Particular Baptist Training for Ministry

Particular Baptist Training for Ministry

In the seventeenth century, the halls of Oxford and Cambridge were closed to nonconformists. Dissenters of all kinds sought alternate methods of educating themselves through tutors, academies, Dutch universities, or church-based training.

One of the practices of the Congregationalists and the Particular Baptists was the recognition of gifted brethren in the church. These men were formally recognized as gifted to preach in the church, though not (yet) called to pastoral ministry. Candidates for ministry often came from among the gifted brethren, who were tested and trained up in their gifts. Individual churches and The Particular Baptist Fund facilitated this training through the purchase of books and other related expenses.

The church which met in Wapping, London under the pastoral care of Hercules Collins kept a book of its records, within which are two lists of books purchased for gifted brethren who were being tested or trained to serve in the church. These short lists provide a sense of what they considered essential reading for a gifted brother preparing to preach in the 1680s-1690s.

The list below is a collation of the two short lists, both of which include many of the same works, presented with modern bibliographic conventions.

Ames, William. The Marrow of Sacred Divinity. London: Edward Griffin, 1642.

Baxter, Richard. Of the Nature of Spirits; Especially Mans Soul. London: B. Simmons, 1682.

The Bible.

Bunyan, John. The Holy War, Made by Christ upon the Devil, for the Regaining of Man. London: Dorman Newman, 1684.

Charnock, Stephen. A Treatise of Divine Providence. London: Thomas Cockeril, 1680.

_____. Several Discourses upon the Existence and Attributes of God. London: D. Newman, 1682.

Coke, Zachary. The Art of Logick. London: Robert White, 1654.

A Confession of Faith Put forth by the Elders and Brethren Of many Congregations of Christians (baptized upon Profession of their Faith) in London and the Country. London: Benjamin Harris, 1677.

Cotton, Clement. A Complete Concordance to the Bible of the Last Translation. London: Thomas Downes, 1638.

Diodati, John. Pious Annotations, upon the Holy Bible. London: T.B., 1643.

An English Dictionary.

Barker, Matthew. Flores Intellectuales: Or, Select Notions, Sentences and Observations Collected out of several authors and made publick, especially for the Use of young Scholars, entring into the Ministry. London: J. Astwood, 1691.

_____. Flores Intellectuales: The Second Part Containing Three Centuries More. London: Thomas Snowden, 1692.

Haak, Theodore. trans., The Dutch Annotations Upon the Whole Bible. London: Henry Hills, 1657.

Leigh, Edward. A Systeme or Body of Divinity. London: A.M., 1662,

Newton, John. An Introduction to the Art of Logick. London: A.P., 1678.

Rowley, Alexander. The Schollers Companion, or a little Library, Containing all the interpretations of the Hebrew and Greek Bible, by all Authors. London: M. Bell, 1648.

Smith, John. The Mysterie of Rhetorique Unvail’d. London: E. Cotes, 1656.

Wilkinson, Robert. A Jewell for the Eare. London: John Stafford, 1643.

Typology and Communication in 2LCF 8.6

Dr. R. Scott Clark continues to study the relationship between Reformed theology and Baptist theology as expressed by modern and seventeenth-century adherents of the Second London Confession. Dr. Clark has recently written a post relating to the groups’ views on the benefits of Christ’s work being appropriated by Old Testament believers.

I would prefer not to reengage on this subject, especially since I’ve already written about it. However, I will reengage briefly because comments on Twitter and on Dr. Clark’s post itself express acceptance of the differences as they are portrayed by Dr. Clark.

2LCF 8.6: “Work” vs. “Price”?

Dr. Clark notes that 2LCF 8.6 modifies the wording of WCF 8.6 from “work…wrought” to “price…paid.”

WCF 8.6

WCF 8.6

2LCF 8.6

2LCF 8.6

Dr. Clark doesn’t make much of this difference, but on the chance that some might read these two as teaching a doctrinal difference, you need to understand why the language was changed. Behind this change is the covenant of redemption, which is confessed in 2LCF, but not WCF (which is not to say WCF rejects it).

As WCF/2LCF 7.1 state, obedience or work is meritorious for rewards in the context of covenants. How was the work of Christ meritorious? 2LCF 7.3 and 8.1 affirm that the covenant of redemption is the context for Christ’s redemptive work. The language of 2LCF 8.6 derives not just from the theological category of covenantal merit, but more specifically from 1 Cor. 6:20 and 7:13  which state that we were “bought at a price.” So, 2LCF 8.6 makes a precise assertion that Christ’s work on the cross was a meritorious and efficacious “price” which was “paid” in the context of the covenant of redemption.

Now, lest we think that this change in 2LCF 8.6 represents some kind of difference between Reformed theology and the Particular Baptists, we must understand that other Reformed Christians taught the same truths, for example, John Norton in the 1650s. Notice his assertions about Christ’s obedience being “a price, i.e. a ransom.”

John Norton, The Orthodox Evangelist, 223-224

2LCF 8.6: “Communicated”?

More to the point, Dr. Clark contrasts WCF and 2LCF 8.6’s use of the language of the “virtue, efficacy, and benefit” of Christ’s work being “communicated to the elect in all ages.” Dr. Clark prefaces his discussion with this,

…it has also become clearer to me that the Reformed and Particular Baptists can use the same language or similar language and yet mean different things by it.

Then he asks,

What, however, do the PBs mean by communicate as distinct from what the Reformed mean by it?

Dr. Clark quotes Nehemiah Coxe, myself, and my brother, and concludes,

In short, when we [the Reformed] say communication we mean “communing.” When the PBs say communication they seem to mean “the transmission of information.”

