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Calvinism and the London Baptist Confession of 1644 (Part 2)

The Particular Baptists and Calvinism
1644 brought growth for the Particular Baptists as they more clearly defined the doctrinal standards in their confessional statement. 1645 brought trouble.

Arminian General Baptists charged the Particular Baptists with insufficiently addressing free will, communalism, and falling from grace, especially within the L0ndon Confession of 1644’s first edition. The General Baptists’ response to the London Confession of 1644, documented in a pamphlet titled “The Foundation of Free Grace Opened,” gave their dictional stance against limited atonement, clearly siding with Arminian theology.

The differences and disagreements between 1645’s General and Particular Baptists gave rise to a second edition of the 1644 London Confession and of the First London Baptist confession of 1644. Third and fourth editions would be made later in 1651 and 1652. As William L. Lumpkin commented about the Particular Baptists,

In the Army of Cromwell, Baptists had distinguished themselves and had risen to positions of leadership . . . (Calvinist) Baptists were everywhere in prominent positions, and no longer lived in fear of the King and Parliament. The Westminster Confession has appeared in 1646, and by comparing the London Baptist Confession with it men could see that Baptists indeed belonged to the mainstream of Reformed life.

Calvinistic theology can be seen in a number of areas within the Particular Baptist’s confessional documents. Here are just a few examples taken from the second-edition London Baptist Confession of 1646.

Total Depravity
Article VI: first Eve, then Adam being seduced did wittingly and willingly fall into disobedience and transgression of the Commandment of their great Creator, for the which death came upon all, and reigned over all, so that all since the Fall are conceived in sin, and brought forth in iniquity, and so by nature children of wrath, and servants of sin, subjects of death, and all other calamities due to sin in this world and for ever, being considered in the state of nature, without relation to Christ.

[See also Article V.]

Unconditional Election
Article V: Subject to the eternal wrath of the great God by transgression; yet the elect, which God has loved with an everlasting love, are redeemed, quickened, and saved, not by themselves, neither by their own works, lest any man should boast himself, but wholly and only by God of His free grace and mercy through Jesus Christ.

[See also article XVII and article XIX.]

Limited Atonement
Article XXI: That Christ Jesus by His death did bring forth salvation and reconciliation only for the elect, which were those which God the Father gave Him; and that the Gospel which is to be preached to all men as the ground of faith, is, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the ever blessed God, filled with the perfection of all heavenly and spiritual excellencies, and that salvation is only and alone to be had through the believing in His name.

[See also article XXX.]

Irresistible Grace
Article XXII: That faith is the gift of God wrought in the hearts of the elect by the Spirit of God, whereby they come to see, know, and believe the truth of the Scriptures, and not only so, but the excellency of them above all other writing and things in the world, as they hold forth the glory of God in His attributes, the excellency of Christ in His nature and offices, and the power of the fullness of the Spirit in His workings and operations; and thereupon are enabled to cast the weight of their souls upon this truth thus believed.

[Se also article V and article XII].

Perseverance of the Saints
Article XXXVI: To this Church He has made His promises, and given the signs of His Covenant, presence, love, blessing, and protection: here are the fountains and springs of His heavenly grace continually flowing forth; thither ought all men to come, of all estates, that acknowledge Him to be their Prophet, Priest, and King, to be enrolled amongst His household servants, to under His heavenly conduct and government, to lead their lives in His walled sheepfold, and watered garden, to have communion here with the saints, that they may be made to be partakers of their inheritance in the Kingdom of God.

[See also article XXVII.]

Connections to Today’s Current Situation
Where do Baptists come from and what are their historical beliefs? The question lives on, surfacing again in the twenty-first century within America’s largest Baptist denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention. As Rev. Dr. Tom Ascol stated in 1995, “Never in our history have we stood in greater need of reexamining our roots.” The issue is the same today as it was then.

With regards to today’s current Southern Baptist situation on soteriology, members must look past the “traditional” views of the twentieth century and back to their historical seventeenth-century fathers. We must not forget the theology that the Baptist church is founded upon. Southern Baptists need to clearly see the historical value of their Protestant faith and its theological stances. As Baptist historian W. T. Whitley once stated (on Baptists’ redress of their own history), “if a later generation finds that it does not agree with its predecessors, whether in content or in emphasis, it has openly revised and re-stated what it does believe or it has discarded the old confession and framed another.”

