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Archive for the ‘Catechesis’ Category

The following are anecdotes from the labors of Puritan missionary John Eliot (1604-1690) among the Native Americans of early Massachusetts.  The extract is drawn from The Life of John Eliot by Nehemiah Adams (1847).

Specifically, we witness Eliot and company catechizing the heathen, ushering them into the holy knowledge of the faith and so into the bosom of the Church.  Obviously, our Puritan forbears entertained a broad view of this discipline.  It was not simply for those in the Church seeking to deepen their understanding of  but also for those laying hold of the skirt of a Jew and begging for guidance to Zion’s God.

After one or two more posts, I’ll conclude with some reflections on Eliot’s evangelistic catechesis.

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An hour and a quarter was occupied in the discourse. Mr. Eliot gave the Indians first a brief exposition of the ten commandments, showing the wrath and curse of God against those who break the least one of them. The subject was then applied, and the law having been brought to do its work in their hearts, and their sins being pointed out to them, as Mr. Eliot says, with much sweet affection, Jesus Christ was preached to them as the only Saviour. He told them who Christ was, and what he did, and whither he had gone, and how he will come again to judge the wicked and burn the world. The creation and fall of man, the greatness of God, heaven and hell, the pleasures of religion and the miseries of sin were then explained in language and with illustrations suited to their capacity.

The sermon being finished, Mr. Eliot proposed some questions to them, and first inquired whether they understood what had been said, and whether all or only some of them understood it ? A multitude of voices exclaimed that they all understood every thing which had been spoken. Leave was then granted them to put questions, and it is interesting to notice the first questions which these children of the wilderness proposed. The first questions were, “What is the cause of thunder?” “What makes the sea ebb and flow?” “What makes the wind blow?”

But there were some questions proposed by them which Mr. Eliot says some special wisdom of God directed them to ask, as, for example, How may we come to know Jesus Christ?

Mr. Eliot told them that if they could read the Bible they would see clearly who Jesus Christ is, but inasmuch as they could not then read, he desired them to remember what he had told them out of the Bible, and to think much and often upon it, when they lay down on their mats in their wigwams and when they rose up, and to go alone in the fields, and woods, and muse on it, and so God would teach them.

He told them that if they would have help from God in this thing, they must begin to pray, and though they could not make long prayers as the English did, yet if they did but sigh and groan, saying, “Lord, make me to know Jesus Christ for I know him not,” and if with all their hearts they persisted in such prayers, they might hope that God would help them. But they were especially to remember that they must confess their sins and ignorance to God and mourn over them and acknowledge how just it would be in God to withhold from them any knowledge of Christ, on account of their sins.

This instruction was communicated to them by Mr. Eliot through the Indian interpreter whom he had brought with him, but he says he was struck with the fact that a few words from the Preacher had much greater effect than many from the interpreter.

One of them asked, whether Englishmen were ever at any time so ignorant of God and Jesus Christ as they themselves?

Another put this question: Whether if the father be naughty and the child good, will God be offended with that child ? because in the second commandment it is said that he visits the sins of the fathers upon the children.  They were told in reply to this that every child who is good will not be punished for the sins of his father, but if the child be bad, God would then visit his father’s sins upon him, and they were bid to notice that part of the second commandment which contains a promise to the thousands of them that love God and keep his commandments.

One of them asked, How is all the world now become so full of people, if they were all once drowned in the flood? This led to the story of the ark and the preservation of Noah.

Mr. Eliot then proposed some questions to them, for example, Whether they did not desire to see God, and were not tempted to think there is no God because they could not see him?  Some of them answered, They did desire to see Him if it could be, but they had heard from Mr. Eliot that he could not be seen, and they did believe that though their eyes could not see him, he was to be seen with their soul within. Mr. Eliot endeavored to confirm them in this impression, and asked them if they saw a great wigwam or a great house, would they think that raccoons or foxes built it? or would they think that it made itself? or that no wise builder made it, because they could not see him who made it?

