"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

The Preparatory Work of Law Is Unneeded

In the year 1644, nearly 400 years ago, several Baptist churches in London, England issued a Confession of Faith. Interestingly, these Baptists disassociated themselves from continental Anabaptists, wanting people to understand they were NOT Anabaptists. In the title of their Confession, which eventually became known as the 1644 London Confession of Faith (also called The First London Confession) these Baptists write "(we) are those CHURCHES which are  commonly (though falsely)  called ANABAPTISTS." The notion that 21st century Southern Baptists are the spiritual descendants of continental Anabaptists is refuted by the source documents, no matter how much modern Anabaptists attempt to change the record.

Historian Henry C. Vedder called the 1644 London Confession "one of the chief landmarks of Baptist history. It is important to note that the 1644 London Baptists wrote their confession two years prior to the infamous Presbyterian Westminster Confession. If one wishes to see how Baptists historically differ from Presbyterians, one only has to compare and contrast the 1644 London Baptist Confession with the1646 London Presbyterian Confession (Westminster). There are some telling differences. I would like to highlight just one: The use of the Law in the conversion of sinners.

The 17th century London Baptists were clear that it was absolute unnecessary to use "The Law" (meaning the 10 commandments or anything else associated with the Mosaic Law) as prefatory to sharing the gospel. Listen to what they wrote in Article 25:
"The tenders of the Gospel to the conversion of sinners are absolutely free, no way requiring, as absolutely necessary, any qualifications, preparations, terrors of the Law, or preceding Ministry of the Law, but only and alone the naked soul, as a sinner and ungodly to receive Christ, as crucified, dead, and buried, and risen again, being made a Prince and a Savior for such sinners."
Someone might ask, "But how does a person know he is a 'sinner' without the Law?" Answer: Mankind's refusal to reflect the image of his Creator predates the giving of the Mosaic Law, and as such, it is unnecessary for the Law to press home man's condition. Truth be known, mankind is 'dead' in trespasses and sins, not through God's fault, but by Adam's (man's) free choice. Therefore, what is needed is not for a good man to be convinced of his sin, but for a dead man to be raised to life. Therefore, Article 24 of the First London Confession states:
"That faith is ordinarily begot by the preaching of the Gospel, or word of Christ, without respect to any power or capacity in the creature, but it (the creature or hearer) is wholly passive, being dead in sins and trespasses, does believe, and is converted by no less power, then that which raised Christ from the dead." 
The 17th century London Baptists believed that the evangelist should love the ungodly (for Christ died for the ungodly), preach Jesus Christ indiscriminately (for it is the gospel which is the power of God unto salvation), and refrain from using "the Law" as a preparatory work of the gospel.

Presbyterians on the other hand, believed the Mosaic Law to be absolutely essential to the conversion of sinners. The Presbyterians write in Chapter 19 of the Westminster Confession:
"The moral law doth forever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof; and that not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator who gave it. Neither doth Christ in the gospel any way dissolve, but much strengthen, this obligation. Although true believers be not under the law as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified or condemned; yet is it of great use to them, as well as to others; in that, as a rule of life, informing them of the will of God and their duty, it directs and binds them to walk accordingly"
Thus, one of the major differences between Baptists and Presbyterians is the emphasis on "The Law." Presbyterians historically believe and teach observing a "Sabbath." Presbyterians emphasize the 'authority' of pastors/elders, similar to the manner in which Old Covenant priests had 'authority' over the laypeople of Israel. The modern church (building) is similar to the historic Temple in Jerusalem. The Mosaic Law is Christianized in Presbyterianism because it is the eternal law of God.

Baptists, on the other hand, see the Law as pointing to Jesus Christ, the Fulfiller of it. The Law of Moses teaches us of Christ, who fulfilled every portion of it (i.e. 'every jot and tittle') and then caused it to 'disappear' in order to establish a 'new and better covenant' with a new and better law (Hebrews 8:13).  The New Covenant promises us eternal blessings because of the obedience of Another. We are declared 'righteous' by God because we abide in Christ by faith, receiving a righteousness that is not our own by any obedience to Law, but "a righteousness that comes from God and is found by faith." Therefore, we preach Christ. Christ is 'foolishness' to the Greeks and a 'stumbling block' to the Jews. but He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. When you come to know the Truth, the Truth will set you free.

