Wilson's Notes on Ridgley's Body of Divinity

(If the author links in this post are broken, please visit our Free PDF Library and click on the author’s page directly.)

The first commentary on the Westminster Larger Catechism was published by the English Independent minister Thomas Ridgley (1667-1734) under the title A Body of Divinity: Wherein the Doctrines of the Christian Religion are Explained and Defended: Being the Substance of Several Lectures on the Assembly's Larger Catechism (1731-1733) in two volumes. There are comparatively few expositions of the Larger Catechism as opposed to the many that have been published regarding the Shorter Catechism, and Ridgley’s is very comprehensive.

The first American edition of Ridgley’s commentary was published in Philadelphia (1814-1815) in four volumes, and edited with notes (“original and selected”) by James Patriot Wilson, Sr. (1769-1830). These four volumes have recently been added to Log College Press. The notes provide an early 19th century American Presbyterian perspective on the 18th century English Independent commentary of the 17th century Westminster Assembly’s Larger Catechism. One noteworthy feature is an appendix in the fourth volume containing 74 study questions intended to encourage disquisitions by theological students.

It should be noted that this set edited by James P. Wilson is to be distinguished from a later two-volume set edited by John M. Wilson, published in Edinburgh (1844) [an 1855 edition of which was reprinted by Still Water Revival Books in 1993], who also included his own notes, and a biographical sketch of Ridgley.

We have at least two commentaries covering the major Westminster Standards (Confession of Faith, Larger and Shorter Catechisms) already available at Log College Press (by Francis Beattie and Edward Dafydd Morris), but this edition of Ridgley by James P. Wilson constitutes the first stand-alone exposition of the Larger Catechism available to read here at LCP. These volumes should provide our readers with a treasure trove of Biblical and catechetical study - enough for a lifetime.

The Presbyterian Standards in the Light of God's Word: Daniel Baker

One of the tracts written by Daniel Baker for the Presbyterian Board of Publication was titled “The Standards of the Presbyterian Church, a Faithful Mirror of Bible Truth.” Here he provides a partial harmony of the Westminster Standards with the Word of God, along with commentary discussing some of its controversial doctrines about the sovereignty of God in salvation.

By the Standards of the Presbyterian Church, we mean the Confession of Faith, together with the Larger and Shorter Catechisms of our Church. These, we verily believe, are, in every particular, based upon the Scriptures. As a faithful mirror presents, with great exactness, all the features of the object which it reflects, even so, in these Standards, may we all behold, as in a glass, that system of divine truth, which is taught in the Bible. And if the image reflected be the exact counterpart of the original, why should the mirror be blamed for its fidelity ? It creates nothing. It is responsible for nothing, but the accuracy of its reflecting power. This being the case, if there be any thing in the image reflected which we do not like, — in condemning that^ do we not really condemn the original ? And would it not, indeed, be more candid and just, to find fault with the original, and spare the mirror?

And now, in order that the reader may, at one glance, see that the Standards of the Presbyterian Church, are, indeed, a FAITHFUL MIRROR OF BIBLE TRUTH, we will place one immediately over against the other, and it will manifestly appear that the language of our Standards is not a whit stronger than the language of the Bible — but is its very
echo, image, and counterpart:

Baker then compares confessional statements on the sovereignty of God with Scriptural texts. Following this, he addresses a series of common objections to these doctrines of God’s sovereignty.

The ultimate aim of his vindication is that of the Word of God. But as a faithful mirror reflects the light from its source, so the Standards of the Presbyterian Church, in the main, are found to reflect the truth of God’s Word. Read Baker’s tract to find out more.

Shedd on the love of God towards all men as men

In the context of an effort to revise the Westminster Confession of Faith, William Greenough Thayer Shedd argued in 1893 that the Confession already addressed some of the concerns that had been raised. One had to do with the question of the general love of God towards all men.

It is strenuously contended that the Standards contain no declaration of the love of God towards all men, but limit it to the elect; that they make no universal offer of salvation, but confine it to a part of mankind.

The following declaration is found in Confession ii. 1. "There is but one only living and true God, who is most loving, gracious, merciful, long suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin, the rewarder of them that diligently seek him." Of whom speaketh the Confession this? of the God of the elect only? or of the God of every man? Is he the God of the elect only? Is he not also of the non-elect? Is this description of the gracious nature and attributes of God intended to be restricted to a part of mankind? Is not God as thus delineated the Creator and Father of every man without exception? Can it be supposed that the authors of this statement meant to be understood to say that God is not such a being for all men, but only for some? If this section does not teach the unlimited love and compassion of God towards all men as men, as his creatures, it teaches nothing.
(Shedd, Calvinism: Pure and Mixed - A Defence of the Westminster Standards, pp. 24-25)

The ED scholarship at Princeton Theological Seminary

The story is told by David B. Calhoun, “Old Princeton Seminary and the Westminster Standards,” in Ligon Duncan, ed., The Westminster Confession into the 21st Century, Vol. 2, pp. 41-42 and by Cortlandt Van Rensselear in The Presbyterian Magazine, Vol. 7 (August 1857), pp. 369-370, of a brother and sister, Robert and Marian Hall, originally of Scotland and raised under the minister of the esteemed John Brown of Haddington, who came to America in 1785.

