A Suggested Addition to the Second London Confession

Founders Journal · Summer 2005 · pp. 22-26

A Suggested Addition to the Second London Confession

Tom J. Nettles

The experience of Southern Baptists in the 20th century demonstrated both the aggravations and the consolations of confessional unions. Liberalism in general and evolution in particular gave rise to the Baptist Faith and Message in 1925. Just a couple of years earlier, American Baptist liberals had maneuvered their annual meeting to avoid the adoption of a confession using the strategy of affirming the New Testament as their only authority. Southern Baptists saw the fallacy, and deceitfulness, of that approach and retarded the slide into liberalism to a snail’s pace by adopting the confession, though many sought greater explicitness on creation as opposed to evolution.

Subterranean shifts in theological education popped above ground with the Elliott controversy in the later 50’s and early 60’s. In 1963 the Convention adopted an amended and contextualized version of the Baptist Faith and Message. The effect of this was to create an impression of doctrinal reaffirmation to serve as a warning against radical theological departures while broadening the scope of doctrinal tolerance. The following decades revealed the essential failure of the BF&M committee to create a unifying document. Their equivocal language frustrated the theological convictions of most Southern Baptists. Those convictions were worked out in a series of controversies over textbooks, college teachers, Sunday School literature, the commentary series and other books by Broadman Press, and the theological direction of the seminaries.

These intervening decades of controversy culminated with the adoption of another Baptist Faith and Message in 2000. This edition closed some of the doctrinal loopholes created by the 1963 version and added more doctrinal specificity in critical areas of contemporary theological debate such as the nature of God and the nature and focus of Scripture. In addition, it provided clear positions on missiological and cultural/ethical issues.

Confessions, if the historic Baptist use of them gives a clue to their proper utility, must serve a two-fold purpose. They should express in unequivocal, and perhaps in increasingly clear terms, the great doctrines common to orthodox, protestant, evangelical Christians. Second they should provide opportunity, in some way, to interact with new challenges and give more pertinent attention to the legitimate Bible-centered progress of Christian thought.

Sometimes a separate statement of implications of the confession may serve the purpose of speaking theologically about current challenges. That will keep the confession from becoming cluttered with issues that could possibly pass with time and new developments. Articles of that nature may be removed or relegated to footnotes for historical purposes without destroying the integrity of the confession. Sometimes issues have such important theological substance that they warrant a theological statement. Theological discussions and denominational pragmatics (sometimes a good thing) have brought missions and evangelism to confessional status. Article XI of the Baptist Faith and Message, entitled “Evangelism and Missions” states:

It is the duty and privilege of every follower of Christ and of every church of the Lord Jesus Christ to endeavor to make disciples of all nations. The new birth of man’s spirit by God’s Holy Spirit means that birth of love for others. Missionary effort on the part of all rests thus upon a spiritual necessity of the regenerate life, and is expressly commanded in the teachings of Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ has commanded the preaching of the gospel to all nations. It is the duty of every child of God to seek constantly to win the lost to Christ by verbal witness undergirded by a Christian lifestyle, and by other methods in harmony with the gospel of Christ.

It lists around forty Scripture proofs from Genesis to Revelation as scriptural support for the article.

The 1677/1689 confession of the London Baptists, now universally useful among many Baptist churches, anticipated the missions movement in some ways. The historical dynamics, however, that pressed missions into the Baptist conscience developed through the subsequent century. Because the theological discussion preceding this missions movement dealt with issues inseparable from the doctrine of the fall and sin, the nature of the gospel, the covenant of redemption, and the person and work of Christ, the church’s stewardship of the gospel world-wide should be a part of its confessional commitment.

Some might include missions as a confessional statement by adding a new article entirely. Some might adopt the statement from the Baptist Faith and Message or some similar existing statement. Others might include it as a part of a separate statement on implications of the confession.