The reason I am a follower of Jesus Christ who is unashamedly identified as a 'Baptist' is because the 'Baptist' theology to which I identify is that of the 17th century Baptists who understood the New Covenant, freedom in Christ, and the importance of loving the ungodly in the same manner He has loved us.


Robert Hutchinson said...

"Mankind's refusal to reflect the image of his Creator predates the giving of the Mosaic Law..."

True. Yet, it does not predate the commandment/law, "But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it."

It seems, to me, when preaching the gospel you have to preach that we all have broken God's law and, therefore, we all need to repent.


Jacques said...

I find this to be a strange assessment.

How can one truly understand good news without having any understanding of what is bad? The state of a sinner is only understandable by law, otherwise there is no sin. The gospel says Jesus died for sinners...

And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. (John 16:8-11 ESV)

God shows men their need of Jesus, and that involves a balance of law and gospel.. both graciously.

Wade Burleson said...

Robert and Jacques,

I'm not asking the two of you accept the premise, only that you think through it.

According to the Baptists, and I agree, it is unnecessary to 'preach the Law' before you 'preach Christ' because it is only the good news of Jesus Christ that brings life to dead sinners. :)

Christiane said...

" . . . is converted by no less power, then that which raised Christ from the dead."

‘The Convert’
By G. K. Chesterton

“After one moment when I bowed my head
And the whole world turned over and came upright,
And I came out where the old road shone white.
I walked the ways and heard what all men said,
Forests of tongues, like autumn leaves un-shed,
Being not unlovable but strange and light;
Old riddles and new creeds, not in despite
But softly, as men smile about the dead

The sages have a hundred maps to give
That trace their crawling cosmos like a tree,
They rattle reason out through many a sieve
That stores the sand and lets the gold go free:
And all these things are less than dust to me
Because my name is Lazarus and I live. “

Robert Hutchinson said...

"...it is only the good news of Jesus Christ that brings life to dead sinners."

Well, I certainly can't argue with that. :)

The Govteach said...

Bro Wade,

Christ first....you can work and obey the laws all day, all night and still fail.
This attempt to follow the law will have us doubting our salvation every day.
Christ's love and sacrifice should be preached first...for within him lies salvation, not works...

Wade Burleson said...

That will teach, Govteach! :)

Aussie John said...


Glad this is getting an airing! Far too many "Reformed Baptists" don't realize they are more Presbyterian than Baptist.

"Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses' face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory?"

Anonymous said...

"Interestingly, these Baptists disassociated themselves from continental Anabaptists, wanting people to understand they were NOT Anabaptists. In the title of their Confession, which eventually became known as the 1644 London Confession of Faith (also called The First London Confession) these Baptists write "(we) are those CHURCHES which are commonly (though falsely) called ANABAPTISTS." The notion that 21st century Southern Baptists are the spiritual descendants of continental Anabaptists is refuted by the source documents, no matter how much modern Anabaptists attempt to change the record.

So what major doctrinal difference did they have with the Anabaptists. Are you claiming it was how they viewed the law? I missed that part.

Just for the record contintental Ana Baptists were NOT even close to being monolithic in beliefs. So to say one does not want to be identified with Anabaptists is a bit murkey. Mennonites? Which ones?

Anonymous said...


Bowtheknee said...

Thank you Wade, I have listened to a lot of teaching over the past few years after leaving Bellevue Baptist that centered on this teaching of the Law and it related to salvation and as I was saved as a child, I never recalled it being taught quite like that. Thanks so much for clearing up all my confusion. :)

Wade Burleson said...

Aussie John,

Amen, and amen. My point precisely.

Wade Burleson said...


Thanks for your personal testimony, similar to my wife's!

