We believe in the Holy Spirit:
A Confessional Overview

This series explores the doctrine of the Holy Spirit in the 2nd London Confession of Faith. 

Part 1

It has been claimed that the Reformed Confessions have a defective view of the Spirit. You might have wondered why the Second London Confession of Faith does not have a chapter on the Holy Spirit? Did our forefathers forget the person and work of the Spirit? Is the Confession defective and in need of a new chapter of the Holy Spirit? [1] 

The first thing to note is that while the Confession of Faith does not have a chapter specifically on the Holy Spirit, it is a thoroughly trinitarian document grounded in the creeds and councils of the church. The Holy Spirit is mentioned in 2.1 of God and the Holy Trinity. He is fully divine, “proceeding from the Father and the Son; all infinite, without beginning, therefore but one God.” Following the Nicene Fathers, the Confession holds that the Holy Spirit is of the same essence with the Father and Son as God, true God. The Holy Spirit is one who eternally proceeds from the Father and Son. [2] Chapters 1 and 2 of the Confession on the word of God and God’s being and nature govern the chapters that come next. Reading through the Confession, we do not leave behind those early chapters.

The second thing to recognise is that the doctrine of the triune nature of God and the divine persons is, as John Webster put it, a ‘distributed doctrine’. Webster wrote,

The first (both in sequence and in material primacy) distributed doctrine is the doctrine of the Trinity, of which all other articles of Christian teaching are an amplification or application, and which therefore permeates theological affirmations about every matter; theology talks about everything by talking about God.” [3] 

All doctrines touch on the Trinity, which shapes all other doctrines. This point is reflected in the confessions of the 17th century. The 1689 confesses the Holy Spirit throughout in relation to subsequent doctrines. Thus, there is not just one chapter on the Spirit. As B.B. Warfield said of the Westminster confession as he traced the Spirit’s work from chapter 8 to 19 in the covenant of grace, “there is nine.” [4] In fact, there are only seven chapters in the Second London Confession that do not explicitly mention the Holy Spirit. [5] 

The doctrine of the Holy Spirit is distributed throughout the Confession as the work of the triune God. It describes it in relation to key points of doctrine. Therefore, to illustrate how the Confession articulates the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, in a short series of blogs, we will dip into the Second London Confession’s handling of the person and work of the Spirit. Three topics to consider will be the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, the Holy Spirit and the mediation of Christ and the Holy Spirit and the application of redemption.

Next month we will look at what the Confession tells us about the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.

[1] J.V. Fesko, The Spirit of the Age: The 19th Century Debate Over the Holy Spirit and the Westminster Question. Fesko asks this question in light of the Presbyterians in America revising the WCF by adding a chapter on the Holy Spirit in 1903. 

[2] The Filioque clause, “and the Son,” was first added to the Nicene Creed in 447. 

[3] J. B. Webster, God Without Measure: Working Papers in Christian Theology, vol. I, God and the Works of God (London, 2016), 117.

[4] B.B. Warfield, quoted from Fesko, The Spirit of the Age, 32.

[5] Chapters 5,6 ,9, 23, 24, 25, and 28. 

Brett Shaw

Brett Shaw

Working with Trinity Grace Church in Greater Manchester to help revitalise a reformed Baptist church in Glossop, England and the establishment of a new association.