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THE great advantages arising from the catechetical method of instruction are abundantly obvious in the present day, when it has been applied to almost every branch of learning; but in no case is it more evident than in its application to Religion, especially in Sunday-schools. Our Lord has taught us to "search the Scriptures," as the mine of eternal truth; and by no method can we so effectually extract the golden ore, as by the application of pertinent and practical questions to the most important parts of the Bible, and especially of the New Testament.
In this edition, our readers will find sundry italic letters prefixed to certain verses, the import and design of which will be found explained in the KEY page at the end of the Tables. But the nature and design of these letters will be more fully understood by attending to the following illustration of some select passages to which they are prefixed. Thus, for instance, in the third chapter of Matthew, a small ƒ preceding the first verse, directs our attention to certain FACTS, from which such questions as the following may be raised. Where did John Baptist begin his ministry? In the wilderness of Judea. What do you know of the wilderness of Judea? The pupil will be prepared to answer this question by consulting the 14th page of the Tables and the Maps. What was the object of John's ministry? To prepare the way for the Messiah's advent.
Before the 2nd verse d is inserted, which directs the attention to DUTY. On the Key page it is asked, What duty is here enjoined? Repentance. On whom? On all mankind. Can you repeat any other passage which will confirm this answer? "God Now commandeth ALL MEN EVERY WHERE to repent." Is it taught by precept, by example, or by inference? Here John Baptist taught it by direct precept; other ministers are bound to preach like him; like all the prophets, apostles, and the Master himself. All their hearers are bound to obey these messages. Therefore precept and inference both teach this duty. How enforced? It was then enforced by the near approach of the Gospel dispensation, there called the kingdom of heaven. It may now be enforced by the reasonableness of the duty, its necessity, and the near approach of death and eternity. Here let the instructer enforce the subject on the consciences of the pupils. You have said that repentance is binding on ALL; then it is binding on each one of you. Have you done your duty? We have seen that it is a reasonable duty; Are you not acting a most unreasonable part if you are neglecting it? It is a necessary duty; for," except ye repent, ye shall all likewise
perish:" and dare any of you still live in sin? Since, without repentance, where Christ has gone no sinners can go, and liable as you are every moment to drop into eternity, CAN YOU longer defer repentance?
Before the 3rd verse a is inserted, which, according to the Key page, asks, What prophecy is here ACCOMPLISHED? The voice of one crying in the wilderness, &c. Where is it found? At the bottom of the 16th page of the Tables the answer will be found, viz. Isa. xl. 3. How many years had it been written? The answer will be found on the 15th page of the Tables, viz. About 700 years. The teacher will then draw this inference: If such men as Isaiah could predict future events with minute accuracy, several centuries before they took place, they must have been different from other men. Who can now foretell events, for three, or five, or seven centuries to come? These prophets were therefore, what the New Testament calls them, holy men of God, who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." In other words, they were inspired men. God has spoken by them to us. We must implicitly believe all he has revealed, and cheerfully obey all he has commanded. By some such process, young minds will more deeply revere the Bible; they will be more ready to believe all its doctrines, and have its high and holy claims press upon their consciences.
Before the 4th verse f again occurs. What account can you give of John Baptist's raiment? He was clad in a course garment of camel's hair, bound about him with a girdle of leather. What was his diet? Locusts and wild honey. Here the instructer can bring present oriental customs in confirmation that locusts are sometimes eaten; and he can shew that in the days of Saul and Jonathan, honey from wild bees abounded in the woods of Palestine. Is any doctrine or duty connected with them? We may learn the duty of plainness in dress, and abstemiousness in diet, when these will subserve our greatest usefulness.
In the indentation of the 5th verse, you find g. This directs the attention to GEOGRAPHY. What geographical information is known of Jerusalem, Judea, the Jordan, and the region beyond it? The 11th page of the Tables with the Maps, will enable pupils to reply with readiness and propriety.