The argument that 2LCF 8.6 means something different from WCF 8.6 is what most concerns me in Dr. Clark’s post. 2LCF 8.6’s assertion of the benefit of Christ’s work being “communicated” to the elect in all ages means the exact same thing as WCF 8.6. But Dr. Clark’s post states that they mean something different. To read 2LCF 8.6 and emerge with the idea that “communicated” simply means “the transmission of information” requires the assumption of something underlying the text.

I appeal to any reader of 2LCF 8.6 to answer this question: “Does 2LCF 8.6 confess that the elect in all ages appropriated and received and enjoyed the benefit of Christ’s salvific work?” Yes, it absolutely and undeniably does. If so, why would one assume that the Particular Baptists mean something different?

As I mentioned already, Dr. Clark quotes Coxe and myself to prove the point. I am glad that Dr. Clark is reading Nehemiah Coxe. However, (and I may be wrong about this), I believe that Dr. Clark’s assessment is skewed because he has not finished Coxe’s work. I don’t mean that Dr. Clark would agree with Coxe if he finished the book, but would understand it better. Why? The final chapter of Coxe’s work is entitled “The Mutual Respect of the Promises made to Abraham.” In this chapter, Coxe distinguishes but also relates types and antitypes in God’s covenantal dealings with Abraham.

The State of Israel after the Flesh being typical; The Israel of God among them, were taught to look above, and beyond their external priviledges, unto those things that were shadowed by them, as set before their Faith in the promises of Grace by Christ; and so to live upon the Grace of that Covenant, which their outward State, and Covenant of Peculiarity [i.e., the Abrahamic Covenant] was subservient to; And unto them, all these things had a spiritual, and evangelical Use, which being their principal End and Intent, a fair Occasion is ministred for such an Intermixture of the Promises of Typical, with those of real Blessings, as we have now had under Consideration; Because of the Covenant of Grace, and that of Circumcision have their mutual respect, as the Type to its Antitype.

Notice that Coxe says that the “principal end and intent” of types was “a spiritual and evangelical use.” However much Nehemiah Coxe (or myself) may distinguish types and antitypes, types are never not types.

It is my opinion that Dr. Clark misrepresents the differences between Particular Baptist and Reformed Christians because he unsympathetically reads our treatments of typology and wrongly attributes to them an almost Anabaptist hyper-discontinuity.

Typology is the True Test

All of this may seem confusing. Am I denying all differences between the Reformed and Particular Baptists? No. Rather, I am insisting that they be rightly understood and stated.

The question is not whether the benefits of Christ were communicated to the elect in all ages. We both affirm this.

The question is not whether the benefits of Christ were communicated to the elect before the incarnation through types. We both affirm this.

The question is, whether types had their own function and reality that is distinct, but not divided, from their antitypes. The Particular Baptists affirm this. The Reformed tradition has varying (and in many ways opposing) trajectories on this question.

Sticking to the question itself, consider a few brief examples:

Type: Function:
Circumcision Separation from the nations
Canaan A blessed land
Tabernacle Sacrificial system/God’s presence
Sacrifices Restoration to ceremonial holiness
Bronze Serpent Deliverance from snakebites

It was entirely possible to participate in those realities without faith. Now, our Reformed brothers will reply at this point that the same remains true today. There are some who say “Lord, Lord, did we not…?” and they will be condemned eternally. There are those who participate outwardly without inward faith. Yes, of course. But that’s not the issue here.

The issue is that even if one participated in the items mentioned in the table above, without faith, they still had something entirely real in which they were participating. If you were circumcised, you inherited Canaan. If you offered animal sacrifices, you were restored to ceremonial holiness. If you lifted up your eyes to the bronze serpent, your snakebites were healed. The Israelites are criticized and condemned for living like this without ever looking beyond such types, but the life they lived and the ceremonies they performed were nevertheless real.

It is the identification and recognition of these types as possessing their own initial meaning and function distinct from their antitypes that establishes the key difference between us. As Coxe said, the elect looked “above and beyond” the types to the antitypical realities. But I fear that we are rarely heard beyond the initial point. We distinguish the type from the antitype and we become Anabaptists in the eyes of some.

It is worth noting that though typology is the true test of where differences lie between Particular Baptists and other Reformed Christians on these questions, 2LCF 8.6 (and the rest of the Confession) does not get specific. It simply states that the virtue, efficacy, and benefit of Christ’s redemptive work was applied to and received by the elect in all ages through types.


In conclusion,

  • 2LCF 8.6 and WCF 8.6 teach the same thing, though 2LCF 8.6 is more specific about Christ’s work as a “price.”
  • Describing 2LCF’s or the Particular Baptists’ understanding of typology merely as “the transmission of information” is inaccurate.
  • The most accurate and profitable way to describe or discuss differences between Reformed Christians and Particular Baptists in this area is to discuss the extent to which types are distinct from their antitypes and the theological consequences that follow.

For those who wish to read further, I describe the role of typology in the Particular Baptists’ covenant theology (and its roots in a branch of the Reformed tradition) from a historical-theological standpoint here. I argue for my views on typology from an exegetical standpoint here.


Why does 2LCF omit WCF 24.5-6 on Divorce?

This is a common question. Why does 2LCF 25 (Of Marriage) omit the paragraphs dealing with divorce in WCF 24 (Of Marriage, and Divorce)? I do not intend to offer a theological answer to this question, but a historical-textual one.

To answer this question, we really should direct it to a different party. The Baptists were not the first ones to remove these paragraphs. They were third. Consider four historical points.

First, remember that the Westminster Assembly was subject to Parliament. It had been called by Parliament to craft a project of religious reform for the national church. Accordingly, it submitted its draft of a Confession of Faith as Advice to Parliament in 1646.


The Assembly’s Advice contained the paragraphs on divorce and remarriage.


This version of the Confession of Faith was printed in Scotland and has been known as the Westminster Confession of Faith ever since.

