A New Exposition of the London Baptist Confession
When Charles Spurgeon republished the London Baptist Confession of Faith (LBCF) in 1855, he famously wrote,
“This ancient document is the most excellent epitome of the things most surely believed among us. By the preserving hand of the Triune Jehovah we have been kept faithful to the great points of our glorious gospel, and we feel more resolved perpetually to abide by them. This little volume is not issued as an authoritative rule, or code of faith, whereby ye are to be fettered, but as an assistance to you in controversy, a confirmation in faith, and a means of edification and righteousness.”
As a Baptist pastor, Spurgeon wanted his church to be faithful to their theological and biblical heritage. Baptists are Congregationalists, believing in the independence and sufficiency of the local church to govern its own affairs. For Baptists, confessional faithfulness is not a matter for the few, but must properly be the concern of the whole church. The concern of the Baptist pastor therefore must be to have a confessing congregation that is well-taught the whole counsel of God. In this sense, Spurgeon recognized the congregational usefulness of the Confession of Faith, as an “assistance…in controversy, a confirmation in faith, and a means of edification in righteousness.”
Practically speaking, such congregational maturity requires ongoing effort and study, both for the minister and for the congregation. Fortunately, Reformed Baptists now have a new tool to help in this effort. Mentor Books is publishing “A New Exposition of the London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689”, edited by Rob Ventura and written by a collection of over 20 long-serving Reformed Baptist pastors. It is a practitioner’s commentary, written by men who have long held to the LBCF, who have faithfully taught the LBCF over decades to their congregations.
After an “Introduction” and a “Historical Overview”, each chapter parallels the 32 chapters of the Confession itself. Most of the contributors stick very closely to expositing the text of the Confession, with appropriate historical and biblical explanations, as well as pastoral applications. A few allow themselves some liberty to discuss tangential and contemporary issues, which modern congregations should find both relevant and helpful.
There are strengths and weaknesses to having so many contributors. The variety of experience and experience guards against a certain narrowness and polemical focus, and ensures a broad perspective. Unsurprisingly, there is also some “unevenness” from chapter to chapter. Some chapters go down some unnecessary ‘rabbit trails’. With some chapters, I wished there was more discussion of historical background. I would have liked to see more consistent commitment, chapter to chapter, in explaining the differences between the LBCF, the Westminster Confession, and the Savoy Declaration, when they occur (which is often enlightening).
Likely, the most controversial chapter will be Dr. Sam Waldron’s treatment of Ch.2 - “Of God and the Holy Trinity”, especially because of contemporary discussions on the doctrine of God. Waldron helpfully reminds his readers,
“The doctrine of God above all is a call to a deep sense of our intellectual and spiritual insufficiency… The only safe course is to stay very close to the Word of God… We must not indulge in rational speculation or personal opinion.”
In this chapter, Waldron carefully navigates these difficult waters. He gives an appropriate and biblically modest defense of hot topics like simplicity and impassibility, but also is careful not to “confound the attributes” but to defend real “distinctions” in the divine attributes. Waldron is especially concerned to ‘head off’ certain ideas that tend towards Stoicism, Hyper-Calvinism, and the denial of the free and sincere offer of the gospel. He also takes some time to defend real distinctions in the Trinity. Waldron writes, “Though God’s mind and will are one and simple, it must be added that each of the three persons distinctly appropriate this one mind and will according to their different personalities… It is not then Social Trinitarianism to acknowledge genuine, interpersonal relationships in the Holy Trinity.”
I especially appreciated Waldron’s balanced discussion and distinguishing between “three kinds of subordination…in the modes of operation…in the modes of subsistence…and in essence.” While properly rejecting any subordination in essence, Waldron convincingly argues for a “kind of subordination in modes of subsistence.” He doesn’t shy away from the application of these principles to arguments about egalitarianism or the relevance of the interpersonal relationships of the Trinity to the image of God and human society, and even the possibility of knowledge in general.
I found the chapters on the application of redemption (chs. 10-18) especially beautiful, clear, and heart-warming for my own soul. Several of these chapters are particularly helpful in organization, easy to read, and specific on applications. I appreciated Steven Hofmeier’s chapter 20 on “The Gospel and the Extent of the Grace Thereof,” especially because of Hofmeier’s many years as a missionary in the Philippines. Hofmeier correctly identifies an “unfortunate omission” in the LBCF in failing to clearly state the “mandate” and “obligation” to take the gospel to the world. (Historically, the Reformed tradition has not shied away from connecting the sufficiency of the gospel to the offer and mandate of the gospel - see the “Canons of Dort — Second Point of Doctrine”.)
Similarly, Dave Chanski’s chapter 30 on “The Lord’s Supper” points out that “the Particular Baptist authors withheld some of the clearer and more emphatic expressions of [the Reformed doctrine of the Lord’s Supper]… most notably through their significant abbreviations of Chapter 28.” It is unfortunate that the LBCF does not more clearly describe the corporate nature of the ordinances and their direct relation to visible membership in the new covenant church. Chanski helpfully addresses this deficiency and commends further study.
Hofmaier’s and Chanski’s gentle criticisms are important reminders that the Confession is not exhaustive. The LBCF itself acknowledges in its opening sentence that it is certainly not “sufficient, certain, and infallible” (LBCF 1.1). Study of the Confession can be helpful only to the extent that it pushes us more deeply into the Holy Scriptures, which are the true foundation of “all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience”, and which bring us face to face with the glory of our Savior, that we may be filled with all the fullness of God (Eph. 3:19).
And this is, after all, the real point and usefulness of the Confession as a helpful tool and guidepost for the Church. The Confession provides a helpful sub-structure to a topical understanding of biblical doctrine. It situates the church’s historical understanding of the major points of theology and becomes a clarifying tool in controversy and in discipleship. But it does so by guiding and pushing us into a deeper knowledge of God’s Word.
For these reasons, I am thankful for this New Exposition of the LBCF and its commitment to biblical theology and a historical, systematic theology. I’m thankful that it’s written by pastors, who are concerned to disciple their congregations to be able to connect the biblical dots in their theological understanding using the historical formulations and insights of our Reformed Baptist heritage. I pray that God will use their efforts in this book to strengthen Christ’s church for many years to come.
Note: A New Exposition of the London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 will be available on January 17, 2023.
Matt Foreman is the pastor of Faith Reformed Baptist Church in Media, PA. Matt is a graduate of Furman University and Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He previously served as the Founding Chairman of the Reformed Baptist Network, is the chairman for the RBN Missions Committee, and is a lecturer in Practical Theology at Reformed Baptist Seminary. Matt is the co-author of The Angel of the Lord: A Biblical, Historical, and Theological Study, and also writes music for worship; some of which can be found at ekklesiahymns.org.
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