The First London Confession of Faith of 1644

Comprehensive Edition (2022)


Some of the signatories had been connected with the older Separatist movement, and so the Separatist Confession of 1596 [also known as “A True Confession”] was known among them. This confession served as their model, as they prepared a longer and more comprehensive document. Other models also may have been before them.

—William Lumpkin Baptist Confessions of Faith, Valley Forge, PA, 1969, p. 145

For Europe, the 17th century was a time full of political, economic and also religious upheavals. While the life of large parts of the population on the continent was determined by the Thirty Years’ War 1618–1648 and later, in 1683, the advance of Ottoman troops was broken in decisive battle at the Siege of Vienna, the population on the British Isles also lived in turbulent times.
Since this text is primarily intended to deal with the textual history of the First London Confession (1LCF), attention is drawn to only a few historical key events:

This period also saw considerable upheavals in religious policy. In 1643, the Episcopal constitution of the Anglican Church was suspended, and an assembly of scholars, the Westminster Divines, was appointed by Parliament to work out new structures and a clearly defined theological direction. From this assembly was issued in 1646 (printed in 1647) the Confession of Westminster, which has had an enduring significance in some Reformed churches but was not ultimately adopted by the English state church for which it was drawn up.

In the 1630s and 1640s, groups of Christians increasingly gathered independently of the state church, distancing themselves from it to a greater or lesser degree and at times facing more or less severe state persecution. Some of these separatist congregations became convinced of the correctness of believer’s baptism. In the disputes of the time, with uncertainty about the future admissibility of congregations outside the state church, also in the face of hostility, accusations and slander, seven such congregations issued a confession of faith towards the end of 1644, in which it was made clear that despite having views differing from those of their critics in some matters (essentially concerning baptism and church constitution), the doctrine of these congregations was entirely based on biblical principles and had, like most other independentists of the time, a Reformed outlook. In particular, the congregations objected to being equated with the continental Anabaptists, a name that was associated with the memory of the radical Anabaptist kingdom in Münster, Germany, about a century earlier.

In writing it, the authors (whose names cannot be established with certainty) were largely guided by an earlier independentist confession of 1596, the True Confession, into which they incorporated their specific beliefs. Interestingly, there is no explicit treatment of the celebration of the Lord’s Supper in the confession; there seems to have been no dissent concerning this between them and their state-church and Puritan critics, so that a treatment was unnecessary. The confession was noticed, discussed and also attacked argumentatively in the theological literature of the time. In response to some such criticism, a new edition of the confession was issued in early 1646, still in the name of the seven congregations, but this time co-signed by representatives of a French-speaking migrant congregation. Some articles were worded more clearly, a passage on respect for private property was added, and the understanding of church leadership, which had previously been oriented towards Calvin’s doctrine of four congregational offices (going back to Martin Bucer), namely pastors, doctors, elders and deacons, was changed to the offices of presbyter and deacon as attested in the New Testament.

This edition, the one generally regarded as the authoritative edition by English-speaking congregations holding the 1LCF, is referred to in its title as corrected and enlarged. Since this is the text most often used, the entire confession in all its editions is often referred to as the First London Confession of 1646 (and not 1644).
The subsequent London editions of 1651 and 1652 only claim to be corrected. In the third edition of 1651, however, there are again significant textual changes, although not to the same extent as between the first and second editions; the fourth, however, corresponds exactly to the third (although with a different orthography), so that there are four editions, but only three textual forms, which are rather similar to each other.
There was also a later (1653) reprint of the 1LCF in Scotland, presumably for use in an English military congregation there.

In 1677 another confession was published by the issuing congregations of the 1LCF, the Second London Confession (2LCF), which was very much based on the Westminster Confession. It is not based directly on its text, but on a revision of Westminster published by Congregationalists in 1658, the Savoy Declaration. The 2LCF is also referred to by some as The Baptist Confession or The London Baptist Confession, either (accurately) with the addition of “of 1677” or else with the addition of “of 1689” although it was neither written nor printed in that year. However, in 1689 the use of the confession was recommended by a General Convention of the now growing movement that would later be called Particular Baptists. How far the relationship of 1LCF to 2LCF is characterised by continuity and how far by discontinuity has been debated between adherents of both documents.

William Lumpkin, who gives no reason to be suspect of being bi­ased in this matter, writes about the 2LCF in his great collection Baptist Confessions of Faith (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1969) on page 237:
“Essential agreement with the London Confession of 1644 was claimed in the intro­duc­tory note, but scarcity of copies and general ignorance of that Confession, as well as the need for more full and distinct expression of views than that Confession offered, were given as reasons for preparing the new Confession.
As a matter of fact, there are numerous and marked differences between this Confes­sion and that of 1644. To be sure, certain phrases were taken from the former Confes­sion, and there are evidences that other reminiscences from it were included, but, nev­er­the­less, a number of significant and far-reaching changes were made. Among the in­nova­tions were the treatment of such subjects as the Scriptures, the Sabbath, and mar­riage. Moreover, the views of the church and of the ordinances were altered.”

The Reformed Free Church in Germany (which also is providing this website), founded in 2016, has from its beginning held a translation of the 1LCF as their confession. The text used was a translation of the second edition of 1646, supplemented by an article on the Lord’s Supper, which was taken (in abridged form) from the 2LCF.
In the course of a deeper study of the confessional history of the 1LCF, the texts of all four historical London editions were compared with each other, and despite the rather minor differences, it quickly became clear that none of the historical editions alone completely opens up the great richness of the content of this confession – the 1644 edition offers a definition of the gospel that was later omitted, the 1651 edition the clarification that God leaves some people not only “in their sin” but “to act in their sin”, etc.

In order to make this historical treasure accessible in a way that takes the best account of the witness of Scripture and the needs of congregational teaching, the Comprehensive Version of the confession presented here has been prepared. It is based on the widely used second edition of 1646, integrates elements of the other two versions of the text, and in very few cases draws on the True Confession or the 2LCF for clarification. The aim was not to simply reprint a historical text. It was to make this historical document, which exists in several textual forms, accessible for today’s personal and congregational use. The text-critical decisions made in this process are fully documented and can be accessed in the Downloads section. The other editorial decisions (addition of headings, division of the articles into sections, deletion of a short, rather allegorical passage that finds no biblical proof etc.) are also disclosed there.

Congregations, ministries and also individual Christians who, for various reasons, want to adopt a historical confession that is both Reformed in its statements about God’s sovereign grace and advocates believer’s baptism ought to consider the First London Confession of 1644. Of the various versions of the text, the Comprehensive Version, published in 2022, is certainly the one that most comprehensively reflects biblical statements in its historical-integrative approach.
An additional version in simple language is desirable but not yet produced.