Blogs have an “about” page. Many books have a preface. The framers of the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith (otherwise known as the “1689”) penned an introduction. This introduction is not, unfortunately, always published with the Confession itself, yet it contains lessons that hold relevance in our modern age. Respect, clarity of beliefs, importance of Scripture and striving for holiness are applications we can glean from our Particular Baptist brethren’s example. (You may read the introduction on the “1689 Introduction” page.)
“Courteous Reader”: from the first salutations we are shown the tone conveyed. “Judicious”, “impartial”, and “courteous” are used to describe the reader. We may be tempted to view the framers’ choice of words as a mere formality, or even with suspicion for seeming too verbose to be sincere. However, much of the introduction demonstrates that sincerity and charity was foremost in the minds of these Particular Baptists:
“There is one more which we sincerely professe, and earnestly desire credence in, viz. That contention is most remote from our design in all that we have done in this matter…”
“And that in this backsliding day, we might not spend our breath in fruitless complaints of the evils of others; but may every one begin at home, to reform in the first place our own hearts, and wayes; and then to quicken all that we may have influence upon, to the same work…”
Is not this meekness and humility the stature to which Scripture calls us? With the ability to post our opinions and thoughts almost as instantaneously as they appear in our mind, and our culture’s admonishment to “express yourself” no matter who you may offend, this manner of speech may be rare. Yet in Romans 12:18 we are told “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (ESV)
Does living peaceably, however, mean that we keep silent about our beliefs? The writers of the 1689 apparently did not think so. While there had been a confession drawn up “about the year, 1643” (known today as the 1st London Baptist Confession of 1644/46), it was not readily available. Errors regarding the Particular Baptist’s beliefs were still spread, and other PB churches had formed since that time. Therefore,
“it was judged necessary by us to join together in giving a testimony to the world; of our firm adhering to those wholesome Principles, by the publication of this which is now in your hand.”
Acknowledging their indebtedness to the Westminster and Savoy Confessions of Faith (referenced as the “assembly” and “the Congregational way” in the introduction) , the framers of the 1689 desired to show that they were orthodox along with their like-minded brethren.
“…when we observed that those last mentioned did in their Confessions…choose not only to express their mind in words concurrent with the former in sense concerning all those articles wherein they were agreed, but also for the most part without any variation of the terms, we did in like manner conclude it best to follow their example in making use of the very same words with them both in these articles (which are very many) wherein our faith and doctrine are the same with theirs; and this we did the more abundantly to manifest our consent with both in all the fundamental articles of the Christian religion….And also to convince all that we have no itch to clog religion with new words, but do readily acquiesce in that form of sound words which hath been, in consent with the Holy Scriptures, used by others before us;…”
Efforts to restate historic theological terms can often lead to confusion. Rather than working from an agreed-upon framework of definition, every rewritten phrase would have to be defined in order to know if there was agreement. For example, I understand ice cream to mean a frozen dessert made from cream, eggs and sugar. If someone else understands ice cream to mean the same thing, then she and I will know what the other means when she says “ice cream”. But if I choose to rename ice cream a “frozen dairy concoction”, then how would my friend know I meant ice cream when I spoke? I would have to define it for her, which takes effort and time. By using the framework of the Savoy and Westminster, the Particular Baptists were able to speak a common theological language.
Where the Particular Baptists differed from their paedobaptist brothers, they did so clearly and concisely:
“In those things wherein we differ from others, we have exprest ourselves with all candor and plainness that none might entertain jealousie of ought secretly lodged in our breasts,…yet we hope we have also observed those rules of modesty, and humility, as will render our freedom in this respect inoffensive, even to those whose sentiments are different from ours.”
May we also strive to be convicted in our beliefs, be able to give a defense for them, yet be gracious to others who may not agree. “but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ”. (Eph. 4:15, NASB)
Part 2 of this article will be available next week.