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"But though those are the fountains and foundations of the law, those gentlemen know that institutes and abridgments, cllections of, and references to the cases adjudged in the books, are of great use to them, to prepare them for the study of the originals, and to assist them in the application of them; but they are not thought to derogate from the authority and honour of them; such we reckon our forms of sound words to be. If in any thing they mistake the sense of the text, or misapply it, they must be corrected by it; but as far as they agree with it, they are of great use to make it more easy and ready to us.— That which is intended in these forms of sound words, is not like the council of Trent, to make a new creed, and add it to what we have in the scripture, but to collect and methodize the truths and laws of God, and to make them familiar." Thus this pious writer makes it appear, that there are three valuable ends attained by framing such comprehensive systems of religion out of the word of God:
"1. Hereby, saith he, the main principles of christianity, which lie scattered in the scripture, are collected and brought together; and by this means they are set in a much easier view before the minds of men. Our catechisms and confessions of faith pick up from the several parts of holy writ those passages, which though perhaps occasionally delivered, contain the essentials of religion, the foundations and main pillars upon which christianity is built, which we are concerned rightly to understand, and firmly to believe in the first place, and then to go on to perfection.
"2. Hereby the truths of God, the several articles of christian doctrine and duty are methodized and put in order. It is true, the books of scripture are written in an excellent method according to the particular nature and intention of them; but when the design is to represent the main principles of religion in one view, it is necessary that they be put into another method proper to serve that design, that we may understand them the more distinctly by observing their mutual references to each other, their connexion with, and dependence upon each other, and thereby they appear in the truer light and fuller lustre.
"3. Hereby the truths of God are brought down to the capacity of those who are as yet but weak in understanding." In all this account of things this worthy author has spoken so much of my sentiments, that I chose to set before the reader in his own words, the several advantages of drawing up such little schemes of the principles of christianity.
SECT. IV. Catechisms are the best Summaries of Religion for Children.
Now among the various forms and methods wherein the
prime articles of our religion have been put together in a comprehensive scheme for the use of the unlearned, there is none so proper for children as that of catechisins. The way of instruction by questian and answer seems to be the plainest and easiest manner wherein the knowledge of religion can be conveyed to the minds of those that are ignorant, and especially of the younger parts of mankind. This will appear in seve
1. Hereby the principles of Christianity are reduced into short sentences, which are much more easy to be understood by children, as well as to be treasured up in their memories.-2. Hereby these divine principles are not only thrown into a just and easy method, but every part of them is naturally introduced by a proper question, and the rehearsal of the answer, which should never exceed three or four lines, is made far easier to a child, than it would be if the child were required to, repeat the whole scheme of religion by heart without the interposition of another speaker.-3. This way of teaching hath something familiar and delightful in it, because it looks more like conversation and dialogue. It keeps the attention fixed with pleasure on the sacred subject, and yet continually relieves the attention by the alternate returns of the question and answer.-4. The very curiosity of the young mind is awakened by the question to know what the answer will be, and the child will take pleasure in learning the answer by heart to improve its own knowledge, and to be able to answer such a question. And thus the principles of religion will gradually slide into the mind, and the whole scheme of it be learned without fatigue and tiresomeness.
I might have enlarged greatly upon each of these advantages which the catechetical method has for the instruction of children above and beyond all others. I profess myself therefore a constant friend to catechisms for the instruction of the ignorant.
SECT. V. Of teaching Children to understand what they learn by Heart, and of the Use of different Catechisms for different Ages.
The great question that now remains is this, What sort of catechisms are most proper for the use of children? The answer is very natural, and ever at hand: Surely such catechisms must be best which they can best understand, supposing that all the articles of religion necessary for children are contained in them. The business and duty of the teacher is not merely to teach them words but things. Words written on the memory without ideas or sense in the mind, will never incline a child to his duty, nor save his soul. The young creature will neither be the wiser nor the better for being able to repeat accurate definitions and theoVOL. V
rems in divinity without knowing what they mean. Suppose a grown person, who knows no language but English, should get by heart the divinest doctrines, or most perfect rules of duty in French or Hebrew, what profit would he find by all this labour of his memory? Wisdom and goodness does not consist in such fatigues of the brain, and such a treasure of unknown words.
It is not enough to say, "This is the most complete system of divinity, this is the most perfect compendium of sacred truth, and therefore let the child be required to learn it." Whereas the child would learn sacred truths sooner and better by a less perfect system, which might contain only the A B C of religion to be instilled by degrees, than by having his little soul overwhelmed at once with a full and accurate discourse on the deeper points of christianity. Surely catechisms of religion for the instruction children ought to be so framed as to let the beams of divine light into their mind by degrees as they can receive it, that the young scholars might have some understanding of every thing which they are obliged to learn by heart. Why should not religion be taught in this respect in the same gradual way as we teach other parts of learning or knowledge?
