Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Catechist's Guide to Catechisms

Thomas Lye, the great Puritan catechist, reviews some of the great catechisms of his day in his Cripplegate sermon, "By What Scriptural Rules May Catechising Be So Managed, As That It May Become Most Universally Profitable?" in Puritan Sermons, 1659-1689, Vol. 2, pp. 121-122:

But what are the forms of catechising [which] I would propose?

1. For the youngest and lowest rank. — I suppose the articles of the Christian faith contained in that very ancient creed, commonly called "the Apostles' Creed;" "the Decalogue, or Ten Commandments;" "the Lord's Prayer;" and "the Institution of the two Sacraments of the New Testament." But here, as indeed in all religious instruction, remember that you are not to teach parrots, but Christians; persons, though for the present ignorant, yet capable of understanding both words and things. Be not therefore satisfied in the child's bare repeating of the words, as a thick-skulled Papist is taught to mumble over his Pater-noster or Ave-Maria, which he no more understands than that sottish priest did his mumpsimus; but first unlock the cabinet, that is, open to the child the true meaning of the words, and then present him with the jewels, that is, the truths contained in those words. Remember it as an undoubted maxim: It is impossible clearly to apprehend truths, unless we rightly understand those words in which truths are wrapped up.

2. For others that are of a larger capacity. — I shall not presume to dictate, among those more than scores of excellent Catechisms that are extant, and may be of singular use both in families and churches, which to pitch upon, with the slighting of any of the rest. I bless the Lord for the common Catechism of our church, and for Dr. [William] Hill's improvement of it [The First Principles of a Christian: questions and answers upon the Creed, the Ten Commandements, the sacraments, and the Lords prayer, for the further opening of the ordinary catechisme: very fit to be learned of all children], in which I was initiated when a child. God hath signally owned Mr. [William] Perkins's "Six Principles" [The Foundation of Christian Religion, Gathered Into Six Principles], and no less Mr. [John] Ball's "Catechism" [A Short Catechisme Containing the Principles of Religion Very Profitable For All Sorts of People]. [Samuel] Crook's "Guide" [The Guide unto True Blessedness, or, A body of the doctrine of the scripture, directing man to the saving knowledge of God] is highly esteemed by the learned, judicious, and godly; and, I judge, not unworthily, if for nothing else than this, — its great harmony with the [James Ussher's] "Sum and Substance of Christian Religion" [A Body of Divinity], composed by that great master in our English Israel.

These Catechisms, I say, to me, with many, many more, sparkle like so many precious diamonds in my eyes. But it pleased the Lord, in the beginning of my ministry, to direct me to the use of those Catechisms that were composed by the late reverend "Assembly of Divines at Westminster;" Catechisms which I then found greatly approved, not only by the godly and judicious at home, but also by several of the Reformed churches abroad; and such as have this peculiar excellency beyond most that I have seen,—that every answer in them is an entire proposition of itself, without relation to the question preceding. These Catechisms I have made use of, both in my congregation and family, now near thirty years; and, (I desire to speak it with all humility and thankfulness,) if ever the Lord smiled on my poor labours, it hath been whilst I have been busied in this great, useful, necessary work of catechising, and that out of these Catechisms.

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