The catechising of the children and youth in a congregation, is a theme that deserves to be discussed with the comprehensiveness, and precision, of a systematic treatise. In the whole range of topics in Pastoral Theology, there is not one, that has stronger claims upon the attention of the clergyman, than the doctrinal instruction of the rising generation. Within the the half century, catechising has fallen greatly into disuse. Creeds themselves have been more undervalued, than, in some periods, they have been over-estimated. The consequence is, that the experience of the Church has outrun its knowledge. There are many, undoubtedly experimental Christians, who are unable to define the truths of Christianity, either singly, or in their connections in the system. They feel more than they reflect, and more than they can state. There is ilanger in this state of things. The Church cannot advance, it cannot even maintain itself upon its present position, by this theory and melhou of
religious culture. Experimental religion, without doctrinal knowledge, must deteriorate. Religious feeling will become more superficial, religious zeal more insincere, and religious action more fitful and selfish, if the mind of the Church is not obtaining clear and self-consistent conceptions of religious truth. A dead orthodoxy is an evil; and, so is an ignorant pietism. But there is no necessity for either. Feeling and cognition are not antagonistic, but exist together in the most perfect Being. And only as they co-exist in the renewed mind, is there the highest type of Christian life. Without, however, dwelling upon this part of the subject, we proceed to recommend the practice of catechising children and youth, by considering its influence first, upon the clergyman himself, and, secondly, upon the people,
1. The habit of imparting catechetical instruction, developes the power of lucid and precise statement. The clergyman's theological knowledge is liable to be imperfect, in respect to the subtler and sharper distinctions in the Christian system. He apprehends the doctrines in their general scope and drift, but does not draw that thin hair-line which marks them off from each other. Some very bitter controversies have arisen from the fact, that the one party distinguished interior differences, used language with scientific exactness, and stuck to terms, while the other party recognized no differences but external and obvious ones, and employed a loose phraseology, and even this with no rigorous uni formity.
There is something in the endeavor to convey doctrinal instruction to the human mind, especially when it is in the forming period, that is highly adapted to promote discrimination and clearness. The catechising pastor does not, that is, he should not, confine himself to merely putting the questions and hearing the answers. After the work of reciting is through, he then explains to the body of youth gathered before him, the meaning of the phraseology they have learned, and of the truths they have committed to memory. To do this well, and plainly, so that children and youth may understand, will draw upon the clergyman's nicest discrimination, the choicest portion of his vocabulary, and his most pertinent illustrations. It is often asserted, that it is impossible for children to understand the creed,—that the doctrines of justification, sanctification, and election, are too strong meat for babes. The difficulty lies rather in the teacher, than in the capacity of the pupil, or in the intrinsic nature of the doctrine. He has only a vague and general apprehension of revealed truth, and has never trained himself to make luminous and exact statements of it. Any clergyman who is master of Christian theology, and M7ho thoroughly understands tho creed and catechism, will be able to make the youth of his congregation understand it also, as others have done before him. And this endeavor will bring out into clear and definite forms of statement, those great ideas and truths of Christianity, which lie large but vague in too many minds. That clergyman who is in the habit of catechising, will know exactly what his own creed is, and can phrase it in language and illustrations intelligible to children and youth.
2. A second effect of catechising upon the clergyman is, to render his views in theology decided. The importance of decision in theological opinions was remarked upon in a previous chapter, and it was affirmed that the study of creeds is one of the best means of acquiring it. He who is able to adopt a creed cordially, because he perceives and feels its intrinsic truthfulness, will be a positive man. It is plain, therefore, that all this work of teaching a creed, tends to determination and firmness of theological character. Catechising is, in reality, the intensely practical study of systematic theology, in the endeavor to transmute the dogmas of religion into the thoughts and feelings of the youthful mind. As man becomes a little child, in order to enter the kingdom of truth, so, in this process, the kingdom of truth becomes a little child. The creed is incarnated in the little children. While imparting this catechetical instruction, therefore, the clergyman becomes more profoundly certain of the truth of Christianity. He finds it more and more impossible to doubt it, He grows more and more positive in hia views and affirmatious, and gradually acquires that Scriptural bold ness which causes him to speak with authority. Finding a response to the Evangelical system, in the heart and mind of childhood and youth, and hearing the testimony of the most sincere and unsophisticated period of human life respecting it, the catechising clergyman matures into the most nndoubting and impregnable of men.