Additional Reading Information on Calvinism and Baptist Church

A Preliminary Word: Not All Baptists are Anti-Calvin or Anti-Reformed

Before launching further into our series proper, one additional word needs to be said, I think. It’s a preliminary word, a disclaimer of sorts, before the genuinely important questions like “Where is the intersection of Calvinism and Baptist history?” And “What are the major differences between Arminianism and Calvinism?” And “Within Baptist thought, where does Calvinism live today?” And, finally, “What was the role of Calvinism in the Reformation?”

This preliminary clarification is hinted at in the title of this entry: Not all Baptists are anti-Reformed. It’s a necessary preliminary clarification because very recently Ed Young, pastor of a Baptist church in Texas, opined of Reformed pastors in general and one Reformed pastor in particular:

Are they all bad? No they just don’t reach anybody. Last year at Fellowship Church we baptized 2,632 people. One of the fair-haired boys of this movement, I will not call his name, they baptized 26 people last year. (he then drops his hand-held mic on the floor and looks stunned). Oh, he’s deep. What are you smoking? Are you kidding me? I cannot put my head on the pillow at night knowing we baptized 26 people.

I’ll leave aside for the moment the many problems of such a statement in terms of arrogance and pride and focus on Young’s self-evident loathing of Reformed theology, pointing out simply that though there may well be others who feel something similar, there are many, many Baptists who would be shocked and dismayed by the sentiment exhibited by Young and those of his negligible camp.

For example, none less than A. T. Robertson, perhaps the finest Greek scholar of the Baptist tradition, while listing those whom he considered the best examples of preaching scholars, wrote:

This then is true; not all scholars can preach, and not all preachers can become scholars. There are varying degrees of both, but the best preachers have generally been men of the best training in the schools. This is all that can be said and it is enough. For each man wants to do the most that is in him for the glory of God. The leading examples of preaching will confirm this statement. Paul was an educated man, and so was John Chrysostom, the Golden Mouthed preacher of later days. Luther was a theological professor. Calvin preached every day for a long time while professor of theology at Geneva. John Knox learned Greek and Hebrew between the ages of forty and fifty. Whitefield and Wesley, the great popular preachers, were Oxford men. The famous French preachers, Bossuet, Bourdaloue and Massillon, were likewise scholarly men. And the exceptions usually prove the rule, for even Spurgeon has made a respectable scholar of himself in spite of the lack of early training.

Robertson’s inclusion of Knox and Calvin is certainly not accidental, and had he believed as Young believes, he certainly couldn’t have included them.

Other famous Baptists have also found much merit in Calvin, including but not limited to—and in no particular order—Charles Spurgeon, Roger Williams, Basil Manly, J. P. Boyce, and, of course, Al Mohler. Young may be a vocal critic of Calvin and the Reformed tradition, but he is not a central voice, and he is not even an important voice.

Calvin, the Reformed Tradition, and Calvinism have all been extraordinarily important in the history of the Baptists. Some marginal people may wish to attempt to rewrite history, but they won’t succeed. There are too many who know the facts.

++++++

Jim West

 


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God Frees His Children from Bondage

This discussion finds a prominent place in Calvin’s treatment of adoption and the law in his Commentary on Galatians. The fact that Christ was subjected to the law was for the benefit of his children. He did so freely, choosing

“to become liable to keep the law, that exemption from it might be obtained for us.”

Calvin clearly cautions however, that freedom from the law in Christ does not necessitate abrogation of the law as a rule for the life of the believer, an issue which will be discussed under the duties of adoption. Under the Old Covenant, the believers did not yet enjoy the fruit of adoption – freedom from the bondage of the law through its ceremonies and appendages. The New Testament believer under the covenant of grace now enjoys the privilege of freedom from the law in that Christ is now his righteousness. Calvin argues within a covenantal framework that

“the fathers, under the Old Testament, were certain of their adoption, but did not so fully as yet enjoy their privilege.”