Knowing that the doctrine of one God was a great stumbling block to them, Mr. Eliot asked them if they did not think it strange that there should be but one God, and yet this God be in Massachusetts, and in Connecticut, in Old England, in this wigwam, and the next, and every where at the same time?  One of the most sober of them replied that it was indeed strange, as every thing else they had heard preached was strange, and they were wonderful things which they never heard of before, but yet they thought “It might be true, and that God was so big every where.” Mr. Eliot illustrated the truth by the light of the sun, which, though it was but a creature of God, shed its light into that wigwam, and the next, in Massachusetts and Old England, at once.

He inquired of them if they did not find something troubling them within after the commission of murder, theft, adultery, lying; and what would comfort them, and remove that trouble of conscience when they should die and appear before God?  They replied that they were thus troubled, but they could not tell what they should say about it, or what would remove this trouble of mind, whereupon Mr. Eliot enlarged upon the evil of sin and the condition of the soul which is cast out of the favor of God.

Having spent three hours in this interview, Mr. Eliot asked them if they were not weary, and they said, no. But thinking it best to leave them with an appetite, Mr. Eliot concluded the meeting with prayer.

 

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FAMILY CATECHISING.

[From the United Presbyterian Magazine, Scotland, 1851.]

Of all the periods of human life, youth is the most favourable for religious impression. At first the judgment, though weak, is not pre-occupied; the heart, though depraved, is not yet hardened; and the conscience, though evil, is not yet seared as with a hot iron. Then, like the young sapling, the mind will take any bend you are pleased to give it. But when it has long been inured to sin, it becomes stubborn as the sturdy tree that resists our pressure. We are told, on the best authority, it is as unlikely for one to do good who has been accustomed to do evil, as for the Ethiopian to change his skin, or the leopard his spots. Hence it is that so little can be done with the aged, and many think that few are converted after their twentieth year. It is true we must not limit the Holy One of Israel, and we know he can save even at the eleventh hour. But though a man may be born again when he is old, few, we fear, are changed at this time of life, and most of the aged who are coming to the grave like a shock of corn in its season, are those of whom God says, “I remember the kindness of thy youth.”

Since these things are so, can too much attention be paid to the training of the young? And should not every expedient be resorted to for improving the precious season of youth? In what follows, we intend to confine our remarks to one branch of the subject—family catechising. Of the importance of this department of parental duty, we cannot form too high an estimate. A family thus instructed, becomes a little nursery for the church and for heaven. The advantages of the practice have been seen in the lives and in the deaths of multitudes, and yet the day of judgment alone can reveal them fully.

But this practice, so invaluable to the young, has sadly declined in these degenerate days. The time has been, when no head of a family, who pretended to the name of a Christian would have dared to neglect it; but, as with family worship, what was once the rule has, we fear, become the exception. Nay, there is too much reason to doubt, that rare as is the worship of the family, the family catechising is still more rare; and some who observe the former duty have no relish for the latter. The chief cause of this is, no doubt, the decline of vital religion; but there are particular circumstances at the present day, which cannot be held as evincing such a decline, and yet have had their influence in producing the result we are deploring. Since Sabbath-schools have become so numerous, many parents think the work of family catechising is taken out of their hands. Now this is a great mistake. Sabbath-schools are a blessing, and a great blessing, to the country. But they are at the best but a remedy for a prevalent disease, and if every father could, and would, instruct his own household, Sabbath-schools would be quite uncalled for. No Christian parent is at liberty to devolve on a proxy the religious training of his offspring. And what instruction can be compared to that of a father? The school teacher may be very kind, and deeply concerned for the salvation of his pupils. But the child knows that his parent has far more interest in him than any stranger can have; and if the lessons of the school are not seconded by home tuition, they will in general be in vain. The neglect of this duty we believe to be one great reason of a fact which all Christians deplore, that while Sabbath-schools were never more numerous, juvenile wickedness was never more prevalent.

