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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

The Presbyterian Standards

Francis R. Beattie


by Morton H. Smith

Francis Robert Beattie was born near Guelph, Ontario on March 31, 1848. He died at Louisville, Kentucky, September 4, 1906. His parents were Robert and Janette McKinley Beattie. His mother was of the family stock of President William McKinley. He graduated from Toronto university in 1875, and from Knox Theological College in 1878. He received his Ph.D. from Illinois Wesleyan College in 1884. He was awarded the DD degree by Presbyterian College of Montreal in 1887, and the LL.D. from Central University of Kentucky.

He served in pastorates in Canada for ten years. During these pastorates, he had the privilege of seeing a number of young men enter into the ministry. In 1888 he was called to Columbia Theological Seminary, Columbia, South Carolina, to be the Professor of Natural Science in Connection with Revelation and Christian Apologetics. He served there for five years.

In 1893 he was called to become Professor of Apologetics and Systematic Theology in the Presbyterian Theological Seminary of Kentucky, now Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. During his professorship at the Seminary, the endowments of the Seminary grew to about $600,000. It was also the time of constructing the Seminary buildings, which were among the finest of the time for any Theological Seminary in the country. This building of the Seminary financially and physically was in large measure due to Dr. Beattie’s efficient labors there.

Like many of his forerunners and contemporaries in the Presbyterian Seminaries - Archibald Alexander. R.L. Dabney, B.B. Warfield, to name but a few - Dr. Beattie was a great churchman as well as a theologian. The Christian Observer says, “He expended a vast amount of labor in collecting and publishing those facts and statistics which roused the attention of the Southern Presbyterian Church to the provision made for its aged ministers, and which resulted in the organization of the Executive Committee of Ministerial Relief.” (September 12, 1906, p. 2) He was also an active member of the Executive Committee of the Alliance of the Presbyterian and Reformed Churches.

Dr. Beattie served as an editor of the Christian Observer and the Presbyterian Quarter/v Review. As an editor of the Christian Observer, he wrote regular editorials and articles. He also produced several important theological works, which include the following: Utilitarian Theory of Morals (1894); Methods of Theism (1894); Radical Criticism (1894); The Presbyterian Standards (1896); ed. Westminster Memorial Addresses (1897); Apologetics (1903); articles in Hasting’s Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels.

The Christian Observer describes Dr. Beattie as a man who “was conspicuous for force and earnestness combined with gentleness and affection. He had the courage of deep conviction, and at the same time a most sensitive regard for the feelings of those who were opposed to him. His was an active, a useful, and a beautiful life.” He was a thorough scholar and a profound thinker. He was affable and social and people of all ranks and ages felt at home in his presence. Dr. R. A. Webb, who was then Professor of Theology at Southwestern Presbyterian University, said of him: “An able and godly man; ripe and rich in scholarship; strong and courageous, while cautious and tactful, in his defences of the faith; clear and conservative in his exposition of evangelical truth; skillful and successful in his labors as an educator; thoroughly and conscientiously out of sympathy with all radicalism in criticism, in science, in philosophy, in theology, in apologetics - our church is proud of him, and has placed him at the front, given to him its confidence, and believes that he will guard his trust with fidelity and ability of no ordinary degree. . . . He is a Calvinist of the school of the Hodges. His theological alignment is with the federalists, and the covenant is, with him, a ruling factor in anthropology and soteriology. He stands in with our pwn matchless Thornwell.” (Presbyterian Quarterly, vol. XI, Jan. 1987, p.99).


Dr. J. B. Green of Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, Georgia, produced what he called an annotated Harmony of the Westminster Presbyterian Standards, in which he printed out the text of the Standards, with brief notes at the bottom of each page. It appears that Dr. Green’s work was based upon The Presbyterian Standards, the first and only conimentary on all three of the Westminster Standards together. The present author has followed Dr. Green in the production of a Harmony of the Westminster Confession and Catechisms, without any notes. Thus Dr. Beattie’s work has produced fruit beyond what he had originally intended.

The following estimate of the work is taken from Dr. Robert A. Webb’s review, found in The Presbyterian Quarterly (Vol. XL, pp. 99-102), shortly after The Presbyterian Standards was first published:

The book on our desk is what it professes to be - an exposition. It is not a speculation; it is not an attempt to evolve a system of theology from the Westminster Standards as a genetic base; it is an interpretation of those venerable formularies... The attributes of good exposition are plainness, clearness, and simplicity. These qualities are found in this book in an eminent degree. We desire at this point to express two or three specific judgments upon Dr. Beattie’s work.

1. It is a singularly plain piece of expository work. . . Technicalities appear where they are necessary, but the context always defines the technicality. In handling abstruse topics - and there are abstruse topics in Calvinism - Dr. Beattie has successfully labored to be clear and simple. We do not see how it is possible for the grammar-school boy to miss the meaning of these sentences, through which daylight shines all the time.

2. This is a singularly cautious piece of exposition. . . At no point has he brought undue pressure to bear upon these authoritative statements of doctrine, but has always let them yield their easy and natural meaning to his pen. Indeed there is nothing reckless, dashing, daring, startling about this author; his ruling ambition seems to be to say only what is safely true. We are delighted with the self-denial here exhibited - denial of all temptations to make some striking, original, and racy use of these great formularies. It shows that our author loves truth better than brilliant dash, sensational departure, or flashy speculation. . .

3. It is a singularly faithful piece of exposition. . . This sort of work requires a severe analytical judgment in order to answer the primary question, “What does this document mean?” It also demands a vivid imagination in order that the interpreter may put himself by the side of the original author, to see as he saw, and to think as he thought. But the supreme temptation of the interpreter is to read into the original his own ideas, or to throw upon it some colors of his own mind. The ideal of the interpreter is to be a perfectly transparent, unrefracting medium for the transmission of the thoughts of the original. We believe that Dr. Beattie has approximated the realization of this ideal. There is almost no personal colorization of the ideas.

4. It is strikingly comprehensive. The author’s aim was to give a connected exposition of the entire Westminster Standards. The Shorter Catechism is made the basis of the treatise, but the contents of the Larger Catechism and the Confession of Faith are incorporated at every point. In this feature his book is differentiated from the commentaries of Hodge, Mitchell, Paterson, Fisher, Steel, and others. . . Dr. Beattie holds that they [confessions or creeds] are necessary as a bond of unity in doctrine, worship, and polity for those who belong to the same communion; that they supply the best basis from which to deal with heresy; that they are the best declaration of faith and conduct to those who are outside of the particular communion; that they are the very best compend for religious instruction.

He regards these standards as very comprehensive in their scope to make a full exhibit of doctrine, of ethics, and of polity. They are a definite creed with a catholic spirit. Their contents, when applied, yield the highest and most beneficent results in individual, in social, in domestic, in national life. They are a finality, not in a primary sense, but only in a secondary way; primarily, the Bible is a final authority, but the standards are final to those who voluntarily live under them. Dr. Beattie’s final opinion is, that the Calvinism of the Westminster Standards must become the basis of any closer union of Protestants.

Dr. Beattie’s book is a great success. It is bound to be a potent and potential factor in Christian enlightenment, a powerful commendation of our peculiar system of doctrine. We feel sure that it will have a wide influence and a long life. We congratulate him, the Louisville Seminary, and the entire Southern Presbyterian Church upon the issuance of this volume of such soundness and force.

With this high estimate of the volume, it is surely time that it again be put before the public, with the hope that it may again have the good and wide influence that Dr. Webb envisioned for it when it was first published.

Morton H. Smith
Brevard, North Carolina
March 1997

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