The Wanderer

"As I walked through the wilderness of this world . . ."

“To the judicious and impartial reader”

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When the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith was first published in 1677 it had both an introductory letter and an appendix concerning baptism.  The former is a masterpiece of irenic polemics, explaining the purpose of the second confession (the Baptists produced their first confession in 1644, before the Westminster Confession of Faith was published).  It looks to establish the common ground between the Baptists and their Presbyterian and Congregationalist brothers, while happy to remain distinctive in those matters of conviction particular to the Baptists.  They also demonstrate the pastoral spirit which animated them, not only in their general reasons for their confessional stance, but also in their concern for the propagation of true religion through families.  The version below is a careful modernization of the original, and constitutes a call for confessionalism for the purposes of church unity (not how most view it today!) and health.

Courteous reader,

It is now many years since several of us (together with other serious Christians then living and walking in the way of the Lord that we profess) came to the conclusion that it was necessary for us to publish a confession of our faith.  Our purpose was to inform and satisfy those who did not thoroughly understand what our principles were, or who were prejudiced against our profession of faith.  These difficulties arose because of the strange way our convictions were presented to them by some significant men who had taken very wrong measures, and who accordingly led others into misapprehensions both of us and of them.  This confession was first made available about the year 1643 in the name of seven congregations then gathered in London.[1] Since that time, several editions of the document have been made widely available, and we substantially accomplished our purpose: as a result of this document, many people (some of them men eminent both for holiness and learning) were satisfied that we were no way guilty of those heterodoxies [false teachings] and fundamental errors which we had often been accused of without us giving good reason or occasion for such accusations.  Because that confession is no longer readily available, and because many others have come to believe the same truths which are contained in it, we judged it necessary to join together in giving a testimony to the world that we firmly hold to those sound principles.  We have done this by means of the publication you are holding in your hand.

Because the method and manner of expressing our convictions is different in this document (although the substance of what is written is the same), we freely give you the reason and occasion for what we are doing.  One thing that weighed heavily with us to carry out this work was – not only to give a full account of ourselves to those Christians who have a different opinion about the subject of baptism, but also – the benefit that might be obtained by those who know anything about our work.  We wanted such friends to be instructed and established in the great truths of the gospel because a clear understanding and firm belief of them is so intimately connected with our untroubled walking with God and fruitfulness before him, in all our ways.  Therefore we concluded that it was necessary to express ourselves more fully and clearly.  We also wanted to select a method that would include all those things concerning which we intended to explain our understanding and belief.  In that regard, having found no problems with the method selected by the Assembly,[2] and afterwards by those who follow the Congregational way,[3] we rapidly concluded that it was best to keep the same order in our own new confession.  Furthermore, when we observed that the Presbyterians and Congregationalists in their confessions (for reasons which seemed important both to themselves and others) chose not only to express their thoughts in words parallel with the former [confession] in their meaning, concerning all those matters in which they agreed, but also for the most part without any variation of the terms, we also concluded that it would be best to follow their example in making use of the very same words with both of them, in these matters (which are very many) in which our faith and doctrine is the same as theirs.  We therefore did this to demonstrate as much and as clearly as possible our agreement with both [the Presbyterians and Congregationalists] in all the fundamental articles of the Christian religion, as well as those many others whose orthodox confessions have been published to the world on behalf of the Protestants in various nations and cities.  We also wanted to convince everyone that we have no desire to clog religion with new words but we readily assent to that pattern of sound words which has been – in agreement with the holy Scriptures – used by others before us.  By these means we declare before God, angels, and men, our wholehearted agreement with them in that sound Protestant doctrine which they have asserted with such clear proof from the Scriptures.  Of course, some things have been added in some places, some terms have been left out, and a few have been changed, but these alterations are of such a kind that that we have no doubt that none of our brothers shall accuse us or suspect us of anything defective in the faith on account of them.

In those things in which we differ from others we have expressed ourselves openly and plainly so that no-one will have grounds to suspect anything secretly hidden in our hearts that we do not want the world to know about.  At the same time, we hope that we have also observed those rules of modesty and humility that will make our freedom in this respect inoffensive, even to those whose opinions are different from ours.