Against the 7th verse there stands a t, the representative of doctrinal The questions are, What doctrinal TRUTH is here inculcated? The exceeding depravity of that generation, directly; and since, as in water face answereth to face so the heart of man to man, we indirectly learn the doctrine of universal depravity. How illustrated? By recurrence to natural history. Man is inclined to evil as the viper is to be venemous, What practical influence should this truth have? It ought to humble us. But is there not another doctrinal truth here? Yes; the doctrine of future punishment. And from the 12th verse, before which another t stands, we may learn the duration of that punishment. For when the righteous are gathered to the heavenly garner, the wicked will be doomed
to unquenchable fire, or everlasting destruction, from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power. It would be easy to protract this illustration through the intermediate and subsequent verses of this chapter, but it is not necessary. The pupils ought, as much as possible, to be made to feel, that they are individually addressed in these messages from God; that they are depraved, condemned, and perishing, without renewing grace by the Holy Spirit, producing repentance, and its necessary fruits, holiness of heart and life,
The character and preaching of John Baptist might constitute the basis of some general remarks. He was a man of God, plain in dress and abstemious in his habits. He was discriminating in his views of divine truth, and in disclosing them kept back nothing which was profitable to his hearers. He preached the doctrine of universal and entire depravity in man, his merited exposure to future endless punishment, and that deliverance was obtained by the renewing influence of the Divine Spirit, inclining and enabling the soul to exercise repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ, with corresponding purity of life. He was faithful to warn, reprove, and rebuke sinners of every rank or description, fearless of personal consequences. Here we may learn ministerial duty, and what criterion can be used for determining who are, and who are not, faithful stewards of the mysteries of God.
To illustrate the application of two or three other letters, turn to the 8th chapter of Matthew. Again ƒ precedes the 1st verse. What facts are here related? The descent of Christ from the mountain with multitudes in his train, the divine homage he allowed to be given him by a leper, with the remarkable and importunate prayer which accompanied that worship. Is any doctrine or duty connected with them? Yes; both may here be learned by inference. For if INCARNATE TRUTH allowed himself to be honoured even as men honour the Father, such homage is his due, and it is OUR DUTY and the duty of ALL to worship Him. Heaven worships Him; and if idolatry is not in heaven, it is not idolatry to worship Him on earth. Before the 3rd verse m is inserted. What MIRACLE is here recorded? The cleansing of the leper. By whom, and for what purpose wrought? By the Lord Jesus Christ, to shew his power and compassion. In whose name, and by whose authority? Christ wrought miracles in his own name, and by his own authority. I WILL; BE THOU CLEAN. On the tempestuous wave he could say, PEACE; BE STILL: beside the grave, LAZARUS, COME FORTH. Peter and other apostles were accustomed to say, when healing the, sick, "JESUS CHRIST maketh thee whole. Be it known unto you, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ doth this man stand here before you whole. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved."
Before the 8th verse c is inserted. What traits of moral CHARACTER are here given? Humility and faith. Are they morally good or evil? Good.
Do they belong to a natural or renewed state? To the former. What advantages attended? The strong approbation of Christ, and an answer of mercy. Have we humility and faith? Without some measure of these Christ never will approve our persons, or accept our petitions. And when shall we begin to be humble, and to believe in Christ, if we have hitherto neglected it?"Behold, Now is the accepted time; behold, Now is the day of salvation. The Holy Ghost saith, To-DAY, if ye will hear his voice hearden not your hearts." O that these dear YOUTH were ALL truly wise, that they well understood the truths of revelation, and would rightly consider their LATTER END!
It is by no means designed to limit the Teacher's enquiry to the questions here suggested. Sometimes the same passage inculcates more than one doctrine, or enjoins more than one duty. In that case, questions 'should be repeated. Some passages are designedly left without marking them; and the pupil should never pass over one verse of inspiration, without endeavours to know the mind of the Spirit there revealed. Usually one letter is intended to apply till another letter occurs. When g, or o, or u, follows ƒ, while they suggest additional questions, they should not supersede such other questions as might be appropriately asked with only fat the beginning of the paragraph. Whenever the name of a country, city, river, or other subject of geographical, statistical, or chronological remarks, occurs, the pupil ought to be prepared to answer any important question which might be proposed. When i is used before a parable, it is expected that the leading truths intended to be taught by that passage, should be distinctly and particularly stated. It will be useful often to inquire what parallel texts ean be named. It should not be understood by pupils that all the questions apply where a letter occurs, but several of them will. Nor should the instructer fail to ask other important questions which may occur. It is confidently believed that, if pious parents would question their families in some such manner respecting the chapters which should be read for prayer on Sabbath evenings, and then have a free conversation respecting the truths they had read, and their application to family and personal circumstances, important benefits would be realised.