Westminster Larger Catechism Study

Introduction to the Westminster Larger Catechism

I want to continue the introduction of the study I mentioned this morning with a few good comments about studying the Catechism. One of those who more recently encourages our study is Chad Van Dixhoorn. He is currently working as Professor of Church History and the Director of the Craig Center for the Study of the Westminster Standards at Westminster Theological Seminary in Glenside, Pennsylvania.

“In the middle of the Assembly’s debates on preaching there is a somewhat cryptic statement: “Debate upon that text or argument because it gives liberty to preach without a text.”13 In twentieth-century parlance, this means, “we debated about whether a preacher should preach from a text of Scripture, or from a doctrinal proposition (such as a catechism answer); we were concerned that a sermon based on a doctrinal argument could allow a minister to preach without expounding a text.”

This statement of the Assembly reveals that the final declaration found in the directory was a deliberate one: the ministers at the Westminster Assembly did not think that the preacher should preach from a proposition, or argument, but only from the Scriptures themselves. As important as the catechisms were, the Westminster divines did not want to follow the practice of the Reformed churches on the continent who preached from the Heidelberg Catechism. Rather, keeping the original intentions of the authors of the Larger Catechism in mind, there seem to be two main reasons why it was written: (1) creedal unity and, (2) more fulsome instruction in the Christian faith; as the Scottish commissioners envisioned it, the chief beneficiaries of the Larger Catechism would be the adult Christians in both kingdoms who understood the doctrines and duties of the Shorter Catechism already, and needed “the meat of the Word.””


“Professor John Murray suggested, for example, that the Larger Catechism’s teaching on the Covenant of Grace surpasses that of chapter seven, section three of the Confession, and that question twenty-two has a better discussion of the imputation of Adam’s sin than the Confession of Faith, chapter six, section three.29

Whether Murray is right or not, it seems that there are many reasons why the Larger Catechism is worth our study. It unifies churches which use the same Confession and Catechisms. Initially the Larger Catechism was written to help unify the English and Scottish churches; now the Catechism joins the other two Westminster standards in bringing together all churches and Christians who will call these creeds their own. The Larger Catechism also gives us the meat of the Word of God. It effectively emphasizes and more fully explains neglected doctrines that maturing Christians need to hear. The Larger Catechism emphasizes aspects of the gospel and draws directly from Scripture in a way that other catechisms do not. And finally, the Larger Catechism emphasizes the church, the ministry, preaching, and the sacraments at a time when Presbyterians — and in fact all Christians — need to hear of them. For these reasons, at least, the Larger Catechism is worth our full attention.”

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