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N Scotland, the minifters are obliged by their church rules and conftitutions, to be much employed in the work of Catechifing; and the good fruits of it do appear, for there the people (comparatively fpeaking) are generally knowing and orthodox: whereas, in thofe places where catechifing is neglected, ignorance and error do wofully prevail. It is found by experience, that there is more knowledge diffused among the ignorant and younger fort by one hours catechifing, than by many hours preaching: for, by the method of catechifing, the attention is provoked, as well as the understanding inftruc-. ted, and memory gratified; whilst many excellent fermons are loft through the non-attention of the hearers, or the weaknefs of their memories.
In the primitive church, Catechifing was very much their work. They had many ministers fet apart for it, called Catechifts; and fundry of their most eminent lights were fo called, for their excelling and diligence in this good work. Before perfons were admitted to the full communion of the church, they were from time to time to be catechifed, and kept under trial; and, till fuch time as they were judged fit to partake of the facrament, they were called Catechumeni.
Our Lord doth enjoin all his minifters to be careful to feed the lambs of his flock, as well as the older fheep, John xxi. 15. And accordingly we find his apoftles took care to feed the babes with milk before they were able to receive stronger meat, 1 Cor. iii. 1, 2. Heb. v. 12. As we have our Catechifms, fo they had Forms of inftruction in which the young and weak were Catechifed, called a Form of Knowledge, Rom. ii. 20. a Form of Doctrine, Rom. vi. 17. the Form of found Words, 2 Tim. i. 13. the firft Principles of the Oracles of God, Heb. v. 12. and the Principles of the Doctrine of Chrift, Heb. vi. I. In these were both Theophilus and Apollos catechifed, Luke i. 4. Acts xviii. 25. in both which texts, the word in the Greek is Catechifed, which we have there rendered Inftructed. The apoftle Paul doth require the people of
Galatia to give all encouragement and support to these who laboured in the work of catechifing among them, Gal. vi. 6. Let him that is taught in the word, communicate to him that teacheth in all good things. In the original, it is, Let him that is catechifed, communicate to him that catechifeth. This office is not below the most learned divines, feeing Christ sets himself a pattern to us in it, by catechifing his difciples, Matth. xvi. 15, 16.
We in this national church, through the Lord's mercy, are provided with excellent Catechifms both Larger and Shorter, for our help in catechifing. And the Affembly's Shorter Catechifm, established in this church about ninety years ago, (which both we and the body of Proteftant diffenters in our neighbour nations do receive and teach our children by) is judged the most excellent fummary we ever had, in fo fmall a compafs, of the great principles of the chriftian reli- . gion extracted from the word of God. It hath been greatly efteemed in foreign parts also, and upon that account hath been tranflated both into Latin and Greek. In the hand of divine Providence, it proves a noble fence against error, wherever it is received; and therefore the adverfaries of truth are not a little difpleafed with it.
There was a very wild attempt lately made by an anonymous author to alter our Shorter Catechifm, which was printed at London in the year 1735, under the title of, The Aembly's Shorter Catechifm Revifed. But the alterations therein made, being visibly defigned to favour feveral errors now spread among us, feverals of the Judicatories of this church judged themfelves bound to give warning against the poifon of it. Befides, there were Remarks made upon it by a very judicious author at London (to whom we stand much obliged) which have been difperfed both there and here as an antidote against it.
By the forefaid attempt I have been excited to confider our Shorter Catechifm more clofely than before, and muft now own, the more I view it, I am the better pleased with it, and defire to blefs God for raifing up fuch noble instruments in the last age to frame it for us, and fettle it among us; and do reckon it a great mercy, that we have not a catechifm of this kind to frame and fettle among us in this degenerate and licentious age.
This Shorter Catechifm being evidently founded upon the
word of God, and a part of our standards to which we stand folemnly engaged; it becomes the lovers of truth to adhere firmly to it, and contend for it, as a most valuable attainment in our reformation, and always to wifh and pray that it may be preserved entire to us and our pofterity, and that generations to come may be trained up in the use of it to the latest ages.
We have had many Explanatory Catechifms upon it publifhed, which have been moft ufeful for increafing knowledge among us: but having observed in these which I have seen, that either the answers are too prolix for the memories of learners, or elfe too short to explain the nature and reafon of things, I have humbly made effay in the following Catechifm to obferve a Medium between the forefaid extremes, and likewife to take in many things omitted by others.
It is highly the concern of us all to be well feen in the knowledge, and fixed in the belief, of the great truths of our holy religion, fumm'd up in the Shorter Catechism; especially in this fhaking time, when the winds of error are blowing, and the most facred fundamental truths are openly attacked by Deifts, Socinians, Arians, and others. As it is surprising to obferve how faft erroneous books are spread and bought up at this day, fo it is aftonishing to behold to what height infidelity and damnable herefies are arrived in our age; while we who profefs chriftianity do wrangle with one another, alas, Infidelity doth prevail against us all! And it may caufe us tremble to think what shall be the iffue, if the God of truth do not in mercy arise and ftop its career.
Whence is it that Infidelity abounds, and the christian revelation hath fo many enemies? Alas! many are fo bent to indulge themselves in vicious practices, that they can't endure Chrift's holy laws which check them therein, and therefore Atudy by all means to darken these truths and facts upon which thefe laws are founded, that they may render revelation doubtful and uncertain; and further, that they may make it quite needlefs, they labour, to advance Reason as a fufficient guide in matters of religion, and as that which may conduct us in the way to happiness.
But if the biafs of fuch perfons to fenfual lufts and pleasures would allow them freely to think upon this fubject, and impartially to view the noble defign and convincing proofs of christianity, the more fully would they be fatisfied of the neceffity and excellency as well as of the truth and certainty
of the gospel-revelation, and of its divine original. And, if my teftimony thereunto could have any weight, I can say, after the most serious inquiry, I have full freedom to give it, and which I here offer with all humility upon the following - grounds:
Altho' my natural light or reafon be fadly corrupted, yet the remains of it tell me that there is a God, and that he ought to be believed in what he faith, and obeyed in what he commands. And by the clearest evidences I am affured that the mind of God, with refpect to my falvation is only now discovered to me in the christian revelation, which I fee is the completion of the Jewish inftitution. And this revelation, I find, doth confirm and perfect the religion of nature, feeing it correfponds with the dictates of natural reafon and religion, and comes feasonably unto me to fupply the great defects thereof.
Tho' the light of nature intimates to me, that my life fhould be just and virtuous, and that I should shun what is offenfive to God, and that he ought to be worshipped and glorified by me his creature, yet it leaves me ignorant of the right way and manner of doing it: but the chriftian revelation doth both inform me how God is to be worshipped and ferved, and alfo with the strongest arguments inforces that which is the defign of natural religion, namely, the abandoning of fin and vice, and the practice of virtue and piety. This is the fcope and aim of all its mysteries, precepts, promifes, threatnings, examples, miracles, &c.
I find thefe who have had no more but Reafon to guide them, had but faint discoveries of divine things, and thefe notices had but fmall influence on their minds and practices; hence they generally entertained unworthy notions of God, and run into grofs idolatry, and the practice of the greatest abominations: but the chriftian revelation gives us a noble description of the perfections of God, and of the worship and duties he requires as fuitable thereunto; and withal offers us grace to conform our fouls unto them.
Natural Reafon can give no fatisfying account of the creation of the world, the original of mankind, nor in what flate our first parents came out of their Maker's hands; nor can it tell us how human nature fell from its original rectitude into the prefent ftate of guilt and impurity, nor how it can be recovered from it; nor can it account for the conduct of