Early Particular Baptists

Updated on January 1, 2019
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Barry is the founder and director of Expositors International Ministry and dean of Bible Expositors Seminary, Philippines.

Early Particular Baptists

The term Particular Baptist refers to those Baptists who held to Reformed views. They accepted the 5 Solas (Scripture Alone, Salvation by Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Christ Alone and to God’s Glory Alone) and the Calvinistic view of soteriology. The origin of the Particular Baptists can be found in those who rejected the Anglican Church. As I said in the previous article, there were Christians who were happy that the Church of England had broken with the Roman Catholic Church but they did not believe that the Anglican Church had gone far enough away from Rome and toward the Scriptures.

The English Dissenters were composed of three major groups. We broadly lump these Protestants under the category of Puritans. These three groups came to known as Presbyterians, Congregationalists and the Baptist. It was at the Westminster Assembly (1643–52) that these three groups expressed and articulated their differences in the confessions that they wrote. However, it is important to note that there was a Particular Baptist confession of faith prior to the Westminster Assembly.

The First London Baptist Confession of Faith

Baptist churches began to appear in England during the reign of Charles I (1625- 1649). The archbishop of the Anglican Church was William Laud. Laud wanted to enforce uniformity to the state Church and purge her of the Puritan non-conformists. It was probably only due to the confusion over who would rule England that the nonconformists were not persecuted to a greater extent. Those groups that were labeled as Baptist were charge with heresy or heterodoxy by the Anglicans. The Baptist were accused of “‘holding Free-will, Falling away from grace, denying Originall sinne, disclaiming of Magistracy, denying to assist them either in persons or in purse in any of their lawfull Commands, doing acts unseemly in the dispensing of the Ordinance of Baptism not to be named among Christians.”[1]

To answer these charges the English Particular Baptists wrote their first Confession of Faith. The first edition was written in 1644 and was edited and reissued in 1646. It was hoped by these early Baptists that the Confession would prevent the Anglican church from persecuting them for heresy. This confession of faith is clearly Calvinistic (see for example Article 21). They were also very clear to distinguish themselves from the Continental Anabaptist. Consider the introduction (see also Articles 48 to 51):

“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.”[2]



The Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689)

The origin of this second confession is unclear. Historians believe that it may have originated in the Petty France Church in London. There is a note in the church records that the church adopted the confession of faith. This Church was also one of the original seven churches that affirmed the First London Baptists Confession. The two elders of the Church were William Collins and Nehemiah Coxe. Coxe died in 1688. Although Coxe’s name is not associated directly with the 1689 Confession, he is considered to be a fundamental contributor to the final product.

Why the 1689?

If the Baptist already had a Confession that affirmed Reformed Soteriology and well as distanced them from the Anabaptists, why did they see the need for a new confession? The second question that needs to be asked, which is actually of primary importance, is how do the two confessions differ?

It has been wrongly asserted by some contemporary Baptists that the 2nd London Confession was written as an improvement upon the 1st. The very term"better" would require qualifications but more to the point, this statement is essentially untrue. There is no real theological difference between the documents. While the 2nd London is more explicit in articulation of Reformed Covenant Theology, we can see by the works of those who affirmed the 1st London that they accepted Covenant Theology as well.[3]

To further prove the point that the 2nd London is essential the same as the 1st London, we need only read the forward to the 1677 edition.

“And forasmuch as our method, and manner of expressing our sentiments, in this, doth vary from the former (although the substance of the matter is the same) we shall freely impart to you the reason and occasion thereof.”

Of specific note is the phrase “the substance of the matter is the same.” Then what was the reason for the writing of the 2nd London Confession of Faith? Here is where it is important to know church history. While the 1st London was written to distance the Baptists from the Anabaptists as well as show their solidarity of essential doctrines with the Anglican Church, the 2nd London was written for a similar purpose.

The first thing one sees when reading the 2nd London is that the structure and in many cases, the very wording appears to be copied from the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646). This is no coincidence. The 2nd London does copy directly from the WCF and makes changes in those areas in which the Baptist disagreed with the Presbyterians. Just as the 1st London, the 2nd London was not written so much as to distinguish the Baptist from the other Dissenters, but rather to show how closing they agreed on essential doctrines.

Remember please, that at this time in England, the Church and the State were united. As I said in the previously article, whatever the religion of king that would be the religion of the people. This would also hold true in the event that Parliament rather than the King were to rule England (please see the English civil war between 1642-1649). In both the 1st and the 2nd London Confessions, the Baptists who were a minority, were writing in hopes avoid further persecution by whomever would rule by demonstrating their agreement on the majority of theological issues.

Notes

[1] W.L. Lumpkin, “London Confession, 1644’ – Introduction,” Baptists Confessions of Faith, Valley Forge, USA, 1980 [1969], p. 155. All quotations from the First London Confession 1644 are from Lumpkin op.cit., pp. 154 -171.

[2] Some consider John Spilsbury as the actual penman of the 1st London Baptist Confession of Faith.

[3] Examples include Hanserd Knollys, book Christ Exalted: A Lost Sinner sought and saved by Christ; William Kiffin, book “Certain Observations upon Hosea the Second the 7. & 8. Verses,” etc.

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