In Chapter One: “Of the Holy Scripture,” the Second London Confession of Faith (2LCF) is almost identical to the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) and the Savoy Declaration (SD) on which it is based.1 There are only three minor differences worth noting.2 First, the Baptists add a sentence at the beginning of the chapter that is found neither in the WCF nor in the SD: “The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience.”3 Second, the Baptists reword a phrase in §6. In agreement with the WCF and SD, the Baptists agree that God’s will in Scripture is “expressly set down.” However, whereas the WCF and SD assert that God’s will “by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture,” the Baptists change the wording and speak of God’s will being “necessarily contained in Holy Scripture.” Third, the Baptists follow the Savoy Declaration (SD) and add a phrase at the very end of §10: “the Holy Scripture delivered by the Spirit, into which Scripture so delivered, our faith is finally resolved.”4
In this post, I’d like to address the second modification. According to all three confessions, God reveals his will in Scripture both directly and also indirectly. Here’s how the Westminster Confession and the Savoy state it: “The whole counsel of God … is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture” (emphasis added). That is, sometimes we can find an explicit prooftext for a doctrine. Other times, we arrive at a doctrine by way of logical inference.5 However, the Second London Confession changes the wording: “The whole counsel of God … is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture” (emphasis mine).
Is There an Important Difference?
One can find at least three answers to this question:
1. The Baptists are rejecting the legitimacy of doctrine by inference.
Some Paedobaptists seem to think the Baptists are rejecting the legitimacy of doctrine by inference since Baptists insist on a clear reference to infant baptism. Accordingly, these Paedobaptists seem to interpret this change in the 2LCF as a Baptist attempt to promote a kind of “biblicism”—at least with respect to the question of baptism.6
I think that reading of 2LCf is highly unlikely in light of the “either … or” construction of the clause, in which “necessarily contained” stands in contrast with “expressly set down.” Moreover, one can find a judicious use of inference in Particular Baptists’ interpretation of Scripture.7
2. The Baptists are basically saying the same thing as the WCF.
Reformed Baptists like Sam Waldron insist the Baptists are expressing the same idea in slightly different language.
The phrase, ‘or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture,’ is equivalent to the phrase in the Westminster Confession it is intended to clarify: ‘or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture.’ What may be by sound logic deduced from Scripture, that is to say, what is necessarily contained in it has the authority of Scripture itself.8
Support for Waldron’s understanding of the phrase “contained in” can be found in works like William Whitaker’s A Disputation on Holy Scripture (1588).9
3. The Baptists narrow the kind of doctrinal inferences allowed and, perhaps, allude to the Baptist hermeneutic for determining sacraments.
James Renihan and Sam Renihan convincingly demonstrate that the Particular Baptists agree with the Reformed community on the legitimacy of doctrinal inference. Hence, the Baptists agree with the basic point of the WCF. However, the Renihans also believe the Baptists may be trying to clarify and tighten the kind of inferences allowed.
First, the phrase “good and necessary” could suggest the allowance of “good” inferences that aren’t “necessary.” Such an inference might be based on human reason rather than divine revelation.10 Thus, the Baptists are trying to restrict the scope of inferences allowed to those that are necessary.
Second, the Renihans show how the Baptists disallow the use of inference on the question of the establishment and regulation of sacraments. Such covenantal ordinances require “positive law,” that is, direct commands for their institution and regulation. Thus, the Paedobaptists are wrong to base the practice of infant baptism on logical inference. For this reason, the Baptists are refining the language of the WCF to exclude any use of inference for establishing and regulating the sacraments.11
There’s no doubt that Baptists objected to the use of inference for infant baptism. I’m not convinced, however, that the use of inference should be disallowed for regulating NT worship. Otherwise, we’d have to reject the notion of a “Christian sabbath.”12 I also think we can reject infant baptism as a “bad and unnecessary” inference.
Moreover, I fail to see how the phrase “necessarily contained in Holy Scripture” can perform double-duty. That phrase cannot affirm the legitimacy of inferences and simultaneously support a Particular Baptist hermeneutic of the sacraments since the latter is allegedly limited to what is “expressly set down.”
Finally, as best as I can tell, the WCF means “good AND necessary,” not “good OR necessary.”13 So it may be that the Baptists intended to narrow the scope of consequences to “necessary” only. If so, I don’t think that move was necessary since the WCF includes that idea.
Thus, in the end, I agree with Sam Waldron and believe the Second London is saying basically the same thing as the Westminster and Savoy.
1 The Westminster Confession was published in 1646. The Congregationalists or Independents published a modified version known as the Savoy Declaration in 1658. Then, in 1677, some Particular Baptists published the Second London Confession. Sometime later, in 1689, the General Assembly of Particular Baptist Churches adopted the 2LCF. This is why the 2LCF is also known as the “1689 Baptist Confession.”
2 There are a few other changes that are insignificant. The Baptists follow the Congregationalists and add an article (“the”) before “inspiration” in 1.2. They add “or rule” in parentheses after “Canon” in 1.3. The Baptists add an additional “and” in 1.5, and they change “unto” to “to” in 1.7. Finally, they drop the phrase “and known” in 1.9, probably because the idea is already included in the previous verb “searched.” For those wishing to see the WCF, SD, and 2LCF compared side-by-side, see James M. Renihan, True Confessions: Baptist Documents in the Reformed Faith (Palmdale, CA: Reformed Baptist Academic Press, 2004).
