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Faithlife

Baptist Confessions Paper

Notes & Transcripts

Liberty University

A Comparison of the New Hampshire Baptist Confession of Faith (1833) with the

Free-Will Baptist Confession of Faith (1834)

A paper submitted to Dr. Smith

In partial fulfillment of the Requirements for

the course CHHI 694

Liberty Theological seminary

By

Christopher W. Myers

                                                                                  

Lynchburg, Virginia

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Table of Contents

Introduction- 3

Point 1: The Doctrine of God- 3

Point 2:  The Condition of Man- 5

Point 3: The Extent of the Atonement- 6

Point 4: The Influence of the Holy Spirit- 7

Point 5: The Perseverance of the Saints- 9

The Difference in Understanding the Sacraments- 9

Conclusion- 10

Bibliography- 11

Introduction

       In comparing the New Hampshire Baptist Confession of Faith with the Free-Will Baptist Treatise on Faith and Practice the most striking and obvious difference is that the New Hampshire Baptists are Calvinists, while the Free-will Baptist are totally Arminian.  The New Hampshire Baptist Confession of Faith, drawn up by John Brown, shows a weakened Calvinism, which will be elaborated upon later.  Benjamin Randall, the organizer of the Free-Will Baptist movement, displays the fullness of the Arminian doctrine by even rejecting the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints.  Therefore, this main difference will be the heart of this discussion, especially the differences thereof on the so-called five points of Calvinism, which encompasses differences from the Arminian position in Anthropology, Soteriology, Christology, and Pneumatology, respectively.  In addition to these five points, the Free-will Baptists also diverge from the New Hampshire Baptists in their view of the Ordinances of the Church to which a short discussion is in order.  At the last, a conclusion will be drawn as to how such deep doctrinal differences should affect the respective movement as well as history itself.      

Point 1: The Doctrine of God

      

       Ultimately, someone’s doctrine of God will determine the rest of his theology; this is a good reason to begin the discussion on this point.  The New Hampshire Baptists believed in a God that knew all things and therefore determined in his perfect counsel the exact unfolding of history according to how he would influence his creation or let it act as it will act.  Therefore, the New Hampshire Baptist’s vision of God was one of complete sovereignty over not only the ends, but also the means; every minute detail of all creation.  It is on these premises that the New Hampshire Baptists understood God to elect his people out of a fallen humanity for redemption, which they say to be his “eternal purpose” and “the most glorious display of God’s sovereign goodness.”[1]  One of the most important statements within the confession concerning God’s election is when it says God’s election is “perfectly consistent with the free agency of man.”[2]  However, one of the central truths of Scripture concerning election is God’s basis for choosing such persons and not choosing others; unfortunately the confession is silent on this matter.  God’s basis for election is solely, ultimately, and chiefly based upon his own glory and this perfectly accords with his nature, for it is fitting for God to place the most infinite perfection, unending goodness, and utmost holiness above anything else.  Placing the glory of God above all things is commanded of God when he commands all men to have no other gods before him.  So God, since he is not an idolater, must place himself above all things.  And this is not to be thought of as a conceited thing when it is realized that a triune God displays this self-exalting by the Father maximally exalting the Son by the workings of the Holy Spirit.[3]    

        In contrast the Free-will Baptist believes in a God, who does not foreordain the means in addition to the ends, but only his appointed ends.  Instead, God has ordained man with a power.  This power is the power of choice by which the means of things can be determined by man and God merely governs “by moral laws and motives”[4] these man-created means to bring about the ends he desires.  To the Free-will Baptists it is inconceivable how man could be responsible for his actions if he does not freely create such means by the power of choosing.  Furthermore, the Free-will Baptist tries to shatter the doctrine of the New Hampshire Baptists by destroying the link conceived between the foreknowledge of God of all things and his foreordination of all things.  The Free-will Baptist breaks this link by saying, “All events are present with God from everlasting to everlasting; but His knowledge of them does not cause them, nor does He decree all events which he knows will occur.”[5]  And so, the Free-will Baptist is able to preserve the omniscience of God and still deny the absolute foreordination of God of all things; he no longer ordains the means and the ends, but he merely governs the means and brings about his desired ends.

