On today’s episode, Dr. Stephen Nichols discusses the mysterious origin and the doctrinal content of the Baptist Confession of 1693.
There’s a delightful set of texts called the Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation. It is in four volumes, and the very last document it includes is the Baptist Catechism of 1693. This was a few generations after Luther; the Reformation at this point was firmly established. We have the Lutherans, we have the Reformed church, we have the Presbyterians, and, as this catechism attests, we have the Baptists.
In this edition of the Baptist Catechism, there is a brief introduction, the first line of which is this: “Mystery surrounds the origin of this catechism.” That’s a great line. The mystery is this: there is no first edition. It does not exist. There is a general scholarly consensus that the catechism was first published in 1693, but the oldest copy comes to us from 1695. Second, there is mystery surrounding the author. This catechism was called, at one point, Keach’s Catechism. That title refers to a man named Benjamin Keach, who lived from 1640 to 1704. But another writer is believed to have participated in drafting this catechism, and, perhaps, he was the main author of it. His name was William Collins; he died in 1702. So, it’s a little tricky to figure out exactly where this catechism came from and exactly who wrote it.
This catechism starts off with doctrine questions. It has about forty-three questions that get right at the heads of doctrine, and then it turns to our duty and walks through the Ten Commandments. That raises the question, “Who can keep the law?,” which causes the catechism to discuss some more doctrine, including the doctrine of salvation. It ends, as many catechisms do, by looking at the Lord’s Prayer and the spiritual discipline of prayer.
Let’s take a look at the first few questions and answers from the Baptist Catechism. The first question is, “Who is the first and chiefest being?” and the answer is, “God is the first and chiefest being.” It’s interesting to see where the great catechisms of the church begin. The Heidelberg Catechism begins, “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” So, it looks at salvation and what it means for us and how it fills our hearts with gratitude. The Westminster Shorter Catechism’s famous first question and answer are, “What is the chief end of man?” and “The chief end of man is to glorify God, and enjoy him forever.” And the Baptist Catechism of 1693 starts with God, asking, “Who is the first and chiefest being?”
The second question is, “Ought everyone to believe that there is a God?” And the answer is this: “Everyone ought to believe there is a God and it is their great sin and folly who do not.” So, there’s our obligation: this great, chief being is God and our obligation is to believe that He is.
So, this raises a question, and that’s question three: “How may we know there is a God?” This is the answer: “The light of nature in man, and the works of God, plainly declare there is a God; but His Word and Spirit only, do it fully and effectually for the salvation of sinners.” So, that God exists is known through the light of nature, through the world that God made; it’s a testimony to His presence, a testimony to His existence. But He is known fully and effectually through the Word and through His ministry of the Spirit, and that is the knowledge that leads to salvation.
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