3 Why did the Baptists add this sentence? I’m not aware that any Particular Baptists from that era tells us directly. Nevertheless, some Baptist historians have conjectured a reason. Some have suggested that the Baptists may have added this statement and reworded the phrase in 1.6 to reflect a more refined hermeneutic that disallows the kind of broader inferential reasoning used by Paedobaptists for infant baptism. James Renihan, “Sufficient, Certain, and Infallible: The Inscripturated Word,” Journal of the Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies (2015): 43–62. Others believe the Baptists may have added this statement to underscore their commitment to sola Scriptura, especially in light of the growing movement of the Quakers and other radical sects, which claimed to have “new revelations” and “inward light.” Michael A.G. Haykin, Kiffen, Knollys and Keach: Rediscovering our English Baptist Heritage (Leeds, England: Reformation Today Trust, 1996), 65–68, 71–72. I prefer the latter of these two explanations and would add an additional suggestion. Both the WCF and the SD end on the note of sola Scriptura. But the Congregationalists added that Luther-like “Here I stand” remark as a kind of rhetorical exclamation mark (see note above). The Baptists liked that addition but also thought it useful to begin the Confession on the same note it ends. So the Baptists bracket chapter one within two statements (a kind of literary inclusio) that underscore Scripture’s supremacy, a.k.a., the doctrine of sola Scriptura. Whatever the reason for the addition, I think Sam Waldron is correct when he remarks, “The authors of the 1689 Confession did not differ from the Reformation tradition on the doctrine of Scripture.” A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, 5th edition (Durham, UK: Evangelical Press, 2016), 37.
4 The phrase that the Congregationalists and Baptists add has a kind of rhetorical flare that reminds me of Martin Luther’s famous words at the Diet of Worms: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise; God help me!”
5 For an extended discussion and defense of the use of “consequence,” see Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, trans. George Musgrave Giger, ed. James T. Dennison Jr. (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1992), 1:37-43.
6 See Rowland Ward, Scripture and Worship: Biblical Interpretation and the Directory for Worship (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2007), 97, n. 34; J. V. Fesko, Word, Water and Spirit (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2010), 148; Joel R. Beeke and Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012), 219, n. 15.
7 Thus, Ryan McGraw, a Paedobaptist, doubts the Baptists are rejecting the legitimacy of doctrinal inference. By Good and Necessary Consequence, Explorations in Reformed Confessional Theology, ed. Daniel R. Hyde and Mark Jones (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012), 51, n. 10.
8 A Modern Exposition, 51.
9 I think the phrase “contained in Scripture” is by itself more ambiguous than that phrase in the WCF and SD. However, when used in contrast with “expressly set forth,” it certainly denotes the idea of necessary consequence.
10 I certainly don’t believe this was the intent of the assembly. George Gillespie, one of the assembly divines who wrote about this clause, expressly denies that “good” inferences can be grounded on human reason. See Treatise of Miscellany Questions (Edinburgh: Robert Ogle, and Oliver & Boyd, 1844), 102–103.
11 See James Renihan, “‘Good and Necessary Consequence’ or ‘Necessarily Contained,’” Southern California Reformed Baptist Pastors’ Conference Papers, Vol. 1 2012, ed. Richard C. Barcellos (Palmdale, CA: Reformed Baptist Academic Press, 2012), 129–152; Samuel Renihan, “The Consequences of Positive Law: The Particular Baptist Use of Inferential Reasoning in Theology,” Journal of the Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies (2016): 123–152. Fred Malone made a somewhat similar argument several years earlier, though not with the same amount of historical research. See The Baptism of Disciples Alone: A Covenantal Argument for Credobaptism versus Paedobaptism, 2nd edition (Cape Coral, FL: Founders Press, 2007), 20.
12 I try to make the case that the “Lord’s Day” is to some degree established and regulated by good and necessary consequence rather than explicit command. “Commemorating Christ’s Coronation: How to Justify a First-Day Sabbath,” In Service to the Church: Essays in Honor of Dr. Robert Paul Martin, ed. Brian Borgman (Conway, AR: Free Grace Press, 2020), 101–111.
13 According to McGraw, consequences that are good but not necessary might be used to guide decisions regarding the circumstances of worship. But they cannot rise to the level of “Thus saith the Lord” unless they are both good and necessary. By Good and Necessary Consequence, 31. See also C. J. Williams’ helpful essay, “Good and Necessary Consequence in the Westminster Confession,” Reformed Presbyterian Theological Journal 1:2 (Spring 2015): 45–58.
Dr. Robert Gonzales (BA, MA, PhD, Bob Jones Univ.) has served as a pastor of four Reformed Baptist congregations and has been the Academic Dean and a professor of Reformed Baptist Seminary (Sacramento, CA) since 2005. He is the author of Where Sin Abounds: the Spread of Sin and the Curse in Genesis with Special Focus on the Patriarchal Narratives (Wipf & Stock, 2010) and has contributed to the Reformed Baptist Theological Review, The Founders Journal, and Westminster Theological Journal. He blogs at It is Written.