Second, we must realize that Parliament did not approve this version of the Assembly’s Advice. What is commonly known as the “Westminster Confession of Faith” was not officially approved or adopted in England. Parliament required various changes, including the removal of the paragraphs from the chapter on Marriage, and Divorce. (Ironically, they did not change the title of the chapter, though they removed its references to divorce.) Here we see the 1648, Parliament-approved version of the Confession ending chapter 24 without paragraphs five and six.


Third, we must realize that in 1658 when the Congregationalists collaborated to craft the Savoy Declaration, they used the 1648 Parliament-approved version of the Assembly’s Confession, not the 1646 version proliferated in Scotland. They said this themselves:


That copy of the [Parliament-approved Confession of Faith] followed by us, is in few men’s hands; the other as it came from the Assembly, being approved of in Scotland, was printed and hastened into the world, before the Parliament had declared their resolutions about it; which was not till June 20 1648, and yet has been, and continues to be the copy (ordinarily) only sold, printed, and reprinted for these 11 years.

In the preface to the Savoy Declaration, the Savoy Divines mentioned various portions of the Westminster Confession which they had omitted, including portions of the chapter on marriage and divorce. The Savoy Divines noted that they agreed with the edits made by Parliament in these cases.


Also a great part of the 24th chapter of Marriage and Divorce [was omitted]. These [omitted portions] were such doubtful assertions, and so unsuitable to a Confession of Faith, as the Honorable Houses [of Parliament] in their great wisdom thought fit to lay them aside.

It was the Savoy Declaration that changed the title of the chapter to “Of Marriage”, omitting the addition, “, and Divorce.”

Fourth, when 2LCF was published in 1677, it self-consciously drew from the Savoy Declaration and the Westminster Confession (as is commonly known).


In conclusion, when we arrive at 2LCF 25.1-4 and do not find paragraphs 5 and 6 from WCF 24, we need to remember that the houses of Parliament and the Savoy Divines had already regarded them as unsuitable for a Confession of Faith. The Baptists were not the first, or even second, to omit them. Those paragraphs were never approved in an English Confession of Faith.

It is not my intention to enter into the rationale(s) behind the omission of these paragraphs. To discern each group’s reasons, one must interrogate their own writings and the sources that influenced them.

From Shadow to Substance

I am pleased to announce the release of my work on seventeenth-century Particular Baptist covenant theology, From Shadow to Substance: The Federal Theology of the English Particular Baptists (1642-1704), available through Amazon in the USA, UK, and EU markets.

From Shadow to Substance approaches Particular Baptist covenant theology chronologically, tracing the origins and development of the Particular Baptists’ covenant theology in dialogue with the Church of England, Presbyterian, and Independent paedobaptists of their day. A chronological approach reveals not only where the Particular Baptists and their paedobaptist counterparts agreed and disagreed, but it also reveals the ways in which later Particular Baptists built on the work of earlier Particular Baptists.

From Shadow to Substance is a lightly edited version of my Ph.D. dissertation, meaning it includes minor corrections and additions. It addresses issues such as the covenant of works in Particular Baptist literature, the importance of noting the polemical genre of their covenantal writings, the covenant of redemption in Particular Baptist literature, and reasons why the Particular Baptists appealed to John Owen’s covenant theology in relation to their own.

Based on my archival research, the book also offers new and relevant biographical and contextual information about the Particular Baptists. Chief among these is a narrative of the events leading up to the publication of the Second London Baptist Confession in 1677. Other interesting and previously unknown (or unconfirmed) details are provided, such as Nehemiah Coxe’s confirmed age, details of his Medical Degree, and a special new fact related to Coxe’s time at John Bunyan’s church. Additional new discoveries include William Collins’ age,  Hercules Collins’ probate inventory, and other records. [I have much more material on Coxe, Collins, and the Petty France church they pastored, but those are planned for separate volumes.]

To order in the USA, click the link above. To order in the UK, click here.

For those of you who ordered the book in its first printing, you now own a first-edition limited release of the book (if that matters to you). It has been reformatted for distribution through Amazon, resulting in slight modifications to appearance.

For more details, see the images below.




image (1)

John Clark, Phraseologia, 265-1

Soft Rain on Tender Grass

Soft Rain on Tender Grass

In a recent blog post that introduces a forthcoming series of posts on the relationship of the Second London Baptist Confession (1677 2LCF) to the recovery of Reformed confessionalism (if I understand the purpose correctly), Dr. R. Scott Clark raises the issue of covenant theology as a significant topic to be addressed in this discussion. He is certainly right to raise this issue, and it is worth investigation and further interaction. I had no part in the “friendly dialogue” to which Dr. Clark refers, so my comments should not be regarded as participating in or being privy to its content.

I’d like to offer three corrections of a clarifying nature to help those who desire sincerely to think through these issues. The first is historical, the second is theological, the third is historical-theological.

First, historical clarification:

This is not especially important, but I’ve seen it happen here and there. The post uses the date 1688 for Nehemiah Coxe’s death. Nehemiah Coxe died 5 May 1689. His second son died in 1688 and Nehemiah has been associated incorrectly with this date through internet resources.

Second, theological clarification:

Dr. Clark refers to modern inheritors of the 1677 2LCF as PB’s and speaks of their covenant theology. I assume that the 1689 Federalism project and Pascal Denault’s book are in view here. Perhaps more. While I will be quick to say that many should stop debating these topics because there is a need for more care and precision in articulating certain truths, and Baptists have often not helped themselves by diving headlong into this discussion with only an introduction to it, yet sufficient material has been articulated that some of Dr. Clark’s statements should appear to the reader to express Baptist views in a way that we would consider misrepresentation. I am not making an accusation of intentional misrepresentation. That is sin. I am saying that Dr. Clark’s comments need to be clarified for the sake of those that would consider them to be an accurate representation of PB (to use Dr. Clark’s term) covenant theology.

