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PART ONE: Origin of the English Baptists

Chapter III

London Confessions of Faith

1644 Confession

In his church history, Elder Sylvester Hassell notes the partial intent of writing the original London Confession was an attempt to appease Baptist detractors. He wrote, "In 1644 they numbered seven churches in London, and forty-seven in the country; and the same year, three years before the Westminster Confession; in answer to the calumnies of Daniel Featley, an Episcopalian clergyman, the seven London churches published, in fifty-two Articles, a Confession of Faith, showing that, in all important doctrinal principles, the Baptists agreed with the "orthodox Reformed Churches." The rapid increase in congregations of General and Particular Baptist churches around the London area attracted the attention of Anglican critics. It is presumed by Lumpkin that, in part, the impetus for writing the first London Confession of Faith in 1644 resulted from the publications of several particularly scurrilous works which attacked both the Particular and General Baptists. These works included A Short History of the Anabaptist of High and Low Germany (1642) and A Warning for England, especially for London 1644. However, the final provocation for the London Particular Baptists was the appearance of a booklet entitled A Confulation of the Anabaptists and All others who affect not Civil Government 1644. This latter work identified the fledgling Baptist movement of the General and Particulars with the political excesses of a small sect Anabaptists in Munster, Westphalia. The Munster group, which was actually a dissenting sect of Lutherans, was accused of massacring the population of Munster in 1526. Rumors of this event rapidly spread, and because the sect had separated from Luther's movement over the latter's practice of infant baptism, all other Anabaptist groups were commonly identified with their excesses. In response to these vicious and untrue attacks, Spilbury requested a general meeting of the Elders of the seven Particular Baptist Churches in London for the purpose of composing a formal Confession of Faith.

It is supposed that slanderous writings against the Baptists were in response to several articles and books, written by General Baptist authors, which dealt with the issue of limitation of civil authority as it relates to matters of religious conscience. In particular, works by Leonard Busher and John Milton stirred great anti-Baptist sentiment in the Anglican Church. Busher's book Religious Peace, or, A Plea for Liberty of Conscience, which was addressed to the King, denied civil jurisdiction in matters of religion. This was viewed by the Anglican Church as a direct attack on her comfortable position as the Established Church of England. The issue of religious freedom, a Baptist principle, was falsely identified with the radical revolutionist excesses of the Munster Lutheran sect. Thus, slanderous accusations ranging from seditious treason, to murder, to cannibalism were hurled at the upstart General and Particular Baptists in England.

In a desire to reveal the orthodoxy of their faith and practice, and also to demonstrate their separate identity from the General Baptists, to whom the attacks were specifically aimed because of Busher and Milton's General Baptist affiliations, the Particular Baptist met in London in 1644 and composed their Confession of Faith.

Each of the seven churches sent two delegates, except Spilsbury's, which sent three. The Confession is considered by Lumpkin to be an expansion of the Separatist Confession of 1596 which he believes was used as a model. He links this document to Separatism because of the background of some of the signataries. Former Separatists included Spilsbury, Kiffin, Killcop and probably others.

B. R. White agrees with Lumpkin's assessment of the Confession. His analysis of this document begins with this statement. "The 1644 Confession (revised in 1646) was far from being a creation ex nihilo since twenty-six of its fifty-three articles repeated the teaching, often with only the smallest verbal modifications, of the corresponding sections in the Separatist Confession of 1596."

Historian Robert B. Hannen notes several remarkable similarities between the first London Confession and the Aberdeen Confession, written in 1616. A work by Daniel Featley titled The Dippers dipt. (1645) offers an explanation for the similarities. Featley asserted that a Scot, whose name is now unknown, joined the London Particular Baptist in 1642. From this fact, Robert B. Hannen suspects this man brought a copy of the Aberdeen Confession to the attention of the leaders of the seven churches.

