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EARLY ENGLISH BAPTIST ASSOCIATIONAL CONFESSIONS

 

JOHN SPILSBURY AND HIS CONFESSION

The personal confession of ten articles Spilsbury submitted for the "Godly reader to judge, what difference there is between him and me, in the main, that men should be so incensed against me, as to seek my life, as some have done." Spilsbury wanted to disarm those who cast "reproachful clamors… upon all without exception, that seem to be of my judgment about baptism" by declaring "a word of my faith, what I believe and hold to be truth, and desire to practice the same." One year later, Spilsbury would join with the other Particular Baptist churches in London in publishing and signing the First London Confession.

 

THE FIRST LONDON BAPTIST CONFESSION OF FAITH, 1644

A CONFESSION OF FAITH of seven congregations or churches of Christ in London, which are commonly, but unjustly, called Anabaptists; published for the vindication of the truth and information of the ignorant; likewise for the taking off those aspersions which are frequently, both in pulpit and print, unjustly cast upon them. Printed in London, Anno 1646.

The Second London Baptist Confession, 1644 [Spanish]
La Confession De Fe De Londres De 1644
The text for La Confession De Fe De Londres De 1644 was provided by an anonymous friend. HTML by Sam Hughey, The Reformed Reader,  October 2, 2000.

 

THE FIRST LONDON BAPTIST CONFESSION OF FAITH, 1646 Edition

The first edition was published in 1644. This second edition "corrected and enlarged" was originally published in 1646.

A confession of faith of seven congregations or churches of Christ in London, which are commonly, but unjustly, called Anabaptists; published for the vindication of the truth and information of the ignorant; likewise for the taking off those aspersions which are frequently, both in pulpit and print, unjustly cast upon them. Printed in London, Anno 1646.

 

AN APPENDIX TO A CONFESSION OF FAITH, 1646, Benjamin Cox

Published for the further clearing of Truth, and discovery of their mistake who have imagined a dissent in fundamentals when there is none.

Matthew 10:27,.28

What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops. And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

LONDON, Printed in the year 1646.

 

THE FAITH AND PRACTISE OF THIRTY CONGREGATIONS, 1651

The period of the Commonwealth (1650-1659) was more productive of Confessions than any similar period of Baptist history.   Formal associationalism was primarily the result of a native Baptist connectional instinct (for Baptists were never independents, strictly speaking) and of expediency in view of the tasks to be undertaken.  A new sense of liberty challenged the nation early in the sixth decade, and the churches, for the first time, had full freedom to associate.  Before 1600 permanent Associations had become typical Baptist institutions.

An associational meeting was held in 1651, probably at Leicester, but it is not certain that this was the first such meeting of the churches.  Messengers for both special and constant were appointed and there was agreement on sharing the needs of the poor.  Thirty churches from an area one hundred miles long and twenty-four miles wide were represented at the meeting, each by two messengers or delegates.1

Probably the most important thing done in the meeting of 1651 was the adoption of a Confession called The Faith and Practice of Thirty Congregations, Gathered According to the Primitive Pattern.  The Confession is important because it is the first General Baptist statement representing the views of more than one church, rather than because of the prominence of its author or signatories.  It shows essential agreement with the first General Baptist Confession (1611). 

The first forty-five articles concern the doctrines of the churches; the remaining thirty demonstrate their practices.  No consistently Arminian system is revealed; rather, some traditional emphases of Calvinism are set forth.  Article 21 seems to follow the statement in John Smyth's one hundred Propositions and Conclusions.  The doctrine of free will is repudiated in Article 25.   Articles 4 through 16 present a pioneer statement of the Baptist doctrine of soul competency.  Article 48 contains an evident reference to immersion, though the term is not used.  Articles 45 and 75 appear to be directed at the Quakers, while the emphasis in Articles 60 and 61 on the ministry may be credited, partly, to the cavils of the Quakers.  The "Postscript," having to do with the "Magistratical power," may have been suggested by the statement of the London Confession on that subject, but there may have been some feeling that an article on magistracy was out of place in a confession of faith and practice.

 

THE TRUE GOSPEL-FAITH DECLARED ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES, 16542

The form which the Confession of 1654 took is more like that of the Particular Baptist Confession of 1644 than the Midland Confession of 1651, but even the form shows complete independence, and the confession possesses some novel aspects.  The articles presenting the theological outlook of the authors are especially lacking in detal.  There is no mention of deacons among the church officers listed (Article 22).  There is no article on the Scriptures, though the leaders in 1654 did not overlook this omission.  In their introductory letter they said:

We therefore do desire that whosoever read it [the Confession] may weigh the Scriptures produced; and if it be according to the Scriptures, there is light in it; for its the Scriptures of the Prophets and Apostles that we square our faith and practice by, accounting that light within (not witnessed by the Scriptures without) which some much talk of to be deep darkness...Let the Scripture therefore be the rule of thy faith and practice...