There are two statements I have in view:

“the covenant of grace was promised to Adam et al. but it was not actually administered under the types and shadows.” “The covenant of grace only enters history in the New Covenant.”

The problem underlying this misunderstanding and misrepresentation does not originate with Dr. Clark at all. It is the problem of the very language used in these debates, and it has been a problem ever since the debates began. The problem is the language of substance and administration.

To administer, in a covenantal context, can refer to receiving benefits, or it can refer to outward ordinances. The Particular Baptists of the seventeenth century, and the inheritors of their covenant theology today, affirm that the benefits of the covenant of grace, i.e., the substance, were appropriated by the elect in the Old Testament as they were made known in promises and types. In this sense, the Particular Baptists affirm that the substance of the covenant of grace was administered to the elect. And because of this, to say that PBs of then or now believe that the covenant of grace “was not actually administered” in the Old Testament is incorrect and takes the discussion in an extremely unhelpful, and I dare say heavily prejudiced, direction.

The promise of salvation in Christ is carried along throughout the Old Testament, a promise of a future deliverance that is not established in history until the death of Christ and the inauguration of the new covenant. This is a way of thinking and teaching in no way particular to Baptists. John Ball, following John Cameron, distinguished the covenant of grace into a pre-Messianic covenant of promise, and a post-Messianic covenant of promulgation, i.e., legal enactment.

The difference, and difficulty, arises when we discuss administration in the sense of ordinances. Were the ordinances of the Abrahamic covenant and Mosaic covenant the ordinances of the covenant of grace in older forms, or were they ordinances of covenants distinct from, yet subservient to and revelatory of, the covenant of grace? Because the Particular Baptists denied that the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants were the covenant of grace, they denied that they were administrations, i.e., an older form of ordinances, of the covenant of grace. But they did not deny that those covenants administered the grace of the new covenant.

The grand difference was so wonderfully summarized by John Owen in his discussion of the Mosaic covenant. Saints were saved under, not by, the old covenant. Owen distinguished via typology between the earthly old covenant with its ordinances, and the antitypical  new covenant realities to which those ordinances and promises pointed. The uniqueness of the Particular Baptists was to apply the same hermeneutics to the Abrahamic covenant. The earthly ordinances and promises pointed to antitypical realities. So the Abrahamic covenant itself is not the covenant of grace, nor is it an outward administration of the covenant of grace, yet by typology it inwardly administered the grace of the new covenant. Saints were saved under, not by the Abrahamic covenant.

Paul’s repeated arguments in the New Testament are that the new covenant was not a plan B, or a new direction, but had been made known and was always the intended destination of the Israelite covenants. Paul doesn’t tell the Galatians that the entire nation of the Jews were in the covenant of saving grace the whole time and they just didn’t know it. He tells the Galatians that the covenant of grace was present the whole time in the promises of Christ, and those who believe in Christ as Abraham did, in all ages, are the children of Abraham’s faith, born from above, the free citizens of Heaven, belonging to Christ and his new covenant. And any Jew that tries to make the old covenant something other than that which points to Christ is not truly Jewish in that sense.

To put it awkwardly, types are never not types. In other words, the Old Testament covenants may be regarded rightly as earthly in and of themselves, but they can never be regarded as divested of new covenant relation and meaning. They never existed apart from the ultimate intent to unite all peoples in one new covenant under Christ. They were designed to bring about the Christ and make his mission visible and legible! They were designed to bring about the blessing for all nations. But it was only by faith that they, then or now, would ever belong to Christ and his covenant. The purpose of the old covenant was to bring about the new covenant. But subservience is not identity.

My desire is not to prolong or provoke a discussion on these points, but to clarify the PB position and alert the reader to issues in Dr. Clark’s representation of it.

Did/do the PBs believe that the grace of the new covenant was administered under the old covenant(s) but not by the old covenant(s)? Yes.

Did/do the PBs believe that the old covenant(s) were older outward forms (an old administration) of the covenant of grace? No.

Third, historical-theological clarification:

Dr. Clark states,

“Our Baptist friends did not and do not share the Reformed way of reading Scripture (hermeneutics).”

While it is certainly true that the Particular Baptists’ view of the Abrahamic covenant distinguished them from their paedobaptist brethren (that is the fundamental difference, after all), in order to say things like Dr. Clark has, one must first appreciate the unity and diversity of Reformed covenant theology itself, then second understand the Particular Baptists’ historical and theological relation to that unity and diversity, in order to third make an informed statement about these complicated relationships.

Obviously, blog posts are not ideal places for such work. My recent book deals with this subject at length. Nevertheless, I want to alert the reader to the fact that the picture presented by Dr. Clark of the unity of Reformed covenant theology does not address its diversity, and it is precisely within the context of the unity and the diversity that the relation of the Particular Baptists to the Reformed tradition is clarified.

Rather than get into that content here, I simply want to say that apart from serious engagement with the breadth of Particular Baptist seventeenth-century literature (beyond just Nehemiah Coxe), and apart from citation of actual sources, one should postpone all judgments on others’ historical-theological descriptions of the Particular Baptists. Keep asking, “can you show this to me from the sources?”


I am glad that these discussions are happening. And I am hopeful for future mutual understanding and iron-sharpening. I’ll conclude with an exhortation to us all from Thomas Manton:

Thomas Manton, Words of Peace, 35

Confessional Orthodoxy and Evangelical Union

Anon, A Brief History of Presbytery

Evangelicalism has often been criticized for its lack of creeds and confessions. Yet there has been a consistent assumption, and perhaps assertion, that since evangelicals share a common subjective commitment to the Bible they must share a common commitment to the objective deposit of doctrine and the pattern of sound words in the Bible.