The frequency of preaching on the Sabbath evenings, especially in towns, may be another cause which has led to this evil. These sermons are extensively placarded and earnestly pressed on attention. The names of the preachers and their particular subjects are diligently advertised and intimated from every pulpit, as if it were some performance where men go to be entertained. Parents think they are well employed when they are hearing the word; and, as this is felt to be much easier than doing their more appropriate work at home, it is often preferred. Now, no head of a family should ever think, in ordinary circumstances, of going to these evening discourses. He is the priest in his own household, and his work at home is far more important than hearing the most popular preacher, on the most exciting theme he can bring before them.

The neglect of the good old way has been most disastrous. It is owing to this that such ignorance now prevails among the members of churches, and that the attainments of most professors are so very circumscribed. None who examine candidates for communion, or parents who are seeking baptism to their children, but must be pained at this. Many people can make but little of sermons, as preachers cannot be always dwelling on first principles; and as church examinations, either from the neglect of the pastor, or the pride of the people, are now almost entirely obsolote, unless the examination be practised in the family, ignorance must increase. And is it not owing to the same neglect that the grossest errors and wildest views on religious subjects are so rampant in the present day? Though the age be distinguished for shrewdness and acuteness in detecting flaws in science and literature, what monstrous opinions are entertained on religion!

Now, if in early life a systematic view of Christian doctrine were obtained, and digested and stored in the memory, the analogy of faith would be seen; the bearing of one doctrine on another would be apparent, and the pernicious dogmas, which gain assent so easily, would be at once rejected. In times of change like the present, when a respect for all that is sacred is sneered at by many as weakness and superstition, when the march of intellect, as they call it, is the pretext for so much change, and when all the foundations have gone out of their course, how important for the young especially to be rooted and grounded in the truth, that they may not be the dupes of every impostor, and be tossed about by every wind of doctrine!

In catechising a family, much will depend on the mode of procedure. To be efficient, it must be done frequently, seriously, intelligently, affectionately, attractively, and prayerfully.

It must be done frequently. Not at rare intervals, as before a communion, or when about to ask admission into the church, or when the visit of the pastor is expected. It must be very regular, and often repeated. For many years it was the custom to require an answer to a question every morning, and the greater part of Saturday was devoted to a revisal of the Catechism. But in this age of bustle and business, when even the day of God is encroached on, and there is time for everything but religion, such important seasons may not be convenient. Yet once in the week is surely not too often, and the evening of the Sabbath may be employed by all.

It must be done seriously,—not like some secular exercise, but as a work involving eternal interests. The subjects of examination are all of the most solemn and tremendous moment. And yet how often are the questions repeated with scarcely a solemn sound, and by a thoughtless tongue! Now this is not only hateful to God, but hurtful to the young. On such occasions all levity must be banished from the mind. They must be taught, when examined, that they have now to do with God, and that the place they occupy is like the “holy ground.”

It must be done intelligently; without this it will be labour in vain. Many have the form of sound words to which they can attach no meaning. They can repeat the questions with the greatest accuracy; but if you vary the language and ask what is meant by the thing expressed, there is no reply but the stare of ignorance. In this matter an improvement has taken place in recent editions of the Catechism. But still there is need for more explanation, that milk may be given to babes as well as meat to the stronger man.

It must be done affectionately, in the spirit of the father when he said, “O my son, if thine heart be wise my heart shall rejoice, even mine;” or of the mother who, leaning over the darling of her heart, exclaims, “O my son, and the son of my womb, and the son of my vows, and the son of my prayers.” The young must be drawn with the cords of love as the bands of a man. We cannot compel them to be religious. We may force them to read the Bible, and to repeat the questions, but we cannot compel them to love the Redeemer. In conducting this duty, the father must try to convince his child that he loves him as his own soul, and travails as in birth that Christ may be formed in his heart.

It must be done attractively,—not in a scolding, scowling manner, which would discourage children, and beget an aversion to the exercise; not as a task or piece of drudgery, so many questions inflicted as a kind of punishment. Unless the duty is made a delight, it will be little relished. The pious Philip Henry, as his son tells us, made the work of catechising so delightful to himself and his household, that he would sometimes say, at its close on the Sabbath evening, “Well, if this is not heaven, it must be the gate to it.”

