Over the last two decades, Baptists have witnessed an increase in the number of pastors and churches who subscribe to the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (2LBC), commonly known as the 1689. Yet, in observing the renaissance of the 2LBC, some subscribers have taken exceptions to the text. Most adherents to the 2LBC deny a statement in Chapter 26, Paragraph 4 that the Pope is the Antichrist. Others take exception to the teaching on “elect infants” in Chapter 10, Paragraph 3. These minor differences, however, do not compare to the most substantial exception found in church doctrinal statements—the denial of the Christian Sabbath. By jettisoning this teaching, these believers reject a particular doctrine that is grounded in the three-fold view of the law of God taught in Chapter 19, while holding to a general adherence to the 2LBC.
Another famous Baptist who held to the 2LBC is Charles Spurgeon. In 1855, he had the confession reprinted, and he commended its teaching to Christians in general and to members of his church. Moreover, when laying the cornerstone of The Metropolitan Tabernacle, the church placed a Bible, Rippon’s hymnal, and the 2LBC in it as a time capsule. Considering Spurgeon’s high esteem for this confession, did he only confess it in general while taking exceptions, or did he adhere to the 2LBC in particular? To find out, we will use Chapter 22, Paragraphs 7-8 on the Christian Sabbath as a test case. Did Spurgeon agree with its teaching?
As it is of the Law of nature, that in general a proportion of time by Gods appointment, be set apart for the Worship of God; so by his Word, in a positive moral, and perpetual commandment, binding all men, in all Ages, he hath particularly appointed one day in seven for a Sabbath to be kept holy unto him, which from the beginning of the World to the Resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week; and from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week which is called the Lords day; and is to be continued to the end of the World as the Christian Sabbath; the observation of the last day of the week being abolished.
First, Spurgeon concurred with the 2LBC that God established this day of rest as a creation ordinance. In his exposition on Exodus 16:23, Spurgeon noted the observance of the Sabbath even though God did not write the fourth commandment on the tablets until Exodus 20. He argued, “that its foundation lay deeper and earlier than the promulgation of the Ten Commandments; it is bound up with the essential arrangement of time since the creation.”
Second, in Spurgeon’s eyes, to break the Sabbath even in the New Covenant era would be sin. Spurgeon accused anyone who robbed God of His day as being ungrateful and greedy. He explained: “God’s day is dishonored by those who are not thankful to him. God has, in great mercy, given us a day, one day in seven, wherein to rest, and to think of holy things. There were seven days that God had in the week. He said, ‘Take six, and use them in your business.’ No, we must have the seventh as well.”
Third, Spurgeon agreed with the 2LBC that Jesus’ empty tomb on Resurrection Sunday reordered the calendar by moving the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday. He noted, “The first day of the week commemorates the resurrection of Christ, and following apostolical example, we have made the first day of the week to be our Sabbath.” Thus, the Sabbath commandment remains, but Christians observe it on a new day.
Having established Spurgeon’s alignment with the 2LBC’s teaching on the continuation of the Sabbath commandment for Christians, now we turn to Paragraph 22.8. Did Spurgeon agree with the confession’s teaching on how the Christian Sabbath should be observed?
The Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering their common affairs aforehand, do not only observe an holy rest all the day, from their own works, words, and thoughts, about their worldly employment, and recreations, but also are taken up the whole time in the publick [sic] and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.
Did Spurgeon teach that men should prepare their hearts before the Sabbath? Yes, Spurgeon believed in this necessity, because the world’s sin pollutes worshipers. He wrote, “After travelling so miry a road as that which runs through this foul world, can we come unto God without shaking the dust from off our feet? Can we be busy with earthly cares all the six days of the week and be ready for the holy Sabbath without a thought?”