I suggest keeping the article (20) intact and adding some sections that expand other ideas of paramount importance. Because the Second London Confession is fully consistent with a missionary theology, our task is to implant within the appropriate article the missionary theology that naturally flows from the entire confession. I have tried to suggest a wording within article 20 that clearly states the mature missionary theology that emerged from the “modern question” conflict of the eighteenth century as expressed by Fuller, Carey, Pearce, Sutcliff, Robert Hall, Sr., John Ryland, Jr., and Abraham Booth. After my suggested textual additions, I have tried to refer to places in the confession that warrant the added text. Also I have added proof texts that support the textual additions. The confession not only must be internally consistent, but clearly conformed to the whole of divine revelation.

I transcribe the text of the chapter with additions. My suggested additions are in italics along with the suggested Scripture proofs. Locations within the larger confession that support the suggested additions are discussed beneath each respective paragraph.

  1. The covenant of works being broken by sin, and made unprofitable unto life, God was pleased to give forth the promise of Christ, the seed of the woman, as the means of calling the elect, and begetting in them faith and repentance; in this promise the gospel, as to the substance of it, was revealed, and [is] therein effectual for the conversion and salvation of sinners. [Genesis 3:15; Revelation 13:8] This promised grace assumes the creation truth that mankind bears of the divine image and is thus made for the love and praise of God. God’s purpose, therefore, of restoring an elect people to His favor through Christ and reinstating Himself as the sole source and object of their praise and worship does not exclude any of fallen humanity from the duty to pursue the ends of the Gospel [Ephesians 1:9-12; Philippians 1:9-11; 1 Timothy 1:8-11, 15-17.]

    [Compare Chapter 4, paragraph 2 entire but particularly “rendering them fit unto that life to God for which they were created.” Also, Compare chapter 7, paragraph 2 which states “Moreover, man having brought himself under the curse of the law by his fall, it pleased the Lord to make a covenant of grace, wherein he freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved; and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life, his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.”]

  2. This promise of Christ, and salvation by Him, is revealed only by the Word of God; neither do the works of creation or providence, with the light of nature, make discovery of Christ, or of grace by him, so much as in a general or obscure way; much less that men destitute of the revelation of Him by the promise or gospel, should be enabled thereby to attain saving faith or repentance. [Romans 1:16; 10:14-17; Proverbs 29:18; Isaiah 25:7; 60:2, 3] God provides, therefore, by command and providence, that proclamation of the full counsel of God be made to all men as sinners. The law initially written on the heart, as well as the moral law revealed to Israel, fully complies with the grace of the Gospel. This reality most forcefully implies that Christ’s Gospel be proclaimed to all fallen humanity. The decree of salvation for the elect of every tongue, tribe, nation, involves of necessity the proclamation of both the Gospel and the accompanying duties of repentance from sin and faith in the Lord Jesus to all men everywhere. [Revelation 5:12-14; 7; Acts 17:24-31; 1 Timothy 1:12-16]

    [Compare chapter 2, paragraph 2 “to him is due from angels and men, whatsoever worship, or obedience, as creatures they owe unto the Creator, and whatever he is further pleased to require of them.” Also compare chapter 5, paragraph 6, “whereby it comes to pass that they harden themselves, under those means which God useth for the softening of others.” Also compare chapter 19, paragraph 2, “The same law that was first written in the heart of man continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness after the fall, and was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, etc.” paragraph 5, “The moral law doth for ever bind all, as well justified persons as others … neither doth Christ in the Gospel any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation.” And paragraph 7 “Neither are the aforementioned uses of the law contrary to the grace of the Gospel, but do sweetly comply with it, the Spirit of Christ subduing and enabling the will of man to do that freely and cheerfully which the will of God, revealed in the law, requireth to be done.”]