In the recent controversy relating to the triunity of God, one wing of evangelicalism is now holding another wing doctrinally accountable, in brotherly love. But it is becoming clear that the common doctrinal foundation that was assumed to be shared, is not in fact shared. As a result, those being held accountable resent and oppose the accountability as an imposition of a foreign standard to which they have made no commitment. But the standard by which they are being measured is the faith of the church throughout the ages, and this on the doctrine of God. All is not well in evangelicalism, nor has it been.

What to do, then? The church, not the parachurch or the internet-church or even the university or seminary, ultimately needs to enforce orthodoxy. If there are no ecclesiological structures for doctrinal accountability, then there can be no orthodoxy, only ortho-personality. And if there can be no orthodoxy, there are no guards against heterodoxy, only hetero-personalities. A debate about the doctrine of God should not be about “Person vs Person” but “Truth vs Falsehood.”

Consequently, a church (or denomination or association of churches) needs a Confession of Faith defining the fundamental articles of religion, in other words, defining orthodoxy. And the church (or denomination or association of churches) needs to enforce that orthodoxy. Many may not know this, but the declaration of orthodoxy and the enforcement thereof is the context of the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith, published in 1677 but commonly known by the date 1689.

In 1677 the London Particular Baptists had to deal with one of their own, Thomas Collier, who had recently published heterodox views in a book. Collier resisted their attempts to correct and restore him, and persisted in publishing more falsehood, in quantity and quality. All the while, he was known as a Particular Baptist. The London Particular Baptists, who were already liable to slander, misrepresentation, persecution, and accusations of all kinds of heterodoxy, decided to clear their names of these charges in general and any association with Collier in particular.

In the process, they defined a Heretic and applied the definition to Collier. Give attention to the phrase “Fundamental Articles of the Christian Religion.”

We conceive that he is an Heretick that chooseth an Opinion by which some fundamental Article of the Christian Religion is subverted, which Religion before he profest, but now persisteth in this Opinion, contrary thereunto, notwithstanding proper means for his conviction hath been made use of; this description of an Heretick confirmed thus.
1. That it is the choosing of a new Opinion, the signification of the word Heresie doth evince, which is derived from a word that signifieth Election of Choice.
2. That it is not every new Opinion, but that only that is subversive of a fundamental Truth, will easily be granted, otherwise Men must be rejected for every mistake that they are not presently convinced of: which is contrary to the rule of Christ, and that love and forbearance Christians ought to exercise towards one another.
3. He only is properly termed an Heretick, that hath formerly profest the Christian Religion, because such a one is self-condemn’d, though perhaps not always in the present judgment of his Conscience, yet at least by his former Profession.
4. It is the persisting of such a Person in such an Heresie, after proper means hath been used for his conviction, that doth denominate a man to be an Heretick; for a weak Christian may possibly be surprised by Temptation, and the subtilty of Deceivers, into such an Opinion, as obstinately maintained, would destroy the faith of the Person, who yet flies from the Snare as soon as it is discovered to him.

It is somewhat interesting that one of the particular points of heresy the Particular Baptists identified in Collier’s theology was that “He asserts that Christ is the Son of God, only as considered in both Natures, which with other notions in Chap.1. of his Additional Word, doth subvert the Faith concerning the Person of Christ, with respect to his eternal subsisting in the Divine Nature, in the incommunicable property of a Son, as is more abundantly manifest in the answer all ready returned thereunto.” The doctrine of God, whether the doctrine of the triunity of God or the doctrine of the person of the Son, is not to be taken lightly, nor is it merely a matter of academia. It is a fundamental article of the Christian religion.

The above-quoted material was prepared on 2 August, 1677. Later that very month, the Particular Baptists published the Confession of Faith. This Confession followed, word for word in most chapters, the Westminster Confession and the Savoy Declaration. The Particular Baptists explained in an epistle prefacing the Confession that they use the same words as those previous confessions “the more abundantly, to manifest our consent with both, in all the fundamental articles of the Christian Religion.” In other words, they wanted to declare their orthodoxy.

Similar to the prefatory epistle, the Particular Baptists stated in an appendix, “We have…endeavoured to manifest, That in the fundamental Articles of Christianity we mind the same things, and have therefore expressed our belief in the same words, that have on the like occasion been spoken by other societies of Christians before us.”

This was important because of Collier’s errors. The Confession was published so that anyone who wanted to know what the Particular Baptists believed could learn of it “from our selves (who jointly concur in this work) and may not be misguided, either by undue reports; or by the ignorance or errors of particular persons, who going under the same name with our selves, may give an occasion of scandalizing the truth we profess.”

If an evangelical union is going to exist, it needs to be a union of truth, and a union of churches, not persons. Evangelicals, as churches, therefore, need to confess their faith clearly and then see where their unity truly lies. As Nehemiah Coxe, a Particular Baptist minister, said in his refutation of Thomas Collier, “There can be no Gospel Peace without truth, nor Communion of Saints, without an agreement in fundamental principles of the Christian Religion. We must contend earnestly for the Faith once delivered to the Saints; and mark those that cause divisions among us by their new Doctrines contrary thereto, and avoid them.”

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On the Need for and Practice of Confessing the Faith

On the Need for and Practice of Confessing the Faith

On the Need for and Practice of Confessing the Faith

“Unity without verity is rather a conspiracy.” [1]

Truth is as unchanging as the Author of truth. It is the duty of the church to know, believe, and proclaim this truth. The theological vanguards of our day need not take us on a new path, but on the tried, tested, and true paths of the church throughout the ages. They may remove stones in the way, new or old. They may add clarity to the road we trod with clearer light. But they must keep us on that road. This can only be accomplished with a clear, comprehensive, and concise confession of faith.