3. A third effect of catechising, upon the clergyman, is to assure him of the harmony of revelation and reason. It may at first sight seem strange, to recommend the doctrinal instruction of children and youth, as a means of attaining to the true philosophy of religion. Nothing is more common, in the skeptic, than to speak of the creeds of the Christian Church, as at the very farthest remove from rationality. He is, generally, a little more willing to allow that the Scriptures are reconcilable with reason, than that the theological system which an Augustine, or a Calvin, derived from them, is. But, he has a design in this. The Calvinistic creed is definite. It is impossible to make it teach more than one system. There is no dispute, except among disingenuous men, in respect to what Calvinism really is. The Bible, on the other hand, is not a creed or a system, though it contains one. But what this system actually is, is the point in regard to which Churches and theologians are disputing; and hence, the skeptic is more ready to concede the general rationality of the Bible, than he is that of a particular system, ]ike the Calvinistic, for example, because he can immediately append to his admission respecting the 'Scriptures, the qualifying remark, that it is yet an jpen question what the Scriptures really teach. This addition is a saving clause for him, and his skeptical purposes. It has, moreover, passed over into the religious world, in the form of a feeling, and hence, we sometimes hear good men disparaging' the creed, even the creed of their own Church, and advising, in a controversy with the infidel, to have as little as possible to do with doctrinal theology.
There never was a greater error than this. For, what is a creed, but a generalization from the Scriptures? The Westminster symbol, for example, is the scientific substance of Revelation, in the view of the divines of the Westminster Assembly. That assembly was composed of the most learned, and reflecting men, of the Church of Christ in England, at that time. It embodied the philosophic mind of the Church, in that country, and century. If there was no scientific talent in the Westminster Assembly, then there was none in England. And that assembly aimed to give to the churches that had called them together, a systematic statement of the contents of Revelation, or, in other words, a philosophical exhibition of the Scriptures, in a creed. It was their purpose, to present the fundamental truths of Christianity, not in a popular oratorical manner, but in a self-consistent and compact form, that should commend itself to the reason and judgment of mankind. If, therefore, there be any rationality iu the Christian religion, any philosophy of Christianity, it is most natural to seek for it in the carefully constructed symbol; and hence, the clergyman, instead of conceding to the infidel that the catechism is indefensible at the bar of reason, ought to refuse the concession instantaneously and always, and to join issue with him, and try the point. In so doing, he will certainly have one advantage which we have already hinted at, namely, the distinctness and definiteness of the creed; and if the position which we have taken be correct, that the creed is the philosophical analysis of the contents of Revelation, by the philosophic mind of the Church, he will have the still further advantage, of the rationality of the creed.
Hence we affirm, that the habit of studying the catechism, in order to teach it to youthful minds, conduces to the clergyman's perception of the unity of reason and religion.1 The longer he studies and teaches the creed, the more unassailable does his conviction become, of its absolute rationality. He finds it commending itself to the frank and unsophisticated reason of the young. He sees the ingenuous mind responding to its statements concerning God and man, with that artless spontaneousness which is the strongest of evidences for the truth. "It is the most beautiful mark of the excellency of a doctrine," says Herder, " that it instructs a child." That which is welcomed by the open, unbiased nature of childhood, is certainly true. For, if there be any pure reason, as Kant phrases it, among mankind, it is in children and youth. During this period in human life, reason shows itself in an instinctive, recipient and docile form, and responds more immediately and unhesitatingly to the voice of truth, than at an after period, when it has become better acquainted with error, and more or less sophisticated and blunted by it. There may be a deeper meaning than appears upon the face of our Saviour's words, "Except ye receive the kingdom of heaven as little children, ye shall not enter therein." He may have also taught a lesson to the philosopher, and have meant to say, in addition to what we commonly understand by these words, "Except ye open your rational nature to the truth, with that freedom from prejudice and that docile recipiency which marks the child, ye can never apprehend it."
1It is a fact of history, that the knowledge of Christianity to the
scientific theology of the Church more cultivated catechumens, at
took its first beginnings, in the Alexandria. Compare Guericke:
endeavor to impart an advanced Church History, § 59.