The Confession always uses "dipped" for baptized.  It also is the first Baptist Confession to prescribe the laying on of hands for all baptized believers.  This practice appears to have been but lately brought to the attention of Baptists, and John Griffith was a leading exponent of it.  It was not yet commonly used among General Baptists.

The Quakers took prompt notice of the stiffening opposition of the Baptists of whom Griffith was leader.  In 1654 Edward Burrough answered Griffith's A Voice from the Word of the Lord, and in 1655 Richard Farnsworth published a critical answer to the Confession of 16543.  Perhaps the Confession steadied all London General Baptists, after making them aware of the serious danger in which they stood, for it does reflect a certain stability and maturity of thought which characterized the churches represented by it.  It also gives the best picture of the reaction of Baptists to the first serious effort of the Quakers to win London.

 

THE MIDLAND CONFESSION OF FAITH, 1655

In the Midlands in 1655, General Baptists far outnumbered their Calvinistic Brethren.  The General Baptist Confession of 1651 had been signed by members of thirty congregations of the area, but when the Particular Baptists met in 1655 to constitute their Midland Association, there were but fourteen of their churches in the eight counties, and only seven of them were as yet willing to associate.

Two principal factors led to the formation of the Midland Association in 1655.  One was the general trend among Baptists at that time toward associating.  In promoting this trend the London churches took the lead, and they evidently were concerned with the beginnings of the organization in the Midlands.  That Daniel King, who undoubtedly was leading the Midlands churches to associate, belonged to that circle is shown in a book of his published in London in 1650.  In this book, A Way to Sion, which was an exposition of Baptist teaching, the Epistle Dedicatory was signed by four prominent London leaders.  Probably at the suggestion of the London churches, he was by 1655 giving much of his time to buyilding up associations of churches in various parts of the country.  The other factor promoting the organization of the Association was the great activity of the Quakers in the Midlands in 1654 and 1655.

The Confession was probably modeled after the London Confession of 1644 but its statements are original.  In spite of its brevity, the theological portion is a careful and praiseworthy summary of Calvinistic Baptist doctrine of the middle of the seventeenth century.  The primary purpose of the Confession was instructional rather than apologetic.  Its usefulness was not soon lost.  The London Confession of 1689, however, concluded that which was wanting in breadth in the Midland Confession.

 

THE SOMERSET CONFESSION OF FAITH, 1656

The seventh meeting of the Association took place at Bridgewater on September 5-6, 1656, at which time a Confession of Faith was approved. It was evidently the work of Thomas Collier, but the fact that decisions in favor of some of the positions announced in the Confession were made at this meeting, might indicate that he had help in preparing the Confession. It is evident from the Epistle Dedicatory that the Quakers were chiefly responsible for the appearance of the Confession in 1656. The authors said that two facts caused them to set forth their beliefs. First, they denied the "general charge" that their churches were not Calvinistic and so were out of accord with the London Particular churches, and owned both the London brethren and their Confession. Second, that they were:

"very sensible of the great distractions and divisions that are amongst professing people in this nation, the many ways and wiles of Satan to seduce and deceive souls, the great departing from the faith, and that under glorious notions of spiritualness and holiness."

The Quaker fire was burning menacingly around the Baptists when their Western (or Somerset) Association met in September, 1656, at Bridgewater. The Confession which the churches at that meeting decided to publish may have been originally drawn up before 1656, possibly in 1653 when it, like the Midland Particular Association Confession, would have served as a basis of union, for the authors said that "when the Lord set us first upon this work, we did not think of bringing it to public view," but meant it to "try our unity in the faith." In either case, Collier, who in 1654 was given the unique office of "General Superintendent and Messenger of all the Associated Churches," was its principal author.

The Confession bears the mark of careful preparation, and the impress of Collier can be seen at various points. While an effort is made to approximate the theological position of the London Confession, there is complete independence of expression, and there are some noteworthy omissions of material of the older document. Perhaps there was some ground for the saying that these Baptists did not quite have the same theological outlook as their London brethren. McGlothlin suggests that "some jealousy and fear" of the London churches prompted the setting forth of this Confession, but it seems improbable that this fear concerned the authority of the London churches as much as the theology of some London Baptists. The Calvinism of the Western Association was not of a rigid type.

Footnotes:

1 The Confession is very rare, copies of the original being found only at the Angus Library, Regent's Park College, Oxford, and at the British Musem.   Apparently neither Underhill nor McGlothlin knew of its existence, and it has probably not been printed in modern times.  A facsimile copy of the document found in the British Museam is given here. [return]
2 Whitley, A Baptist Bibliography, pp. 56 and 60.[return]
3 Whitley, History British Baptists, 89 [return]

 

CARTER LANE DECLARATION OF FAITH, 1757

JOHN GILL'S DECLARATION OF FAITH, 1757

 

 
 
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