       The Free-will Baptist may not realize the difficulty of their assertions.  It seems to make God dependent on the creature in some way.  Also, their theory is not successful in dissolving the link between God’s foreknowledge and God’s foreordination that is necessitated by his omnipotence.  Based solely on God’s sovereignty, if he were to know some happening that was going to occur, then therefore, he must make a decision. God decides one of two things: first, to allow that happening to occur or secondly, to intervene in some way with his mighty power to disallow that happening to occur.  In this way, by choosing to act or choosing not to act, God is decreeing the unfolding of history.  The only way to get around this truth is to either deny God’s omnipotence or to deny his omniscience.  The latter is denied by such Open Theist Arminians such as Gregory Boyd, Clark Pinnock, and John Saunders.[6]  No sources are known of Arminians brave enough to deny the former.      

Point 2:  The Condition of Man

       The New Hampshire Confession of Faith believes that the fall of mankind from God’s holy and happy state was the result of man’s free choice and by just consequence man’s entire prodigy is by nature separated from God and condemnable to eternal ruin and without excuse.[7]  This is, of course, in line with Calvinism’s doctrine of Total Depravity.  However, the New Hampshire Confession lacks some main expressions that are necessary in such a confession of Biblical Anthropology.  The truths that should have been represented are man’s spiritual deadness, darkened minds and corrupt hearts, utter bondage to sin, and man’s total inability to change his present state.[8]  These biblical truths utterly lacking, the Free-Will Baptists fill in the opposite on almost every one of these truths.

       Building on the presupposition that God has endowed all men with a great power of free choice, the Free-Will Baptist Treatise calls for the utmost ability for man to change his present state through this power, which God has given equally to all men through Christ.  Therefore, the Free-will Baptist intimately connects their understanding of Anthropology with their understanding of Christology, specifically the Atonement of Christ.  The discussion of the Free-will Baptist’s understanding of Christ’s death is now in order.  

Point 3: The Extent of the Atonement

       The Free-will Baptist connects his understanding of Christ’s atonement to man’s ability to obtain salvation in these words,

“The call of he Gospel is co-extensive with the atonement to all men, both by word and strivings of the Spirit, so that salvation is rendered equally possible to all; and if any fail of eternal life, the fault is wholly his own.”[9]

The atonement to all men that this confession speaks of is not any salvific efficient atonement or all men would be saved.  Actually, the atonement to all men is understood to be a repositioning of man, so that he now has the power or ability to choose salvation.  The death of Christ provides salvation for all who believe, but the atonement does not apply this salvation.  The application of Christ’s atonement is only worked in man when he chooses to believe; this choosing to believe is a choice made freely by man and therefore it is the choice to believe that applies the salvific act of the atonement by the Spirit upon man’s soul.[10]  Indeed, the Spirit is believed to influence man, but only an influence that is equal to everyone under the general call of the gospel.

       This is in polar opposition to the New Hampshire Baptist Confession, which speaks of a “full atonement.”[11]  This understanding of Christ’s atonement involves both a universal aspect and a limited aspect.  The universal aspect is that Christ’s atonement was sufficient for the salvation of the entire human race.  The limited aspect is that the atonement of Christ was efficient for only the elect.  This means that Jesus knew exactly who he was atoning for and definitively secured their entire salvation.  This definite atonement is supported in Scripture when it speaks of Christ securing his people’s faith and sanctification in his death in addition to his people’s justification.[12] 

       Point 4: The Influence of the Holy Spirit

         Furthermore to the New Hampshire Baptist, the gift that God gives is his grace that enacts the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, which produces repentance and faith within; this gift is never to be thought of as any power of choosing, for all mankind is wholly dependent on God.[13] 

