these old brethren of 1689 were of the same mind as we as regards this precious truth? Remember, here we are considering the bare words of the Confession without any additions of a later time, or “explanations” which may have been added to it. Indeed, we quote from Hercules Collins, a brother of William Collins and signer of this Confession, in his Mountains of Brass or a Discourse upon the Decrees of God, “All the acts of Divine Providence in Time, whether in the Church or the World, are all the Effects, Products, and Executions of God’s Eternal Pleasure, Purpose, Counsel, and Will.” There is nothing we can add to these statements to show these were predestinarians of the absolute order.
In Article Eleven, section four we read as follows, “God did from all eternity decree to justify all the Elect, and Christ did in the fullness of time die for their sins, and rise again for their Justification; Nevertheless they are not justified personally, until the Holy Spirit, doth in due time actually apply Christ unto them.” Here we see justification set forth both in decree and in actuality. Though the justification of all God’s Elect was sure and certain, they were not personally, actually justified until the application of Christ was made by the Spirit. We are justified by the blood of Christ, Romans 5:9 and 3:24, which is applied to the Elect in time.
Despite the articles on predestination, election, justification and other subjects with which we agree, when looking closely at this document we find some serious defects when compared with the Confession of 1644. In Chapter 19, section 6 we find the following “Although true Believers be not under the Law, as a Covenant of Works, to be thereby justified or condemned; yet it is of great use to them as well as to others: in that, as a Rule of Life, informing them of the Will of God, and their Duty it directs and binds them, to walk accordingly....” Compare this part of the confession with the statement of the Apostle Paul, “But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully; knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient...,” I Timothy 1:8-9. Would not this have been an opportune time for Paul to have instructed Timothy about the law as a “rule of life?” Rather than call the law a rule of life for the believer, Paul here states it was not made for the righteous. Who are the righteous? Those to whom righteousness has been imputed as it was to Abraham, Romans 4. Believers have been made the righteousness of God in Christ, I Corinthians 5. This righteousness is one which cannot come by the law, Galatians 2:21, but comes by the shedding of the blood of Christ. This has fulfilled the Law to a jot and a tittle, so is no longer the killing letter to the saints of God. Notice though, nowhere does the Scripture even imply the nature of law has changed. It is still the killing letter; the ministration of death; that which is done away. We must ask all who are zealous for the law, if the law is “done away” in Christ (1 Cor. 3:11) what is left to be this rule of life?
We now turn our attention to another part of this Confession where there is a difference between it and the one of just forty-five years earlier. In Article Twenty-six, section one we read, “The Catholick or universal Church...consists of the whole number of the Elect....” This was a concept not believed by the framers of the First London Confession. Article thirty-three of the first Confession (as we mentioned in our previous article) saw the Church only as made up of baptized believers. While we affirm that all the elect were united to Christ before the world began and these all make up God’s family, we deny they constitute a Church. If they are a church how do they enter into it? The definition of the word is a called-out assembly. Would our Lord and His Apostles take a common, every-day word and change the meaning to something much the opposite without specifically telling us so? The change in the doctrine of the Church should be obvious to even the casual reader familiar with both documents.
Why were these (and there were other) changes made? Was it because these had more light on the Word than their earlier brethren? No, these changes were made to attempt to gain respectability by incorporating doctrines formulated by the Reformed Churches into the baptized churches. Baptists had long been considered the off-scouring of the religious world and perveyors of heresies which should only be dealt with by extermination. Now that toleration had manifested itself with the accession of William and Mary to the thrones of England, many Baptists wanted to show their agreement with the majority of the Reformed Churches. This is why they took the Westminster Confession of the Presbyterians as their model for this one.
Remember, the first confession was a Baptist document. Now they attempt to white-wash Presbyterianism by changing the articles on baptism, the Lord’s supper and (somewhat) the church to a more baptistic view, leaving the other Presbyterian errors. Whether this was done in ignorance, or with a desire to be more ecumenical, or because they had fallen from some of their previously held baptist distinctives, I will leave for others to speculate. It, however, should show us today what will happen when we attempt to gain respectability in the eyes of the religious world.
There is a saying in nature, “lie down with dogs; get up with fleas.” When we attempt to “lie down” with the “Reformed tradition,” we get up with the vermin of legalism, ecumenicism and a false universal charity. We are convinced that a desire to be more acceptable to the world’s religious bodies has created more problems for Baptists over the years than any other thing they have done. This yearning to show “how much we are like” the false denominations of the world has created nothing but confusion in the minds of those who desire to keep to the old paths and not deviate with the whims of religious fashion.
This old confession like many other productions of men has its good points, but let us never use it as a substitute for the inspired Word of Truth. Many who have measured orthodoxy by the letter of this (or another) confession have used it to mask error or looseness in doctrine or practice while crying that they are the upholders of truth because they have the confession. May God grant that we may rejoice when the truth is witnessed by the writings of men, but let us reject their fleshly errors.
Elder Robert N. lackey
January - February 1992