1. Passing to the second division of the subject, namely, the influence of catechising upon the congregation, we remark, in the first place, that it results in the indoctrination of the adults. We do not now refer to adults who were once the children and youth of a pastor's charge, but to such as have more recently come under a clergyman's ministry. In a long pastorate, the adult population becomes indoctrinated, as a matter of course, in case the pas tor begins to catechise at the opening of his minis try. But besides this, the practice of catechising tends to the indirect spread of doctrinal knowledge, among those who are not the immediate objects of its influence. Uncatechised parents are unconsciously affected by their catechised children. Uncatechised adults, imperceptibly, learn to set a justei estimate upon the systematic doctrines of Christianity, through their intercourse with catechised youth. The creed of the Church is more respected among the congregation, in case it is taught and explained to the children and youth. The pastor who is faithful in the performance of this duty, will see adults coming into the catechetical exercise, as listeners. Parents, whose early religious education .was neglected, will accompany their children, not from mere curiosity, but from a desire to obtain a knowledge of the Word of God, which they value in their children, and of which they are conscious of being too destitute, themselves. In these, and other ways, doctrinal knowledge will radiate from the class of catechumens, into the whole body of an adult population whose catechetical education was neglected, both by their parents, and their minister.
2. Secondly, catechising the youth of a parish protects them against infidelity and spurious philosophy. A well indoctrinated person can state the fundamental truths of Christianity in exact phrase
ology, can specify their connections in a system and their relations to each other, can quote the texts of Scripture which prove them, and, in proportion aa T his pastor has been thorough with him as a cate. chumon, can maintain and defend them in an argument with an opposer. One thus disciplined ia preoccupied, fore-warned, and fore-armed. The skeptic cannot, as he can and does in case he is arguing with the uninstructed, mis-state and caricature the truth. The catechumen will set him right, by citing to him the well.weighed and precise phraseology of the creed; and this rectification in the outset, of an incorrect statement, always gravels the infidel, whether his mis-statement originates in a real or a pretended ignorance. A well-trained youth, in a contest with an ordinary skeptic, soon ceases to act upon the defensive. The unbeliever soon discovers that he is dealing with a mind that knows where it is, and what it is about, and is willing to give over a contest which he began not from any love of the truth, or any desire of finding it, but solely from a mischievous, and really malignant wish, to undermine the religious belief of an ingenuous youth.
Again, there is no preservative against philosophy falsely so called, so effectual as a doctrinal education. The youth, and especially the reading and literary youth, of a congregation, are liable to be misled by spurious science, because it is pretentious and assuming. They have not yet reached "the years which bring the philosophic mind,"—to employ the phrase of Wordsworth. The genuine philosophic spirit is a thing of slow growth. The truly scientific mind adopts its philosophy, which is no other than its method of looking at things, with great circumspection, judgment, and deliberation. The immature understanding is exposed to great mistakes, in the formation and adoption of opinions in philosophy, and hence the great influence which a showy, pretentious, and utterly unscientific scheme sometimes exerts over the young men of a nation, or an age. The counterfeit science comes up before the youthful intellect, like Comus to the lady, with an insolence that is never seen in genuine philosophy, and attempts to carry it, by rudely bearing down upon it. It is both confident and contemptuous in its tone, and too often, like the arrogant and impudent adventurer in general society, succeeds in imposing upon the unpractised and untaught.
But he who has received, from the mind of a learned and thoughtful clergyman, a thorough grounding in the principles and truths of Christianity, is the last one to be taken captive by a false system of speculation. He sees through it, and is not deceived by its pretensions. He is not thus to be irresistibly borne down, by its imposing appearance. Socrates is represented by Plato as remark ing, that nothing so speedily disposes of a showy and sounding system, like that of the Sophists, as a cool and deliberate examination of it. A big bell, he says, booms out a great noise, but place only one single finger firmly upon the bell, and the sound which is going out into all the earth, will stop. A youth who understands the scheme of Christianity, and has been made deliberative and reflecting, by the catechism, will examine a pretentious system before he adopts it, and, especially, before he surrenders his religious belief for the sake of adopting it.
