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The Origin of the First London Confession and its Importance for Baptists Today

In looking over the history of the early Particular Baptists, it seems there are many Primitive Baptists who do not know about their early confessions. Many today who claim to venerate the Second London Confession of 1677 / 1689 (and its American cousin the Philadelphia Confession) have but little knowledge of the earlier 1st London Confession. This is one of the most important documents of our forefathers in the Faith we could examine today, because it gives in a very brief form a summary of their belief and practice. From it we can see how these older Baptists were not tainted with Protestant or Puritan notions regarding many doctrines about which there is now question among Baptists. In fact, what is left out of this confession is as important as what is there.

One thing of which we find no mention is the idea that God made a “covenant of works”, with Adam. True, Adam was the federal head and representative of all the human race that would follow, but no where in the Scripture do we find God making a covenant with him, particularly one based on creature works. God told Adam of which trees in the Garden he could partake, and forbade him the one, but nowhere in scripture is this called a covenant. Indeed, it seems it was nothing more than a command. However, this covenant of works is essential to the position of those who believe God made multiple covenants with men. Those who hold to any form of will-worship must have a legal covenant to obey or disobey. They think without a covenant of works that was broken there could be no reason for a covenant of grace. We submit, along with our brethren of 1644, that God has never dealt out spiritual reward (eternal life or timely blessings) on the basis of any human works. God has always dealt with men on one of two bases: eternal election, or eternal reprobation. Both of these are independent of any works whether by so-called covenant or otherwise.

Another concept not found in this document is the “universal, invisible church”. Why is this not found in this confession? Could it be because the framers of this confession did not believe in it? When one examines the two main editions of this old confession, 1644 and 1646, one is struck with a difference in wording in Article XXXIII on the Church. The first edition reads as follows (spelling as in the original), “That Christ hath here on earth a spirituall Kingdome which is the Church, which he hath purchased and redeemed to himselfe, as a peculiar inheritance: which Church, as it is visible to us, is a company of visible Saints.” Notice the change of wording in the second edition (1646): “Jesus Christ hath here on earth a spiritual kingdom, which is his church, whom he hath purchased and redeemed to himself as a peculiar inheritance; which church is a company of visible saints.” Notice the six missing words. Does not their omission radically change what could be read into this article? Is it not reasonable to assume, however, when either one author or a group puts out a second edition of a work, that it is either because something was lacking from the first edition, or to answer objections made to the first edition or else to clarify things misunderstood? According to historical sources, the changes in the 1646 edition of the confession were brought about because of the objections which pedobaptists made. Most, if not all, infant sprinklers have to hold to a universal, invisible church in which to place those truly converted. For even the most hardened among them would not suggest all who are members of their societies are really saints. Now, many Baptists holding to this Protestant notion of a universal, invisible church make a claim for this confession teaching their views. However, when we view this confession in its historical development, we see it cannot uphold their claim. Also, Benjamin Cox’s Appendix to the 1646 edition no where mentions such notions as we have mentioned here.

If these are two omissions from this Confession, let us now look at a few things it states positively. What did our forefathers think about predestination? We shall quote from Article III, “God hath decreed in Himself, before the world was, concerning all things, whether necessary, accidental or voluntary, with all the circumstances of them, to work, dispose, and bring about all things according to the counsel of His own will, to His glory.” Is not this the substance of what we today would call “Absolute Predestination”? These representatives of seven churches in London knew the objections Arminians of whatever stripe would make and left no option for anything to happen outside the decree of God. Who did the decreeing? God! How did He decree? Did He look forward and see what creatures would do and then decree accordingly? No, for He decreed “in Himself” without any recourse to any secondary causes. When did He make this decree? Before the world was, not after He supposedly saw whether Adam would obey or not. What did He decree? Was it just the “good things”? “Concerning all things!” All things are completely inclusive here, and if there was any shadow of a doubt they spelled it out by adding, “whether necessary, accidental or voluntary, with all the circumstances of them.” Is anything left out of this statement? “All things...and all the circumstances of them” leave no doubt in the mind of any honest reader whether these old Baptists were absolute predestinarians or not.

If this article alone were not enough, we also quote Article XIX, “Concerning His kingly office, Christ being risen from the dead, and ascended into heaven, and having all power in heaven and in earth, He doth spiritually govern His church, and doth exercise His power over all, angels and men, good and bad, to the preservation and salvation of the elect, and to the overruling and destruction of His enemies.” Note two things here plainly taught: one, Christ exercises His power over all, and two, His power is by virtue of His Kingship. These men who had and would survive years of persecution believed (according to the Scriptures) Jesus Christ was now a King. They were not waiting for Him to be crowned King over His Kingdom at some future time. No, for at His ascension He sat down on the throne of David there to exercise the authority of this kingship until He returns and delivers up the kingdom to His Father. How could the power of Christ be exercised over all if He were not King over all? This power that is over all is given not for His self-protection, but for the preservation and salvation of His Elect and the spiritual government of the Church. He, as the eternal God, needs no power for His own protection or preservation, but we, as creatures of the dust, need the preserving power from the hand of our great King to keep us as we journey in our pilgrimage. Is this power exercised by Christ contrary to God’s decree? Rather, is not the outworking of this decree in time by the power of King Jesus. If we must wait for the so-called millennium for Christ to be made King, then what power is engaged for us now? What power has sustained the martyrs of Christ throughout all the persecutions and trials through the ages? Our King is enthroned now, and His power is exercised for the salvation of the elect including all circumstances they are brought into and also the government of the church.

The last point that we shall cover (though we could spend issues discussing this document) is Article XXVI, “The same power that converts to Christ, carrieth on the soul through all duties, temptations, conflicts and sufferings; and whatsoever a believer is, he is by grace, and is carried on in all obedience and temptations by the same.” Here we have a clear statement refuting the notion that though eternal salvation is by Grace, “time salvation” is by works. What power converts to Christ? Let us let these old fathers answer: [the believer] “is converted by no less power than that which raised Christ from the dead.” (Article XXIV) The power of the Eternal Spirit is what raised Christ from the dead and that same power is what continues the Spiritual life of the believer. What room is here for a “renewed will” back to the condition that Adam’s was in the garden and given the ability to choose good or evil? “The heart is” still, after conversion, “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked,” and the power which carries on through all things is only the Holy Spirit’s. Beginning by grace and finishing by works is an unknown concept to them, and to all believers who have been taught from above about their nature. Do we have conflicts, sufferings or temptations? Look not to your works for relief; beg God for the power of His Spirit to carry you through. Have you been walking in obedience? Then you did not do these things, but the Spirit of God worked them in you. Cox, in his Appendix to this Confession, also states in his Article XV, “...our whole salvation is given unto us of the Father by Jesus Christ, and for His sake.” Do we see “conditional time salvation” anywhere in these articles? We cannot, for it was unknown then, and would have been regarded as a great error or heresy by these Churches.

We have been necessarily brief here, because of our space limitations, but we hope you will be stirred up to look at the old documents of our forefathers in the Faith, particularly this old First London Confession. May we compare it with the Scripture, for it is a document of men, and follow it as they followed Christ in its preparation.

Elder Robert N. Lackey
The Remnant
Volume 5, No.6
November - December, 1991