The first sentence of the Second London Confession of Faith | Michael A.G. Haykin

by | Oct 10, 2023 | Systematic Theology

 

Following the order of the Westminster Confession and the Savoy Declaration, the Second London Confession of Faith begins with a lengthy chapter on Scripture. In the words of the American Baptist authors L. Ross Bush and Tom J. Nettles, this chapter “contains the clearest confessional statement on Scripture in all of Christendom.”[1] Apart from an introductory sentence and a concluding phrase it virtually reproduces the parallel chapters of the Westminster Confession and the Savoy Declaration. The introductory sentence, though, is highly significant and a valuable gauge as to where the seventeenth-century Calvinistic Baptists stood with regard to the nature of Scripture.

 

“The Holy Scripture,” it states, “is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving Knowledge, Faith, and Obedience.”[2] This sentence describes the nature of Scripture by four carefully chosen terms. The first term, “only,” emphasizes that apart from the Scriptures there is no other source of ultimate religious authority. Further on in its statement on Scripture, the Second London Confession elaborates on this claim by stating that nothing is to be added to Scripture, “whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.”[3] In the historical context of the Confession, this statement would especially rule out the revelations of the Quakers, which their opponents felt were being elevated to authoritative status alongside Scripture.

 

Then this opening sentence of the Confession asserts that, while God does reveal himself in ways other than the Scriptures, for instance through the created realm, only Scripture is “sufficient” to “give that knowledge of God and his will which is necessary unto salvation.”[4] Or in the words of the Second London Confession 1.6: “The whole Counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own Glory, Man’s Salvation, Faith, and Life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture.”[5] The written Scriptures are necessary for God to be properly glorified by men and women, as well as being vital for men and women to come to a saving knowledge of God, and then to develop a world-view (so Bush and Nettles interpret “faith”[6]) and lifestyle that is in accord with their salvation.

 

The next two terms of the opening sentence of this Article on Scripture are similar, but not identical, in their import. Scripture is “certain,” that is, it does not contain error. Bush and Nettles consider this term to be equivalent to the word “inerrant” as it is currently used in evangelical circles to mean that which is totally truthful. Scripture is also said to be “infallible,” a term that has a long history of usage in Christian theology, and which identifies Scripture as possessing the quality of being entirely trustworthy and reliable.[7]

 

Given the very real threat posed by the Quaker movement to Calvinistic Baptist churches, it seems most probable that the strengthening of this statement on Scripture is a definite response to this situation. In their emphasis on Scripture as the supreme arbiter for the Christian life, the Calvinistic Baptists were reflecting their Puritan heritage, for “Puritanism was first and foremost a movement centered in Scripture.”[8] Thus, from the Calvinistic Baptist point of view, the Quakers were guilty of making an unbiblical cleavage between the Spirit and the Word. As Benjamin Keach declared in 1681, in a direct allusion to the Quakers: “Many are confident they have the Spirit, Light, and Power when ’tis all meer Delusion. The Spirit always leads and directs according to the written Word: “He shall bring my Word,” saith Christ, “to your remembrance” [cf. John 14:26].”[9]

 

Lest it be thought that the seventeenth-century Calvinistic Baptists, in their desire to emphasize the authority of the Scriptures, went to the opposite extreme and depreciated the importance of the work of the Spirit in the Christian life, one needs to note the words of the Second London Confession 1.5, where it is stated that “our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth” of the Scriptures comes neither from “the testimony of the Church of God” nor from the “heavenliness of the matter” of the Scriptures, the “efficacy of [their] Doctrine,” and “the Majesty of [their] Stile.” Rather it is only “the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the Word in our Hearts” that convinces believers that God’s Word is indeed what it claims to be.[10]

 

 

[1] Baptists and the Bible. The Baptist doctrines of biblical inspiration and religious authority in historical perspective (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 62.

[2] Second London Confession 1.1 (Lumpkin, Baptist Confessions, 248). The following analysis of this sentence is indebted to Bush and Nettles, Baptists and the Bible, 65-72.

[3] Second London Confession 1.6 (Lumpkin, Baptist Confessions, 250).

[4] Second London Confession 1.1 (Lumpkin, Baptist Confessions, 248).

[5] Second London Confession 1.6 (Lumpkin, Baptist Confessions, 250).

[6] Baptists and the Bible, 68.

[7] Baptists and the Bible, 70. For this definition of the terms “inerrant” and “infallible”, see J. I. Packer, “Infallibility and Inerrancy of the Bible” in Sinclair B. Ferguson, David F. Wright, and J. I. Packer, eds., New Dictionary of Theology (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVaristy Press, 1988), 337. See also idem, ‘Fundamentalism’ and the Word of God. Some Evangelical Principles (London: Inter-Varsity Fellowship, 1958), 94-96.

[8] Richard Dale Land, “Doctrinal Controversies of English Particular Baptists (1644-1691) as Illustrated by the Career and Writings of Thomas Collier” (Unpublished D. Phil. Thesis, Regent’s Park College, Oxford University, 1979), 205.

[9] Tropologia: A Key to Open Scripture-Metaphors (London: Enoch Prosser, 1681), II, 312.

[10] Second London Confession 1.5 (Lumpkin, Baptist Confessions, 250). For the importance of balance in this area, see the remarks of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Authority (1958 ed.; repr. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1984), 62-64.

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