Christ is always sufficient, regardless of one's introduction to, understanding of, or relationship with, the Law. :)

Christiane said...

Our Lord taught differently about 'the Law' that had caused men to become finger pointers, judges, and stone-throwers at those they determined had broken 'the Law'. T

We see this in the account of the woman who was to be stoned having been caught in the act of adultery.

I wish we knew what Our Lord had written in the sand, just before He told the men seeking to stone the adulterous woman ‘Let him who is without sin cast the first stone’

the men were justified in their contempt for the woman according to the Law, and Our Lord did not deny that; . . . when they read what Our Lord had written, not only did they put their stones down, but they walked away sadly . . . some think He wrote what the men themselves had done in the way of sin . . . but we don’t know . . . we just know He helped them, and having helped them understand ‘how it was’, then He helped the woman herself.

Our Lord changes the old equation. He puts things into a different light for us. He offers us a way to become detached from our pride.

Beth Duncan said...

I was just reading what. Anabaptists believe with once saved always saved. They don't believe that; there's one way in which Baptist theology is closer to Reformed than it is Anabaptist!

Christiane said...

As an observer, I have wondered about the origin of the idea that 'total depravity' means we are no longer made in the image of God.

My own faith rejects this concept. And I do know that 'total depravity' is supposed to be connected to Calvinism, but this post's comments have suggested that we are no longer made in the image of God,
and I wondered exactly where that idea had originated. Is it a part of 'total depravity' or does it come from some other doctrine?

Bobby Brown said...

I was saved in 1970 reading the book of Romans in my home. At the time I had very little knowledge of the law and don't remember feeling any condemnation or fear of Hell because of it. I was simply searching for God if in fact there was one. I felt no need for repentance from any particular thing I was doing even though I had plenty to repent of. Again I was simply searching for God. In retrospect I did repent for one thing. At the time I thought if there is a God surely I will be good enough to make it to His heaven. In other words I was looking for salvation through my good works outweighing my bad works. When I saw the good news of the gospel I realized that it was grace rather than works and repented of the works salvation and received the free gift of salvation offered in Christ. When I hear preachers say you must repent and believe to be saved I think they are usually meaning you must give up certain sins. That certainly was not the case in my conversion. I had no single thing I thought I needed to give up to be saved. Of course there was plenty there but it never entered my mind about giving anything up. Once I did receive Christ I gave many things up but even then it was because my heart had already been changed and I did it because I wanted to rather than because I had to.

Victorious said...

Bobby, your conversion sounds very much like my own. Thank you for sharing it!

I truly believe Jesus meets us where we are if we have a sincere heart and are searching.

bowtiebaptist said...

The First London does not contain this language as you point out, but the Second London Confession of 1677 uses article 19 verbatim from the Westminster Confession. While you may disagree with this confession, it remains the case that the prominent Particular Baptists, including William Kiffin,Hercules Collins and Benjamin Keach included this article in the 2nd London and that the 2nd London was far more influential than the 1644 edition.

Curious Thinker said...

I've been reading a lot about law vs grace on a book by Pastor Joseph Prince which I mentioned before. I'm learning more that we don't have to follow the law of Moses to win or earn his love, blessing and forgiveness, we received all these things when Jesus died on the cross for our sins. God blesses and forgive those who embrace and receive him, not by performing any tasks. Despite this I don't believe this is a free pass to abandon the 10 commandants or commit any sin. I just feel that when we receive God's grace we will want to be a glory to him by striving to follow God's will although we will sometimes fail because we are imperfect people living in imperfect world but as long we embrace and receive the Lord our sins will be forgiving and we will be dedicated to always trying to do better and be better with God's help.

Anonymous said...

As a Presbyterian reading this, once I work through a bit of the comments like "infamous" on the Westminster Confession which was significantly drawn on by leaders of the Baptist tradition... I would actually agree with some of your characterization of Presbyterian belief. I'm truly puzzled, however, on where on earth you are pulling the idea that Presbyterians or others in the Reformed tradition regard the church building as a continuation of the temple under the law. Centuries of Presbyterians, Puritans, and Continental Reformed Christians would pretty strongly disagree with that statement, I think.

