Founders Journal


Founders Journal · Issue 49 · Summer 2002 · pp. 23-27

The Confessional Convictions of Spencer Cone

Tom J. Nettles

A forthcoming book on Spencer Cone (1785-1855) by John Thornbury, (published jointly by Evangelical Press in England and Founders Press in the United States), uncovers some treasures of Baptist life. Cone, long a prominent figure in Baptist life, served churches in Alexandria, Virginia, Oliver Street Baptist Church in New York, and First Baptist New York. He served as chaplain of the House of Representatives 1815-16. After seven years at Alexandria, he spent eighteen years at the Oliver Street church. The rest of his life he spent at the First Baptist Church. Cathcart states that for many years, Cone "was the most active Baptist minister in the United States, and the most popular clergyman in America." Baptists granted him "every position of honor which his brethren could give him." Before he accepted the call to Oliver Street church he sent them the following abstract of doctrinal beliefs. He wanted to be sure that the church fully adhered to these biblical doctrines, would expect that he would preach and teach with these views in mind, and that they together would prosecute a ministry to the glory of God believing that these items of faith most truly constituted their missionary message.

In view of our anticipated relationship, it becomes me to specify the leading tenets of that ministry which I profess to have received of the Lord Jesus. It is then, brethren, my aim and prayer, through grace divine, inviolably to maintain, and faithfully and affectionately to preach, the following doctrines--viz:

The unity of God; the existence of three equal persons in the Godhead; the just condemnation and total depravity of all mankind by the fall of our first parents; eternal, personal, and unconditional election; the proper and essential deity of the Lord Jesus Christ; the indispensable necessity of His atonement and its special relationship to the sins of His people; justification by the imputed righteousness of Christ alone; effectual calling by the irresistible operation of the Holy Spirit; the perseverance of the saints; believers baptism by immersion only; the Lord's Supper a privilege peculiar to baptized believers regularly received into the fellowship of the church; the resurrection of the body; the general judgment; the everlasting happiness of the saints, and the interminable misery of the finally impenitent; the obligation of every intelligent creature to love God supremely, to believe what God says, and to practise what God commands and the divine inspiration of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, as the infallible rule of faith and practice.

On leaving Oliver Street, Cone moved to the First Baptist Church of New York City. The church had been established in 1745. Cone observed that the theological position of the church remained consistent through the years as confirmed clearly in the first book of records. The separate doctrines enunciated in that record, however, had no discreet scriptural texts set forth prominently. Cone led the church, therefore, to produce a confession with each article numbered and providing biblical texts in support of each article of faith. Cone states that the following articles "were unanimously adopted" in a regular "Church Meeting" on July 28, 1841 and were printed in that year in New York by John Gray.

Article Nine of the Church covenant appended to this confession of faith states: "We agree that it is expedient that all persons who may hereafter propose to unite with us, should give their assent to the Summary of Faith and Practice, and the Articles of this Church Covenant, before their admission."

1. We receive the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as being ALL GIVEN BY INSPIRATION OF GOD; and as containing the only authorized RULE of our faith and practice.
2 Tim. Iii.16. 2 Pet. I.21. Isa. Xxxiv.16. John v. 39. Acts xvii. 11. 1 Pet. Iv. 11. Isa. Viii. 20. Ps. Cxix. 105. Prov. Xiii. 13. John viii. 31.

2. According to these Holy Oracles, we believe that there is ONE, and but ONE LIVING AND TRUE GOD, who subsisteth in THREE EQUAL PERSONS, the FATHER, the SON, and the HOLY SPIRIT.
Deut. Vi. 4. Mark xii. 29. Eph. Iv. 6. 1 Tim. Ii. 5. Exod. Xx. 3-5. Gen. I. 26. Isa. Xlviii. 16. Matt. Xxviii. 19. 1 John v. 7. 2 Cor. Xiii. 14. Heb. I. 3. Isa. Ix. 6. John i. 1. Isa. Xlvi. 9. John x. 30.

3. That God is clearly revealed, as to his BEING and PERFECTIONS, both by HIS WORKS and in HIS WORD; yet, that with respect to his essence, mode of Existence, and manner of operation, He is incomprehensible to all but himself.
Rom i. 20. Ps. Xix. 1-3. Job xi. 7-9. Isa xl. 28. Isa xlv. 15.

4. That God alone created the heavens and the Earth, with all their inhabitants and appurtenances, whether visible or invisible.
Ps. Xxxiii. 6-9. Gen. I. 1. Acts xvii. 24-26. Gen. Ii. 1. Ps. Viii. 3. Ps. Civ. 24. John i.3. Col. I. 16.

