A couple of years ago, Mike Gaydosh and I worked together to reprint Benjamin Beddome’s A Scriptural Exposition of the Baptist Catechism. It is a very useful doctrinal and practical tool. This is the introduction I wrote for that book.
Introduction by James M. Renihan, Ph.D.
At the 1693 London General Assembly of Particular Baptist churches of England and Wales the following was among the matters decided: ‘That a Catechism be drawn up, containing the substance of the Christian religion, for the instruction of children and servants, and that brother William Collins be desired to draw it up.’Collins, a pastor of the Petty France church in London, seems to have quickly completed his task for by 1695 the fifth edition of A Brief Instruction in the Principles of Christian Religion: Agreeable to the Confession of Faith, put forth by the Elders and Brethren of many Congregations of Christians, (baptized upon Profession of their Faith) in London and the Country; owning the Doctrine of Personal Election, and Final Perseverance had been published.
On the title page, this ‘Advertisement to the reader‘ is found:
Having a desire to shew our near Agreement with many other Christians, of whom we have great Esteem; we some Years since put forth a Confession of our Faith, almost in all Points the same with the Assembly, and Savoy, which was subscribed by the Elders and Messengers of many Churches baptized on profession of their Faith; and do now put forth a short Account of Christian Principles, for the Instruction of our Families, in most things agreeing with the Shorter Catechism of the Assembly. And this we were the rather induced to, because we have commonly made use of that Catechism in our Families: And the Difference being not much, it will be more easily committed to Memory.
In 1677, the Baptist churches published a Confession demonstrating their commitment to Reformed theology based on the great confessions of the Presbyterians and Congregationalists. This allowed them to assert their close agreement with their fellow dissenting and persecuted brethren. Now in response to the request of the General Assembly, Collins published (anonymously) a catechism employing the same methodology. The well-known and highly esteemed Westminster Shorter Catechism served as the familiar basis for the Baptist work.
In his Preface, Benjamin Beddome indicates that similar circumstances led to the production of his Exposition. A perceived need, combined with appeals from many others based on their high esteem for his wisdom and abilities moved Beddome to take up this work. He desired to help remedy at least two needs. On the one hand, there was the lack of an exposition suited to Baptist doctrine and polity. Many useful Paedobaptist works were readily available, but there was nothing to reflect specifically Baptist views. On the other hand, knowledge of the truth, and the godliness that attends it, were at low ebb in many of the Baptist churches. Beddome knew that if fathers were supplied with a concise resource to assist them in instructing their families in the truth, the cause of the gospel among the churches would be greatly strengthened. As you read through his Exposition, you will see just how successful he was. Beddome’s tool is just as useful for the 21st century as it was for his own.
The Baptist Catechism is, as we have said, based on the familiar Westminster Shorter Catechism. Certainly there have been revisions, especially at the beginning and in the questions on the sacraments, but in the main the structure and contents are identical. Beginning with several foundational and introductory questions about God, Man and the Scriptures, the Catechism proceeds to question six “What things are chiefly contained in the Holy Scriptures?,” and the answer provides the structure for most of the rest of the document: “The Holy Scriptures chiefly contain what man ought to believe concerning God, and what duty God requireth of man.” Questions 7 through 43 tell us what we are to believe about God, and questions 44-114 describe the duty that God requires of man. In this way, the Catechism provides a very helpful and simple summary of these two great matters. The one who masters the content of each part will be a wise and practical Christian!
Beddome’s Exposition is really very simple. His goal is to bring the reader to an understanding of the truth of each question and answer by means of thorough exposure to the Scriptures. As each question is presented, Benjamin contemplates a wide variety of related issues, addressing each one by way of further question and answer, and supported by a wide range of references to the text of the Bible. In reality, his Exposition is more a simple summary of the teaching of the Word of God than anything else. The Catechism, as a document faithful to Scripture, is merely the vehicle by which the reader is presented with the abundant resources of the Holy Book. Beddome has collated a wide variety of texts in support of the doctrine presented in each question and answer.
While his exposition is simple, it is also profound. It is a distillation of the Word of Life. The reader will, over and over again, marvel and worship at the profundity of Christian Doctrine. Its beauty and majesty, its internal coherence, its heavenly nature are repeatedly evident throughout this work. Though the stated purpose of the Exposition is to assist those who are uninstructed, even those who are advanced in the faith will profit from meditation on its sublime themes. If we are to learn about the things of God, and our duty to him, how can we possibly think that these truths are anything but deep? Not everyone will agree with all of his citations. There are times when Beddome uses texts in ways that we night not-but these are few and far between. None of us would agree with every citation we find in any book. If you disagree with his use of a particular text, work hard to find another more suitable text to support the doctrine expounded. Whenever this book sends you back to the Scripture, give thanks to God for another useful benefit to your soul-and to others. You will rejoice as you traverse the broad expanse of the Bible with Benjamin Beddome as your guide. I am sure that you will be thrilled at how this book brings you to know Scripture better.
Fathers and Teachers who use this material will do well to emphasize two things-its structure, and the Scripture upon which it is based. This is really the genius of Beddome’s work. After carefully working through all of his information, one is able to see that the system of doctrine so carefully unfolded in the Catechism is indeed the same as that found in the Word of God. In this way, as the learner grows in understanding of who God is, and what He requires of us, he will be convinced that he is indeed fulfilling the mandate of Scripture.
It really is a great pleasure to see this important work brought back into print. In Christian homes in England and America it has been of enormous usefulness. Our prayer is that it will again be recognized for its great profitability, and serve the cause of the same Lord Jesus loved by William Collins, Benjamin Beddome, and the host of those who have loved our Savior before. May His Name be praised forever!
Since the 1695 edition was the ‘fifth,‘ it is obvious that earlier editions had been published. I have not, however, been able to find any bibliographic evidence for them beyond this mention. It is also important to note that this Catechism is sometimes popularly known as Keach’s Catechism. The reason for this is unclear, though it is probable that Benjamin Keach played some part, perhaps in revising the Catechism done by Collins. Certainly, Keach’s name was more recognizable than his colleague in London. When one compares later editions of the Catechism, minor differences-perhaps revisions-are evident. Beddome makes no mention of the name of an author.