In 1831, they gave $2500 to endow a scholarship at (what is now known as) Princeton Theological Seminary. In doing so, they said:

Whereas, after a life of nearly fourscore years, much of which has been spent in examining the Word of God, we are fully satisfied of the correctness of the doctrines of religion as laid down in the Confession of Faith, the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, drawn up by the Westminster Assembly of Divines, and as held by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of the United States, we desire that the scholarship which is endowed by this our bequest of two thousand five hundred dollars, be called the ED Scholarship, as a witness between us and the Theological Seminary, that the Lord he is God, agreeable to the said Confession of Faith and Catechisms.

Farther, it is our will, that the Professors in said Seminary be careful, that no person holding sentiments inconsistent with the Confession of Faith, the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, be ever admitted to the benefit of said Scholarship.

It was their wish, furthermore, that this scholarship be given to “such as are poor and needy.” When Marian was asked why it should not be called the “Hall Scholarship,” a memorable exchange followed:

“As your brother and self have now founded a Scholarship, it can be called the Hall Scholarship.”

”I dinna wish my worthless name to be remembered after I am dead and gone, but I do wish to do something for the cause of true religion, which shall maintain the truth, as long as the Kirk shall lead, and, therefore, I wish the Scholarship to be named ED.”

Being asked the meaning of the name, she replied, “And dinna ye ken, young mon? E’en go and read your Bible.”

“Well, I have read it, and still I do not recollect the meaning of use of ED.”

“Do you not recollect that when the two tribes and a half, who had their inheritance on the east side of Jordan, had assisted the other tribes to subdue their enemies, and were about to return to their possessions, before they crossed the river, they built an altar? And do you not know that the other tribes were about to make war upon them for the erection of this altar, supposing it to have been intended for an altar of worship distinct from that appointed by Jehovah? The two and a half tribes gave the others to understand that they were entirely mistaken in their conjectures. The altar was not an altar of worship, but an altar of witness, that Jehovah alone was the true God, and that it had been created in token of their views and desires. (‘And the children of Reuben and the children of Gad called the altar ED; for it shall be a witness between us that the Lord is God.’ Joshua 22:34)

She continued, “I dinna like your Hopkinsian. I believe in the doctrines of the Bible, as expressed in the Confession of Faith, the Larger and Shorter Catechisms of the Presbyterian Church, and I wish that the Scholarship be called ED, as a witness between us and the Theological Seminary, that the Lord is God, agreeably to said Confession and Catechisms: and I dinna wish that any person holding sentiments inconsistent therewith, be ever admitted to the benefit of said scholarship.”

And that is the story of how the ED scholarship began at Princeton Theological Seminary.

The North and the South Celebrate the 250th Anniversary of the Westminster Assembly

One of the reasons I started Log College Press was because I like books, especially old books. Another reason was because I like history, especially the history of books about history. I like seeing how past generations thought about the past, and how that thought has changed over time. The fancy name for it is “historiography,” the study of the writing of history, or the study of the methods by which historians practiced their trade, and the interpretations historians throughout history have given to events in the past. I can probably credit my 12th grade AP American History teacher for this part of my intellectual pleasure, because she would frequently teach us not only about the past, but about how various historians viewed the past.

All that to say, I like perusing books like the two published at the end of the 19th century by the Northern and Southern Presbyterian Churches, that celebrated the 250th anniversary of the Westminster Assembly. The North published Addresses at the Celebration of the Two Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the Westminster Assembly in 1898, while the South published Memorial Volume of the Westminster Assembly one year before (both of these volumes are on our Compilations page). Not only do you find in these works in-depth studies of particular topics from the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, but you also learn how approaches to the Confession and to the Assembly have changed over the years.

If you appreciate the Westminster Assembly and its written documents, if you enjoy history, and especially if you are such a history nerd that you love historiography, then you will love reading these two books. They’re free on our site, so download them today.

A Sabbath Afternoon Read for the Family from James R. Boyd

Are you seeking something edifying to read this Sabbath afternoon with your family? Consider The Child’s Book on the Westminster Shorter Catechism by James Robert Boyd. He designed it as a supplemental catechism for students 12 and under with the aim of reviewing the great divine truths found in the Westminster Shorter Catechism. He suggests that a half an hour on Sabbath afternoons be given to the study of this little book as a method of stirring up consideration religious conversation and promoting the spiritual interests of the family.

