2nd London Confession and Moral Law

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By the end of the 1670’s, both General and Particular Baptists began to reach the pinnacle of clarity regarding their beliefs about the Moral Law of God and its perpetuity.[1] The Particular Baptists, in the wake of much persecution, decided to “show their agreement with Presbyterians and Congregationalists by making the Westminster Confession the basis of a new confession of their own.”

Agreement with the 1644 Confession was cited in the introductory note, “but scarcity of copies and general ignorance of that Confession offered, were given as reasons for preparing the new confession.”[2] (217). The original signers could hardly have ever imagined the influence of this new confession; the Second London Confession, as it came to be known, would eventually be amended and adopted as the Philadelphia Confession, one of the most influential confessions in the New World.

Clarifying the Baptist View of Moral Law

The confession itself represents the most significant advance in the articulation of Baptist beliefs regarding the doctrine of the Moral Law of God to date. An entire article is given specifically devoted to explanation, defense, and application of the Law. The usual references to required obedience to Christ’s commands are found (Articles 13, 14, and 16).

The most significant advances, however, are found in Article 19 entitled, “Of the Law of God.” The article begins with a reference to the “Law of universal obedience” that was written on Adam’s heart (Article 19.1). This “same Law that was first written in the heart of man, continued to be a perfect rule of Righteousness after the fall; & was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in Ten Commandments and written in two Tablets” (19.2). These moral commandments are not limited to the Old Covenant; rather, “The moral law doth for ever bind all…Neither doth Christ in the Gospel any way dissolved, but much strengthen this obligation” (19.5).

The confession makes clear that believers are not “under the Law, as a Covenant of Works, to be thereby Justified or condemned.” Believers are not bound to keep the law as a means of justification, but are called to follow the Moral Law as the path of sanctification: “it [the Moral Law] directs and binds them, to walk accordingly discovering also the sinfull [sic] pollutions of their Natures, Hearts and Lives… [that] they may come to further Conviction of, Humiliation for, and Hatred against Sin… together with a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ and the perfection of his Obedience.” The Moral Law is not only used to expose sin and point to Christ. In the regenerate, the Law is also used, “to restrain their Corruptions” by forbidding sin and by the “Threatenings” made. Conversely, the promises made in it, “shew them [believers] Gods approbation of Obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon their performance thereof.” This is no prosperity gospel message, however, for the writers make clear that these blessings are “not due to them by the Law as a Covenant of Works” (19.6).

Moral Law Not Contrary to Grace

Finally, in order to refute those who may be tempted to call this theology of Moral Law ‘legalism,’ the writers of the Second London Confession added two statements which both conclude this article and summarize it nicely: (1) “man’s doing Good and refraining from Evil, because the Law incourageth to the one and deterreth from the other, is no Evidence of his boing under the Law and not under Grace” (19.6); and, “Neither are the forementioned uses of the Law contrary to the Grace of the Gospel; but do sweetly comply with it.” And to be sure, the drafters of this confession explained that this was no mere fleshly activity: “the Spirit of Christ subduing and inabling the Will of man to that freely and cheerfully, which the will of God revealed in the Law, requireth to be done.”

Clearly this confession significantly improves the clarity of articulation of Particular Baptists regarding the doctrine of the Moral Law of God. This standard would be used in countless churches and associations worldwide, either verbatim or with slight modifications, for centuries to come.

The celebration this year of the 325th anniversary of the publication of the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith provides a wonderful opportunity to reconsider the confessional power and gospel advance at the 2014 Founders Conference in Charleston (birthplace of the Charleston Confession), South Carolina October 16-18. I hope to see you there!

Please join us at the 2014 National Founders Conference!
For more information and to register, please go to:
www.sovereignevent.com/nfc14

Or call Sovereign Events at:
877-768-2784 ext. 106

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[1] This post is adapted from Jon English Lee, “Moral Law and Baptist Identity,” The Founders Journal 94, Fall 2013.

[2] William Lumpkin, Baptist Confessions of Faith, 2nd rev. ed. / revised by Bill J. Leonard. (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 2011), 217.

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