       The New Hampshire Baptist Article 6 “Of the Freeness of Salvation” is wholly consistent with classical Calvinism when it states that “the blessings of salvation are made free to all by the gospel.”  To all means to all who hear the gospel.  God’s election does not force or coerce wills.  The fault of reprobation upon those who hear the gospel is upon the sinner and this is why they end their Article 6 thus, “nothing prevents the salvation of the greatest sinner on earth but his own inherent depravity and voluntary rejection of the gospel.”  Indeed, God decrees for many to hear the offer of salvation and to all who hear, the offer is truly unto them.  But God also decrees to allow many of them to continue in their free-willed rejection of the gospel, even though he could with omnipotent power seduce[14] the sinner with his grace.  When the creator of this universe pursues an individual with his relentless steadfast love and faithfulness, God becomes ultimately irresistible.  The New Hampshire Baptist would deny that God pursues all men on earth in such a way.

       To say that God loves his elect, his children, in a different way than those children of the world is utterly hostile to the beliefs of the Free-will Baptist.  Because the Free-will Baptist see the atonement as equal in efficacy to every man and also the outpouring of God’s calling as equal to every man.  The gift of God is to them the ability to believe, but to actually believe is the act of the creature. In other words, God merely positions man in order that he may believe, but the believing part God leaves up to man.  There is no room in their view for allowing God to be the cause of choosing the right choice or the choosing would no longer be an “act of the creature,” but rather an act of God.  If they allowed God to be the cause of choosing the right choice in any way, then obviously this would conclude that God does not move upon everyone equally, which would be hostile to their universal presuppositions.[15]  

Point 5: The Perseverance of the Saints

       The Free-will Baptists follow their doctrines to its logical conclusion, if believing is an “act of the creature” originating from within their “power of free choice,” then the preservation of such souls in a salvific state is dependent upon man’s free choice to remain in a believing state before God.  They put in plainly thus, “future obedience and final salvation are neither determined nor certain, since through infirmity and manifold temptations they are in danger of falling.”[16]

       The New Hampshire Baptists also follow their doctrines to its logical conclusion, if believing is “wrought in our souls” by the regenerating work of the Spirit and God’s work in his elect is “wholly of grace” based solely on His own glory, then preservation of such souls in a salvific state is dependent wholly upon the will and power of God.  All who God determines to save will indeed be saved.[17]  As the Lord said, “all that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.”[18]

The Difference in the Understanding of the Sacraments

       The Free-will Baptist’s belief concerning the Lord’s Supper is that “no man has a right to forbid these tokens to the least of His disciples.”[19]  The reformed practice allows elders of the church to excommunicate communicants from the Lord’s Table if there is valid reason to doubt there standing with God, but the New Hampshire Baptist Confession of Faith is unclear concerning this matter of polity. 

       However, the New Hampshire Baptist Confession is clear that they only believe in two church ordinances: the Baptism and Lord’s Supper.[20]  In contrast, the Free-will Baptist believes in three: Baptism, Lord’s Supper, and Washing the Saints’ Feet[21]

Conclusion

       And so the conclusion is clear that the doctrinal differences are so deep and polar that it is both unwise for these Baptists to fellowship together and it is also impossible for both groups to be correct concerning their doctrines.  The effects of each doctrine can be laid out in one word for each position.  The effects of the doctrine of the Free-will Baptists are man-centered.  Man chooses, man perseveres, and man is glorified.  Such effects upon history can be observed during any time period when Pelagian-type doctrines have prevailed.  The effects of the doctrine of the New Hampshire Baptists are God-centered.  This doctrine prevents boasting and promotes humility, love, prayer, praise, absolute trust in God, imitation of his free mercy, and it encourages Christians to use whatever high and risky means necessary to bring about God’s glory to manifest his Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.  God elects, Christ atones for them, and the Spirit regenerates; the triune God works in unison to preserve the saints to eternity, and God is wholly glorified.  Such effects upon history tend to be reformation and revival as can be observed during any time period when biblical, Augustine-type doctrines have prevailed.