The Need for a Confession of Faith

Communion is always built upon union. A confession of faith is thus necessary for the unity of individual churches and for the unity of multiple churches. It is the source of outward union upon which communion can take place. Nehemiah Coxe, a Particular Baptist, said,

There can be no Gospel Peace without truth, nor Communion of Saints, without an agreement in fundamental principles of the Christian Religion. We must contend earnestly for the Faith once delivered to the Saints; and mark those that cause divisions among us by their new Doctrines contrary thereto, and avoid them. [2]

Coxe was right. The foundation of unity must be truth, extrinsic to ourselves and objectively rooted in the God who is light, and in whom there is no darkness (1 John 1:5). A local church’s unity must be grounded on truth, and so also the unity of an association or denomination of churches must be grounded on truth. Communion derives from union.

The author to the Hebrews, after spending a great deal of time correcting errors and asserting truths, exhorted the recipients of his letter, “23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (Heb 10:23 ESV). Their unity was to be founded on a collective and united confession of that which was true. And those who contradicted it were to be corrected or rejected. The church, locally and collectively, must confess the faith.

A confession of faith is necessary. There can be no meaningful unity without doctrinal agreement and commitment, and Scripture itself commands us to hold fast and guard the body of truths contained in the Scriptures.

The Practice of Confessing the Faith

This leads to how one confesses the faith. It is a sad day when what we confess and how we confess must be dealt with independently. A PCA minister and seminary professor once said, “There is no subscriptional method that will guarantee the orthodoxy of the next generation.” And he was right.

While subscriptional standards are a matter of wisdom, and worthy of discussion, there is a more fundamental issue that must be addressed. A confession of faith can be dealt with actively or passively. Actively, one confesses the faith, i.e. one confesses before God, brethren, and the world, that certain things are true. Passively, one uses a confession of faith as a reference document, more like a set of guidelines. In this second case, there is not an expectation that one necessarily confesses these things to be true, because one is not confessing the faith.

But to use a confession of faith in the second sense is directly contrary to the nature and function of confessions of faith because, as was just stated, it’s not confessing the faith. Indeed, if a confession is to be used as a set of doctrinal guidelines, then the word “confession” ought to be removed and replaced with “reference document,” “list of suggestions,” or “generalization of approximated truth.” Why hold to a confession of faith if you’re not confessing it to be true? Either remake the document or compose your own. And then confess that document. “Let your yes be yes, and your no be no” (Matthew 5:37, James 5:12).

Returning to active confession, this is what confessions are all about. In the 1640’s and 1670’s, when the two major confessions of the Particular Baptists were first published, they wanted the country of England, and especially the civil magistrates, to know what it was they held to be true. Whether or not they were thrown in jail, fined, or persecuted depended on how the magistrate responded to such documents, if at all. The Particular Baptists wanted to vindicate their names from accusations of heresy and political suspicions. [3] They also desired to demonstrate their agreement with broader orthodox confessional Christianity. For this reason, and others, the editors of the confession made their intentions clear in the preface to the 1677 confession.

We did conclude it necessary to expresse ourselves the more fully, and distinctly…to manifest our consent with both (the Presbyterian Westminster Confession and the Independents’ Savoy Declaration), in all the fundamental articles of the Christian Religion. [4]

They said later, “We have exprest ourselves with all candor and plainness that none might entertain jealousie of ought secretly lodged in our breasts, that we would not the world should be acquainted with.” [5] They had nothing to hide. Their confession represented what they confessed to be true from the Scriptures.

This common sense approach to a confession played out during the hymn-singing controversy of the 1690’s when the Particular Baptists of the 1640’s were accused of believing that congregations were not obligated to remunerate their ministers. William Kiffin, a living member of that generation, replied by showing that the first confession of faith (1644, 1646) clearly stated that congregations should pay their ministers. He said “They must needs be the grossest sort of Hypocrites, in professing the contrary by their Profession of Faith, and yet believing and practising quite otherwise to what they solemnly professed as their Faith in that matter.” [6] Kiffin’s argument is that if the accusation is sustained (that the first Particular Baptists did not believe congregations should remunerate their ministers), then the confession contains a blatant lie, which was of course absurd. In a truly similar fashion, it is nothing short of falsehood to confess something to be true in a way that contradicts the thing which is being confessed to be true. Say what you mean, and mean what you say.

But this can become difficult even when committing two people to the same document. Indeed, it can become even more difficult when this document is a piece of times gone by. Yet the need for unity on a foundation of truth does not change, thus the need to confess the faith does not change. And when confessing the faith, the need to confess the faith honestly, sincerely, and openly does not change. If the faith you confess conceals or confuses, it’s not worth confessing.

The tried and true faith of the church of Jesus Christ is worth confessing. Hence, historical confessions of faith are worth confessing. And though they may require a certain amount of teaching and context in order to grasp their richness and true value, they are not mysteries designed to conceal. They are confessions designed to instruct and reveal.

When a group of persons or churches covenants to unite on a foundation of doctrinal unity, they are confessing one faith. If they are not, there is no point or purpose in the doctrinal commitments upon which they united. Those commitments aren’t representative of the group, and are thus misrepresentative.