We have also taken care to place texts of Scripture in the margin in order to confirm each article in our confession.  In this work we have diligently endeavoured to select those texts which are most clear and relevant, in order to prove what we have asserted.  Our earnest desire is that all into whose hands this may come would follow the example of the noble Bereans, which can never be commended enough: they searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether the things preached to them were true or not.

There is one thing more which we sincerely declare, and which we earnestly hope you will believe, namely, that controversy is the last thing we have aimed at in all that we have done in this matter.  We hope that the freedom of a straightforward explanation of our principles, and opening our hearts to our brothers, together with the Scriptural foundation upon which our faith and practise depends, will not be denied to us by our brothers, nor received as an insult or injury from us.  Our whole purpose is accomplished if we may be granted the right to be measured in our principles and practise (and in the judgement of both by others) according to what we have now published: the Lord (whose eyes are like a flame of fire) knows these things to be the doctrine which with our hearts we must firmly believe, and to which we sincerely endeavour to conform our lives.  And oh! that other controversies and debates being laid to rest, the only future care and concern of all those identified with the name of our blessed Redeemer might be to walk humbly with their God, and in the exercise of all love and meekness towards each other, to perfect holiness in the fear of the Lord, each one endeavouring to have his conduct worthy of the Gospel; furthermore, that everyone in accordance with his situation and capacity might vigorously promote in others the practice of true and undefiled religion in the sight of God and our Father.  We also desire that in this day of backsliding we might not waste our breath in fruitless complaints about the evils of others, but might each begin at home, to reform in the first place our own hearts and ways, and then to enliven all those with whom we have some influence to the same work, in order that – if God wills it – no-one might deceive themselves by relying upon and trusting in an appearance of godliness, without the power of it and the inward experience of the effectiveness of those truths that they profess.

And truly there is one origin and cause of the decay of religion in our day that we can only mention in passing, and earnestly urge its correction, namely, the neglect of the worship of God in families by those to whom the responsibility and government of them is committed.  Is it not the case that the glaring ignorance and instability of many, with the irreverence of others, can be justly blamed on their parents and masters, who have not trained them up in the way in which they ought to walk when they were young?  Rather, have those parents and masters not neglected those frequent and serious commands which the Lord has laid on them to catechize and instruct the young in such a way that their early years might be seasoned with the knowledge of the truth of God as revealed in the Scriptures?  Have they not also – by their own neglect of prayer and the other duties of religion in their families, together with the bad example of their unrestrained behaviour – cultivated in those children first a neglect and then a contempt of all holiness and religion?  We know this will not excuse the ignorance or wickedness of anyone, but it will certainly be hard for those who have been the cause of it in this way.  Though those so trained indeed die in their sins, will not their blood be required of those under whose care they were, who nevertheless allowed them to go on without warning, who even led them into the paths of destruction?  And will not the diligence of Christians in times past with respect to the discharge of these duties rise up in judgment against and condemn many of those who would like the reputation of a Christian now?

We conclude with our earnest prayer: that the God of all grace will pour out such measures of his Holy Spirit upon us that the profession of truth may be accompanied with the sound belief and diligent practise of it by us, that his name may be glorified in all things, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

[1] The so-called First London Baptist Confession of Faith (1644).  For this reason the later confession was called the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith.  This second confession is commonly known as the 1689 Confession, but that was the year in which it was formally adopted by the General Assembly of Particular Baptist Churches.  The first edition of the second confession was actually published in 1677.

[2] The Westminster Assembly, which produced the Westminster Confession of Faith in 1646.  To call these men Presbyterians is both accurate and anachronistic: at the time, they were the representatives of the national church, though the church polity they introduced is more Presbyterian than Anglican.

[3] The leaders of the Congregational churches (the key committee included Thomas Goodwin, John Owen, Philip Nye, William Bridge, Joseph Caryl and William Greenhill) produced the Savoy Declaration in 1658.  This was also based on the Westminster Confession of Faith.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 20 May 2010 at 16:39

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