Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Ignorant Man's Catechism

Thomas Doolittle was famous for his zeal for and success in catechizing. He specifically encouraged the catechizing of both young and old, propounding many reasons for targeting both age groups, and not assuming that older professing Christians have progressed in their knowledge of spiritual things beyond milk to meat. He records answers to basic questions about Christianity from older persons who should know better that would make us "tremble" to hear them. If you have ever heard Jay Leno's "Man on the Street" interviews and gasped at the lack of knowledge shown, consider this a 17th century version of the same.

Thomas Doolittle, "A Prefatory Catechism," in A Plain Method of Catechizing: With a Prefatory Catechism, pp. 10-11 (modernized type):

Q. Why should elder persons, married or unmarried, yea though gray-headed, that are without this Knowledge, now learn it?

A. Because it is a very great shame to be old and ignorant, 1 Cor. 15.34.
9. The amazing Answers they would make to Questions about God and Christ, and things necessary to Salvation, would make such an ignorant Man's Catechism, that would cause the knowing, that have the Fear of God, a belief of Eternity, and apprehensions of the worth and danger of Souls, tremble to read their Answers, therefore they should learn to make better, 1 Pet. 3.15.

Doolittle, "A Prefatory Catechism Enlarged," in A Plain Method of Catechizing, pp. 111-116:

Ninth Reason. Is not the gross and amazing Ignorance in grown Persons, Married or Unmarried, yea, grey-headed, an undeniable Reason, that they should forthwith, without Delay, make haste, with all possible speed, to learn a Catechism, as the shortest way to cure their Ignorance? Yes.

If a short Catechism (abusively so called) were framed, according to the Answers these People have made to Ministers' Questions, proposed to them about the Principles of Religion, would it not clearly discover what need they have of Catechizing, properly so called? Yes.

Shall I (to show the astonishing thick Darkness upon the Minds of Men and Women) draw up a few Questions, and give you their Answers to them, which they have made to me, and what I have heard have been given to others? And will you give your Thoughts of them as we go along, whether they favour of the least Knowledge, or discover Deplorable Ignorance? Yes. Mind then: When it hath been asked,

1. What is God? They have answered, God is a grave Old Man, sitting in the Heavens: What's this, say you? Blasphemous ignorance.

2. What was Jesus Christ? One said, Jesus Christ was a very good Young Man: But asked, Was he God? Answered, No sure. I asked another, (who told me he was Fourscore Years of Age) What was Christ? He stood looking on me, as if he had never heard the Name before. I asked, Was he God? or, Was he a Man? What do you think? plainly said to me, Truly Sir, I cannot tell. I asked another, Who is Jesus Christ? Answered, Sure he is the Holy Ghost. Another said, he was a Man when he lived upon Earth, but is not now a Man in Heaven. What's all this, say you? Knowledge or Ignorance? Great Ignorance.

3. Which are the three Offices of Christ? I asked one of about sixty years of Age, that desired to partake of the Lord's Supper, said, The three Offices of Christ are, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. What's this, you little One, tell me was it a good Answer? No. Was it very bad? Yes.

4. What Religion are you of? A Question to one of about seventy years, on a dying Bed, said, I am of the good old Religion, holding fast the three honest Sacraments, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Young Man, what say you of this Saying? It was shameful Ignorance.

5. Who is your Father? God, or the Devil? Question put to a Drunkard; who said, I defy the Devil and all his Works; God is my Father, and when I say my Prayers, I say, Our Father, &c. Do you think God will own an impenitent Drunkard for an Adopted Son? No. Will the Devil claim him for his Child? Yes.

6. What is your Soul? Answer was, my Soul is my Breath. What think ye, young Men, had not Heathens more Knowledge of the Nature of the Soul of Man? Yes, a great deal.

7. What is Faith? A Question put to many. The common Answer given by many, is, Faith is a believing.

Doth not this discover a great confusedness in the Mind of such Answerers? Yes.

8. What is believing, by which you must be saved? Say, a believing that God is merciful, and that Christ died for Sinners. Tell me, doth not the Devil believe this? Yes.

Shall the Devil be saved by this belief? No.

What Saying then is this, that faith, they have no more Faith than Devils, and yet think it is saving Faith? Damnable Ignorance.

9. Why do you think you shall be saved? The common Answer by very many is, one after another, Because Christ did die for Sinners, and I am a Sinner. Tell me, Cannot the Devil say, Christ died for Sinners? Yes. Cannot the Devil say he is a Sinner? Yes. What then say you of these Peoples' Answer? It is a self-deceiving Ignorance.

10. What is the Ground of your Hope of Heaven? The Answer to me hath often been, because I am no Drunkard, Whore, nor Thief; and never wronged Man, Woman, or Child. How like you this? It is very ignorant.

11. What is your state by Nature? What Heart have you? The answer hath often been, Indeed I have my Failings, as the best of Men have; but I thank God, I have had a good heart ever since I was born: Do you approve of this? No, it is great Self-ignorance.

12. Do you Love Christ? The Answer I have received is this; Ah Sir, love Christ! Yes, and I always did: Pity he should live that doth not love Christ. What say you, is love to Christ natural to Sinners? No; this is Self-deceiving Ignorance.

13. Now you are a dying, Whither are you going? A Question I did propose lately, to one of about seventy years of Age, upon that which proved the Persons Death-bed. The Answer was, To Heaven, Sir, I hope. I asked, by whom must you a Sinner get to Heaven? said, by my Saviour Jesus Christ. I enquired, Who is Christ? this Person did not know. What hath Christ done or suffered to save Sinners? could to this make no Answer. I enquired, Was Christ God or Man? could not tell. I asked, What Offices Christ had? the Person was an utter Stranger to all this. I found, all that was known of Christ by this Person, was Christ's Name, and nothing else. Lord, my Bowels did yearn, my Soul was astonished, I stood amazed to see one so near to dying, and so confident of Heaven, and yet so Ignorant of Jesus Christ. Lord, thought I, can a Sinner be saved without a Saviour, by an unknown Christ! Can a Soul go blind to Heaven? what pity, Oh, what pity was it, that this Person was not Catechized before Death drew nigh, and then had not time to learn, for Death soon separated the Soul from the Body, and the Body is now in the Grave, and the Soul is gone into the other World.

14. When I ask necessary Truths, which a Child should know, and this when they desire the Lord's Supper, can scarce from some get any other Answer than this, which serves for a Reply to many (though plain, easy and necessary) Questions, Truly, Sir, I have it in my Heart, but I want utterance.

Though this may be true in some Cases, with some Persons, that they may have more in their Hearts, than they can utter with their Tongues, yet if these had so much in their Hearts or Heads either, as they pretend, they may utter so much, though in broken Language, that a discerning Minister may perceive weak Knowledge from too apparent Ignorance, which betrays itself in many by this Expression.

Upon the whole of these Questions and Answers, do not you see Young Men, that the Case so stands with many, that did let slip their Opportunity of Learning when they were young, that the great Danger by Ignorance their Souls are in, is great Reason they should be willing to learn and offer themselves to be taught the Necessary Truths of a Catechism, when they are Married and Old, and thank God they may have Ministers' Help herein, if they would accept it, when tendered to them. Do not you think so? Yes. And is not best for them to think so too, and with all readiness to embrace the means of Necessary Knowledge, before it is too late, and not be rather damned than learn a Catechism: It is not better to learn? Yes.