And it must be done prayerfully. The parent who knows anything of true religion, is well aware that all his efforts will be useless without the Spirit of God. He may succeed in imparting theoretical knowledge; his child may be able to answer with promptitude and precision every question he is pleased to put to him; but without the grace of God, it is all like the sounding brass or the tinkling cymbal. The knowledge which is all intellectual may exist in the memory or the head, but it has no communication with the heart. Polish the marble as you please, it may display its spots and its veins, but it is marble still. No father can convert his son. Flesh and blood cannot do this; none but the Father in heaven. While, therefore, the parent questions, he must also pray; and while in the morning he sows the seed, he must look up for the early and the latter rains.

Were the exercise so conducted, might we not expect the most happy results? We know it is corruption and not grace that runs in the blood; and that many a pious father has had a wicked Absalom. But this is the exception and not the rule, and for such exceptions reasons may often be assigned, as in the case of David and Eli. Manasseh had a good father who would take care to instruct him in the things of God; and yet for a while he gave no evidence of profiting from his pious education. But see him caught among the thorns; carried captive to Babylon; lying in the dungeon, and there making supplication to the God of his father. It was his early impressions which were then revived. It was the seed sown into his mind when a child, that then sprung up and produced such a blessed harvest. And such cases are by no means rare. Parents may sometimes think they have laboured in vain. Their instructions may be buried long under the clods of corruption, but their words may be remembered when they are sleeping in the dust, and when their souls are in heaven. They may have occasion to say on hearing of the conversion of their poor prodigal, “It is meet to make merry, and be glad, for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

If a parent, then, is reading these lines, we would say—for your own sake, for your children’s sake, and for the sake of the Lord Jesus, early instruct your offspring in the things of God. If your children perish through neglect of this, how can you meet them in the other world? “O father! O mother!” they might say, “if you had taught me the Catechism, if you had taken pains to instruct me in the things that belong to my peace, I might not have come to this place of torment. You took care, indeed, to cultivate my mind, and refine my manners; you sent me to every school but the school of Christ; you were careful that I should learn everything but the way of salvation. You often examined me on questions of science, but you had no anxiety to know my attainments in religion. You were proud when you saw me excelling others in branches of literature, but you thought no shame though you saw me ignorant of religion as the wild ass’s colt. The things that belonged to my peace you hid from mine eyes, and now I cannot but curse you for ever as the cause of my misery.”

But O, how different the meeting when by instructing your children in religion you have not only kept them from error, but become the means of their eternal salvation! Then how will they hail you, as, under God, the parents not of their first only, but of their second birth! And how transported will you be when called to account for your charge, you can say, Lord, here are we, and the children thou hast given to us—given to us first by nature, and then by grace! Happy family in heaven! Here you enjoyed your domestic gatherings, but they were soon over. But now your Sabbath’s sun never goes down—your meetings never break up! The Catechism is left behind you, and also the Bible, for now you know even as you are known. But being pious and happy in your lives, in your deaths you are not divided; for they who are a family in Christ are for ever with each other and for ever with the Lord!

 

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The following comes from Anecdotes: Religious, Moral & Entertaining, by Charles Buck (1832).

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CATECHISING.

Catechising is an excellent mean of informing the mind and impressing the heart, and should be attended to by all who wish well to their children. No Minister of the Gospel, who LHF25has opportunity, should neglect this part of his work. The late Mr. Hervey’s method of instructing young people was such, that while it afforded profit to them, it was a mean of reproof to others.

