The Making Of The Westminster Larger Catechism -- By: Chad B. Van Dixhoorn

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 10:2 (Spring 2001)
Article: The Making Of The Westminster Larger Catechism
Author: Chad B. Van Dixhoorn

The Making Of The Westminster Larger Catechism

Chad B. Van Dixhoorn

The Westminster Shorter Catechism is one of the most loved and well-used of all the Catechisms of the Reformation, and the most famous document of the assembly that met in Westminster Abbey from 1643–1649.1 The Westminster Confession of Faith, in its original and altered forms, became “by far the most influential doctrinal symbol in American Protestant history.”2 The Westminster Larger Catechism, by contrast, is neither loved, often used, or influential.

The Larger Catechism has long been neglected by Presbyterians and by evangelicals at large. One measure of indifference to the Larger Catechism can be found in a comparison of commentaries. Two dozen or more commentaries or study guides have been written on the Shorter Catechism over the past 350 years, and without any trouble I have collected seven commentaries written on the Confession of Faith. Yet only one person, Thomas Ridgley, has penned a commentary on the Larger Catechism—and that was in the early 1730s.3 Many of the commentaries on the Shorter Catechism and the Confession are still in print; Ridgley’s work has not been reprinted since 1855. Perhaps this indicates that everyone finds the Larger Catechism easy to understand; more likely, it indicates that the Catechism is rarely used.

Closer to home, another index of the relative unpopularity of the Larger Catechism among conservative Presbyterians may be its absence from their hymnals. The Larger Catechism, so far as I can see, has never been printed in a major

Presbyterian Hymnal, while both the Confession and Shorter Catechism are regularly included. And G. I Williamson, a minister of my own Presbyterian communion, wrote helpful studies on the Shorter Catechism and the Confession but has not (yet) graced the Larger Catechism with a study guide. Things are little different in evangelical living rooms: many families have memorized part of the Shorter Catechism, and some have taken forays into the Confession, but only rare individuals memorize or even read the Larger Catechism.

The main purpose of this article is to trace the history and outline the theology of the Larger Catechism. In addition, because the Larger Catechism deserves further use in homes and churches, this article also aims to function as a belated public relations effort for ...

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