A SCRIPTURAL EXPOSITION OF THE BAPTIST CATECHISM
BENJAMIN BEDDOME (1717-1795) OF BOURTON-ON-THE-WATER
A godly background
John Beddome (1674-1757), the father of the subject of this biographical sketch, was the Baptist minister of Alcester Baptist Church, Warwickshire, at the time of his son's birth. John Beddome had come to this church in 1697 from the Baptist congregation that met in Horselydown, Southwark, London, where the pastor was the renowned Benjamin Keach (1640-1704), one of the seventeenth-century fathers of the Calvinistic Baptist denomination.
In an important move, the Alcester church took on Bernard Foskett (1685-1758) as co-pastor to the elder Beddome in 1711. Foskett would later became the first principal of Bristol Baptist Academy, the oldest Baptist seminary in the world and in the eighteenth century a force for much spiritual blessing among the Calvinistic Baptists. The younger Beddome would study at this seminary in the 1730s.
In 1714 John Beddome married Rachel Brandon, a wealthy heiress and a descendant of Charles Brandon, the first Duke of Suffolk and brother-in-law to Henry VIII. Benjamin, the first of five children to survive infancy, was born three years later. When Beddome was seven years of age, his father left the Midlands to accept a call to pastor the Pithay Church, Bristol. At the time there were two Calvinistic Baptist congregations in the city: Broadmead, where John Beddome's life-long friend Bernard Foskett had become pastor in 1720, and the larger Pithay Church, which contained 500 or so members in the early 1720s. Possibly acting on the advice of Foskett, the Pithay church approached the elder Beddome about assuming the pastorate. His acceptance in 1724 necessitated the removal of his family to Bristol in the summer of that year.
Although he regularly sat under his father's preaching in the Pithay as he was growing up, Benjamin showed little interest in the things of Christ, and understandably his parents were deeply concerned about his state. In fact, not until he was twenty years of age did God's Word strike home to his heart, and his parents see the fruit of many years of prayer for their son's conversion.
On August 7, 1737, a visiting preacher to the Pithay by the name of Ware spoke on Luke 15:7 ["I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent," KJV]. So deeply was Beddome affected by the sermon that for some time afterwards he would be in tears while his father preached, and he would hide himself in one of the galleries so that his weeping would not be widely observed.
Called to the ministry
Soon after his conversion Beddome was led to consider pastoral ministry. He spent a couple of years in theological training under the tutelage of Bernard Foskett. Then, in 1739, he moved to London to continue his studies at the Fund Academy in Tenter Alley, Moorfields, where a John Eames (d.1744) was the theological tutor.
It was during this sojourn in London that Beddome became a member of Prescot Street Baptist Church in October, 1739. Early the following year the London church took steps to formally recognize God's hand on Benjamin's life for pastoral ministry and to set him apart for that work.
Revival at Bourton-on-the-Water
Beddome visited Bourton-on-the-Water, Gloucestershire, in the spring of 1740. Here he would minister in this picturesque village, dubbed by some "the Venice of the Cotswolds," till his death fifty-two years later. The origins of the church that he pastored lay in the halcyon days of Calvinistic Baptist advance during the period of the Commonwealth, when England was ruled by that quintessential Puritan, Oliver Cromwell (1598-1658). But in the days immediately before Beddome's coming the church was not in a flourishing state.
From 1740 to 1743 Beddome laboured with great success in the Bourton church. Significant for the shape of his future ministry was a local revival that took place under his ministry in the early months of 1741. Around forty individuals were converted, including John Collett Ryland (1723-1791), a leading Baptist minister in the latter half of the eighteenth century now chiefly remembered for a stinging rebuke he gave to young William Carey (1761-1834).
It may well have been this taste of revival that made Beddome a cordial friend to those who were involved in the evangelical revivals of the mid-eighteenth century, men like George Whitefield and the Mohegan Indian preacher Samson Occom (1723-1792), and that gave him an ongoing hunger to read of revival throughout British society on both sides of the Atlantic. Within a year of the Bourton awakening, for instance, Beddome had purchased a copy of Jonathan Edwards' The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God (1741), which would have given him a marvellous foundation for thinking about and labouring for revival.