 

 

 

Bibliography

Boyd, Gregory A. God of the Possible: A Biblical Introduction to the Open View of God.  Grand

       Rapids: Baker Book House, 2000.

New Hampshire Baptist Confession of Faith (1833), full text in Grudem, Wayne. “Appendix 1:

       Historic Confessions of Faith.”  Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. 

 

       Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994.

Owen, John. The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.  Edinburg, Banner of Truth Trust, 1967.

Pinnock, Clark H.. Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness.  Grand Rapids: Baker,

       2001.

Piper, John.  God’s Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards with the

 

       Complete Tex of ‘The End For Which God Created the World.  Wheaton: Crossway Books,

       1998. 

Sanders, John. The God Who Risks: A Theology of Providence.  Downers Grove, Ill.:

       InterVarsity Press, 1998.

Steele, David; Thomas, Curtis; Quinn, S. Lance; The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined,

 

       Defended, and Documented. 2nd edition.  Phillipsburg, P&R Publishing, 2004.

Treatise on the Faith and Practice of the Free Will Baptists, 1834 full text,

       http://www.reformedreader.org/ccc/tfwb.htm.  [Last accessed October 21, 2008].


----

       [1] New Hampshire Baptist Confession of Faith (1833), full text in Grudem, Wayne. “Appendix 1: Historic Confessions of Faith.”  Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994) Article IX.

       [2]Ibid.

       [3]Piper, John.  God’s Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards with the Complete Tex of ‘The End For Which God Created the World.  (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1998).  See Edward’s work contained herein, especially chapter two for the legion of Scriptural support regarding this subject.

       [4] Treatise on the Faith and Practice of the Free Will Baptists, 1834 full text, http://www.reformedreader.org/ccc/tfwb.htm.  [Last accessed October 21, 2008] Chapter III.

       [5] Ibid.

       [6] See Boyd, Gregory A., God of the Possible: A Biblical Introduction to the Open View of God (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2000) and Pinnock, Clark H., Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001) and Sanders, John, The God Who Risks: A Theology of Providence (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1998).

       [7]New Hampshire Baptist Confession of Faith, Article III.

       [8]Steele, David; Thomas, Curtis; Quinn, S. Lance; The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented. 2nd edition (Phillipsburg, P&R Publishing, 2004) pp. 18-27 for Scriptural support

       [9]Treatise on the Faith and Practice of the Free Will Baptists, Chapter VIII 

       [10]Treatise on the Faith and Practice of the Free Will Baptists, Chapter VIII and IX.

       [11] New Hampshire Baptist Confession of Faith, Article IV

       [12]Owen, John. The Death of Death in the Death of Christ (Edinburg, Banner of Truth Trust, 1967) See pp 137-146 especially.

       [13]Notice New Hampshire Baptist Confession of Faith, Article VII attributes this work solely upon the Holy Spirit and that repentance is described as admitting our helplessness and turning to a total reliance upon God as all-sufficient.  Also, Article VIII says repentance and faith are “wrought in our souls by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit.”

       [14]I use ‘seduce’ in order to show God’s unfailing and non-relentless love toward his elect. It should not be read with any sexual connotation. 

       [15] Treatise on the Faith and Practice of the Free Will Baptists, Chapter III (universal power of choice) and VIII (universal calling) and X (universal power of choice is the act of the human—the power to believe is the gift of God, but believing is an ACT of the creature).

       [16]Ibid. Chapter XIII, later therein “they ought, therefore, to watch and pray lest they make shipwreck of their faith and be lost.”

       [17]New Hampshire Baptist Confession of Faith, Article XI.

       [18]John 6:37, ESV

       [19]Treatise on the Faith and Practice of the Free Will Baptists, Chapter XVIII No.2

       [20] New Hampshire Baptist Confession of Faith, Article 14.

       [21]Treatise on the Faith and Practice of the Free Will Baptists, Chapter XVIII, especially No.3 concerning the washing of feet it states, “It is he duty and happy prerogative of every believer to observe this sacred ordinance.”

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