Tag Archive - salvation

Calvinism and the London Baptist Confession of 1644 (Part 1)

Baptist Roots
Where did Baptists come from and, historically, what are their beliefs?  The majority of historians agree that today’s Baptists were derived from three major sixteenth-century streams: Particular Baptists, General Baptists, and Seventh-day Baptists. By the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, these denominations birthed a multitude. Separate Baptist, Primitive Baptist, American Baptist and Southern Baptist are just a few of today’s 100-plus Baptist denominations. Each of the three major Baptist groups claims a different line of descent. The Particular Baptists claim a heritage going back to the Protestant Reformers and Puritans of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The General Baptists trace their roots from the earlier Anabaptists of the fifteenth century, and the Seventh-Day Baptists came later, in the sixteenth century. All three major Baptist denominations started in England.

Other Seventeenth-Century Baptists
The Seventh-Day Baptists, known to follow the Judeo-Christian tradition of worshipping on the seventh day of the week, were never large in number, nor are they today. They number less than 50,000 worldwide. The General Baptists were named for their theological stance of having a general, and thoroughly Arminian, view of the atonement.  Lead by John Smyth, they were a noncreedal denomination. By the eighteenth century, English General Baptists had mostly moved into Unitarianism, while most of America’s General Baptists were overtaken by the diverse strands within the Regular Baptist denominations.

The Particular Baptists
Particular Baptists were also commonly called Strict Baptists because of their practice of closed communion, their theological stance on Christ’s definite atonement for His elect, and their two-office congregational polity. It was the Protestant forerunners, like the Reformers & Puritans, that brought about a strong confessional emphasis among Particular Baptists’ theology. The Particular Baptists first appeared in a London church organized by Henry Jacob following his exile from Holland. This church was founded on a basis of confession of individual faith and of a covenant, and it contained both Independent Puritans and radical Separatists. In 1633, the issue of who would administer baptism splintered the two camps. In 1638, the first Particular Baptist Church was established in London under the leadership of John Spilsbery.

The theology of these Baptists appealed to the nation’s prevalent Calvinism and offered no obstacle to the mass of Englishmen. With the rapid growth of the Particular Baptist came serious accusations, such as Pelagianism and Anarchy. This is important to note because both groups were part of the radical wing of Anabaptism; thus, Anabaptism cannot trace its historical roots to the Particular Baptist denomination.

By 1644, the seven Particular Baptist churches in London were quick to follow their Protestant forerunners’ confessional examples. To document their doctrinal differences from the General Baptists and Anabaptists, the seven closely associated and London-based Particular Baptist churches prepared to published their own confessional statement of theology.

The London Confession of 1644 served as an apologetic theology, defending Particular Baptist views against the Arminian General Baptists and other radical groups like the Anabaptists. Henry C. Vedder called it “one of the chief landmarks of Baptist history.” There were five key futures that made it different from the multitude of Protestant Reformed Confessions of its time:

  1. Two representatives from each of the six Particular churches and three from Spilsbery’s church were included in the signatories of the confession.
  2. It had a strong Christological focus.
  3. It was building a confessional theology that gave structure to the New Testament’s administration of the Covenants of Grace—not attempting to reform the National Church.
  4. It charged that the act of baptism was to be a complete immersion of the individual and gave an outline for conduct in case of civil persecution.

It gave the Particular Baptists of its time a distinctive Baptist theology of the church, all while affirming the Reformed view of salvation.

 


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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.

 

Adoption Assures the Believer of God’s Fatherly Electing Grace

At the heart of John Calvin’s theology and undergirding his development of the ordo salutis is the doctrine of adoption. Many scholars note that Calvin does not treat adoption as a separate locus in his systematic theology and magnum opus, The Institutes of the Christian Religion. This is due in part to the fact that Calvin weaves the doctrine throughout the tapestry of God’s marvelous work in the salvation of sinners. The doctrine of adoption is not peripheral, but rather central to Calvin’s theology as noted by Sinclair Ferguson writes, (The Reformed Doctrine of Sonship, in Pulpit and People, Essays in Honor of William Still) “students of Calvin’s theology have too rarely recognized how important the concept of sonship was to his understanding of the Christian life.”

The fountainhead of adoption and its privileges in John Calvin’s thought is found in God the Father. Specifically the privileges that the adopted child of God receives are the comfort of the Father’s providence and the assurance received through the Father’s electing grace.

One of those privileges is that Adoption assures the believer of God’s Fatherly electing grace. The electing grace of the Father almost becomes synonymous in Calvin’s writings with the doctrine of adoption. He does not clearly delineate between these two concepts but rather merges them to show how adoption becomes a confirmation of election. Howard Griffith in his article clearly proves that election and adoption are closely tied in Calvin’s thought when he states:

It is quite clear that Calvin’s intention was to use the biblical teaching on election as Scripture does: in the service of assurance for believers. Election was dangerous and only a snare when considered abstractly. But if for the sake of the analysis of Calvin’s own thinking, we think of it first, it is fascinating to notice that Calvin repeatedly refers to election as God’s adoption of the believer. This is not just the slip of a pen: Calvin repeats it often.

Adoption can be conceived of as the rearview mirror if you will, confirming the electing grace of the Father in the life of the believer. The close relationship of election and adoption serves to assure the believer that he is indeed a child of God.

In his Sermons on Election and Reprobation, Calvin closely links election and adoption when he says, “So, when our Lord engraveth his fear in our hearts by his holy spirit, and such an obedience towards him, as his Children ought to perform unto him, this is as if he should set upon us the seal of his election, and as if he should truly testify that he hath adopted us and that he is a Father unto us.” Throughout the Institutes he makes several references to the close relation between election and adoption where free election by the grace of God becomes the ground of the believer’s adoption. He states, “We were adopted in Christ into the eternal inheritance because in ourselves we were not capable of such great excellence.” Furthermore, man cannot renovate himself to receive the adoption of sons, nor is adoption because of any foreseen merit on God’s part, because “God’s special election towers and rules over all, alone ratifying his adoption.”

This assurance of election is further buttressed in his Sermons on Ephesians where he says, “When he [Paul] says that God has predestinated us by adoption, it is to show that if we be God’s children it is not through nature but through his pure grace…For we have no such status by birth or inheritance, neither does it come of flesh and blood.” The assurance this affords the believer is that it is by the grace of God in Jesus Christ that they are adopted into the family of God and thus “they whom he calls to salvation ought not to seek the cause of it anywhere else than in this gratuitous adoption.” Calvin continues speaking of the assurance that election and adoption affords the believer:

Whosoever then believes is thereby assured that God has worked in him, and faith, as it were, the duplicate copy that God gives us of the original of our adoption…It follows then that if we have faith, we are also adopted. For why does God gives us faith? Even because he elected us before the creation of the world. This therefore is an infallible order, that insofar as the faithful receive God’s grace and embrace his mercy, holding Jesus Christ as their Head, to obtain salvation in this way, they know assuredly that God has adopted them.

Far from declaring God’s election to be cold, calculating and deterministic, Calvin ties election and adoption closely together showing the comfort and warmth that can be derived from doing so. Election becomes the ground of adoption, and thus offers assurance to the child of God that he really is one of God’s children. The root of adoption is not found in the believer, but in God the Father, through Jesus Christ.

 

 

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