The Intellectual Origins of the 1644 London Baptist Confession

By Dustin Bruce

During a recent reading of David Bebbington’s Baptists Through the Centuries, his mention of a scholarly dispute regarding the intellectual origins of the 1644 London Baptist Confession peaked my interest.[1]

The difficulty in view focuses on Article XL (on baptism), which states:

The way and manner of the (Mat. 3:16; John 3:23; Acts 8:38) dispensing of this ordinance the Scripture holds out to be dipping or plunging the whole body under water: it being a sign, must answer the thing signified, which are these: first, the (Rev. 1:5; 7:14; Heb. 10:22) washing the whole soul in the blood of Christ; secondly, that interest the saints have in (Rom. 6:3-5) death, burial, and resurrection (of Christ); thirdly, together with a (1 Cor. 15:28, 29) confirmation of out faith, that as certainly as the body is buried under water, and rises again, so certainly shall the bodies of the saints by raised by the power of Christ, in the day of the resurrection, to reign with Christ.[2]

According to Glen Stassen, the Particular Baptist framers of the 1644 Confession are indebted to Anabaptist theologian Menno Simons, especially his Foundation of Christian Doctrine, for the motif of “death, burial, and resurrection” in relation to baptism.[3] Stassen’s claim is significant. If the authors of the early Baptist Confession were drawing heavily from Simons’s work, then an intellectual kinship could be established between the Mennonite Anabaptists and the fountainhead of the Particular Baptist stream. Stanley Nelson, however, counters Stassen’s assertion by proposing a different influence, that of William Ames.[4] Ames’s The Marrow of Theology was a popular work during the first half of the seventeenth-century and the Particular Baptist framers of the Confession were almost assuredly familiar with it.

Upon examining the sources, it is quite evident that Simons uses the motif of “death, burial, and resurrection” in his section on baptism. In his section entitled “Concerning Baptism,” Simons writes:

Behold, this is the word and will of the Lord, that all who hear and believe the word of God, shall be baptized (as above stated), thereby to profess their faith, and declare that they will henceforth not live according to their own will, but according to the will of God. That for the testimony of Jesus they are prepared to forsake their homes, chattels, lands and lives, and to suffer hunger, affliction, oppression, persecution, the cross and death; yea, they desire to bury the flesh with its lusts, and arise with Christ to newness of life, even as Paul says, "Know ye not that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ, were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death; that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life;" Col. 2:1112Rom. 6:34.[5]

However, it is also apparent that such a motif was available in Ames’s Marrow of Theology as well. In his section on “Baptism and the Lord’s Supper,” Ames writes:

Although it seals the whole covenant of grace to all believers, when it is specially made our own, it represents and confirms our very ingrafting into Christ. Rom. 6:3, 5, We have been baptized into Jesus Christ…being planted together with him; 1 Cor. 12:13, We have been baptized into one body.[6]

While Simons clearly makes use of the “death, burial, and resurrection” motif in his section on baptism, this of itself does not suggest an intellectual influence upon the Particular Baptist framers of the 1644 document. The connection between Romans 6:3-5 and baptism was clearly made by Ames in his The Marrow of Theology, which even Stassen recognizes as influential upon the 1644 Confession.

Upon examination of the texts, there is no reason to conclude the authors of the 1644 London Baptist Confession were necessarily drawing from the Anabaptist Simons. The association of the “death, burial, and resurrection” of Christ with baptism was available in Ames’s work. Then again, it could be that the originators of the first Particular Baptist confession were not relying on either work, but thoughtfully reading their Greek New Testament.

[1] David W. Bebbington, Baptists Through the Centuries: A History of a Global People, Waco: Baylor University Press, 2010, pp. 30-31.

[2] The First London Confession of Faith, 1644 Edition, available at

[3] Glen H. Stassen, “Anabaptist Influence in the Origin of Particular Baptists,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 36 (1962): 322-48.

[4] Stanley A. Nelson, “Reflecting on Baptist Origins: The London Confession of Faith of 1644,” Baptist History and Heritage 29 (1994): 34-35.

[5] Menno Simons, A Foundation Plain Instruction of the Saving Doctrine of Our Lord Jesus Christ, 1554, available at

[6] William Ames, A Marrow of Theology, trans. John Dykstra Esuden,Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1997, p. 210.


Dustin Bruce lives in Louisville, KY where he is pursuing a ThM in Church History at Southern Seminary. He is a graduate of Auburn University and Southwestern Seminary. Dustin and his wife, Whitney, originally hail from Alabama.