The freedom from the law that the believer now enjoys through adoption is different because this fruit of adoption is fully realized in Christ. Calvin is careful not to disown Old Testament believers as children of God, for he says,

“The ancients were also sons of God, and heirs through Christ, but we hold the same character in a different manner; for we have Christ present with us, and in that manner enjoy his blessings.”

The character of this freedom from the law is clearly seen in his Institutes where he speaks of Christ being made a curse for us quoting Galatians 3:13 and Deuteronomy 27:26.34 He goes on to directly connect the adoption of sons and the freedom from the law so that

“we should not be borne down by an unending bondage, which would agonize our consciences with the fear of death.”

The freedom that the believer enjoys is freedom from conscience, because Christ has been made a curse on his behalf. Furthermore, this freedom is realized in the fact that all the ceremonial laws have been abolished in Christ.

***Quotes taken from John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries on 1 John, Vol. 22. 204-5; Calvin’s Commentaries on Romans, Vol. 19. 301; John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries on Galatians, Vol. 21. 119.

 

Calvin Models for Us What Good Commentaries Ought to Be

Calvin’s Commentaries are a great gift to Christ’s church and laid a foundation for the dynamic theology of the reformation. They show us that Scripture truly is the living Word. For accurate, reverent, and erudite exposition, Calvin has no equal. His method of exegesis has been followed by ministers of God’s Word until today, and the church has been blessed and edified as a result.

The Commentaries are a sterling example of the benefit of doing exegesis under Scripture’s authority. Calvin’s Commentaries are an exemplary display of the vital principle Scripturam ex Scriptura expli- candam esse (“Scripture is to be explained from Scripture”). We must not “rush headlong and rashly” into Scripture, Calvin said, “because the Spirit, who spoke by the prophets, is the only true interpreter of himself.” We must be reverent, obedient, and teachable, he contin- ued, for the whole world together cannot produce living faith through any interpretation of Scripture. Only the Holy Spirit can illuminate the humble soul seeking after the true knowledge of God. as pastors and students of the Word, we would be wise to make use of the Commentaries in our ministries. As Paul Helm writes:

We should study his commentaries, one of Calvin’s greatest permanent legacies to the church…. Calvin writes tersely and without any personal showiness. “I love brevity,” he once said. He lets the Word of God do the work. He was granted great insight into the meaning of the text of Scripture, the intentions of the writers, and the scope of each passage. He produced a shelf full of commentaries, one on almost every book of Scrip- ture, but each is made up of short comments on the text. For this reason, they are of timeless value.

The veteran preacher Al Martin says of Calvin’s Commentaries:

“Several years ago, someone asked me what I would do differ- ently if I could turn back the clock some thirty to forty years and restructure my personal ministerial priorities. I said that I would purpose to read all of Calvin’s commentaries in con- junction with my regular devotional reading of the Bible. Over the years, I have worked through many puritan volumes in this way, taking just four or five pages each morning as part of my devotional exercises. I wish someone had directed me to do the same with Calvin’s commentaries early in my ministry.

Finally, the Calvin scholar John Hesselink writes:

Contemporary biblical scholars often pay tribute to the special value of Calvin’s Commentaries because of the theological insight and spiritual depth of Calvin’s handling of biblical texts. as an Old Testament scholar, L.p. Smith, points out, “No modern commentator equals Calvin for penetrating the depths of the passage and pointing the way to its application by Christians to the problems of later time.” It is noteworthy that the Barthian scholar, George Hunsinger, always reads Calvin’s commentaries as well as modern ones in his preparation for the Bible class he teaches each Sunday at Nassau presbyterian Church in princ- eton. He writes, “The reason is that Calvin thinks theologically about what he reads and that he does so at a level of brilliance beyond anything that recent scholars have to offer.”48 This kind of testimony is repeated again and again by biblical scholars.

 

Seeing the Conformity of the Believer to the Image of Christ

The Apostle Paul speaks about Christ being the prototype of all the sons of God, “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29 AV). Calvin highlights this as being one of the greatest privileges that the believer enjoys as being an adopted son of God. He writes,

“God had so determined that all whom he has adopted should bear the image of Christ…that he might teach us that there is in Christ a living and conspicuous exemplar, which is exhibited to God’s children for imitation.”