Did Spurgeon rebuke businesses for being open on Sunday? Absolutely! For him, a business owner could only be repentant of his sins if he closed for the Christian Sabbath. Playing the part of a Christian businessman in his sermon, Spurgeon said, “Sunday is the best day in my particular line of business, but that does not matter to me. My mind is made up to serve the Lord; and whatever it costs, will make no difference to me.”
Did Spurgeon agree with the 2LBC’s take on amusements? He did. When describing the residents of England who forsook going to church to have fun, he stated, “Tens of thousands of them do not even hear it [the Word of God].” Instead, “They look upon the Sabbath as a day of amusement, and to religious exercises as a slavery.”
Did Spurgeon also have a strict view of worldly talk? Yes! While commenting on Luke 24:16-17 when the resurrected Christ walks with the two men on the road to Emmaus, Spurgeon admitted, “It is not always that all Sunday talk is Sabbath talk—not always that we converse as we should upon the things of God. We are, many of us, blameworthy here.”
Did the Prince of Preachers embrace the prohibition of worldly thoughts? Absolutely! In one sermon, he addressed businessmen. Rather than using the Sabbath to meditate on God, “You have been making calculations in the pew this morning; you have been worrying yourself about interest and discount, and mortgage and commission. The stockbroker’s din and the rate collector’s knock have sounded in your ears.”
Finally, did Spurgeon adhere to the confession’s teaching on the works of piety, necessity, and mercy? He did. In his last book before his death, The Gospel of the Kingdom, he utilized these categories as he commented on Matthew 12:1-14. Speaking of Jesus, Spurgeon wrote, “From his example and teaching we learn that the Sabbath is not profaned by works of necessity, piety, or mercy.” As the example par excellence, Jesus did not remain inactive on the Sabbath. Instead, He worked. In the same way, Spurgeon exhorted his hearers to do works of piety—worship at church, Bible reading, street evangelism, teaching Sunday school, and family devotions. Also, he did not condemn employees who had to perform necessary work on the Lord’s Day, because Jesus did not condemn them either. Regarding works of mercy, one could never justify neglecting to do good to his neighbor by appealing to the fourth commandment in Spurgeon’s mind, because Jesus healed on the Sabbath too. Hence, he adopted the 2LBC’s three-part principle of elasticity for determining if an activity was permissible on Sunday.
Consequently, Spurgeon instructed his hearers in the particularities of the Christian Sabbath as described in the 2LBC. He, however, also held to the spirit of the confession. When the representatives of the Particular Baptist churches met in London in 1689, they lamented over their churches’ disobedience to the Sabbath commandment. “We find cause to mourn that the Lord’s Day is no more religiously and carefully observed, both in a constant attendance on the Word of God in that Church to whom Members do belong, and when the publick Worship is over, by a waiting on the Lord in Family-duties, and private Devotion.” At the meeting, the representatives debated whether the Bible instructed Christians to keep the Sabbath as delineated in the 2LBC and voted to affirm it.
Spurgeon, therefore, held to the letter and to the spirit of the 2LBC regarding its teaching on the Christian Sabbath. He did not only hold to the confession in general but also in particular on this point. Given the controversy surrounding these two paragraphs, it would suggest that Spurgeon did not differ in any point of major doctrine in the confession.
For those Baptists who hold to the 2LBC today, Spurgeon’s subscription to the confession deserves consideration. Since he did not take an exception to the Christian Sabbath and emphasized keeping the day holy in his preaching, confessional Baptists cannot claim to be walking in his footsteps if they dismiss the Sabbath. To be a confessional Baptist like Spurgeon requires subscription to the fourth commandment as a perpetual, moral law. Without holding to this doctrine, Spurgeon would consider that Baptist to be a doctrinal antinomian.
Brandon Rhea is a pastor, Ph.D. student in Historical Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, and an ACBC certified Biblical counselor. He met his wife, Karise, while doing pulpit supply in 2013-14. In April 2016, he accepted the call to pastor at Faith Baptist Church in Kirksville, Missouri. He loves history and has a heart for street preaching and evangelism.