Samuel Rutherford provides some helpful material for understanding the need for unity within a confession of faith. In one place, he argued against the objection that confessions of faith should be framed only in Scripture language by the fact that the Apostles argued via deductions and necessary consequences to vindicate themselves from charges of heresy that came from Jewish leaders. We must do the same, he argued. We must give an answer for the hope that lies within us in words that explain our meaning clearly. [7]

Likewise he argued that if all we use is Scripture language then not only would Jews falsely subscribe to our assertions about the Old Testament, but heretics likewise would do the same throughout. [8] A confession of faith thus represents the teaching of scripture, and explains it. Therefore, a confession is written with precision specifically to avoid contradictory meanings arising from one doctrinal assertion. [9]

As an example, Rutherford considered a suggestion for a confession of faith that would accommodate the views of Lutheran theologians. While not excommunicating the Lutherans theologically, Rutherford did not consider a common confession between them to be appropriate. Speaking of one particular meeting where views on the presence of Christ in the supper were discussed by both parties, he said,

But the truth is, there were contrary faiths touching the presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Sacrament; and therefore I humbly conceive all such General confessions as must be a coat to cover two contrary faiths, is but a daubing of the matter with untempered mortar…I speak not this as if each side could exactly know every lith [10] and vein of the controversy, for we prophesy but in part, but to shew I cannot but abominate truth and falsehood, preached up in one confession of faith.[11]

Rutherford is saying that while we cannot expect absolute unanimity, neither can we accommodate known contradiction. If two people agree to confess something to be true, they cannot and should not understand that truth in contradictory ways.
Rutherford provides an example of why this is so important and fundamental. He says,

For if two men should agree in such a bargain, A covenants with B to give him a ship full of spices; B promises to give a hundred thousand pounds for these spices, A believes they are metaphorical spices he gives, B believes they are the most real and excellent spices of Egypt; B promises to give a hundred thousand pounds of field stones, A expects good, real, and true money; this were but mutual juggling of one with another. [12]

When confessing the faith, there can only be true unity when that confession is confessed by the parties involved sincerely and truly without contradiction. Anything less is a farce, a “mutual juggling of one with another.”

Now, living in a fallen world hundreds of years since the publication of many of the documents that churches consider to reflect Scripture accurately, there has to be room given for learning and exploring the rich depths of such a confession. There is also some room given either for differing views which are intentionally accommodated by general language, or for exceptions to language that do not subvert the doctrine wherein they are taken.

Regarding general language, the Second London Baptist Confession (1677) intentionally accommodates varying views of the relationship between baptism and church membership (i.e., communion):

We have purposely omitted the mention of things of that nature, that we might concur, in giving this evidence of our agreement, both among ourselves, and with other good Christians, in those important articles of the Christian Religion, mainly insisted on by us. [13]

Rather than exclude their brethren of another opinion on this point, the Baptists avoided the topic. In other words, both groups could confess these truths sincerely because neither was forced to confess something that would contradict their own practice on this matter. This was done in order to “concur” and give “evidence of our agreement.” In this way, confessions are documents of unity, but not uniformity. A confession of faith commits a person to everything it says, but it may use general (nb: not contradictory) language in an intentional manner in order to accommodate diversity.

Regarding exceptions to a confession of faith, though they should be dealt with on a case by case basis, expressing one’s exceptions is of great importance for several reasons. First, it maintains active confession in the sense that one is clearly expressing potential disagreement rather than insincerely or falsely confessing something to be true. Second, it provides opportunities for further teaching, correction, and refining of one’s own views when the collective knowledge and insights of a church/association/denomination can be channeled into one’s own evaluation of such issues. Third, it may bring to the surface substantial and indeed unacceptable deviations from what a church/association/denomination confesses to be true. All of this preserves the doctrinal integrity and unity of the church/association. What has been described assumes, of course, that the men of the church/association/denomination know what they are confessing, and thus know where and why they take exceptions, if they take exceptions.

But what ought to be done when an exception arises that not only contradicts the teaching of the confession but also destroys it? The first thing that needs to be said is that we should pursue every possible avenue in order to restore unity through restoring doctrinal integrity. Nevertheless, if we actively confess the confession, allowing or accommodating a view that destroys what we confess to be true necessitates either a complete restructuring of what we confess to be true, or abandoning confessing the faith for referencing the faith (i.e., downgrading one’s subscriptional standard). But truth should not and must not be sacrificed for unity because truth is the foundation of unity.

If a serious doctrinal aberration arises, then let it be clearly stated. Let the one(s) owning it submit themselves to the accountability of their church/association/denomination, being wisely willing to yield and open to reason (James 3:17), let it be clear that if they persist in error they must leave or be removed, and let all involved sincerely confess the faith.

The Prerequisites of Robust Confessionalism

The church must confess the faith. It is necessary. The church must confess the faith. It is necessary. In order to accomplish this, one needs:

1. A good confession of faith
2. Christians who understand and confess the confession
3. Christians who will hold each other accountable to the confession

Apart from these pillars, robust confessionalism cannot take place. Being “confessional” is sometimes looked down upon. But if a confession of faith is a statement of what the Bible teaches then all it means to be “confessional” is that one is willing to stake their claim and plant their flag upon a doctrinal hill. Is that not what every Christian is called to do? Certainly it is.

And though there will be misunderstanding or lack of understanding of one’s confession (new or old), are we willing to be corrected? Are we willing to learn? Are we willing to grow in our commitments? Christians, churches, associations, and denominations experience growing pains. So also, we need to be those who, upon realizing we misunderstood something about our doctrinal commitments, are willing to be corrected or are willing to say that we cannot in good conscience uphold such a commitment. Both options are honorable.

It is dishonorable, however, to demand approval and acceptance in a way that contradicts the very commitments held by a church/association/denomination. Communion derives from union. Once you allow contradictory views of the same words within a confessional context, you have neutered all accountability and eroded the ability to work together formally or to present a united voice of truth to a watching world. You have asked all in communion to abandon the source of their union. To permit this reduces an objective body of doctrine to a subjective reference manual.

We submit ourselves not to any man, but to Scripture. Yet, we submit ourselves to a specific understanding, interpretation, and systematization of Scripture, i.e. a confession of faith. Consequently, we mutually hold one another accountable to that standard of truth. We cannot do otherwise. Our consciences are bound, so long as we hold these commitments. We are all responsible for holding fast the confession of our hope, standing firm and faithful at our posts and doing our part to keep the ship afloat and running smoothly, knowing and trusting that Jesus Christ is active and present in and among his churches in and by his Holy Spirit.