In July, 1743, the Bourton church extended an invitation to Beddome to become what they called their "teaching elder." Readily acceding to their request, he was ordained on September 23 of that year.
Early years of ministry
The early years of Benjamin Beddome's ministry at Bourton-on-the-Water saw great numerical growth in the membership of the church. Between 1740 and 1750 the church membership more than doubled. By 1751 it stood at 180. Describing the state of the church members in 1750, Beddome could thus declare: "my labours have been, and are still, in a measure, blest unto them, above a hundred having been added since my first coming amongst them."
A Gloucestershire local historian, Derrick Holmes, has noted that the success of Beddome's ministry during his first ten years at Bourton is probably due to a number of factors. There were a number of good men active as deacons and in the leadership of the church during this period, including Beddome's father-in-law, Richard Boswell. Then, Beddome had developed the ability to preach in a manner fully comprehensible to his village congregation. Robert Hall, Jr. (1764-1831), himself no mean preacher, noted that as a speaker Beddome was "universally admired for the piety and unction of his sentiments, the felicity of his arrangements [of sermons], and the purity, force, and simplicity of his language."
Also Beddome was thoroughly convinced that vital Christianity was a matter of both heart and head. And like others in the Reformed tradition of which his denomination was a part, Beddome found the method of catechizing helpful in matching head knowledge to heart-felt faith. In fact, when Beddome's obituary was written in 1795, it was observed that "one considerable instrument" of his success at Bourton during the 1740s had been his use of catechetical instruction.
During the early years of his ministry Beddome used Benjamin Keach's The Baptist Catechism extensively, but clearly felt that the questions and answers of this catechism needed to be supplemented by further material. So he composed what was printed in 1752 as A Scriptural Exposition of the Baptist Catechism by Way of Question and Answer, which basically reproduced the wording and substance of the catechism drawn up by Keach, but added various sub-questions and answers to each of the main questions. It is this catechism that is reproduced below.
The Scriptural Exposition proved to be fairly popular. There were two editions during Beddome's lifetime, the second of which was widely used at the Bristol Baptist Academy, the sole British Baptist seminary for much of the eighteenth century. In the nineteenth century it was reprinted once in the British Isles and twice in the United States, the last printing being in 1849.
Numbers in the church
During the 1750s and the first half of the 1760s the numerical growth of the church began to slow. In 1751 the total number of members stood at 180. Between 1752 and 1754 none were added to the church and fifteen members were lost through death. In 1755, though, there were twenty-two individuals who came into the membership of the church by baptism. Another year which saw a large accession to the church was 1764, when twenty-eight new members were added. But a good number must have died since the mid-1750s, for in that year the membership stood at 183.
The next thirty years of Beddome's ministry, though, actually saw decline in the church membership. Between 1765 and 1795, 53 new members were added by conversion and baptism. But in this same period 105 of the members died, 12 were dismissed to other Baptist works and 2 were excluded. Thus, by 1795, the year that Beddome died, the church had 123 on the membership roll, sixty less than in 1764.
It is quite clear from letters that Beddome wrote on behalf of the church to the local Baptist association during the last three decades of his ministry that he lamented this lack of growth. The size of the congregation maintained its own, probably around five or six hundred, to the end of his life, but that vital step of believer's baptism leading to full church membership was taken by far fewer in the final three decades of his ministry than in the first two and a half.
A prayer written by Beddome in the church's 1786 letter to the local association well expresses his concern: "Come from the 4 winds O Breath & breathe upon these slain that they may live. Awake O Northwind & come thou South, blow upon our Garden that the Spices may flow out."
Nevertheless, there is no hint that Beddome ever thought of abandoning his post.
These decades were also fraught with earthly trials. In 1762 he wrestled with what a fellow Baptist pastor, Daniel Turner (1710-1798), termed "a nervous disorder, attended with spiritual darkness and distress." Three years later his eldest son, John, died at the age of fifteen. A second son, Benjamin, died in 1778 of what Rippon calls "a putrid fever." It is notable that the very day on which the younger Benjamin died, his father, little suspecting the news he would receive the next morning, wrote the following hymn to be sung at the close of the morning service that day.