Elsewhere he writes that

“the final end of our adoption is, that what has in order preceded in Christ, shall at length be completed in us…we have eyes prepared to see God.”

This conforming to Christ’s image will prepare the believer to behold Christ in his glory, removing impurities, weaknesses and sin.

*** Quotes taken from John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries on Romans, page 318 and Calvin’s Commentaries on 1 John, pages 205-6.

 

Calvinism is Not Merely a Soteriology

There are often times those who claim to be Calvinist that miss the total essence in understanding what Calvinism is truly about. One may believe in total depravity, or unconditional election, but is Calvinism only the Doctrines of Grace? Is Calvinism only dealing with 5-points? Or is there something more to Calvinism than just Soteriology? The late professor at Princeton Theological Seminary B.B. Warfield thought so when he writes the following;

Deep as its interest is in salvation, it cannot escape the question—“Why should God thus intervene in the lives of sinners to rescue them from the consequences of their sin?” And it cannot miss the answer—“Because it is to the praise of the glory of His grace”. Thus it cannot pause until it places the scheme of salvation itself in relation with a complete world-view in which it becomes subsidiary to the glory of the Lord God Almighty. If all things are from God, so to Calvinism all things are also unto God, and to it God will be all in all. It is born of the reflection in the heart of man of the glory of a God who will not give His honour to another, and draws its life from constant gaze upon this great image. And let us not fail punctually to note, that “it is the only system in which the whole order of the world is thus brought into a rational unity with the doctrine of grace, and in which the glorification of God is carried out with absolute completeness”. Therefore, the future of Christianity—as its past has done—lies in its hands. For, it is certainly true, as has been said by a profound thinker of our own time, that “it is only with such a universal conception of God, established in a living way, that we can face with hope of complete conquest all the spiritual dangers and terrors of our times”. “It, however,” as the same thinker continues, “is deep enough and large enough and divine enough, rightly understood, to confront them and do battle with them all in vindication of the Creator, Preserver and Governor of the world, and of the Justice and Love of the divine Personality.”

 

Adoption Makes the Believer an Heir of Salvation through Christ

Adoption makes the believer an heir of salvation through Christ. The adopted child of God becomes the recipient of salvation through Christ, for “the name of Christ excludes all merit, and everything which men have of their own.” Christ’s merits, through His obedience, death and resurrection, are what secure the believer’s adoption. This is clear from Calvin’s writing on the purpose of why God had to become man. He had to become man to rescue us from our self-made hell, to conquer death, and to procure salvation for his people. This too, serves the believer’s assurance of salvation and heir to the Kingdom, “for the Son of God, to whom it wholly belongs, has adopted us as his brothers.” This work of salvation was achieved through the Incarnation, when “ungrudgingly he took our nature upon himself to impart to us what was his, and to become both Son of God and Son of man in common with us.”

In his application of the doctrine of adoption, it must be noted that John Calvin was discriminatory, opening up its comforts to believers, but also preserving this doctrine from those who would abuse it in unbelief. This discriminatory note can be detected when he cautions that the Incarnation must not be used to automate adoption. Just because Christ came in human flesh does not mean that all are the children of God. He argues rightly that

“when we say that Christ was made man that he might make us children of God, this expression does not extend to all men. For faith intervenes, to engraft us spiritually into the body of Christ.”

The fact that the believer becomes an heir of Christ also has eschatological dimensions. Although this is present in the Pauline doctrine of adoption, Calvin also brings it out in the Johannine complement of the same doctrine. He clearly brings out the ‘now-not yet’ tension of the enjoyment of the inheritance that believers receive through adoption. In his Commentary on 1 John, especially 1 John 3:2, Calvin notes that the believer’s condition as an adopted child of God has not yet reached full fruition and the believer is subject to death, misery, and all manner of evil. He counsels the believer to consider the privileges that yet await being stored up in heaven, looking to the coming of Christ which sustains faith,

“because the fruit of our adoption is as yet hid, for in heaven is our felicity, and we are now far away travelling on the earth.”