In the present condition of society, there is great need of catechetical instruction, in order to protect the rising generation from infidelity in the form of false philosophy. Unbelief does not now adopt the open, and comparatively manly method of the last century. The English deists did not pretend to be Christians, but attacked Christianity with all their force. The French infidels did the same, only with more virulence and hatred. But the infidel of the present day, claims to be only a more philosophic and advanced Christian. Skepticism now represents itself as the refinement, and inmost essence, of Christianity. The infidel schools in England and America deny the charge of unbelief. They affirm that they are themselves the highest of believers, and have a mission to lift up the general mass of Christians, to a higher, even the highest, religious position. Their system does not contain so much truth as that of the English deists, neither is it as consistently constructed, nor as clearly expressed; but instead of allowing it to pass for what it is, these pantheistic and materializing skeptics attempt to palm it off, as the permanent residuum of trath, after the Biblical and ecclesiastical elements have been purged out, as dross.
The ministry cannot protect the cultivated youth of their care, from these artifices of unbelief, by decrying philosophy in the abstract. This only renders them suspicious, and strengthens their doubts, if they have any, respecting the rationality and philosophic necessity of the Christian faith. A clergyman should never vilify a legitimate department of human knowledge, and philosophy is such. His true method is, to guide the inquiring mind into the very science of Christianity, as it is presented in the creed, and thereby enable it to see, beyond dispute, that the. truths of Revelation are excellent in themselves, and in their influence; that they exhibit worthy views of the Divine character,—representations of the holiness, justice, mercy, wisdom, truth, and power of God, that are intuitively rational; that in respect to man's character (a point which usually troubles the skeptic, for he is more solicitous about imputations upon man, than upon God), the statements in the catechism are questions of fact, and may'be verified by every man's consciousness,—let the clergyman, in brief, fill the mind of the catechumen with the conviction, that the Christian system, as laid down in the docCrinal standards, is the absolute and ultimate religion for man, and he may then leave him to deal with infidelity, and spurious philosophy, by himself. Instead of being made ashamed of Christianity, and of his Christian education and belief, by the tone of the scorner, the pastor himself may, perhaps, have to guard his pupil against a too intense contempt for the shallowness of skepticism, and remind him, that he that thinketh he standeth must take heed lest he fall. It is certain, that if the rising generation could only receive such a catechetical and doctrinal education as we are describing, from the pastorate of the land, infidelity and false philosophy would find it difficult to draw breath, in such a pure intelr lectual atmosphere as would exist for the next fifty years, to say nothing of the moral and religious atmosphere that would be generated.
3. A third effect of catechetical instruction upon the congregation, is to promote a better understanding of the Word of Grod. The youth of this country, during the last half century, have committed much of the Bible to memory. The Sabbath-School has made the present generation of both parents and children, familiar with the contents of Revelation; but we are inclined to think, that this mass of material is somewhat lacking in system, and organization. It is not sufficient to learn by rote, independent passages and isolated texts of Scrip ture; they ought to be made to teach some truth, and establish some doctrine, and ultimately be systematized into a body of theology It is an error, to study the Bible without generalizing it? teachings, and acquiring some conceptior of it as a whole. Single unconnected texts are oftentimes dangerous half-truths, or positive untruths. Nothing but the power and impression of isolated passages of Scripture, keeps Universalism in existence. Tne moment that that denomination shall begin to understand, and interpret, the contents of the Bible as a self-consistent whole, it will begin to die. "Texts of Scripture," says Donne, "are like th« hairs in a horse's tail. Unite them, and they concur in one root of strength and beauty; but take them separately, and they can be used only as snares and springs to catch woodcocks."
The pastor should, therefore, combine catechetical with Sabbath.School instruction. While he enlists the active zeal of his best educated parishioners, in the Sabbath-School, he should show his own deep interest in this excellent institution, by personally generalizing its teachings, in the catechetical exercise, and thereby putting the crown upon its influence. The pastor who thus completes the work of the Sabbath-School teacher, will raise up a generation of exceedingly intelligent Biblical scholars. It was once said of a very learned, and at the same time very logical, jurist, that his learning was continually passing from his memory into his judgment. His acquisitions were not merely passively held, but were used for the argumentative purposes of his profession. In like manner, the indoctrination of Sabbath-School scholars causes the contents of the memory to pass over into the reason and the judgment, and makes all the texts and passages that have been learned, subservient to an intelligent and self.consistent religious belief. ludeed, to borrow an illustration from the Kantean philosophy, the catechism does with the memorized contents of Scripture, what the understanding, by its categories, does with the passive contents of the sense. It reduces the scattered and manifold elements to compactness and unity, .and converts the large and distracting variety of items into distinct forms and clear conceptions, so that the mind can take this great number of particulars all in at once, and feel their single and combined impression. The catechism enables the pupil to feel the force of the whole Bible, and of the Bible as a whole.
