This chapter is a good example of the way in which the Particular Baptists sought to demonstrate their fundamental solidarity with other Reformed bodies in the British Isles. Following the Westminster Confession and the Savoy Declaration, the Baptist Confession denounced as unbiblical the Roman Church’s doctrine of the mass, its practice of private masses, its refusal to allow any but a priest to partake of the cup, and its dogma of transubstantiation (Second London Confession XXX.2–6). Having noted such errors regarding the Lord’s Table, a right understanding of this ordinance was then inculcated. “Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible Elements in this Ordinance, do then also inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally, and corporally, but spiritually receive, and feed upon Christ crucified & all the benefits of his death: the Body and Blood of Christ, being then not corporally, or carnally, but spiritually present to the faith of Believers, in that Ordinance, as the Elements themselves are to their outward senses” (Second London Confession XXX.7). Close comparison of this statement with the parallel statements in the Westminster Confession and the Savoy Declaration reveals two main areas of difference. The two earlier confessions used the term “sacrament” to describe the Lord’s Supper, whereas in the Second London Confession this was altered to “ordinance.”
The second change was an omission. The omission is best seen by displaying the relevant passages side by side in the following table, with the omitted words in italics.
The phrase which has been omitted in the Second London Confession was intended to reject the Lutheran explanation of how Christ is present in the Lord’s Supper. In the view of Martin Luther (1483–1546), Christ’s body and blood are present “in, with, and under” the bread and the wine. Contrary to the Roman dogma of transubstantiation, the bread remains bread; yet, in some way, it also contains Christ’s body after the prayer of consecration. Likewise, the wine is his blood, but remains wine. Why the Second London Confession omitted this phrase is not at all clear. Possibly Luther’s view was not entertained by any in the Particular Baptist community during the seventeenth century, and it was thus omitted so as to avoid encumbering the Confession with needless statements.
The differences between the three confessions, however, are minimal compared to what they have in common. All three affirmed that as believers partake of the bread and the wine, they are actually feeding upon Christ crucified. Contrary to the dogma of the Roman Church, this feeding does not entail eating the physical body of Christ and drinking his physical blood. It is a spiritual feeding; Christ is “spiritually present” to believers in the Lord’s Supper.
What did those who approved this Confession understand by this expression “spiritually present”? One of those who gave his approval to the Confession was Hercules Collins (1646/7–1702), pastor of Wapping Baptist Church in London, who was a key Baptist leader in the capital and much in demand as a preacher. In his An Orthodox Catechism (1680) Collins stated that in the Lord’s Supper we are “verily Partakers of his Body and Blood through the working of the Holy Ghost.” From Collins’ perspective it is the Holy Spirit who makes Christ present in the Lord’s Supper. Although Christ’s body is in heaven, through the Spirit believers can have communion with the risen Christ. Again, William Kiffen (1616–1701) stated that “the [Lord’s] Supper is a Spiritual participation of the Body and Blood of Christ by Faith.”
These views were essentially those of John Calvin. G.S.M. Walker has summarized Calvin’s view of Christ’s presence in the Supper thus: “Although communion is a spiritual act, it involves an actual sharing in Christ’s flesh and blood, and although his body has now ascended physically into heaven, we are none the less able to make contact with it through the Spirit. How these things can be remains a mystery, to be treated with reverence and accepted in faith.” The Particular Baptist Confession shared Calvin’s perspective to the full. When it declared that Christ is “spiritually present” in the Lord’s Supper, it was maintaining that Christ’s presence in the Supper is one that is effected by the Holy Spirit.
A more detailed discussion of the importance of the Lord’s Supper for the Christian life was provided in the first paragraph of chapter XXX. There it is stated that the “Supper of the Lord Jesus, was instituted by him, the same night wherein he was betrayed, to be observed in his Churches unto the end of the world, for the perpetual remembrance, and shewing forth the sacrifice in his death, confirmation of the faith of believers in all the benefits thereof, their spiritual nourishment, and growth in him, their further engagement in, and to, all duties which they owe unto him; and to be a bond and pledge of their communion with him, and with each other.” In this enumeration of the reasons for the Lord’s Table the Second London Confession was following closely the Westminster Confession and the Savoy Declaration.
Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper for five reasons according to this paragraph. The Supper serves as a vivid reminder of and witness to the sacrificial death of Christ. Then, participation in the Lord’s Supper enables believers to more firmly grasp all that Christ has done for them through his death on the cross. In this way the Lord’s Supper is a means of spiritual nourishment and growth. Fourth, the Lord’s Supper serves as a time when believers can re-commit themselves to Christ. Finally, the Lord’s Supper affirms the indissoluble union which exists, on the one hand, between Christ and believers, and, on the other, between individual believers.
Those who issued this Confession were deeply conscious of the vital importance of the Lord’s Supper for living the Christian life. It goes without saying that this hearty appreciation of the Lord’s Supper is quite different from the way that far too many modern Baptists view the Table, namely, as a completely optional aspect of the Christian life. In seeking to articulate a more balanced view of the Lord’s Table, contemporary Baptists can do no better than to listen afresh to what our Baptist forebears wrote in this chapter of the Second London Confession.
Friday 18th March 2022
Second London Confession
The Body and Blood of Christ being then not corporally or carnally, but spiritually present to the faith of Believers in that Ordinance, as the Elements themselves are to their outward senses.
Westminster Confession/Savoy Declaration
The body and blood of Christ being then not corporally or carnally, in, with, or under the bread and wine; yet, as really, but spiritually present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to their outward senses.