Bishop Edward Wetenhall, 1636-1713, and the Importance of Theological Catechizing in the Home

Bishop Edward Wetenhall, 1636-1713, unknown to many, was held in such high esteem that he was buried in the south transept of Westminster Abbey. The inscription reads: “Here lie buried the remains of the Right Reverend Father in Christ Edward Wetenhall D.D. Bishop first of Cork for 20 years, then of Kilmore and Ardagh for 14 years in the Kingdom of Ireland. He died 12 November, year of our Lord 1713 in the 78th year of his age.” Wetenhall (or Wettenhall) was born at Lichfield in Staffordshire on 7th October 1636 and educated at Westminster School and Trinity College Cambridge. After brief preferments at Exeter and Dublin he was consecrated bishop of Cork and Ross in 1679. In 1699 he was translated to the diocese of Kilmore. He was married twice.

In 1688 he authored a book designed to address Rome’s objections against our English Bible, the Authorized Version, of which the following is an excerpt. As you read, note Wetenhall’s commitment to Scripture being by inspiration from God, that Scripture was providentially preserved, his eschatological focus on the saints’ final accountability to God, the privilege of possessing the Scripture and to hold the Scripture’s honorably and with humility, the importance of learning the core of theology early in life and of being able to read.

“Now, to put a due conclusion to this discourse, there are some Christian Practices which the scope of it does naturally recommend and some advices which it may occasion.

And first, let the reflection on what has been discoursed touching the certainty of Holy Scriptures and their Authentic Verity raise in our hearts a due Esteem and Cordial Reverence of them as not being from Man nor merely by man, but given by inspiration of God, and in a peculiar and marvelous manner, preserved and transmitted by his special Providence from age to age, through multitudes of hands down to us, who live probably near the end of time. It was once the great privilege of the Jews that to them were committed the Oracles of God: that privilege is now common to us, with them. Though perhaps therefore we may not keep those Oracles with so superstitious a care and curiosity as they did yet let us both keep and treat them as cordial adherence, and as awful esteem. But especially let us take care that we use not passages out of them in our ordinary discourse flightingly in jest and drollery to create laughter to ourselves and others. Holy things should not be played with, and we are to remember that if we do play with them, we teach people to think we do not believe them to be Holy.

Secondly, let not a Prize be put into our hands, and we such fools as not to have hearts to use it. Have we the Word of Prophecy, surer than other miraculous revelation? Have we the Gospel of Truth too both mutually confirming and confirmed by one another and shall be so idle and gross as to be any of us in a manner uncapable of using either? Why should there be a person in a Christian Church or Nation to whom the Holy Scripture should be a Book sealed, who should know no more by the Book open and laid before him than if fast closed up. I mean who should not be able to read the glad tidings and terms of his Salvation? Good people, deny not yourselves that, which an excellent person has most justly styled, the CHRISTIANS BIRTHRIGHT, the use of the Holy Scriptures. Take care and endeavor that both you and yours be able to read. And being so, whatever Book you read not through or rarely look into, let not the Bible be that neglected one. Rather account such a day lost in which you have not attentively and considerately read some part thereof.

Thirdly, remember him who said, Hold fast till I come, that no man take thy crown. He sists at the right hand of his Father, ready to give it, and will in good time come and give it us if we fainty not.

And lastly, as most excellent means to insure to ourselves a right use of Scripture and to preserve us from misinterpreting or misapplying them, let us be careful of the two following particulars.

First, to furnish our minds with a form of sound Doctrine gathered out of the Holy Scripture. This, it is to be hoped, we had in some degree in our early years by Catechism, and without this both Scripture and Sermons are in a great measure unserviceable. It is the Apostle’s Rule that they who Prophesy (that is in the New Testament notion of Prophesying, interpret Scripture) do it according to the proportion of Faith, Rom. xii. 6. His meaning seems to be that understanding first the several articles of the Christian Faith, we should interpret or take Scripture in consistency therewith. This rule will prevent the abuse of Holy Scripture to error and novelty.

