Many churches use or have used a catechism called “Keach’s Catechism.” Some call this “The Baptist Catechism.” Are they the same thing? Why is there a catechism called Keach’s catechism? Most of what follows is already contained in the introduction to the Baptist Catechism found in True Confessions by James Renihan. Instead of starting with the problem and working toward the solution, I’ll just build from the ground up to what I believe is the most accurate information on this issue.
Benjamin Keach did write a catechism, called Instructions for Children. Keach wrote that catechism in the 1660s (and was pilloried for it). It is well known that it is not the Baptist Catechism. Regarding the Baptist Catechism itself, all evidence indicates that William Collins was its author/editor.
The narrative of the London General Assembly that met in June 1693, contained in Ivimey, Vol 1, records that the GA commissioned William Collins to work on a catechism:
Ten months later, the Bristol General Assembly that met in April 1694, wrote to the London churches, asking them to make sure this project was completed. This is also from Ivimey, Vol 1.
We know that the catechism appeared by 1695, because the earliest known copy is dated to that year. However, this earliest known copy is also printed as the 5th edition, which means it is possible that the catechism had been completed by the end of 1694. You can see a color scan of that earliest surviving copy here.
Correspondence between William Collins and Andrew Gifford in 1698 shows that Collins was managing the reception of funds and distribution of copies of the catechism. Collins wrote:
I rec[eive]d your lines and have since rec[eive]d the 6l-15s-0d [6 pounds, 15 shillings, 0 pence] from Mr Goddard, which you have got for the friends in Warwicke, and I have left with Mr Goddard 300 catechisms & have put in a dozen more which I present you with, & for the 300 I tooke but 24s, allowing 1s towards the carriage and when you have occasion for more, you may send to mee for there are some thousands remaineing of the last impression…
So, extant sources indicate that William Collins was the author/editor/manager of the Baptist Catechism. Jonathan Arnold’s excellent book on Benjamin Keach agrees that there is no solid argument for Keach’s authorship of the catechism. Arnold notes that Thomas Crosby did not list the catechism among Keach’s works. Why, and how, then, did Benjamin Keach come to be connected with the catechism? Ivimey was unsure. He wrote:
The earliest concrete evidence of a connection to Benjamin Keach dates to 1719 and the fourth printing of the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (previously printed in 1677, 1688, and 1699). An advertisement in the 1719 edition states that William Collins and Benjamin Keach sold the rights to print the Confession and Catechism to John Marshall:
This should seem a bit strange because Collins died in 1702, and Keach in 1704. Why does this information appear in 1719, so long after Collins and Keach died? Well, compare the 1719 advertisement to a similar advertisement in 1700, contained in a second edition of John Bunyan’s The Heavenly Footman, printed by John Marshall.
|1700 Advertisement||1719 Advertisement|
|The remainders of the Impressions of these two Books, with the full and true right of Printing them for the future, are Sold to John Marshall Bookseller at the Bible in Grace-Church-Street, London. It is desired that all Persons that are desirous to promote such useful Books, do apply themselves to the Bookseller.||Having Sold the Property, Right and Title of the Printing thereof to John Marshall, Bookseller, at the Bible in Grace-Church-Street, by us William Collins and Benjamin Keach. It is desired that all Persons desirous to promote such useful Books, do apply themselves to him.|
Considering that John Marshall (and two others) printed a third edition of the Confession of Faith in 1699, these advertisements indicate that while Collins’ and Keach’s names do not appear until the 1719 advertisement, they had sold the rights to the printing of the Confession and Catechism around 1699.
This brings Benjamin Keach into the picture, but it still does not explain why he had a part in the printing rights to the Confession or Catechism. Nor does it explain why the Catechism came to bear his name.
In 1764, John Robinson printed the 16th edition of the catechism, in which he included, up front, a portrait of Benjamin Keach.
It is interesting that Robinson was from Horsleydown, Southwark. Perhaps he was a member of Keach’s church under John Gill? Robinson also printed Keach’s “Instructions for Children” in 1763. I don’t know what we can deduce from this, but the fact that Keach’s picture was affixed to the front of the catechism is at least some evidence of connections to Keach.
In 1794, the Catechism was again published, and here we see it “commonly called Keach’s Catechism.”
John Rippon succeeded John Gill at Keach’s church. Again, I am unsure of what we can draw from this other than to note that by 1794, the catechism was “commonly” called Keach’s. Why was it called that? There doesn’t seem to be evidence to substantiate any particular reason. The most the evidence seems to permit is the recognition that the catechism continued to be published by persons closely connected to Keach’s church and legacy, and that this connection is the best contextual explanation for the attachment of his name to the catechism.
- In June, 1693 William Collins was commissioned to “draw up” the Baptist Catechism.
- In April, 1694, the Baptist Catechism had not been completed.
- In 1695, the Baptist Catechism was in its 5th edition.
- In 1698, William Collins was receiving funds and distributing copies of the Baptist Catechism.
- William Collins and Benjamin Keach held printing rights to the Confession and Catechism and sold them to John Marshall in, or by, 1699.
- In 1764, Keach’s likeness was attached to the Baptist Catechism.
- By 1794, the Baptist Catechism was “commonly called Keach’s Catechism.”
We do not know:
- Why Keach had rights with Collins to the printing of the Confession and Catechism.
- Why, or when, the Catechism began to be “commonly called Keach’s Catechism.”
In conclusion, in my opinion it is best to refer to the Catechism as The Baptist Catechism, since it was commissioned by the General Assembly and there is no evidence that Keach put it together.
As a bonus, here is the original “advertisement” that appeared at the end of the catechism, explaining why it was prepared and published.