In all, there were five versions of this first London Confession, the last published in 1653 at Leith in Scotland. The 1646 edition had three printings. This suggests widespread acceptance of the document among Particular Baptists.

When compared to the 1689 Confession the first London document is said to present a more accurate biblical perspective of God's law. The editors of Backus Books Publishers, who reprinted the 1646 edition of the London Confession with Benjamin Cox's Appendix, offer this observation. "There are other baptistic statements of faith already available in our day, such as the Second London Confession of 1689, which is a modification of the Presbyterian Westminster Confession of Faith of 1646. Although these confessions agree on the fundamentals of Christian faith, there is a distinctive New Covenant emphasis concerning biblical law in the 1644 and 1646 editions of the First London Confession that is regretfully lacking in the Old Covenant emphasis of the Westminster and Second London Confessions. This difference has far reaching theological implications."

In the general conference of 1646 Elder Benjamin Cox, pastor of Abington Church, presented an appendix to the Confession. The existence of this document indicates that at least one church in London, of the original seven, considered the Confession either too vague or else inaccurate in presenting the doctrine of regeneration. Lumpkin describes Cox's work as characterizing a "higher Calvinism than the second edition."

Particularly, Elder Cox took exception to the Pelagian implications of Gospel agency in regeneration. In article seven of his appendix he wrote;

Though we confess that no man doth attain unto faith by his own good will; John 1:13, yet we judge and know that the Spirit of God doth not compel a man to believe against his will, but doth powerfully and sweetly create in a man a new heart, and make him to believe and obey willingly, Ezekiel 36:26,27; Psalms; 110:3. God thus working in us both to will and to do, of His good pleasure, Philippians 2:13.

I have been unable to find any evidence that the Cox appendix was ever formally accepted and added to the first London Confession. From this, it may be assumed that others were satisfied with the positions taken in the Confession and saw little need to adjust it doctrinal tenor.

Apparently, the distinguishing theology of the First London Confession did not go unnoticed by the Arminian General Baptists. Elder Cox's appendix is, for the most part, a polemic response to Arminian theology. The content and tone of his work indicates the General Baptists were not pleased with the appearance of the London Confession. Until 1644 John Helwys' very Arminian 1610 Confession was the principle statement of Baptist theology in England. The London Confession served to undermine the influence of the Helwys document. It revealed that his 1610 Confession was not endorsed by a significant portion of the Baptist community in London.

A little known fact about the 1644 Confession may offer another plausible explanation for its adoption. In 1647, after two revisions, in which some wording was changed to remove the sting of certain criticisms being hurled by Kiffin's old enemy Daniel Featley, the London Confession was accepted by Parliament and the Particular Baptists were granted toleration. However, official toleration was lost when Charles II ascended to the throne in 1660.

1689 Confession

The London Confession of 1689 (which was originally written is 1677) was the Particular Baptist's second great document.

By 1688, when the call went out for a Particular Baptist General Convention, the political climate in England had changed several times. During the forty-four years separating the adoption of the two Particular Baptist Confessions, a civil war occurred, a King was executed, democratic process was instituted and derailed, the Anglican church underwent reformation and a new King was crowned. Also, the cause of religious freedom suffered setbacks resulting in a systematic and legislated policy which is best described as an almost perpetual increase in intensity of persecution of dissenters.

In 1642 civil war erupted in England. Royalist Cavaliers were opposed by the "roundheads" of Oliver Cromwell's populist army. The final result of this disturbance was execution by beheading of Charles I in 1649. Long Parliament subsequently appointed Cromwell Lord High Protectorate of England. During the conflict non-conformists of every religious persuasion joined Cromwell's army. The Baptists, in particular, were well represented. Cromwell's chief-of-staff, together with many officers were Baptist preachers. For this reason, together with the fact that Cromwell personally held the principle of religious freedom, at the conclusion of hostilities the Baptists were optimistic about their future safety from religious persecution. Their optimism soon turned to dismay.