This tension is also apparent in his Commentary on Romans in which he highlights the fact that the believer’s inheritance through adoption will be fully realized in the future. He states that

“we shall partake of it in common with the only-begotten Son of God,” which requires patience and endurance in the present Christian life.

 

What Does the Law Teach?

The Law was committed to writing, in order that it might teach more fully and perfectly that knowledge, both of God and of ourselves, which the law of nature teaches meagrely and obscurely. Proof of this, from an enumeration of the principal parts of the Moral Law; and also from the dictate of natural law, written on the hearts of all, and, in a manner, effaced by sin.

Taken from Calvin’s Institutes 2.8.1,

“I believe it will not be out of place here to introduce the Ten Commandments of the Law, and give a brief exposition of them. In this way it will be made more clear, that the worship which God originally prescribed is still in force (a point to which I have already adverted); and then a second point will be confirmed—viz. that the Jews not only learned from the law wherein true piety consisted, but from feeling their inability to observe it were overawed by the fear of judgments and so drawn, even against their will, towards the Mediator.

In giving a summary of what constitutes the true knowledge of God,192 we showed that we cannot form any just conception of the character of God, without feeling overawed by his majesty, and bound to do him service. In regard to the knowledge of ourselves, we showed that it principally consists in renouncing all idea of our own strength, and divesting ourselves of all confidence in our own righteousness, while, on the other hand, under a full consciousness of our wants, we learn true humility and self-abasement. Both of these the Lord accomplishes by his Law, first, when, in assertion of the right which he has to our obedience, he calls us to reverence his majesty, and prescribes the conduct by which this reverence is manifested; and, secondly, when, by promulgating the rule of his justice (a rule, to the rectitude of which our nature, from being depraved and perverted, is continually opposed, and to the perfection of which our ability, from its infirmity and nervelessness for good, is far from being able to attain), he charges us both with impotence and unrighteousness.

Moreover, the very things contained in the two tables are, in a manner, dictated to us by that internal law, which, as has been already said, is in a manner written and stamped on every heart. For conscience, instead of allowing us to stifle our perceptions, and sleep on without interruption, acts as an inward witness and monitor, reminds us of what we owe to God, points out the distinction between good and evil, and thereby convicts us of departure from duty. But man, being immured in the darkness of error, is scarcely able, by means of that natural law, to form any tolerable idea of the worship which is acceptable to God.

At all events, he is very far from forming any correct knowledge of it. In addition to this, he is so swollen with arrogance and ambition, and so blinded with self-love, that he is unable to survey, and, as it were, descend into himself, that he may so learn to humble and abase himself, and confess his misery. Therefore, as a necessary remedy, both for our dullness and our contumacy, the Lord has given us his written Law, which, by its sure attestations, removes the obscurity of the law of nature, and also, by shaking off our lethargy, makes a more lively and permanent impression on our minds.”

Calvin’s Institutes in a Nutshell

The other day I stumbled across a great feature of the Henry Beveridge translation of John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion in my Logos library. At the end of the book, Beveridge includes One Hundred Aphorisms, containing, within a narrow compass, the substance and order of the four books of the Institutes of the Christian Religion, by Rev. William Pringle. Essentially, Pringle has boiled down the four books of Institutes into 100 bullet points. And these are simply “light” observations. Pringle really brings out the depth of the various sections he references from Institutes. For example, here is what Pringle has to say about Calvin’s section on self-denial:

50. The sum of the Christian life is denial of ourselves.

51. The ends of this self-denial are four. 1. That we may devote ourselves to God as a living sacrifice. 2. That we may not seek our own things, but those which belong to God and to our neighbour. 3. That we may patiently bear the cross, the fruits of which are—acknowledgment of our weakness, the trial of our patience, correction of faults, more earnest prayer, more cheerful meditation on eternal life. 4. That we may know in what manner we ought to use the present life and its aids, for necessity and delight. Necessity demands that we possess all things as though we possessed them not; that we bear poverty with mildness, and abundance with moderation; that we know how to endure patiently fulness, and hunger, and want; that we pay regard to our neighbour, because we must give account of our stewardship; and that all things correspond to our calling. The delight of praising the kindness of God ought to be with us a stronger argument.

