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It was during the early Middle Ages that theologians such as Hugh of St. Victor (c.1096–1141) began to affirm seven sacraments, although there was no clear-cut consensus as to the number of the sacraments at the time. In fact, some considered the consecration of a king or queen as an eighth sacrament. And Peter Damian (died 1072) numbered as many as twelve sacraments. However, at the eighth session of the Council of Florence on November 22, 1439, there was a clear affirmation of seven sacraments—namely baptism, confirmation, the eucharist, penance, extreme unction, the priesthood, and marriage—a position that was re-affirmed at the Council of Trent in the mid-sixteenth century.


The Reformers strongly disagreed with this enumeration and reckoned that there were only two sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, though Luther, unique among the major Reformers in this regard, reckoned there to be three sacraments. He included penance as the third. In their respective statements on the sacraments, the Westminster Confession (Chapter XXVII) and the Savoy Declaration (Chapter XXVIII), followed the lead of the magisterial Reformers and numbered only baptism and the Lord’s Supper as sacraments. Preceding this enumeration, though, both declarations of faith included three paragraphs that elucidated what the framers of these confessions understood by the term “sacrament.” These paragraphs are completely omitted by the Second London Confession of Faith.


In some ways, this omission is odd, for the Particular Baptists agreed fully with their fellow Puritans that a sacrament—or ordinance, as they called them in their confession—was a vehicle by which the Holy Spirit worked in the lives of the people of God to enable them to persevere in grace. For example, Benjamin Keach (1640–1704), the most significant Particular Baptist theologian of the late seventeenth century and who endorsed the Second London Confession in 1689, made the following declaration in 1681. In a direct allusion to the Quakers, who dispensed with the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, he stated of the ordinances:


Many are confident they have the Spirit, Light, and Power, when ’tis all meer Delusion. …Some Men boast of the Spirit, and conclude they have the Spirit, and none but they, and yet at the same time cry down and villify his blessed Ordinances and Institutions, which he hath left in his Word, carefully to be observed and kept, till he comes the second time without Sin unto Salvation. …The Spirit hath its proper Bounds, and always runs in its spiritual Chanel, viz. The Word and Ordinances, God’s publick and private Worship…


Keach’s fellow Particular Baptist Hercules Collins (1646/7–1702) similarly asserted that “if God have a Church in all Ages, he must have Ordinances there, because no Church of Christ can be constituted without them.”


It bears noting that although the Second London Confession did not employ the word “sacrament,” many of those who endorsed it were quite comfortable with the term. William Kiffen (1616–1701), who can be rightly regarded as the father of the Particular Baptist community, described baptism on one occasion as “the Sacrament of the Spiritual Birth.” And Benjamin Keach, quoting the Arminian theologian Daniel Tilenus (1563–1633), stated without qualification that “baptism is the first Sacrament of the New Testament, … in which there is an exact analogy between the Sign and the thing signified.” In his Baptistic adaptation of the Heidelberg Catechism, Hercules Collins used this term a number of times in the section “Of the Sacraments.” Collins stated, for instance, that


the Sacraments … are sacred Signs, and Seals, set before our Eyes, and ordained of God for this cause, that he may declare and seal by them the Promise of his Gospel unto us … that he giveth freely Remission of Sins, and Life everlasting, not only to his all in general, but to every one in particular that believeth, for that only Sacrifice of Christ which he accomplished upon the Cross.


The Second London Confession makes two key statements about the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. First, they are ordinances of “sovereign institution, appointed by the Lord Jesus, the only lawgiver, to be continued in his church to the end of the world” (XXVIII.1). The emphasis on the permanence of these ordinances in the life of the church is found in neither the Westminster Confession nor the Savoy Declaration, and was probably directed at the Quakers who argued that they were no longer needful for God’s people. The description of the Lord Jesus as “the only lawgiver” is also unique to the Baptist confession.


This second assertion about the ordinances highlighted a point made by both the Presbyterian and the Congregationalist confessions: “these holy appointments are to be administered by those only who are qualified and thereunto called, according to the commission of Christ” (XXVIII.2). Who is able to administer the ordinances had been an issue of some dispute during the seventeenth century. For example, five years before the promulgation of the Second London Confession in 1689, one of its signators, Hercules Collins, had been imprisoned in London during a time of persecution of those outside of the state church. Collins was convinced that it was the privilege and duty of only a duly ordained elder to preside at the table. The congregation, however, were eager to enjoy the blessing of the Lord’s Supper, and disagreeing with their pastor, chose a “preaching brother” to administer the table in the light of Collins’ regrettable absence. Collins, when he heard of it, was in strong disagreement with what the church had done. When he was freed in September of 1684, he informed the congregation that he would seek to persuade them of his viewpoint. If they were unconvinced, he would be willing to abide by the view of the majority. He did present his case, but the members of the church continued to maintain that it was lawful for the church to choose a brother to administer the table even if he was not the pastor. And Collins was true to his word and did not raise the issue again. This incident is a clear indication that among these early Calvinistic Baptists, the governance of the church was, as James Renihan puts it, “a carefully balanced interaction between elder rule and congregational democracy.”


In the first American printing of the Second London Confession by the Philadelphia Association in 1742, there is an added article on “the laying on of hands (with prayer) upon baptized believers,” which is described explicitly as “an ordinance of Christ” (Philadelphia Confession of Faith XXXI). According to this American version of the Second London Confession, the purpose of this “third” ordinance is for “a farther reception of the Spirit of promise, or for addition of the graces of the Spirit, and the influences thereof; to confirm strengthen, and comfort them in Jesus Christ.” Ultimately, this added article went back directly to the thought of Benjamin Keach, who had argued for this “third” ordinance explicitly in his tract Laying on of hands upon baptized believers, as such, proved an ordinance of Christ (1698), the roots of which, in turn, are tied to the emphasis of certain Puritan leaders like Thomas Goodwin on the sealing of the Spirit. This is not the place to delve into the theological logic that led Keach and other Particular Baptists to this conviction. Suffice it to say, at the heart of Keach’s view about this “third” ordinance is a profound conviction of the Holy Spirit’s working through the ordinances, which he did share with all of his fellow Baptists, even though they did not say anything explicitly about this in this particular chapter.

Prof. Michael Haykin

Saturday 22nd January 2022

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