This is a good exercise for the family consistent with the aim of the Sabbath (see Boyd on the Fourth Commandment). And this is a means of involving the whole family in discussion of those matters which all should know about the basic divine truths of Christianity. Not meant to replace, but to supplement, the study of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, this little volume is a means of reinforcing the knowledge that every member of the family should know and can be used to stimulate further discussion. Here is one matter that may prompt a healthy family discussion:

Q. What is the best day of the week?
A. The Sabbath-day.

Q. Why is it the best?
A. Because it is to be kept holy, or spent in a religious manner.

If you are looking for a tool to help the family keep the Sabbath during the afternoon, this book will serve you well. For more in-depth study, be sure to check out Boyd’s other exposition: The Westminster Shorter Catechism: With Analysis, Scriptural Proofs, Explanatory and Practical Inferences, and Illustrative Anecdotes.

Henry Rowland Weed's 19th Century Presbyterian Study Guide

Among the 19th century American Presbyterian works on the Westminster Confession of Faith, one by Henry Rowland Weed (1789-1870) stands out: Questions on the Confession of Faith and Form of Government of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (1842).

In question-and-answer format, Weed’s study guide tackles both the Confession of Faith and the Form of Government of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, delving into both its ecclesiological history and principles. Further, there is a brief section on admission to the sacrament of baptism. His questions are not always followed by an answer — sometimes the reader is just meant perhaps to go back to the source document, or discuss, or ponder. Sometimes his questions are answered with a simple Scripture reference. And at other times, the answers given are more full.

An extract from the section on the Confession relating to the chapter on God is given as a sample:

Q. 1. Are there more Gods than One? Deut. vi. 4. 1 Cor. viii. 4.
Q. 2. What is God? John iv. 24.
Q. 3. Why do the Scriptures ascribe bodily members and organs unto God?
A. It is an accommodation to our weakness, to express those perfections and acts, of which those bodily parts are known emblems: as hands, of power; and eyes and ears, of knowledge. Q. 4. How is God distinguished, in Scripture, from idols? 1 Thes. i. 9. latter part.
Q. 5. What are some of the attributes of God? Ex. xxxiv. 6, 7.
Q. 6. Are the divine attributes really distinct from God himself, or separable one from another? A. Certainly not; such ideas would be inconsistent with the infinite perfection of the divine nature.
Q. 7. How are the attributes of God commonly divided ? A. The most commonly received division is, into Communicable and Incommunicable.
Q. 8. What are the Communicable attributes? A. Those of which some resemblance may be found in creatures ; as wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, truth.
Q. 9. What are the Incommunicable attributes? A. Those, of which there is no resemblance in the creature ; as Independence, Infinity, Eternity, Unchangeableness.

From the section on the Form of Government, another sample extract pertaining to ruling elders is given:

Q. 1. What is the office of the Ruling Elder? 1 Tim. v. 17.
Q. 2. By whom are Ruling Elders to be chosen?
Q. 3. How is this office designated in Scripture? 1 Cor. xii. 28. 1 Tim. v. 17.
Q. 4. How are they distinguished from Pastors? 1 Tim. v. 17.
Q. 5. While inferior in rank to Ministers of the word, have they an equal vote in the Judicatories of the Church ? A. Yes.
Q. 6. What are the duties of this office? A. Excepting the administration of the word, and sacraments, they are the same as those of the pastoral office. Heb. xiii. 17. James v. 14.
Q. 7. By what arguments does it appear that this office ought to be maintained in the Church? A. 1. Christian Churches were formed after the the model of the Jewish Synagogue, in which there was a class of officers of this kind. 2. It appears from a careful examination of Rom. xii. 6—8. 1 Cor. xii. 28, and other passages already referred to, that there was such a class of men in the Churches organized by the Apostles. 3. The early history of the Church; and 4. The necessity of the case.

Appended to this exposition of the standards of the Presbyterian Church is Ashbel Green’s Questions and Counsel for Young Converts. Altogether, Weed’s work is a valuable 19th century compendium of information about what the Presbyterian Church believes and how it is to be governed. Download it here for your own edification, study and reference.

Ashbel Green's Commentary on the Westminster Shorter Catechism is on the LCP Website

If I asked you for a list of commentaries on the Westminster Shorter Catechism, chances are th two volume set by Ashbel Green wouldn't be on it. But you can find it here, written for the youth of his day. He also published a history of Presbyterian mission work during the 19th century, and a variety of sermons and addresses. These can be found on the Log College Press website, so spend some time browsing what we've collected.

A 19th Century American Presbyterian Commentary on the Westminster Shorter Catechism

If I asked you for a list of commentaries on the Westminster Shorter Catechism, chances are this two volume set by Ashbel Green wouldn't be on it. But you can find it here, written for the youth of his day. He also published a history of Presbyterian mission work during the 19th century. There's more Ashbel Green material out there to be found, so check back again soon.