4. A fourth effect of catechising, is to render the youth of a congregation more intelligent hearers of preaching. One reason why preaching is uninteresting to youth, is the fact, that they carry no clue to it in their minds. They do not see any very close connection between the sermon, and any thing within themselves. No one can be interested in a discourse, unless he perceives the drift and bearing of it;1 and in order to this, he must carry within himself some kind of internal correspondent to it. Now, the mental correspondent to an excellent sermon, is an excellent scheme of Christian doctrine, in the mind of the hearer. When this exists, the sermon has a reference, and an easy reference; and the mind possesses a key that unlocks it, a clue or magic thread which leads it along through the whole performance. This is the reason why clergymen are better auditors, generally, than laymen. They have more of the inward correspondent to the sermon,—more knowledge of the Christian system. It is plain, therefore, that, just in proportion as the pastor indoctrinates the youth of his charge, he is making good auditors for himself. He will find the youth, who is generally too little interested in preaching, looking up to the pulpit with as keen an eye as any of his hearers, and with a more tender and susceptible heart.
1 Tli is supposes, of course, that berry, in a recent number of a
the sermon has a drift and bear- popular monthly magazine, repre
ing. In some quarters, however, sents a certain pulpit celebrity aa
this unity and self-consistence is having introduced a new era in,
thought to he a defect, in sacred sermonizing, by showing how to
»lo([ucncc.. For example, a Dog- deliver discourses that "Edward* und Voltaire, Whitefield and like pulpit eloquence, which ro
5. A fifth effect of catechising, is to induce seriousness among the youthful part of the congregation. There is such a correspondency between truth and the reasonable soul of man, that reflection naturally results in a grave temper. This is seen even in the sphere of secular knowledge. The men of science,—the studious mathematician, the curious and analyzing chemist, the gazing astronomer,— are seriously disposed. Study casts a shadow. This is still more true, in the province of morals and religion. He who meditates upon divine truth, may not be so changed by it as to become a new creature in disposition and feeling, but he will be sobered by it. He has no option. His rational mind was created to be influenced by the great truths of God and eternity, and it is true to ita construction, to the extent of being made serious, though not necessarily to the extent of being made holy. Just so far, consequently, as a pastor brings the doctrines of Christianity to bear upon the youthful mind, does he solemnize it. For they are the most serious of all themes of reflection, and throw a deeper shadow over a frivolous and volatile spirit, than all other truths; and this is one reason why the worldly and the gay shun them, as they do the house of mourning and the grave-yard. The pastor can take no course so effectual, against that giddy levity which so infects the younger portion of society, as to imbue it with evangelical ideas. Such knowledge elevates the mind, and this mental elevation is opposed to the emptiness and littleness of fashionable life. If an intellectual person does not avoid the ball-room from any higher motive, he is very apt to, from the lower motive of self-respect. He is too literary to dance. The same feeling, in kind, that keeps the philosopher, and the thoughtful man of science, from the rounds of fashionable life, keeps him from them In this manner, the high religious education which we are recommending, makes its power felt through that younger portion of community which so often gives tone to society, and prepares the way for tho more decisive and actually converting effects of Divine truth.
