A PLEA FOR THE CATECHISM
by E.P. Whallon
[The Presbyterian 98.10 (8 March 1928): 4.]
A church that educates its children in the doctrines of God’s Word and trains them in the performance of Christian duty, is sure to be a stable and strong organization, and without this there is no promise of abiding strength nor assurance of any real stability. The children and young people must be trained to be intelligent in their conception of Christian truth, and substantial and reliable in their rendering of Christian service, and we may confidently expect the Holy Spirit to bless this to their regeneration.
The children of this generation, even those of our Presbyterian families, are exactly similar to those in corresponding families, are exactly similar to those in corresponding situations in earlier days. Those who are carefully and prayerfully trained up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord will be found, according to the divine promise, not departing when they are old, from the way in which they should go. If they are neglected, they will turn every one to his own way. As ministers of the gospel, as Christian parents, and as professed believers, we cannot afford or consent to believe anything else or less than this. The responsibility is, as it always has been, since the time of Eli, whose “sons were vile and he reproved them not,” largely with the parents, where God first lodged it and from whom he does not remove it. Children must be taught and trained, if they ultimately walk in ways of pleasantness and paths of peace.
No matter what may be said by unpractical and inexperienced theorists, there is no way of teaching the great and essential Christian doctrines comparable with what we know as the catechetical method. In our Westminster Shorter Catechism we have a most valuable and condensed compendium of gospel truth. Those who have been so fortunate as to be possessed of this, by having been taught and encouraged to lay it up in their memory, are greatly rich, and those who are disposed to be good and wise friends of their children will see that they lay this away in memory, that they may treasure it as a great possession, strengthened by it in their minds for the practice of it in their lives.
It is not such a formidable task to “learn by heart” all of the Shorter Catechism. If one has learned it well, it can be gone through with question and answer succeeding one another promptly, in twenty minutes, and that is not an exercise that is at all beyond the reach of any young person of ordinary ability. The mastery of these well-prepared, Scriptural answers is adapted to sharpen the intellect for almost any task, and to fortify the heart and soul for the great conflicts of life as to faith and morals. A catechism drill is a most valuable item for Sabbath afternoon in any Christian home, and children who are thus drilled will rise up in after years and call “blessed” the parents who were forceful and attractive and conscientious enough to make this a part of the program of their life.
We do not overlook the fact that there are two other catechisms that are accessible and valuable. One is the “Catechism for Young Children,” beginning with : “Who made you? God.” The other is the “Intermediate,” prepared, under the direction of our General Assembly, only a few years ago. These three are adapted to the needs and comprehensions of our children and young people, of all ages. It would be well for everyone to go through all three of these, even if they are not all committed to memory. But it would be greatly advantageous to have every answer of the Shorter Catechism thoroughly memorized and laid away for use all through the life.
Nor do we overlook the fact that the learning of Scripture passages, on the great matters of faith and practice, is supremely valuable, and akin to the catechetical method which has just been considered. Every one should know at least one hundred verses of Scripture as familiarly as the figures of the multiplication table or the letters of the alphabet. Many of the Psalms should be memorized, as well as the great passages from the Gospels and the Epistles.
The one who is thus fortified by a knowledge of precious passages from the Holy Scriptures may say: “Thy Word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against thee.” Those who have learned the Catechisms have come, under God’s good Providence, to know very much as to what we are to believe concerning God and what duty God requires of man.