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This Catechism is used among the Reformed as distinguished from the Lutheran in Germany. It has had an honoured place, since the union of the Lutheran and Reformed, in the German Evangelical Church; and it is used in the Christian instruction of the Imperial Family. It passed into Holland; and with many emigrants into America and the Cape of Good Hope. It is the most cherished symbol of the Dutch and German Reformed Churches in America; and at the union of the Presbyterian Churches in 1870 it was formally sanctioned for use in any congregation desiring it. At the Reformation period it was reprinted in Scotland, and had the sanction of the General Assembly.
The Presbyterians of Scotland, however, got one of native authorship in 1581, when Mr. John Craig, a coadjutor of Knox, compiled his admirable Catechism. The General Assembly approved of it, and requested him to make an abridgment for the benefit of youth ; which was accordingly done, to the satisfaction of the Assembly, in 1591. This abridgment continued in use till the period of the Westminster Assembly.
The shorter Catechism of Craig, after a few historical questions, discusses the Apostles' Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord's Prayer, and concludes with the means of grace and the way of salvation. The answers are all brief, and for the most part of equal length. Young people brought up on it soon became well acquainted with their Bibles; and catechisms became so popular in Scotland that James VI., at Hampton Court Conference, said, “Every son of a good woman in Scotland thinks he can write a catechism.”
We give specimens from the larger Catechism of Craig, first printed in Edinburgh by Henrie Charteris in 1581, and in London in 1589. It has recently been reprinted by the Rev. Dr. H. Bonar in his work on the Catechisms of the Scottish Reformation, with historical preface.
Ques. Who made man and woman?
OF THE SACRAMENTS.
Ques. What is a sacrament?
THE WESTMINSTER ASSEMBLY'S CATECHISMS. These Catechisms were composed by the celebrated Assembly of Divines which met at Westminster July 1643, by the authority of the Parliament of England. Those who were summoned to this Assembly were ten peers and twenty commoners as lay assessors, and one hundred and twenty-one divines. Four commissioners were sent from the Church of Scotland, others were also added, making in all thirty-two lay assessors and one hundred and forty-two divines. The Scottish commissioners had no vote.
The Parliament had abolished Episcopacy in England, and desired a scriptural government of the Church. Five bishops were named on the list of members ; one of these attended the first day, and another excused his absence on the ground of necessary duty. Twenty-five members declined to attend because the king had not called the Assembly. Only sixty-nine clerical members were present the first day; the average attendance was between sixty and eighty. Not more than twenty spoke frequently; the rest thought and voted in silence.
The Assembly sat five years, six months, and twenty-two days, and held one thousand two hundred and sixty-three sessions. The result of the long deliberation was, the Confession of Faith, the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, the Sum of Saving Knowledge, the Directory of Public Worship, and the Form of Presbyterial Government-which are generally bound together.
The Church of Scotland ratified these documents; and they have ever since been accepted as the subordinate standards of all Anglo-Saxon Presbyterians throughout the world.
The Catechisms are purely doctrinal, and contain nothing on Church government. They were the first attempt to unite different denominations in one manual of truth for the
young The Larger Catechism was prepared chiefly by Dr. Anthony Tuckney, Professor of Divinity and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge. The Shorter Catechism, too, was prepared under the care of Dr. Tuckney, who was the Convener of the Committee on the Catechisms; but it is believed that the Rev.John Wallis, M.A., had the chief hand in framing this concise form of sound words. Mr. Wallis was a young man,
an eminent mathematician of the University of Cambridge. He was afterwards Professor of Geometry at Oxford, and one of the founders of the Royal Society. He was a minister of the Church of England, and though not a member of the Westminster Assembly of Divines, was appointed an amanuensis. He survived all his fellow-labourers in that famous Assembly, and died in 1703, at the age of eighty-eight.
Catechisms have been greatly employed in the Church since the Reformation of the sixteenth century. They have largely contributed to the establishment of the people in the truth.
The Shorter Catechism has taken a higher place and exercised a wider influence than the Larger. It has been taught in schools, and has been acquired by all Presbyterian youths. Persons of riper years prefer it to the Larger, and it is at the present day more distinctive of our belief than any other of our standards.
Richard Baxter said of it in his day, “ It is the best Catechism I ever saw—a most excellent sum of the Christian faith and doctrine, and a fit test to try the orthodoxy of teachers." Dr. Ashbel Green said in his admirable Lectures : “It is exactly this kind of instruction which is at the present time most urgently needed in many, perhaps in most of our congregations. It is needed, to imbue effectually the minds of our people with 'the first principles of the oracles of God;' to indoctrinate them soundly and systematically in revealed truth, and thus to guard them against being carried about with every wind of doctrine,' as well as to qualify them to join in the weekly service of the sanctuary with full understanding, and with minds in all respects prepared for the right and deep impression of what they hear.”
It may be interesting to reproduce the Act of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland :
“At Edinburgh, July 28th, 1648. Session 19.—The General Assembly, having seriously considered the SHORTER CATECHISM, agreed upon by the Assembly of Divines sitting at Westminster, with the assistance of Commissioners from this Kirk, do find, upon due examination thereof, That the said Catechism is agreeable to the word of God, and in nothing contrary to the received doctrine, worship, discipline, and government of this Kirk: And therefore approve the said Shorter Catechism, as a part of the intended uniformity, to be a Directory for catechising such as be of weaker capacity.'
To make the Catechism an effective agent for good, many explanations of its truths have been prepared during the past. The present effort is to put into the hands of parents, and especially teachers in Sabbath schools, an edition of the Catechism that combines exposition with anecdote and illustration. Thus it is hoped that the instruction may be made more interesting and effective.