As Cromwell's administration grew in bureaucracy, it became increasingly autocratic. This was particularly the case in matters of religion, where despite a reformation of the Church of England which placed Presbyterian clergy at its head, an appetite for complete religious conformity still gnawed at the leadership. Fresh outbreaks of religious persecution occurred against the Baptists by these Calvinist brethren who now controlled the Church of England. According to James Tull the newly empowered Presbyterians held precisely the same views as their Anglican counterparts concerning religious conformity. "The Presbyterians intended for the church to be a national church, embracing the whole population in its membership. Dissent was not to be allowed; membership was compulsory. Everyone was to have his children baptized and to pay tithes. On this point there was to be little difference from the church as already established."

After Cromwell's death, Parliament initiated discussions with Charles II regarding the terms of his return to England and ascendancy to the throne. In 1660 Charles returned to power. His return marked the beginning of a new era of Baptist persecution which was both systematic and terrible.

In 1662 The Act of Uniformity was passed. This act required use of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer in all religious meetings under penalty of loss of position for the Anglican clergy who refused and fines and/or imprisonment for the leaders of Non-conformist congregations. The result of this act was two-fold. First, because the book was essentially Catholic Episcopalian and many preachers in the Established Church were by then Calvinists, it is estimated that approximately two thousand Anglican bishops left the Established Order and joined nonconforming congregations. Second, fines and imprisonments were systematically imposed upon non-conforming violators.

The Uniformity Act was quickly followed by other means of legislated persecution which included reinstitution of The Conventicle Act in 1664. This law forbade nonconformist religious gatherings of more than four persons over the age of sixteen.

Next, the Five-mile Act was passed in 1665. It prohibited nonconforming ministers from preaching within five miles of any city or village which sent members to Parliament or which had an Established Church within its boundaries. It also denied dissenters the right to teach in any public or private schools.

In 1670 another Conventicle Act was passed. While this law did not carry a death penalty for repeat offenders, as did the original Conventicle Act, it was particularly cruel in that it allowed the Crown to seize all property of repeat offenders. Also, this law was very effective because it allowed informers to keep one third of everything seized.

The second Conventicle Act was followed by the Test Act of 1673. This law barred nonconformist from holding civil or military office.

The Test Act was followed by The Clarendon Code, which renewed the severest forms of persecution.

The tyranny of these laws resulted in fines, public beatings, imprisonment and capital execution for dissenters. Offenders where often tortured to death. Executions were carried out by hanging, beating, beheading, impaling, dismembering, and burning. It is estimated that the malicious treatment of non-conformers (of which Baptists suffered more than any others owing to their public support of principles of religious liberty) resulted in persecution of more than seventy-thousand saints, of whom eight thousand perished. The sum total of fines levied and collected is calculated to be in excess of two-million pounds sterling, as calculated in 1850.

It was amid this climate of religious persecution that a small window of liberty briefly opened. In 1689, with the ascension of William and Mary to the throne, a new Act of Toleration was passed. This act, while not guaranteeing religious freedom, did allow provisions for non conformers to worship in peace. However, it required that all dissenting religious bodies submit a statement of their creed for approval by the Crown. Actually, approval by the crown was in form only, the substance of approval came after review by a body of bishops and archbishops of the Church of England.

When this newest Act of Toleration passed on May 24, 1689 the Particular Baptists were ready to take full advantage. On September 3, 1689 they met in a general convention for the purpose of ratifying a confession of faith which would be acceptable to the Crown, and thus provide for official tolerance of their Churches. Representatives of some one-hundred congregations met in London and adopted the 1689 London Confession.

For reasons not entirely made clear, the London brethren did not use their 1644 Confession as a model for the 1689 document. Their stated reasons were its poor circulation among the Baptists and a general lack of familiarity with this earlier document among the attendants of the convention. However, their stated reason seems a bit strange since the first Confession underwent five printings in three editions and was distributed throughout England, Wales and Scotland.