Mark said...

This is interesting. Rushdoony's theonomy would appear to be an extension of Mosaic law that is within Presbyterianism. Never understood Rushdoony but this explains much. How do they differentiate Law and Grace? Guess I will have to read and compare the two confessions you described.

Wade Burleson said...


Thank you for your comment. I should clarify.

Obviously, Presbyterians understand that the new TEMPLE is the body of believers - I agree I was not clear.

What I meant to say was, "there is continuation/continuity in the 'sacredness' of the Old Covenant Temple to the 'sacredness' of the modern church building."

Of course, theologically, there would be an understanding that believers are the Temple of the Living God.

Wade Burleson said...

Curious Thinker,

I know very little of Joseph Prince. I've heard him preach a once (on the Old Testament Law) and thought he was spot on. I heard him preach on another occasion on the New Testament principle of 'giving' and he seemed to revert to the Old Covenant curse/blessing (100 fold) based upon giving.

It was confusing for me, nevertheless, I may be the one who misunderstood what he was saying in the second message.

Wade Burleson said...


Powerful testimony - an illustration of precisely what I was saying.

dr. james willingham said...

Spurgeon did not go in for the work of the law as preparatory. I think he was right.

Eric Rasmusen said...

"According to the Baptists, and I agree, it is unnecessary to 'preach the Law' before you 'preach Christ' because it is only the good news of Jesus Christ that brings life to dead sinners. :)"

I wonder if there is so much difference, really. The most important idea is that it's necessary for someone to understand that he is a sinner before he can be saved. Did the 17th century English Baptists believe that? I would think so.

Thus, for most people in America today the first necessity is to preach sin---otherwise, they understandably ask why they need a saviour, and what the big deal is. For a minority of people, that's not necessary because they are in gross enough sin---alcoholism, for example, or porn addiction--- that they already feel guilt. Most people, though, need something like the Sermon on the Mount to show them that what they consider peccadillos are sins.

As you say, even without the Law, people knew right from wrong; you don't need revelation to know murder is wrong--- or that selfishness is. Did the Presbyterians really think a person couldn't understand his sin without Deuteronomy, or were they just saying that sin has to be preached, and the Bible is a useful source for making it clear what is sin?

Bobby Brown said...

John Gerstner explains.
The way to God is wide open. There is nothing standing between the sinner and his
God. He has immediate and unimpeded access to the Savior. There is nothing to
hinder. No sin can hold [you] back, because God offers justification to the ungodly.
Nothing now stands between the sinner and God but the sinner’s “good works.”
Nothing can keep him from Christ but his delusion… that he has good works of his
own that can satisfy God… All they need is need. All they need is nothing… But
alas, sinners cannot part with their “virtues.” They have none that are not
imaginary, but they are real to them. So grace becomes unreal. The real grace of
God they spurn in order to hold on to the illusory virtues of their own. Their eyes
fixed on a mirage, they will not drink real water. They die of thirst with water all
about them.
Gerstner again shows that what keeps people from Christ is not their sins, but the
imagined value of their “virtues” and good works. It is not so much refusal to repent of
their sins that damns them, but the refusal to repent of their “righteousness.” Only
when they repent of both sin and righteousness can they be said to have had their
“mouths stopped.” Romans 3:19-20 Timothy Keller

Eric Rasmusen said...

It's true that a major obstacle is that people think their good works more than pay for their sins. The place to start repenting (changing, metanoia) though is with their sins. If they realize that good deeds are worthless, but they don't see their sin, they'll just stop doing good deeds and keep on sinning. The logical order is:
1. I am sinful,
2. Good works can't compensate for sin, and so
3. I need the Cross and God's mercy.

Most people haven't finished step 1 yet. The gross sinner has gotten that far, but can easily get stuck at step 2, either by thinking that if they can stop their obvious sinning they've become sinless, or by thinking that they can make up for their obvious sin by good works.