Ttomas Paine, would heartily quires scientific training, and pm
and equally enjoy "I Itisimpos- fessional culture, and at least a
Bible, since the invention of print- little faith in the Christian reli
ing, and with the freedom and gion, in order to its comprehen
cheapness of the press, to prevent sion, are as worthless as they
the shoemaker from going beyond would be in regard to the calou
liis last. But such judgments of lus itself. a more litterateur, upon a subject
6. And this suggests as the sixth effect of cate
chising, that it results in frequent conversions. The Spirit of God is the Spirit of truth. Hence that mind which is saturated with the teachings of Revelation, contains something with which the Divine energy can work. It is indeed true, that the indoctrinated natural man is as really averse to God and holiness, as the unindoctrinated. The carnal will is the same, whether within the pale of Christendom or out of it, and the necessity of Divine influences, in order to its renewal, is as great in one instance, as the other. But, he who has acquired a clear theoretical apprehension of the doctrines of Christianity, is much more likely to be the subject of special and efficacious grace, than is the pagan, or the uninstructed nominal Christian. There may be as much perversity and obstinacy of will, as worldly and sinful affections, in the catechised as in the uncatechised youth, but there is also an amount of truth lu the mind of the former, which is not in the latter. This truth is God's truth. God the Spirit finds His own word congruous with His own agency, and therefore acts with it, and by it. The Holy Ghost, like the Redeemer, " comes to His own," and "His own" are the doctrines of revelation. Hence, conversions may be expected with more frequency amons: an indoctrinated, than amons: an unindoctri
nated population. God honors His own revelation. The human mind is not worthy of honor from the Eternal, but the truth lodged in it is worthy; and God says to the preacher, as He did to the children of Israel, "It is not for your sake, but for my truth's sake, and my name's sake, that I bestow the blessing."
7. A seventh and final effect of catechising, is that it results in genuine conversions. Knowledge is favorable to thoroughness in mental exercises, generally. The surest way to prevent hypocrisy or self-deception, is to cause the light of truth to shine into the mind. Give a youth, or a man, correct conceptions of the holiness of God, and the spirituality and extent of the Divine law, and you take the most direct means of preventing a spurious religious experience. He may not come to a genuine experience, but he will not be liable to rest in a false one. He may not become a Christian, but neither will he rank himself with Christians. His orthodox head will be likely to keep him out of the visible Church, until he is really fit to join it. But, besides this negative effect, catechising tendi, oliectlv to a deep and wide religious experience. Christian character matures rapidly, when the mind is leavened with evangelical truth, and it is developed symmetrically, because the fundamental doctrines have been studied in their connections in a system. These co-ordinated truths regulate and shape the experience, so that one grace or quality is not neglected for the sake of another. The Christian character is developed, and compacted, by that which every doctrine supplies, making increase of the whole in true and beautiful proportions.
These, then, are the principal reasons, why the practice of catechising children and youth should be repristinated in the American Churches. It is the hope, and perhaps somewhat too much the boast, that the American Republic is called to perform a great work in the evangelization of the globe. It will not be either inclined or able to do this, unless it is itself a deeply thoughtful and profoundly religious nation. It would be a most hopeful indication, if the intense interest which the American feels in politics, could be transferred to theology, and that wide acquaintance with government, which marks him, might be equalled, and exceeded, by his knowledge of the purposes and plans of God in Redemption. "Would that the laws and principles, the ideas and doctrines, of the Christian religion, might be, for the new power that is rising in the West, what the civil law, and the political constitution, were, for imperial Rome in the East. "The Romans, in their best days, made every school boy learn by heart the Twelve Tables, and the Twelve Tables were the catechism of Roman public and private law, of their constitution, and of the proud jus Quiritium that led the Roman citizen to pronounce so confidently, as a vox et invocatio, his civis Romanus sum, in the most distant comers of the land, and which the captive Apostle collectedly asserted twice before the provincial officers. Cicero says that when he was a boy, he learned the Twelve Tables ut carmen necessarium, like an indispensable formulary, a political breviary, and deplores that at the, time when he was composing his treatise on the Laws, in which he mentions the fact, the practice was falling into disuse."1 Such ought to be
the interest taken in the Christian faith, by a people like the American, the foundations of whose government were laid in the truths of Revelation, and all of whose early history was religious. Upon the clergy, it mainly depends, whether systematic religion, or systematic infidelity, shall be the future carmen necesscvriwn of the multiplying millions on this continent. Sir Joshua Reynolds, in the last of his Lectures before the Royal Academy, thus expresses his sense of the importance of the study of the works, and spirit, of the mightiest and greatest of artists: "I should desire that the last words which I should pronounce in this Academy, and from this place, might be the name of Michael Angelo." In closing these brief chapters upon Pastoral Theology, we feel deeply, that 'there is not a topic of greater importance than this subject of catechising; and the last words we should desire to address a youn^ clergyman, as he is going forth to his life-long labor, would be an exhortation to make full proof of that part of his ministry, to which belongs the indoctrination of the risino. generation, in the truths
1 Liebeb: Inaugural Discourse before Columbia College.
and principles of the Christian Religion.