1 John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2010), 566-67.

Having this resource will certainly help anyone looking to see the bird’s eye view of Institutes, or refresh and review the essence of Calvin’s work.

John Calvin the Pietist

Reason #8: Calvin models for us how to bring all of life under the rubric of a biblical, comprehensive piety.

Piety was the primary reason Calvin wrote his Institutes. For Calvin, piety is best defined as the development of a right attitude toward God. This attitude includes six things: true knowledge, heartfelt worship, saving faith, filial fear, prayerful submission, and reverential love. All of these have the glory of God as their goal. Calvin’s notion of piety comprehensively impacted his worldview theologically, ecclesiastically, and practically.

Theologically, Calvin rooted piety in the believer’s mystical union with Christ, which produces communion with Christ and participation in His benefits. He viewed the Holy Spirit and saving faith as the double bond of piety, for the Holy Spirit works piety in us through faith. Then, too, Calvin presented us with the central doctrines of salvation, justification, and sanctification through the grid of piety, for justification is imputed piety and sanctification is imparted or actual piety.

Ecclesiastically, piety is nurtured through the Word and the church. The Word gives content and shape to genuine piety. The church nurtures piety through preaching, which is our spiritual food and medicine for spiritual health. The church also nurtures piety through members using their gifts to strengthen each other in the fear of God. The communion of saints encourages the growth of one another’s gifts and love, since to grow in grace, Calvin said, we are “constrained to borrow from others.” Calvin called the sacraments exercises of piety, for they help promote a right attitude to God. He defined them as testimonies “of divine grace toward us, confirmed by an outward sign, with mutual attestation of our piety toward God.” The Lord’s Supper, in particular, prompts piety of grace received and given. Psalm singing also promotes piety, Calvin argued, for the psalms are “an anatomy of parts of the soul,” and therefore relate to all of a believer’s experiential life with God.  Calvin viewed the book of Psalms as the canonical manual of piety. Practically, Calvin’s section in the Institutes (6–10) on the Christian life strongly promotes piety. Prayer is the principal and perpetual exercise of faith and the chief element of piety, both privately and corporately. Repentance, which involves both mortification (the killing of sin) and vivification (coming alive to life and righteousness in Christ), is the way of piety. God has always intended to give repentance as a lifelong grace. Self-denial is the sacrificial dimension of piety by which we learn that we belong to God rather than to ourselves, and we are to learn to yield ourselves and everything we own to God as a living sacrifice. While self-denial focuses on inward conformity to Christ, cross-bearing centers on outward Christ-likeness. If Christ’s life was a perpetual cross, ours also must include suffering. Cross-bearing tests piety, Calvin said. Through cross-bearing, we are roused to hope, trained in patience, instructed in obedience, and chastened in pride. Through a proper estimation of this life, believers learn that they are stewards of this world and recognize that God is the giver of every good and perfect gift. Thus, they are called to unconditional obedience to God’s will, which is the essence of piety.

For Calvin, piety involves the entire life of the devout believer and the entire family of the church community. Living piously means dedicating every minute to living coram Deo (in the presence of God) with intense consciousness, realizing that we must yearn for God every minute of our lives.

How urgently we need to recover this kind of pious living—and how richly Calvin’s own life models it for us! When Calvin died, Theodore Beza wrote, “Having been a spectator of his conduct for sixteen years…I can now declare, that in him all men may see a most beautiful example of the Christian character, an example which it is as easy to slander as it is difficult to imitate.”

Through Calvin’s influence, theology always pursued piety, for protestant theology and spirituality focused on how to live the Christian life in solitude with God, in the family, in the fields, in worship, and in the marketplace. Few today realize the importance of this comprehensive piety. A few years ago, when I studied Calvin’s view of piety for a chapter in the Cambridge Companion to Calvin, I asked one of the world’s leading Calvin historians how I should commence my study. Her response was, “Why would you want to study that outdated subject?” Though sadly neglected, comprehensive piety, as much as anything else, is what makes Calvin so important today.

(Taken with permission from Joel Beeke’s, Calvin for Today)

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