The draft finally presented to the Crown is a second edition of the 1677 London Confession, which was principally written by Mr William Collins. According to Lumpkin, this document is a modified version of the Presbyterian's 1646 Westminster Confession of Faith.

Pope A. Duncan agrees with Lumpkin's assessment. He describes the second London Confession as a purposeful attempt to align the Particular Baptists with reformation Protestantism. He wrote, "Baptists in the seventeenth century stood squarely in the Protestant tradition insofar as the great majority of their doctrines were concerned. What they had to say about most of the classic tenets of the faith differed almost none at all from those of the other Protestant churches of England. Indeed, the widely used "Second London Confession" purposely used the order and often the very words of the Westminster Confession in order to demonstrate the agreement of Baptists with classical Protestantism. Thus, with regard to such articles as those dealing with the holy Scripture, the Trinity, Christ, the Holy Spirit, faith, justification, sanctification, the resurrection of the dead, and the judgment, one could note no significant differences between Baptist thought and that of other Protestant Christians of England. In fact, there was essential agreement on most doctrines."

The Baptists' motivation for adopting a confession similar to the Westminster creed may relate to the rise in political prominence of the Presbyterians. For a brief period, from 1650 to 1660 the Presbyterians actually held official recognition as the Established Church of England. However, with the return of Charles II, Anglican Episcopalians regained command of the Established Order. Despite losing control, the Presbyterians remained strong. They retained their official status in Scotland. In England their members still controlled a significant voting block in Parliament. Further, many Anglican clergymen remained Calvinists. Observing their successful defiance of the Uniformity and Conventicle Acts in particular, no doubt, the London Baptist believed close alignment with the powerful Presbyterians would make it politically difficult for the Crown to reject their petition for official tolerance. Thoughts of continued persecution, with a possible means of avoidance at hand, apparently induced the Baptists to identify themselves more closely with this powerful group.

The London Particular Baptists were not the first to think of closer alignment with the Presbyterians. Separatist Puritan Congregationalists had already allied themselves politically by identifying themselves doctrinally with the Presbyterians. In 1658 they adopted the Savoy Confession, a close copy of the Westminster Confession, as their doctrinal creed.

The Baptists, yet suffering terribly at the hand of the Crown, eventually realized that neither the Presbyterians nor Congregationalists were suffering the same frequency and intensity of torment. Perhaps fully understanding the political reality of their circumstance they assembled in 1689 in a General Convention and officially adopted Collin's very Westminsterish confession.

The desire of these tortured brethren to align themselves with the Presbyterians is evident throughout the document. However, nowhere is it more apparent than in the preamble of the 1677 first edition, which reads in part, "...our hearty agreement with them (Presbyterians and Congregationalists) in the wholesome protestant doctrine, which with so clear evidence of Scriptures they have asserted." The preamble of the second edition of 1688, as adopted in 1689, is less direct but equally obvious in pointing readers to its similarities with the Presbyterian and Congregationalist creeds. It reads, "...And finding no defect in this regard in that fixed on by the Assembly, and after them by those of the Congregational way, we did readily conclude best to retain the same order in our present Confession." Assembly and Congregational, both capitalized, refer to the Presbyterians and Congregationalists respectively. Further this statement indicates the London Confession was written, as much as possible, with the same topical format as the Westminster Confession.

In 1677 Collins reworked of the Presbyterian Westminster Confession, to better apply to Baptist sentiment. Significant changes to the Westminster Confession included deletion of an article which identified the right of civil authority to keep peace in the church, and the section on Covenants in Chapter VII, sections 2,3,5,6. Changes were made which deal with church government. Reference to the Lord's supper and baptism as sacraments was dropped. Despite these several changes the order of the two confessions is nearly identical. The subject order of Articles one through nineteen is identical. Numerous phrases, often paragraphs, and occasionally whole articles are identical in wording.