  3. The revelation of the Gospel unto sinners, made in divers times and by sundry parts, with the addition of promises and precepts for the obedience required therein, as to the nations and persons to whom it is granted, is merely of the sovereign will and good pleasure of God; not being annexed by virtue of any promise to the due improvement of men’s natural abilities, by virtue of common light received without it, which none ever did make, or can do so; and therefore in all ages, the preaching of the gospel has been granted unto persons and nations, as to the extension [extent] or limiting [streightning] of it, in great variety, according to the counsel of the will of God. His secret will and good pleasure in this wise providence, however, is not the rule of our action; but rather his church must be governed by his commission of the gospel to all nations as the means of their calling. The apostolic work of careful dissemination, defense, and confirmation of the Gospel among all nations bore fruit only by virtue of the sovereign, inscrutable, and insuperable work of the Spirit embedding the preached word with vital power, and at the same time manifested the apostolic understanding of his command to make disciples. [Acts 13:48; Philippians 1:6; Colossians 1:3-6; 1 Thessalonians 1:4-7; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-15; 2 Timothy 2:8-10; James 1:17, 18; 1 Peter 1:22-25]

    [Elements of this original article give direct refutation to the Arminian contention that fallen humanity by virtue of universal prevenient grace may respond positively to natural revelation and thus gain God’s favor for a further hearing of the gospel or even perhaps having their natural religion account to them as virtual faith in Christ, though they never have heard the gospel. {See chapter 10, paragraph 4 on this account also.} Thomas Grantham, a general Baptist, specifically taught this and taught that apart from such prevenient grace, sinners could not be held responsible for their refusal to comply with the implications of natural revelation or of the preached gospel. Compare chapter 3, paragraph 1 – “nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away.” Paragraph 6. ‘foreordained all the means thereunto.” Chapter 5, paragraph 2 “yet by the same providence he ordereth them to fall out according to the nature of second causes, either, necessarily, freely, or contingently.” Chapter 10, paragraph 1 – “by his word and Spirit … enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God;” paragraph 4 “Much less can men that receive not the Christian religion be saved.” Also chapter 14, paragraph 1, “The grace of faith . . . is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word.”]

  4. We, therefore, affirm and have joyful confidence in these indivisible truths: the gospel is the only outward means of revealing Christ and saving grace, and is, as such abundantly sufficient thereunto; yet that men who are dead in trespasses may be born again, quickened or regenerated, [omit semi-colon and insert comma] there is moreover necessary, beyond the mere persuasive power of bare truth, an effectual insuperable work of the Holy Spirit upon the whole soul, for the producing in them a new spiritual life; without which no other means will effect their conversion unto God. [Psalm 110:3; 1 Corinthians 2:14; Ephesians 1:19, 20; John 6:44; 2 Corinthians 4, 4, 6] The substance of all missionary and evangelistic labors, therefore, must be the proclamation of the Gospel. Apart from this message we may not expect God’s Spirit to honor our efforts with the reclaiming of the lost. In the context of such labors one may always hope that the Spirit will lead the lost to Christ.

    [Compare also chapter X on effectual calling paragraph 1: “inlightening [sic] their minds, spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God;” also paragraph 4; “although they may be called by the Ministry of the word, and may have some common operations of the Spirit, yet not being effectually drawn by the Father, they neither will nor can truly come to Christ.” Also see chapter XIV.1, “Of Saving Faith;” “The Grace of Faith, whereby the Elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts; and is ordinarily wrought by the Ministry of the Word.” And XIV.2 “By this faith a Christian believeth to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God himself; and also apprehendeth an excellency therein, above all other writings; and all things in the world … and so is enabled to cast his Soul upon the truth thus believed.”]

An addition such as this would be consistent with the full light of Scripture truth, the historical flow of Baptist history, and the internal implications of the Confession itself. For at least a two-fold purpose such an addition holds promise for edification and conscientious discipleship: One, we should articulate a clear theological motivation for personal and world-wide evangelization, avoiding the error of the hyper-Calvinist; Two, we must help correct the tendency to abort evangelism from its theological womb but must insist that it be nurtured and matured and kept alive by its fructifying connection with the whole of doctrinal truth.