Secondly, to endeavor the honest and impartial practice of what we know in the fear of God, and as we shall answer the not doing according to our Lord’s will when we have known that his will. This most assuredly will prevent Scriptures being useless and besides will both lead us to a higher pitch of knowledge and secure us from dangerous errors. For amongst other parts of the Christian duty, we shall then practice meekness, humility, and a low conceit of our selves. We shall not therefore too much lean to our own understanding, we shall not exceed our own measures. And then (Psalm xxv.9.14.) The meek will the Lord guide in judgment, the meek will he teach his way. The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him, and he will shew them his Covenant.

There are the great uses we should make of this sure Word of Prophesy, Law, and Gospel, to value and reverence it. In testimony thereof, to capacitate not only ourselves but all ours by moderate at least the lowest degree of learning (being able to read) to make use of it, and then diligently to read it and hold it fast. But especially by getting into our minds a form of sound words (a due understanding Catechetical doctrine) and by living according to what we know, to ensure to ourselves the right use of it. And is we thus take heed to this sure word, tis sure we shall do well. We shall be sure not only to our Faith, but to the End of it too. We shall be certainly and unspeakably rewarded in Glory and Bliss everlasting.”

Edward Wetenhall, A Plain Discourse Proving the Divine Authority of the Holy Scriptures; wherein bold attempts and aspersions of Jesuits and other Missionaries of the Church of Rome are Confuted; and all their objections against our English Bible are fully and clearly Answered (London: Printed and sold by Randall Taylor, near Stationers-Hall, 1688), 56-63

Wettenhall’s emphasis on an early understanding of Catechetical doctrine should not be overlooked. He argues for the inculcation of a prior theological framework in the minds of young people that will enable the proper dissemination of the Scripture as it is read. Children must have 1. a rudimentary knowledge of Christian theology, “a form of sound words” and, 2. a minimal reading proficiency to value and reverence the Scripture. Without this early training Wettenhall says that “both Scripture and Sermons are in a great measure unserviceable.”

Bishop Wetenhall’s observations are illuminating and something that needs additional exploration. In Wetenhall’s day there were brothers and sisters in the Lord that found the KJV problematic because they lacked rudimentary theological training in the home. They did not receive early in their lives the “form of sound words” and as such were raised in such a state “that both Scripture and Sermons” for them “are in a great measure unserviceable,” or of little help. Because Wetenhall and Standard Sacred Text are speaking of the same English Bible, it seems apparent that the lack of early theological training in the home is a perpetually besetting issue for the spiritual well-being of the saint and church.

In recent days we have seen public school parents catching up with home-schooling parents, asserting their parental authority over the school boards, and rightly taking back the education of their children from the government school. Perhaps its time for parents to expand their God-given authority and rightly take back the theological training of their children from the church and academy in such a way that their families will no longer perceive “both Scripture and Sermons” to be “in a great measure unserviceable.”

Published by Dr. Peter Van Kleeck, Sr.

Dr. Peter William Van Kleeck, Sr. : B.A., Grand Rapids Baptist College, 1986; M.A.R., Westminster Theological Seminary, 1990; Th.M., Calvin Theological Seminary, 1998; D. Min, Bob Jones University, 2013. Dr. Van Kleeck was formerly the Director of the Institute for Biblical Textual Studies, Grand Rapids, MI, (1990-1994) lecturing, researching and writing in the defense of the Masoretic Hebrew text, Greek Received Text and King James Bible. His published works include, "Fundamentalism’s Folly?: A Bible Version Debate Case Study" (Grand Rapids: Institute for Biblical Textual Studies, 1998); “We have seen the future and we are not in it,” Trinity Review, (Mar. 99); “Andrew Willet (1562-1621: Reformed Interpretation of Scripture,” The Banner of Truth, (Mar. 99); "A Primer for the Public Preaching of the Song of Songs" (Outskirts Press, 2015). Dr. Van Kleeck is the pastor of the Providence Baptist Church in Manassas, VA where he has ministered for the past twenty-one years. He is married to his wife of 43 years, Annette, and has three married sons, one daughter and eighteen grandchildren.

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