THE SECOND LONDON CONFESSION OF FAITH: HISTORICAL CONTEXT OF THE TEXT

Updated: Nov 10, 2020

By the mid-1640s there were at least seven Particular Baptist congregations, all of them coming out of a Puritan background and all of them located in the metropolis of London.[1] Among their key leaders in the early years of their existence were such men as John Spilsbury, William Kiffen, and Samuel Richardson, the very men who drew up what would come to be known as the First London Confession of Faith. Due to their commitment to the baptism of believers, many in London confused them with the Anabaptists of the previous century. In order to dispel this confusion and refute other charges that had been levelled against them and to demonstrate their fundamental solidarity with Calvinists throughout western Europe, these Particular Baptists issued a statement of faith in 1644, the First London Confession of Faith. It was issued as the Westminster Assembly was meeting and on the eve of the publication of the Presbyterian Westminster Confession of Faith. The First London Confession of Faith went through at least two printings in its first year of existence. It was then reissued in a slightly amended second edition on November 30, 1646 (four days after the Presbyterian Westminster Confession of Faith was completed, though not yet published). Further editions subsequently appeared in the early 1650s.[2] As the exemplary historical research of Barrie R. White has shown, this confession gave these early Particular Baptists an extremely clear and self-conscious sense of who they were, what they were seeking to achieve, and how they differed from other Puritan bodies at this time.[3] This First London Confession also helped to satisfy some that the Particular Baptists were in no way guilty of heterodoxy or fundamental error.

By the 1670s, though, this confession was out of print and new challenges had arisen, most notably, the emergence of the Quakers in the 1650s and their separation of Word and Spirit, and also the theological defection of a key Particular Baptist leader, namely Thomas Collier. Also, from 1660 to 1688, the Puritan cause was a house under siege or a church under the cross, as a resurgent Anglicanism sought to eradicate the Puritan witness with the help of the English state. The Particular Baptists wanted to present a united front with fellow Puritans—namely, the English Presbyterians and the Congregationalists, then called Independents—against this vicious persecution. So, a new confession was issued in 1677 that was based upon the Westminster Confession and the Congregationalist Savoy Declaration (1658), which was drawn up by John Owen and Thomas Goodwin, and which was also based on the Westminster Confession.

Although this new Baptist Confession was initially published anonymously—it would become known as The Second London Confession and would be the most influential of all Baptist confessions of faith—it appears that it was prepared by two London Baptist pastors, Nehemiah Coxe and his fellow pastor William Collins. Collins had studied in France and Italy, and taken a B. D. in England. Efforts were made to induce him into conforming to the Church of England, but he resisted them and in 1675 he accepted a call to pastor the Petty France Baptist Church in London. Coxe had originally been a member of John Bunyan’s church in Bedford, had spent time with Bunyan in prison for preaching the gospel, and had been ordained to the ministry at the same church meeting which called Bunyan to be the pastor of the church.

Collins and Coxe used the Westminster Confession and the Savoy Declaration in their preparation of the Second London Confession. Nevertheless, they did not reproduce these confessions holus-bolus. As they stated in the preface: “Some things, indeed, are in some places added, some terms omitted, and some few changed.” These changes relate to not only such obvious things as baptism and church government, but also include modification in other less obvious areas. Yet, as Robert Oliver notes: “These differences must not be allowed to obscure the overwhelming agreement between the Second London Confession and those of Westminster and Savoy. The Baptist Confession can be clearly seen to be in the stream of evangelical theology, which flowed from the Westminster Assembly.”[4] This Confession was republished in 1688 and then affirmed as the denominational standard of the Particular Baptists in 1689 at the first national meeting of the Particular Baptists after persecution had ceased with the accession of the Dutch prince, William of Orange, to the throne of England as William III. Hence, this confession is often known as the 1689 Confession.


Michael A.G. Haykin





[1] For the full story of the emergence of the Calvinistic Baptists from the Puritan-Separatist matrix, see especially B. R. White, The English Baptists of the Seventeenth Century (Rev. ed.; London: The Baptist Historical Society, 1996); Kenneth R. Manley, “Origins of the Baptists: The Case For Development from Puritanism-Separatism” in William H. Brackney with Ruby J. Burke, eds., Faith, Life and Witness. The Papers of the Study and Research Division of The Baptist World Alliance 1986–1990 (Birmingham, Alabama: Sanford University Press, 1990),

[2] Murray Tolmie,The Triumph of the Saints. The Separate Churches of London 1616-1649(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), 61–65; B. R. White, “The Origins and Convictions of the First Calvinistic Baptists,”Baptist History and Heritage25, no.4 (October, 1990): 45.

[3] See, in particular, the following essays and books by White: “The Organisation of the Particular Baptists, 1644-1660,”Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 17 (1966): 209–226; “The Doctrine of the Church in the Particular Baptist Confession of 1644,”The Journal of Theological Studies, n.s. 19 (1968): 570–590; “Thomas Patient in Ireland,”Irish Baptist Historical Society Journal2 (1969–1970): 36–48, especially 40–41;“Origins and Convictions of the First Calvinistic Baptists,” 39–47;English Baptists of the Seventeenth Century, 59–94.

[4] Robert W. Oliver, “Baptist Confession Making 1644 and 1689” (Unpublished paper presented to the Strict Baptist Historical Society, March 17, 1989), 21.


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