Primary Sources for the Presbyterian Masses

The Value of Memorizing Scripture and the Catechism in Childhood (1933)

In Shorter Catechism on 30/05/2009 at 22:35

by the Rev. E.E. Bigger

[excerpted from Christianity Today 4.5 (Mid-September 1933): 6.]

Paul, in writing to Timothy charged him to “Hold fast to the form of sound words.” 2 Tim. 1:13. Dean Alford, in his Greek Testament, places the stress on the word “form” in this verse. His reason is, the rule that the position of the substantive (subject or object) in relation to the verb, before or after, determines whether the emphasis should be on the substantive or the verb. In this instance the object precedes the verb in the Greek text, hence the emphasis is on the object, “form,”–“The form of sound words,” doctrine. Paul tells us when and by whom Timothy came in possession of “the form of sound words,” viz. “from a child,” young child: “Continue thou in the things which thou has learned and has been assured of, knowing of whom (viz. thy mother Eunice and thy grandmother Lois, 2 Tim. 1:5) thou hast learned them; and that from a child thou hast known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation, which is in Christ Jesus.” 2 Tim. 3:14, 15. Timothy, with his mother and grandmother, was probably converted under Paul at Lystra. The Holy Spirit naturally used the Scriptures, in the new birth and conversion of Timothy,, which he had known from a child, as Paul says it was able to make him wise unto salvation. So, many parents have had the great joy of seeing the early conversion of their children, as the gracious reward of the faithful training of their children, in storing their minds with the Scriptures followed by prayer. Paul says, “Bring up your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Peter says, “The milk of the word” is necessary to the growth of the babe in Christ. So, “the milk of the word” is necessary to lay the foundation of spiritual life and growth of the babe in the flesh. The greatest heritage to which a child can fall heir in this world, is that of godly parents, faithful in the responsibility for the destiny of their children. Prov. 22:6.

What is true about memorizing Scripture in childhood is equally true of memorizing the Catechism. True, the Catechism is not so vital as the Scripture. But the Catechism provides definitions of the truths of Scripture essential to the understanding of Scripture. It also provides a system of Bible principles, showing the order and relation of the truths to each other, thus fixing in the mind the plan of salvation, and establishing and fortifying mind and heart against the false isms which would deceive, if possible, the very elect. Dr. John Hall, late pastor of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, New York, speaking of the importance of memorizing the Catechism, said, “Having no anchor in definite religious knowledge, it is no wonder that a speculation cannot be propounded among us so silly that it shall not find followers.” Considering the great value of this system of Bible truth, there are two reasons why it should be memorized in childhood: First, because it is a much easier task for the child than in later years; and second, because if it is not memorized in childhood, it is one in a thousand that it never will be. Some think it is a useless task to impose on the child, since he can have little or no understanding of the meaning of the words. But the meaning will come in later years when the reasoning powers of the mind are developed, and the need and importance of the truths embodied are realized. The late Dr. John Cumming, of London, tells his experience: “When I learned that Scriptural and extremely abstruse work, the Shorter Catechism, I did not understand it. But my memory was stored with the truths of that precious document. And when I grew up I found those truths, which had been laid aside in its cells as propositions which I could neither understand nor make use of, became illumined by the sunshine of after years, and, like some hidden and mysterious writing, reveal in all beauty and fullness, those precious truths which I had never seen nor understood before.”

The Catechism was drilled into me Sunday afternoons, and the answer to “What is sin?” I rattled off without even a thought of its meaning, until in the maturity of manhood, its meaning flashed upon me, that there are two classes of sin, viz., sins of omission and sins of commission, shall I not say, equally heinous in God’s sight, according to their equal “aggravations”? Q. 83. There never was a day when the mind of youth should be so charged and fortified against the insidious and bold attacks of error and infidelity as the present. As parents are awake to the life and destiny of their children, will they use these effective agencies for their safety and salvation?

[excerpted from Christianity Today 4.5 (Mid-September 1933): 6.]

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