Some of his parishioners having laid in bed on a Sunday morning longer than he approved, and others having been busy in foddering their cattle when he was coming to church, and several having frequented the ale-house, he thus catechised one of the children before the congregation. “Repeat me the fourth commandment.”—”Now, little man, do you understand the meaning of this commandment?” ” Yes, Sir.”—”Then if you do, you will be able to answer me these questions: Do those keep holy the Sabbath-day who lay in bed till eight or nine o’clock in the morning, instead of rising to say their prayers and read the Bible?” “No Sir.”—”Do those keep the sabbath who fodder their cattle when other people are going to church?” ” No, Sir.”—”Does God Almighty bless such people as go to ale-houses, and don’t mind the instruction of their minister?” — “No, Sir.”—”Don’t those who love God read the Bible to their families, particularly on Sunday evenings, and have prayers every morning and night in their houses?” — “Yes, Sir.” A great variety of such pertinent and familiar questions he would frequently ask, in the most engaging manner, on every part of the Catechism as he thought most conducive to the improvement and edification of his parish.

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0_post_card_portraits_-_jrre_unidentified_rev_patonHere’s a selection from the first chapter of one of my all-time favorite books, John G. Paton: Missionary to the New Hebrides.  These two passages are some of the more memorable ones to me, holding out the beautiful example of a New Covenant Abraham, leading his family to the throne of grace and giving a foretaste of heavenly glory.

This book is well worth the reading.  If you don’t read the book, read the first chapter.  But I dare you not to continue reading after that.  Read it to your family on a quiet Lord’s Day afternoon and develop your own memories of hallowing the day with your children.  Oh, and make sure to read the poem at the end …

The book can be accessed online for free with GoogleBooks, and you can obtain it at Reformation Heritage Books.

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Besides his independent choice of a Church for himself, there was one other mark and fruit of his early religious decision, which looks even fairer through all these years. Family Worship had heretofore been held only on Sabbath day in his father’s house; but the young Christian, entering into conference with his sympathising mother, managed to get the household persuaded that there ought to be daily morning and evening prayer and reading of the Bible and holy singing. This the more readily, as he himself agreed to take part regularly in the same and so relieve the old warrior of what might have proved for him too arduous spiritual toils. And so began in his seventeenth year that blessed custom of Family Prayer, morning and evening, which my father practised probably without one single omission till he lay on his deathbed, seventy-seven years of age; when, even to the last day of his life, a portion of Scripture was read, and his voice was heard softly joining in the Psalm, and his lips breathed the morning and evening Prayer,—falling in sweet benediction on the heads of all his children, far away many of them over all the earth, but all meeting him there at the Throne of Grace. None of us can remember that any day ever passed unhallowed thus; no hurry for market, no rush to business, no arrival of friends or guests, no trouble or sorrow, no joy or excitement, ever prevented at least our kneeling around the family altar, while the High Priest led our prayers to God, and offered himself and his children there. And blessed to others, as well as to ourselves, was the light of such example! I have heard that, in long after years, the worst woman in the village of Torthorwald, then leading an immoral life, but since changed by the grace of God, was known to declare, that the only thing that kept her from despair and from the hell of the suicide, was when in the dark winter nights she crept close up underneath my father’s window, and heard him pleading in family worship that God would convert “the sinner from the error of wicked ways and polish him as a jewel for the Redeemer’s crown.” “I felt,” said she, “that I was a burden on that good man’s heart, and I knew that God would not disappoint him. That thought kept me out of Hell, and at last led me to the only Saviour” . . . .

