Some of the finer things in life are not even known, much less savored, by many people. Appreciation of them requires both a knowledge of many things like them and considerable education to hone the discernment required to sing their praises. A wine called Domaine Leroy with the Chambertin Grand Cru, Dvořák’s New World Symphony, Rembrandt’s painting entitled, “The Night Watch,” and the cigar known as Davidoff Grand Cru Series No. 2, are usually only known, and certainly only beloved, by true aficionados in each category of things. I confess my considerable ignorance of them. Personally, I might not even think, for example, that the aforementioned wine tastes very good, but that would say more of my incompetence in this area than of its true worth.
Providentially, my own special pursuit above everything else in this world has been of things Christian. In the pastoral ministry for over thirty years, I have learned enough of Scripture and theology to express now my greatest appreciation for the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith among all the many doctrinal statements I have ever known from church history.
My earliest conscious awareness of the 1689, I believe, came in the early 1990s. Being an admirer of the famous 19th-century Baptist preacher C. H. Spurgeon, I was impressed that he and his church subscribed to it. After a year of careful study, I came to embrace it also. Our church formally adopted it five years later. We have studied, more than once, every paragraph carefully together. These days, I find myself revising my written exposition from 2004. These things are relevant to assure the reader that I speak with a specialist’s knowledge and discernment in this area. Experts may debate which historic confession of faith deserves the top spot of our esteem, but all genuinely discerning theologians must admit that our favorite is, at least, of an extremely high order of excellence.
It is easy to enumerate some of its praiseworthy attributes. First, the 1689 is a grand summary of the Christian doctrines, in the main, held by a vast number of Protestant churches. While its 32 chapters include some features which are distinctive of 17th-century Particular Baptists, its primary thrust was ecumenical in the best sense. These men and their churches intended to reassure the wider Christian community of agreement with beliefs held in common by all of them. They had “no itch to clog religion with new words,” as they announced in the letter to the reader. Much ancient language from the early centuries of church history and the so-called ecumenical creeds is discernible in the 1689. This is so praiseworthy because true Christians are known by the love and respect they have, for the sake of Jesus Christ, toward all other true Christians and Christian churches (John 13.35; Eph 6.24), as well as gratitude for the best of godly tradition set forth by the stalwarts of true Christian faith, gifts from Christ for our edification through the centuries (Eph 4.11).
Second, the 1689 holds forth in a clear and reasonable manner the distinctives held by the framers of the confession and its subscribers ever since. While the same gospel of our Lord is plainly proclaimed in the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646, Presbyterians) and the Savoy Declaration (1658, Independents and Congregationalists), the Baptists held to believers-only baptism (dissenting from both) and independent local churches (along with Congregationalists, dissenting from Presbyterians). These Baptist distinctives set them apart in secondary, though important, matters of the doctrine of the church. While there are differences among good brethren on these things, it is nevertheless very commendable that the positions be clearly and publicly stated, along with a biblical appeal for them, that each may judge among them for himself.
Third, the 1689 is the latest and greatest major confession of faith from the post-Reformation period of scholastic dogmatics. It represents the full flowering of the breathtaking scholarship, the collegial collaboration, and the deep piety with which God was pleased to bless His churches in those days of theological giants. Only decades of research have brought me to conclude this with conviction. Scholars of historical theology understand that the rise of philosophical modernism from the 18th century onward forever changed the way theology was conceived and done. Doctrinal conservatives like me believe this was mostly for the worse. We do not love the 1689 merely because it is old, but because it is rich and true, a magnificent monument to theological excellence and biblical orthodoxy. Nothing comparable to it has appeared ever since.
I could say much more as a lover of these things in commendation of our noble confession of faith, but perhaps this is enough to help those less familiar with the answer to the question, “What’s so fine about the 1689?” I commend it to your careful consideration and celebrate the beautiful new edition of it available from Parresia.