In the London Confession an article titled "Of the Gospel, and of the extent of the Grace thereof" is inserted as Article Twenty. After Article twenty, the subject order continues to be identical through Article Twenty Seven of the London Confession. The name of Article Twenty-Eight is different. In the Westminster, which lists it as Article Twenty-Nine, the title is "of the Sacraments." The London Confession refers to this article as "of Baptism and the Lord's Supper." The order continues the same with the exception that the London Confession omits Articles Thirty and Thirty-One of the Westminster Creed. These two article deal with church government and are titled "of Church Censure" and "of Synods and Councils."

In his book, Baptist Confessions of faith, W. L. Lumpkin provides a moderately detailed comparison of the London and Westminster Confessions. He found the language of the two confessions is often identical. Their similarity is so considerable it is difficult to conclude anything other than the London Confession is a modification of the Westminster Confession with certain additions and deletions.

Lumpkin also provides a sketch of a political climate of almost continuous religious persecution of the Baptists which motivated the London brethren who, when a brief window of religious tolerance opened, were encouraged to seek official tolerance from the Crown; and therefore, penned a confession which aligned them theologically with the more numerous and politically favored Calvinist Presbyterians.

We must not think harshly of these tortured brothrens' willingness to seize this opportunity to gain official tolerance. None today have lived under constant threat of imprisonment or worse for practicing their religion. None have seen their pastors drawn upon the rack and quartered. None have gone to their meeting house and found their pastor's head mounted on a pike in the church yard.

Also, it is reasonable to conclude that the 1689 London Confession accurately represents the beliefs of its ratifiers and their congregations. To think otherwise is to accuse the Particular Baptists of surrendering conscience to political opportunity. Such a possibility flies in the face of all they suffered prior to 1689. Liberty of Conscience was, from the beginning, a fundamental tenet of the Particular Baptists. It seems highly unlikely these courageous brethren would have abandon certain elements of their doctrine simply to gain religious toleration.

With regard to gospel instrumentality in regeneration, there is evidence that at least some of the early leaders of the Particular Baptists held Calvinist Presbyterian religious views. Hansard Knollys expressed his support for this tenet in an exposition of the work of the ministry, to preach the gospel, in relation to God's sovereignty in regeneration. He declared, "I say then when they (ministers) have done this, they must leave the issue to the Lord, who onely (sic) makes this ministry powerful to whom he pleaseth, giving them repentance...enabling them to believe in him unto remission of sins and everlasting life. And surely God hath appointed the Ministry, especially for this end, that by means thereof he might worke faith in all those whom he hath ordained unto eternal life."

Knollys demonstrated a position which balanced gospel agency and election in a sermon titled The World that Now is, and the World that is to Come. He stated, "If the sinner be willing to open the door of his heart, Christ will come in by his holy Spirit and He will communicate of his Grace to his soul. Not that you can do those things of your selves; I have told you, without Christ you can do nothing, John 15.5. But it is your duty to do them and it is the Free Grace of God, to work in you to will and to do, according to his good pleasure, Phil. 2.12,13. That he so working in you, you may work out your own salvation with fear and trembling."

Elder Cox's appendix suggests that in 1646 not all Particulars Baptists embraced certain principles of Calvinism. But, adoption of the overtly Calvinistic tenets of the 1689 Confession indicates if dissenting arguments were presented at the general conference, they were not publicly acknowledged. Inclusion of Chapter Ten, parts one and three, which deals with gospel instrumentality in the effectual call, and Chapter fourteen, part one, which describes saving faith through a concert of divine impartation and rational belief of the gospel, together with supporting scriptural references, all serve to demonstrate the commitment the conferees had to Calvin's doctrine. By expressing the heart of Calvin's theory of regeneration in their Confession they moved away from those brethren who held to primitive faith. This tends to indicate the theology of the 1689 Confession went beyond political expediency and embraced conscience. These brethren were Calvinists with regard to Gospel agency. It must be assumed they heartily believed what they wrote into their Confession.

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