We had, too, special Bible Readings on the Lord’s Day evening,—mother and children and visitors reading in turns, with fresh and interesting question, answer, and exposition, all tending to impress us with the infinite grace of a God of love and mercy in the great gift of His dear Son Jesus, our Saviour. The Shorter Catechism was gone through regularly, each answering the question asked, till the whole had been explained, and its foundation in Scripture shown by the proof-texts adduced. It has been an amazing thing to me, occasionally to meet with men who blamed this “catechizing” for giving them a distaste to religion; every one in all our circle thinks and feels exactly the opposite. It laid the solid rock foundations of our religious life. After-years have given to these questions and their answers a deeper or a modified meaning, but none of us have ever once even dreamed of wishing that we had been otherwise trained. Of course, if the parents are not devout, sincere, and affectionate,—if the whole affair on both sides is taskwork, or worse, hypocritical and false,—results must be very different indeed! Oh, I can remember those happy Sabbath evenings; no blinds drawn, and shutters up, to keep out the sun from us, as some scandalously affirm; but a holy, happy, entirely human day, for a Christian father, mother, and children to spend. How my father would parade across and across our flag-floor, telling over the substance of the day’s sermons to our dear mother, who, because of the great distance and because of her many living “encumbrances,” got very seldom indeed to the church, but gladly embraced every chance, when there was prospect or promise of a “lift ” either way from some friendly gig! How he would entice us to help him to recall some idea or other, rewarding us when we got the length of “taking notes” and reading them over on our return; how he would turn the talk ever so naturally to some Bible story, or some martyr reminiscence, or some happy allusion to the “Pilgrim’s Progress”! And then it was quite a contest, which of us would get reading aloud, while all the rest listened, and father added here and there a happy thought, or illustration, or anecdote. Others must write and say what they will, and as they feel; but so must I. There were eleven of us brought up in a home like that; and never one of the eleven, boy or girl, man or woman, has been heard, or ever will be heard, saying that Sabbath was dull or wearisome for us, or suggesting that we have heard of or seen any way more likely than that for making the Day of the Lord bright and blessed alike for parents and for children. But God help the homes where these things are done by force and not by love! The very discipline through which our father passed us was a kind of religion in itself. If anything really serious required to be punished, he retired first to his closet for prayer, and we boys got to understand that he was laying the whole matter before God; and that was the severest part of the punishment for me to bear! I could have defied any amount of mere penalty, but this spoke to my conscience as a message from God. We loved him all the more, when we saw how much it cost him to punish us; and, in truth, he had never very much of that kind of work to do upon any one of all the eleven—we were ruled by love far more than by fear.

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A powerful plea from J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937) for a return to meaningful pre-membership instruction to recall the “paper currency” back to a “gold standard.”  This extract comes from his work, What is Faith?

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At this point, a question may perhaps be asked. We have said that saving faith is acceptance of Christ, not merely in general, but as He is offered to us in the gospel. How much, then, of the gospel, it may be asked, does a man need to accept in order that he may be saved; what, to put it baldly, are the minimum doctrinal requirements in order that a man may be a Christian? That is a question which, in one form or another, I am often asked; but it is also a question which I have never answered, and which I have not the slightest intention of answering now. Indeed it is a question which I think no human being can answer. Who can presume to say for certain what is the condition of another man’s soul; who can presume to say whether the other man’s attitude toward Christ, which he can express but badly in words, is an attitude of saving faith or not? This is one of the things which must surely be left to God.

(more…)

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by B. B. Warfield

The Shorter Catechism is, perhaps, not very easy to learn. And very certainly it will not teach itself. Its framers were less careful to make it easy than to make it good.  As one of them, Lazarus Seaman, explained, they sought to set down in it not the knowledge the child has, but the knowledge the child ought to have.  And they did not dream that anyone could expect it to teach itself.  They committed it rather to faithful men who were zealous teachers of the truth, “to be,” as the Scottish General Assembly puts it in the Act approving it, “a Directory for catechizing such as are of a weaker capacity,” as they sent out the Larger Catechism “to be a Directory for catechizing such as have made some proficiency in the knowledge of the grounds of religion.”

No doubt it requires some effort whether to teach or to learn the Shorter Catechism. It requires some effort whether to teach or to learn the grounds of any department of knowledge.  Our children – some of them at least – groan over even the primary arithmetic and find sentence-analysis a burden.  Even the conquest of the art of reading has proved such a task that “reading without tears” is deemed an achievement. We think, nevertheless, that the acquisition of arithmetic, grammar and reading is worth the pains it costs the teacher to teach, and the pain it costs the learner to learn them.  Do we not think the acquisition of the grounds of religion worth some effort, and even, if need be, some tears?

