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The Origins of the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith

Based on the available information, it is impossible to determine precisely the origins of the Second London Confession. There are, however, some indications which help us to narrow the field.

The first known reference to the Confession is found in the manuscript Church book of the Petty France Church in London. On 26 August, 1677, this note was entered, “It was agreed that a Confession of faith, wth the Appendix thereto having bene read & considered by the Bre: should be published.” Joseph Ivimey, the English Baptist historian of the early Nineteenth Century took this to imply that the Confession originated in the Petty France Church, and this is probably an accurate supposition.

This church was one of the original seven London churches which together published the First London Confession of 1644/46. In 1675, two men of immense importance for Particular Baptist history, Nehemiah Coxe and William Collins, were ordained as co-pastors on the same day. Each of them was held in high regard by their brethren, being asked to produce significant theological works (see Coxe and Collins biographies), and would thus have been well equipped to serve as editors of the Confession of Faith. Coxe died in 1688, prior to the General Assembly of 1689. Though his name was not appended to the Confession in 1689, it deserves to be mentioned and remembered alongside that of his co-elder in association with this great document.

A very interesting “advertisement” was appended to the fifth edition of the Confession (1720) which states:

“This Confession of our Faith, together with the brief Instructions of the Principles of Christian Religion, or the Catechisms, both with the proofs in the margin, and also that with the words of the scriptures at length; with this Confession, put forth by the ministers, elders, and brethren of above one hundred congregations of Christians, baptized on profession of their faith in England and Wales, denying Arminiainism, owning the doctrine of personal election and final perseverance: having sold the property, right and title of the printing thereof, to John Marshall, bookseller, at the Bible in Gracechurch Street, by us, William Collins and Benjamin Keach, it is desired that all persons desirous to promote such useful books, do apply themselves to him”.

Since both Collins and Keach died by 1704, this note must have been appended to an earlier edition of the Confession. It indicates that Collins and Keach owned the publishing rights to these two documents, a circumstance that one might expect attending authorship. Does this note imply that Collins owned the rights to the Confession (Coxe having died many years before) and Keach those of the Catechism? There is no evidence to tie Keach with the origins of the Confession, though his name is often associated with the Catechism. While not certain, this is one possible reading of the statement, and would explain why Keach’s name became attached to the Catechism.

Though it cannot be stated with certainty, circumstantial evidence seems to point to Coxe and Collins as the originators of the Confession. They were both qualified and respected men, and the first mention of the document is found in their church book, approving its publication. Each one of them was requested to take the lead in theological writing, a fact that would be expected of such men. Until other evidence is found, this seems to be the most likely scenario for the origin of the Confession.

Compiled by

Dr. James M. Renihan

Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies
P.O. Box 300771
Escondido, CA 92030-0771
USA

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