5. That God made man upright, and able to keep the Law under which He placed him; but that man, being left to the freedom of is own will, transgressed that Law, and thereby fell into a state of moral depravity and legal condemnation.
Gen. I. 26. Eccl. Vii. 29. Gen i. 31. Ps. Viii. 5. Gen. V. 1. Gen. Iii. 7. Isa. I.5. Ps. Xiv. 3. John iii. 18. Rom. V. 12. 18. Isa. Xliii. 27. Rom. I. 28-32.

6. That the first man, Adam, was constituted, by divine appointment, a public head and representative of all his posterity; and consequently when he fell, they all fell with him into the same condition.
Rom. V. 14. 12. 19. 1 Cor. Xv. 22, 48, 49. Gen. V. 3. Job xiv. 4.

7. That all mankind, by nature, are totally and universally depraved, and therefore without either ability or inclination to return to God, or to render perfect obedience to his moral requirements.
Ps. Liii. 3. Rom. Iii. 9-20. Prov. Xx. 9. Josh. Xxiv. 19. Jer. Xiii.23. John v. 40. Jer. Ii. 22. John vi. 44. 65. Eph ii. 3.

8. That notwithstanding these deplorable facts, whereras Adam, by his own personal transgression, lost his ability to keep the Law under which he was; and whereas the disability, as well as the disinclination of his posterity to keep this Law, arises from their personal depravity; it evidently follows, that their obligations to render a perfect obedience to all God's commandments, remain undiminished; and consequently that the penal curse threatened against every delinquent is strictly righteous.
Gen. Iii. 16, 17. Job xxi. 14. Gen. Vi. 5. Deut. Vi. 5. Luke x. 25-28. Gal. Iii. 10. Rom. Ii. 2-15.

9. We believe in the indispensable necessity of the ATONEMENT OF CHRIST, and its special relationship to the sins of his people.
Luke xxiv. 26. Rom. Viii. 3. Isa. Liii. 10, 11. Lev. Xvi. 30. Heb. Ix. 22. Matt. I. 21. John x. 11. Heb. X. 10. 1 Pet. 1. 18, 19. Luke i. 68. Rev. v. 9. Eph. I. 7. Rev. xiv. 4. Tit. Ii. 14. Rev. vii. 14-17. Isa. Li. 11. 1Cor. I. 30. Gal. I. 4. 1 Cor. Xv. 3.

10. That God, in pardoning and justifying any of the fallen race of mankind, has no respect to any supposed good works to be done by them, either before or after regeneration; but alone to the obedience and sacrifice of Christ, which God the Father, by an act of his mere grace, imputes to all that believe, as the only meritorious cause of their pardon and justification.
Ex. Xxxvi. 31, 32. Luke xvii. 10. Rom. Iii. 9-28. Iv. 4-8, 16, 23-25. Eph. Ii. 1-10. Isa. Xliii. 25. Jer. Xxxiii. 6. Rom. Iii.21-28. Iv. 3-6. 23-25. V. 19-21. Acts xiii. 39. Xviii. 27.

11. That no works performed by any, prior to their regeneration and faith in Christ, are spiritually good; yet morality and benevolence are to be enjoined on all, as required by the Law of God, and as useful in society; and that believers especially are to be careful to maintain good works, as the fruits and evidences of their gracious state; as the means of their usefulness in the church and in the world; and by which they show forth the praises of Him who hath called them out of darkness into his marvellous light.
Rom. Viii. 7, 8. Heb. Xi. 6. Isa. I. 16, 17. Ez. Ii. 3-5. Luke x. 27. Eph. Ii. 10. Titus ii. 11-14. Iii. 8. Philemon 5-7. Matt. Vii. 16. Gal. Vi. 10. Heb. Xiii. 16. 1 Pet. Ii. 9. Matt. V. 16.

12. That the Gospel of the grace of God, revealing his method of saving lost sinners, through the incarnation, obedience, and death of Christ, is to be preached to mankind in common; but that regeneration, and therefore repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ, which are essential not only to salvation but to the performance of his acceptable service; as also every requisite to secure perseverance in grace to glory, (which is certain of all the regenerate;--are sovereignly bestowed according to God's eternal and personal election of his people in Christ, through whom He gives his Holy Spirit to them, for their effectual calling, sanctification, and preservation unto eternal life.
Acts xx. 24. 2 Tim. I. 10. 2 Cor. Iv. 6. Gen. Iii. 15. Isa. Vii. 14. Matt. I. 21. V. 17. 1 Pet. Iii. 18. Matt. Xxviii. 19. Mark xvi. 15. Luke xxiv. 47. Col. I. 28. Acts. Xxi. 21. Xxvi. 18. Rom. V. 1. Heb. Xi. 6. Rom viii. 8, 17, 30. John x. 217l-29. Acts xiii. 48. Eph. I. 3, 4. 1 Thes. V. 9. 2 Tim. I. 9. Tit. Iii. 5-7. Eph. Iv. 30. Rom. Viii. 11.