For, the grounds of religion must be taught and learned as truly as the grounds of anything else.  Let us make no mistake here.  Religion does not come of itself: it is always a matter of instruction.  The emotions of the heart, in which many seem to think religion too exclusively to consist, ever follow the movements of the thought. Passion for service cannot take the place of passion for truth, or safely outrun the acquisition of truth; for it is dreadfully possible to compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, to find we have made him only a “son of hell.”  This is why God establishes and extends his Church by the ordinance of preaching; it is why we have Sunday schools and Bible classes.  Nay, this is why God has grounded his Church in revelation. He does not content himself with sending his Spirit into the world to turn men to him.  He sends his Word into the world as well.  Because, it is from knowledge of the truth, and only from the knowledge of the truth, that under the quickening influence of the Spirit true religion can be born.  Is it not worth the pains of the teacher to communicate, the pain of the scholar to acquire this knowledge of the truth?  How unhappy the expedient to withhold the truth – that truth under the guidance of which the religious nature must function if it is to function aright – that we may save ourselves these pains, our pupils this pain!

An anecdote told of Dwight L. Moody will illustrate the value to the religious life of having been taught these forms of truth.  He was staying with a Scottish friend in London, but suppose we let the narrator tell the story.  “A young man had come to speak to Mr. Moody about religious things.  He was in difficulty about a number of points, among the rest about prayer and natural laws. ‘What is prayer?,’  he said, ‘I can’t tell what you mean by it!’   They were in the hall of a large London house.  Before Moody could answer, a child’s voice was heard singing on the stairs.  It was that of a little girl of nine or ten, the daughter of their host.  She came running down the stairs and paused as she saw strangers sitting in the hall.  ‘Come here, Jenny,’ her father said, ‘and tell this gentleman “What is prayer.”‘  Jenny did not know what had been going on, but she quite understood that she was now called upon to say her Catechism.  So she drew herself up, and folded her hands in front of her, like a good little girl who was going to ‘say her questions,’ and she said in her clear childish voice: “Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.”  ‘Ah! That’s the Catechism!’ Moody said, ‘thank God for that Catechism.'”

How many have had occasion to “thank God for that Catechism!”  Did anyone ever know a really devout man who regretted having been taught the Shorter Catechism – even with tears – in his youth?  How its forms of sound words come reverberating back into the memory, in moments of trial and suffering, of doubt and temptation, giving direction to religious aspirations, firmness to hesitating thought, guidance to stumbling feet: and adding to our religious meditations an ever-increasing richness and depth. “The older I grow,” said Thomas Carlyle in his old age, “and now I stand on the brink of eternity, the more comes back to me the first sentence in the Catechism, which I learned when a child, and the fuller and deeper its meaning becomes: “What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”  Robert Louis Stevenson, too, had learned this Catechism when a child; and though he wandered far from the faith in which it would guide his feet, he could never escape from its influence, and he never lost his admiration (may we not even say, his reverence) for it. Mrs. Sellars, a shrewd, if kindly, observer, tells us in her delightful “Recollections” that Stevenson bore with him to his dying day what she calls “the indelible mark of the Shorter Catechism”; and he himself shows how he esteemed it when he set over against one another what he calls the “English” and the “Scottish” Catechisms – the former, as he says, beginning by “tritely inquiring ‘What is your name?,’ ” the latter by “striking at the very roots of life with ‘What is the chief end of man?’ and answering nobly, if obscurely, ‘To glorify God and to enjoy him forever.’ ”

What is “the indelible mark of the Shorter Catechism”?  We have the following bit of personal experience from a general officer of the United States army.  He was in a great western city at a time of intense excitement and violent rioting.  The streets were over-run daily by a dangerous crowd.  One day he observed approaching him a man of singularly combined calmness and firmness of mien, whose very demeanor inspired confidence.  So impressed was he with his bearing amid the surrounding uproar that when he had passed he turned to look back at him, only to find that the stranger had done the same. On observing his turning the stranger at once came back to him, and touching his chest with his forefinger, demanded without preface: “What is the chief end of man?” On receiving the countersign, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever” – “Ah!” said he, “I knew you were a Shorter Catechism boy by your looks!”  “Why, that was just what I was thinking of you,” was the rejoinder.