My times of sorrow, and of joy,
If thou should'st take them all away,
Nor would I drop a murmuring word,
What is the world with all it's store?
Here perfect bliss can ne'er be found,
Six years later a third son, Foskett, drowned in the Thames at Deptford. His dear wife had died earlier that year.
From the mid-1770s on he began to suffer from gout and experience tremendous difficulty in walking. Eventually it got to the point that he had to be carried to the church, and he would preach to his congregation seated. Despite his physical infirmities, though, Beddome simply refused to give up preaching.
At the heart of this refusal lay a deeply-held conviction about the vital importance of preaching. What historian Michael Walker has said of the nineteenth-century British Baptist community is equally true of Beddome and many of his fellow Calvinistic Baptists in the eighteenth century: they regarded the pulpit as "a place of nurture, of fire and light, from which words gave wings to the religious apsirations of the hearers, bringing them...to the gates of heaven."
At the time of Beddome's death in 1795, almost his sole publication was his Scriptural Exposition. In the years that followed, though, a good number of his sermons were published, as was a volume of 830 hymns. It is noteworthy that close to one hundred of these hymns were still appearing in hymnals at the end of the nineteenth century, though today, only a handful are still being sung. Robert Hall, Jr. spoke for many of his fellow Baptists when he said of Beddome's gifts as a writer of hymns: "Mr. Beddome was on many accounts an extraordinary person. ...Though he spent the principal part of a long life in a village retirement, he was eminent for his colloquial powers...as a religious poet, his excellence has long been known and acknowledged in dissenting congregations."
Beddome did not write his hymns with the intention of ever getting them published. He was in the habit of preparing a hymn to be sung at the close of the morning worship service, which would pick up the theme of his sermon, a practice that prompted Horton Davies to describe Beddome as an "indefatigable sermon summarizer in verse." However, he did allow thirteen of his hymns to be published in a hymnal edited by fellow Baptists John Ash (1724-1779) and Caleb Evans (1737-1791) in 1769, A Collection of Hymns Adapted to Public Worship. Twenty or so years later, thirty-six of them appeared in the first edition of John Rippon's A Selection of Hymns from the Best Authors (1787). It was more than twenty years after his death that Robert Hall, Jr. supervised the publication of the entire collection of 822 hymns and 8 doxologies.
A concluding word
Beddome's ministry was very much a ministry between the times--those times of Baptist advance in the seventeenth century and those of revival in the final couple of decades of the eighteenth century. Nevertheless, his life and ministry are an eloquent example of the truth of those concluding lines in George Eliot's Middlemarch: "That things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs."
Anonymous, "Memoir" in Sermons printed from the manuscripts of the late Rev. Benjamin Beddome (London: William Ball, 1835), ix-xxviii.
Thomas Brooks, Pictures of the Past: The History of the Baptist Church, Bourton-on-the-Water (London: Judd & Glass, 1861).
Kenneth Dix, " "Thy Will Be Done": A Study in the Life of Benjamin Beddome", The Bulletin of the Strict Baptist Historical Society, 9 (1972) [this article occupies the bulk of the Bulletin and is lacking pagination].
Robert Hall, "Recommendatory Preface to a Volume of Hymns" in The Works of the Rev. Robert Hall, A.M. (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1852), II, 456-457.
G. Hester, "Baptist Worthies--Benjamin Beddome", The Baptist Magazine, 57 (1865), 441-446.
Derrick Holmes, "The Early Years (1655-1740) of Bourton-on-the-Water Dissenters who later constituted the Baptist Church, with special reference to the Ministry of the Reverend Benjamin Beddome A.M. 1740-1795" (Unpublished Certificate in Education Dissertation, St Paul's College, Cheltenham, 1969).
John Rippon: "Rev. Benjamin Beddome, A.M. Bourton-on-the-Water, Gloucesteshire", Baptist Annual Register, 2 (1794-1797), 314-326.