13. That although the Holy Spirit as to his testimony in the Scriptures and in the ministry of the word, is constantly resisted by the unregenerate, as He was by the Jews as to his testimony by the prophets and apostles; yet, that in his regenerating operations He is always invincible and infallible.
Acts vii. 51. Neh. Ix. 30. Zech. Vii. 11. Eph. Ii. 1, 4, 5. Philip. I. 6. Rom. Viii. 14. 2 Cor. Iii. 17.

14. Moreover, in regard to the future state, we believe that according to the Scriptures there will be a personal resurrection both of the just and unjust; and that besides an individual judgment that passes upon every soul on its separation from the body, there will be a general judgment, when an eternal separation will be made between the righteous and the wicked;--the righteous being received to everlasting happiness, and the wicked being consigned to everlasting misery.
Dan. Xii. 1-3. John v. 28, 29. Acts xxiv. 15. Luke xvi. 22, 23. Xxiii. 43. Heb. Ix. 27. Acts xvii. 31. Rom. Xiv. 10. 2 Cor. V. 10. Rev. xx. 11-15. Matt. Xxv. 31-46. 2 Thess. I. 6-10. 1 Cor. Xv. 4, 16, 20, 49. Luke xxiii. 43.

15. Nor would we presume to form our views of the church and ordinances of Christ by any other light than that of the same inspired oracles: and judging by these infallible records, we believe that the kingdom of Christ is not of this world; that the gospel church, therefore, is neither national nor parochial, and that none belong to her by virtue of their natural descent from her members. A visible Gospel Church should consist of such persons only as make a credible profession of faith in Christ, receive his gospel and obey his precepts.
John xviiii. 36. Isa. Liv. 5, 13. Eph. V. 32. Isa. Lix. 21. Acts ii. 47. 1 Cor. I. 1, 2. Col. Iv. 15. Acts ix. 31.

16. We believe that every gospel church, regularly constituted, is a society independent of every other ecclesiastical body; having a scriptural authority and directory to govern itself; to choose and remove its own officers, and to discipline its own members.
Matt. Xviii. 15-17. Rom. Xiv. 1. 1 Cor. V. 11-13. Acts vi. 3-5. 1 John iv. 1. Acts xiv. 23.

17. That the only Officers belonging to organized gospel churches, are Bishops and Deacons.
Philip. I. 1. 1 Tim. Iii. 1-13. Acts xiv. 23. Xx. 17, 28.

18. The only symbolic ordinances appertaining to the gospel dispensation, are Baptism and the Lord's Supper: that nothing is a scriptural administration of baptism, but a total immersion of the subject in water, in the Name of the Holy Trinity, by a man duly authorized to administer gospel ordinances. We also believe that subjection to baptism is prerequisite to admission into a visible church, and therefore, to partaking of the Lord's Supper; which is to be received only by members of a visible church, and by them only when come together in a church capacity.
Matt. Xxviii. 19, 20. Acts ii. 41, 42. Matt. Xxvi. 26-28. 1 Cor. Xi. 33, 34. Acts xx. 7.

19. We believe that the first day of the week is emphatically the LORD'S DAY; and that it becometh us, laying aside ordinary labour and recreation, to hail every return of this day with Christian gladness, and to spend the hours of it in such devotional exercises, private, domestic, and public, as God may afford us opportunity and ability to perform; excepting only such works of necessity and mercy as the events of Providence may dictate or require.
Heb. Iv. 3, 9. Col. Ii. 16, 17. John xx. 19-26. Rev. i. 10. Acts xx. 7. 1 Cor. Xvi.2.

20. We believe, moreover, that the singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, is divinely enjoined, and when religiously performed is well pleasing to God. And though we are assured that none but the regenerate sing with the spirit and with the understanding, we nevertheless believe that mankind in common, as they are constantly receiving various mercies and blessings from God, are bound to celebrate his praise; and, therefore, that they should be allowed and encouraged to join in this part of public worship.
Eph. V. 19. Col. Iii. 16. Heb. Xiii. 15, 16. 1 Cor. Xiv. 15. Ps. Xxiv. 1, 2. Ps. Cvii. 8, 21, 31. Acts. Xvii. 24-29. Rom. I. 20, 21. Ps. Cxlv. 4, 10.

Spencer Cone and the churches he served understood the stewardship given them by God to involve a mutual confession of truth. Their lives together as God's people and their witness to the world received definition by these confessions and served to bring unity and clear purpose. Far from being a fetter and intruding on Christian freedom, the confession was seen as an instrument to be used for His honor and glory in promoting the freedom that Christ gave them.