The text for the First London Baptist Confession of Faith (1646) conforms to that published by Backus Book Publishers, PO Box 17274, Rochester, NY, 14617 (1981). The basic text of the Confession being taken from Crosby's History of the English Baptists, Volume I, Appendix II and that of the Appendix from a copy of the original on microfilm held in Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas. I believe the text of the Confession and the Appendix by Benjamin Cox, to be in the public domain and although the publishers did make some editorial changes and clarifications, no copyright notice appears in the 1981 published text.
The 1646 text is generally considered the Second edition of the First London Baptist Confession of Faith, the first edition being composed in 1644.
A number of writers, including, Dr. Gary Long (in the writing of the preface to the edition from which the text is taken) and William Lumpkin who wrote a work on Baptist Confessions of Faith, have made a point of drawing a sharp distinction between the First and Second London Baptist confessions of faith. It has been suggested that the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (1677/89) places a stress upon the Mosaic decologue (the Ten Commandments) as a rule of life for a believer. This, it is suggested, is derived from the Second London Baptists Confession's close adherance to the text of the Westminster Confession. Alternatively, the First London Baptist Confession of Faith (1644/46) extolled as having a distinctive New Covenant emphasis concerning biblical law.
It is interesting to note however, that the distinction suggested by these writers avoided those who penned the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith itself. In fact they go to great lengths to explain why the format of the 1677/89 was chosen. The following (lengthy quotation) is taken from the address to the reader of the 1677 Second London Baptist Confession:
It is now many years since divers of us (with other sober Christians then living and walking in the way of the Lord that we professe) did conceive our selves to be under a necessity of Publishing a Confession of our Faith.... and this was first put forth about the year, 1643. in the name of seven Congregations then gathered in London; since which time, diverse impressions thereof have been dispersed abroad, and our end proposed, in good measure answered, inasmuch as many (and some of those men eminent, both for piety and learning) were thereby satisfied, that we were no way guilty of those Heterodoxies and fundamental errors, which had too frequently been charged upon us without ground, or occasion given on our part. And forasmuch, as that Confession is not now commonly to be had; and also that many others have since embraced the same truth which is owned therein; it was judged necessary by us to joyn together in giving a testimony to the world; of our firm adhering to those wholesome Principles, by the publication of this which is now in your hand.
And forasmuch as our method, and manner of expressing our sentiments, in this, doth vary from the former (although the substance of the matter is the same) we shall freely impart to you the reason and occasion thereof. One thing that greatly prevailed with us to undertake this work, was (not only to give a full account of our selves, to those Christians that differ from us about the subject of Baptism, but also) the profit that might from thence arise, unto those that have any account of our labors, in their instruction, and establishment in the great truths of the Gospel; in the clear understanding, and steady belief of which, our comfortable walking with God, and fruitfulness before him, in all our ways, is most neerly concerned; and therefore we did conclude it necessary to expresse our selves the more fully, and distinctly; and also to fix on such a method as might be most comprehensive of those things which we designed to explain our sense, and belief of; and finding no defect, in this regard, in that fixed on by the assembly, and after them by those of the Congregational way, we did readily conclude it best to retain the same order in our present confession: and also, when we observed that those last mentioned, did in their confession (for reasons which seemed of weight both to themselves and others) choose not only to express their mind in words concurrent with the former in sense, concerning all those articles wherein they were agreed, but also for the most part without any variation of the terms we did in like manner conclude it best to follow their example in making use of the very same words with them both, in these articles (which are very many) wherein our faith and doctrine is the same with theirs, and this we did, the more abundantly, to manifest our consent with both, in all the fundamental articles of the Christian Religion, as also with many others, whose orthodox confessions have been published to the world; on behalf of the Protestants in divers Nations and Cities: and also to convince all, that we have no itch to clogge Religion with new words, but do readily acquiesce in that form of sound words, which hath been, in consent with the holy Scriptures, used by others before us; hereby declaring before God, Angels, & Men, our hearty agreement with them, in that wholesome Protestant Doctrine, which with so clear evidence of Scriptures they have asserted: some things indeed, are in some places added, some terms omitted, and some few changed, but these alterations are of that nature, as that we need not doubt, any charge or suspition of unsoundness in the faith, from any of our brethren upon the account of them.
So you can see from the above quote the writers of the 1677/89 Confession saw no theological discontinuity between the Confession penned by them and that penned (as they say) from 1643. The real reason for using the format and even words of the Westminster Confession and Savoy Declaration was to show Christian unity and oneness of doctrine among the dissenters. In their own word they didn't want to "clogg religion" with new words, believing that the "assembly" (Westminster Assembly) had declared the Truth most fully and faithfully "explain(ed) our sense, and belief," so there was no necessity to anything else but "the very same words". We have many of the same congregations, the same ministers & pastors, the same beliefs, just a different form of words.
In a later work I will endeavour to compare the text of the First and Second London Baptist Confessions of Faith to demonstrate their unity and harmony.
It appears that more recent writers would desire to "clogge religion" with words and make a divide between brethren that our forefathers were taking pains to avoid. I believe that we need to take the churches and their leaders at their word and not seek to read into history and the text what it was never meant. I pray that more christians would have as much in common in their beliefs as these two confessions have. If this were so there would a great deal less division and more harmony in the church of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The First London Baptist Confession of Faith. (c) M.T. Smith 2001-2008