It is worth while to be a Shorter Catechism boy.  They grow to be men.  And better than that, they are exceedingly apt to grow to be men of God.  So apt, that we cannot afford to have them miss the chance of it.  “Train up a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

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In the previous post on building multi-generational churches, I focused mainly on the duties of parents and especially fathers.  On their shoulders, in large part, rests the future of the Church.  But of course, as we observed, the church ‘fathers’ must cultivate them, and so really it does come back to the teaching and ruling ministry of the Church at the end of the day.

The following extract from Samuel Miller (1769-1850) comes from his masterly work, The Christian Education of Children and Youth. In this passage, he urges one particular duty of church officers in raising up and retaining a godly seed for the Church.  It is the time-honored Reformed practice of pastoral catechizing of the youth:

It follows, of course, that the pastor who does not diligently attend to the religious instruction of the young people of his charge, is blind to the comfort, the acceptance, and the popularity of his own ministry. Why is it that so many ministers, before reaching an infirm old age, grow out of date with their people, and lose their influence with them? Especially, why is it that the younger part of their flocks feel so little attraction to them, dislike their preaching, and sigh for a change of pastors? There is reason to believe that this has seldom occurred, except in cases in which pastors have been eminently negligent of the religious training of their young people; in which, however respectable they may have been for their talents, their learning, and their worth, in other respects, they have utterly failed to bind the affections of the children to their persons; to make every one of them revere and love them as affectionate fathers; and, by faithful attentions, to inspire them with the strongest sentiments of veneration and filial attachment. Those whose range of observation has been considerable, have, no doubt, seen examples of ministers, whose preaching was by no means very striking or attractive, yet retaining to the latest period of their lives, the affections of all committed to their care, and especially being the favourites of the young people, who have rallied round them in their old age, and contributed not a little to render their last days both useful and happy. It may be doubted whether such a case ever occurred excepting where the pastor had bestowed much attention on the young people of his charge.

Such are some of the evils which flow from neglect on the part of the Church to train up her children in the knowledge of her doctrines and order. She may expect to see a majority of those children—even children of professors of religion—growing up in ignorance and profligacy; of course forsaking the church of their fathers; leaving her either to sink, or to be filled up by converts from without; turning away from those pastors who neglected them; and causing such pastors to experience in their old age, the merited reward of unfaithful servants (22-23).

Here is one big reason why churches, even Reformed ones, lose their youth.  The ministry has neglected catechizing.  Church catechizing, that is.  Much of the evangelical ministry today, sadly, has farmed out its duty here to ‘youth pastors’ – most of whom are often little better than glorified baby-sitters.  At best, it has delegated church education to pious, but unordained lay people.  But as Miller shrewdly observes, this passing on duty is also passing on a major opportunity.  An opportunity for the ministry to win young people’s minds to the principles of the church of their baptism, as well as an opportunity to win their hearts by sustained care and attention.  A profound insight indeed.

My mind here is taken to a beautiful mental image I have of the good Dr. Luther.   I can’t recall if it was a painting or something I read at some point – but forever irretrievable, I fear.  The master has gathered his pupils around him, and he is imparting a sacred lesson.  The little peasant catechumens are listening with rapt attention, and on occasion one is put on the spot to give an answer.   Here we see the embodiment of duty, of love, and of shrewd church policy, aimed at winning and at retaining the young.

We in the Reformed ministry must imitate our Saviour.  “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the Kingdom of heaven.”  And when we are done baptizing them, let us yet hold on to them.  Let us retain them in our hearts, in our prayers, in our attentions – and in our devoted, focused instruction of them.  And combining this discipline with godly parenting in the home, by the blessing of the Spirit, shouldn’t we hope to mend the breaches in Zion’s walls?

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