In conclusion, we may not be able to guarantee the orthodoxy of the next generation, but we can do everything in our power, with God’s blessing, to leave an orthodox church for them to inherit. “22 A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children” (Pro 13:22 ESV). So then, whatever we confess, let us confess it together. After all, “There can be no Gospel Peace without truth, nor Communion of Saints, without an agreement in fundamental principles of the Christian Religion.” In so doing, as we face the attacks of our own hearts, the evil one, and the world, we will be able to stand side by side, holding fast the confession of our hope, saying to one another what Jonathan’s armor-bearer said to him, “Do all that is in your heart. Do as you wish. Behold, I am with you heart and soul” (1 Sam 14:7 ESV).

[1] Anon, A Brief History of Presbytery and Independency (London: Edward Faulkner, 1691), 30.

[2] Nehemiah Coxe, Vindiciae Veritatis, Or a Confutation of the Heresies and Gross Errors of Thomas Collier, (London: Nath. Ponder, 1677), 4 of an unmarked preface.

[3] Hence the recurring refrain marking their literature: “By those who are commonly, but falsely, called Anabaptists.”

[4] Anon., A Confession of Faith Put Forth by the Elders and Brethren of Many Congregations (London, 1677), 3-4 of an unmarked preface.

[5] Anon., A Confession of Faith, 5 of an unmarked preface.

[6] George Barret, William Kiffin, Edward Man, Robert Steed, A Serious Answer to a Late Book, Stiled, A Reply to Mr. Robert Steed’s Epistle Concerning Singing (1692), 18.

[7] Samuel Rutherford, A Free Disputation Against Pretended Liberty of Conscience (London: Printed by R.I. for Andrew Crook, 1649), 29.

[8] Ibid., 31. This same point was made between Nehemiah Coxe and Thomas Collier. Coxe said that “Whereas Mr. Collier tells us, That he saith what the Scripture saith, &c. That is not enough, unless he make it manifest also, That he saith it according to the true sense and intendment of the Spirit of God in those Scriptures he refers unto.” He adds, “Those Socinians…have yet said as much as Mr. Collier here presents us with.” Coxe, Vindiciae Veritatis, 2. Collier did not appreciate this and replied that Coxe was claiming a pope-like authority and infallibility to make such a demand from Collier. Cf. Thomas Collier, A Sober and Moderate Answer to Nehemiah Coxe’s Invective (Pretended) Refutation (as he saith) of the gross Errors and Heresies Asserted by Thomas Collier (London: Francis Smith, 1677), 1-2.

[9] We should note that the precision of the orthodox confessions of faith is oft overlooked or invisible to modern Christians because we live in a world (particularly in secular and religious education) predominantly devoid of the methods, premises, and arguments that led to the summarized conclusions of the confessions. The confessions are carefully handcrafted masterpieces of theological truth and collective Christian wisdom. We ignore the precision of their thought and language to our own peril.

[10] A limb or branch.

[11] Rutherford, A Free Disputation, 67. Spelling updated.

[12] Ibid. Spelling updated for ease of reading.

[13] Anon., A Confession of Faith, 139. Spelling updated.

Unashamed Reformed Confessionists

Unashamed Reformed Confessionists

“They (papists) say we have revolted from the Catholic Church, that we might follow divers imaginations of men. They cry aloud that we are heretics, schismatics, and sectaries, and they often times in mockery call us Confessionists. And moreover they lay in our dish that we neither agree with ourselves nor with others who detest the Bishop of Rome, but there are as many religions among us as there are confessions of faith.

They are no schismatics who intirely cleave to God’s church such an one as the Prophets and Apostles do describe unto us, nor to be accounted sectaries who embrace the truth of God, which is one and always like it self. What do they mean, I pray you, by the name of Confessionists so often repeated?

For if every man be commanded to make confession of his faith so often as God’s glory, and the edifying of the church shall require, what a wonderful or strange thing ought it to seem, if cities, if provinces, if whole kingdoms have made profession of their faith, when they were falsely charged by the Popish sort, that they had gone from the doctrine of the true believing Church?

But they will say, there ought to be one confession of faith and no more. As though forsooth a confession of faith were to be valued rather by the words, then by the thing it self. What therefore will they say to our ancestors, who when they had the Apostles’ Creed, yet for all that set out the Nicene, Chalcedonian, and many more such like creeds? Those creeds, say you, were general. Yea, surely, but so general that a great part of the world in those elder times followed the frantic heresies of the Arrians, whom the godly forefathers by setting forth those creeds desired to bring home into the church again. “The truth,” says Hilary, “was by the advice and opinions of Bishops many ways sought, and a reason of that which was meant was rendered by several confessions of faith set down in writing.” And a little after, “It ought to seem no marvel right well-beloved brethren, that men’s faiths began to be declared so thick—the outrage of heretics lays this necessity upon us.” Thus much said Hilary. What, that Athanasius, Augustine, and many other ancients set forth their creeds also, that the purity of the Christian faith might more and more shine forth.

Therefore if kingdoms, cities, and whole provinces have privately made confession of their faith, this was the cause thereof, for that hitherto the state of times hath not suffered, that a general counsel of all those who profess the reformed religion, might be held. But if it once come to pass (and the Lord grant that the churches may at length enjoy so great a benefit) then there may be one only confession of faith extant, conceived in the same words, if the state of the churches shall seem to require it.

Let them therefore leave off in mockery to term us Confessionists, unless perhaps they look for this answer at our hands, that it is a far more excellent thing to bear a name of confessing the faith, than of denying the truth. For even as many small streams may flow from one spring, so many confessions of faith, may issue out from one and the same truth of faith.”

From “An Harmony of the Confessions of Faith of the Christian and Reformed Churches,” 1586. Spelling has been updated.