When a child learns to read, do we not first teach him to know the letters, and then to join syllables and words? After this, some short and easy lessons are appointed him; and then some that are longer and more difficult: But we never put a young child to read the most perfect and the hardest lessons at first coming to school. So if we instruct a lad in any science, whether grammar, logic, or natural philosophy, we teach him first the most obvious and easy principles, and give him a short and general view of that science, and thus prepare him to receive the more difficult and more complicated parts of it: Now why should we not practise after the same manner when we instruct children in the great and important things of religion? Why should religion of all things be taught in such a way as is least suited to make the learner understand it? And indeed how can the knowledge of God and our duty be taught at all in such a way as will let us know little of our duty, or our God, even while we learn to speak much about him.
It is certain, that at the age of three or four years old, a child may be taught to know something more than mere words and terms; he may attain such ideas both of the God that made him, and of his duty to his Maker, as is necessary for his share of practice in that infant-state: And yet it is impossible that he should then take in the deep and sublime and controverted points of faith. At seven or eight years of age he can receive more of the truths and duties of christianity than he could at four: And the same remark may be repeated concerning a child of ten or
twelve years old, and concerning a youth of fourteen or fifteen. Now would it not be of admirable advantage if we had different catechisms for children and youth, and lessons of religion more or less easy, in proportion to their different ages? Is it not a most desirable thing to have shorter and longer summaries of christianity drawn up in various forms, answerable to the tender capacities of children, and the continual growth of their understandings? Did not the reverend assembly of divines at Westminster mean the same thing when besides their confession of faith, they agreed upon a larger catechism for grown persons, and a shorter catechism for those who are younger or more ignorant? It is plain they had such sort of sentiments as these, and something of this kind in view by setting forth two catechisms, a longer and a shorter.
Now if there were a series of such successive catechisms drawn up in a shorter and easier form than that of the assembly, and the truths expressed in a more condescending manner, it would be of unspeakable advantage toward the instilling the early knowledge of religion into mankind, even from their very infancy. Then parents would not be under an unhappy necessity of teaching children the greatest and deepest things of christianity in their infant age, before they can possibly know the meaning of them. Then children need not have such a long train of theological phrases and hard sentences imposed on their memories, while by reason of their infancy they understand very little more. of them than a parrot, and talk them over almost by mechanism. SECT. VI. Of composing any other Catechisms besides that of the Assembly of Divines.
Objection. But why should you pretend to write one or more catechisms after that admirable form of sound words appointed by those great men in the assembly of divines at Westminster?
Answer I. The plainest and most obvious reasons for com posing shorter and easier catechisms for young children are because that of the assembly of divines contains one hundred and seven questions and answers, and is therefore much too heavy a task for their memory: Some of these answers also are formed into too long connected sentences for the minds of children to comprehend or to remember: And there is much of the sense, as well as the style and language of it, too hard for children to understand. These reasons are so evident to all men, that
Mr. Thomas Lye, one of those worthy men who have written an expla nation of the Assembly's Catechism, confesses there are bard and difficult words and phrases in it: His words are these, "Try the child's ability to express his knowledge of the meaning of every hard and difficult word or phrase in the preceding auswer, because to repeat words and not to understand the tr tained in them is but to act the parrot, and profits very little.
there is no need to enlarge upon them. Experience has taught this inconvenience to every family who hath tried it.
Let me only point at the cause how it came to pass that this catechism is so long and so difficult. It is well known that the Assembly's Larger Catechism was not composed for children, but for men, to give them a large and full view of all the parts of our holy religion. There are therefore many deep and difficult points of doctrine contained in it, and that in those phrases and forms of speech which are chosen with much learned accuracy by divines skilful in theological controversies; and it must be confessed, that in such a complete and accurate scheme many ideas and many phrases will be far above the reach of any young child in the world. Now the shorter catechism is but an abridg ment of the larger, and was made partly with the same design of fulness and accuracy; and it must be acknowledged it is a very judicious abridgment. It is said to be collected or drawn up by a committee of divines, and approved by the assembly at Westminster; and it is expressed in many of the same phrases as the larger. The composition of it doth not seem to condescend quite enough to the weak understandings of children, either in the choice of the plainest sentiments, which are most needful for children, or the most easy and familiar language; a multitude of the same latinized and theological terms are used in it as in the larger the chief advantage of it for learners is this, that it is more easy for the memory, because it is shorter than the other.
If this be well considered, the name or character of that venerable assembly who composed the larger catechism for men, and appointed the shorter as an excellent abridgment of it for the use of the more ignorant, can never suffer any affront by having still an easier form of words drawn up for the instruction of young children in the principles of christianity, to prepare them for the better understanding and more profitable use of both their catechisms.
II. While I make an attempt of this kind, I do no more than twenty others have done before me, who had a most high esteem for the assembly's catechism, and a great and just veneration for it. Has not Dr. Owen, Mr. Edward Bowles, Mr. Thomas Gouge, Mr. A. Palmer, Mr. Matthew Henry, Mr. J. Noble, and other worthy men in England; Mr. Cotton in NewEngland, Mr. Willison in Scotland, &c. composed shorter catechisms for the use of children? And has not this been the very reason which has set most or all of them to work, viz. that even the shorter catechism of the assembly of divines has been, thought by many to be too long for young children to retain in their memory, and that all of them have supposed it too hard for children to understand?
What means the multitude of explications of this catechism