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of our religion, have not only been made the early aversion of children, but have been exposed to disreputation and contempt, by teaching them such a number of strange phrases which they could not understand? How often have I heard children at four or five years old gabble over long sentences of divinity in such imperfect words and broken sounds, that it hath been sufficiently evident it was like a mere gibberish to them? They were told indeed that this was their religion; but they must needs acquire a strange notion of religion by this means; they must think religion a very troublesome thing, which cost them so much pains without any pleasure; and they might early begin to judge that religion was a very obscure and mysterious matter, since they could undestand so little of it; and perhaps under this prejudice they never took pains to understand it, because from their infancy they were made to learn something as their religion which they could not understand.
Now though I am firmly persuaded there are great and glorious mysteries in our religion, which could never have been known till they were revealed, and some of them do now far surpass our full comprehension; such as the doctrine of the blessed Trinity, the incarnation of the Son of God, his satisfaction for our sins, and the operations of the holy Spirit on the minds of men, &c. yet in the main I am assured that religion is a very intelligible thing; and as it is the most reasonable thing in the world, I am persuaded it ought to be let both into the memories and hearts of children in a reasonable way, that is, by their understanding
VI. Shall I add in the last place, if children are trained up to use words without meanings, they will get a habit of dealing in sounds instead of ideas, and of mistaking words for things, than which there is scarce any thing more pernicious to the reason and understanding of man; nor is there any thing that tends more to corrupt and spoil the judgment in its early exercises. And particularly such a practice is likely to have a more unhappy influence in matters of religion. When we are once taught to treasure up substantial articles of faith in syllables and phrases which we do not understand, at other times we shall be tempted to take mere phrases and syllables instead of articles of faith; and this is the ready way, in our following years, to lead us to contend even for human phrases with furious zeal, as though they were the very substance of religion, whether there be any meaning that belongs to them or no.
The result of all my discourse and argument tends to this one point, viz. That catechising is the best and happiest method for the instruction of children in the principles of religion, in the knowledge of God and their duty; and whatsoever catechisms re impressed on the memories of children in their most tender
years, they should be taught the meaning of them, as far as possible, as fast as they learn them by heart.
If all these inconveniences of the contrary practice cannot persuade parents and masters to teach children the principles of christianity in such words as they can understand, I must leave them to be convinced by making the same unsuccessful experiment themselves as thousands have done before them. If they will put a man's coat on a child, the child may be cumbered with his long and loose habiliments, and yet be starved with cold. But if persons are convinced of the truth of this proposition, that children should be taught the things of God in a way and manner suited to their capacity and their tender years, I would then humbly propose whether it would not be best that catechistical forms might be drawn up according to such rules as these which follow.
SECT. VIII.-Rules for composing Catechisms for Children.
1. The very first rule should be that which I have before mentioned, viz. That different catechisms be composed for dif ferent ages and capacities, each of which should contain an abstract of christianity, or a view of our whole religion in miniature. In the first of these all the questions and answers should be as short, plain and easy as possible for young children; others should be gradually more large and full, and enter a little farther into the things of God, which they should learn according to their increasing age, and the growth of their understanding; and the last of them may be that comprehensive system of christian religion, which is commonly called the Assembly's Catechism.
Here it will be objected, first, that when children have learned one catechism, they will not be willing to learn another afterward; nor will they easily be brought to learn three or four distinct catechisms.
Answer. Experience convinces us that this a mistake, provided the catechisms are not too loug. How many children are there who do at the same learn the Assembly's Catechism, and the little Catechism of Scriptural Names, formed of such questions as these, Who was the first man? Who was the first woman? &c. And how many are there who have learned the Church-catechism in their youngest years, who have afterwards learned the Assembly's? How many have learned the Assembly's Catechism, and yet afterward have learned Mr. Flavel's, or some shorter explication? A moderate degree of diligence both in teachers and learners would banish this objection, if catechisms were made short, easy and intelligible, so as to allure the child to read and learn them as a matter of choice and delight, and not as a mere task and burden.
Objection II. But would it not be much better to compose one plain catechism for all the stages of childhood and youth, and let them learn as much as they could of it at four or five years old, and so go on to learn further at six and seven, at eight and nine and ten, till they have finished the whole?
Answer. No, by no means: This cannot be so happy and useful a method for the instruction of children; for them children will never have any knowledge of some of the most important points in our religion till they are eight or ten years old, or more, and are come to the end of their catechism: Whatsoever is placed in the former part of their catechism they would indeed be acquainted with in their infancy more largely and more particularly; but they would know nothing at all of those doctrines which should naturally be placed in the middle or end of it, viz. The redemption by Christ, the blessings of the gospel, the future judgment, and heaven and hell, because they have not learned far enough in their catechisms. Thus they would remain too long in ignorance of the peculiar doctrines and duties of the christian religion. Whereas if some short and complete catechism, be framed for infancy, by this means children in these earlier and shorter forms would learn and remember a whole scheme of the most substantial articles of our religion, both in doctrine and duty. They would attain a general and comprehensive view of christianity, so much as is sufficient for their practice in their younger years; especially if assisted but a little by some plain and easy conversation with their parents about these things.
This short and general view of christianity will make them better understand the scripture itself whensoever they read any of the chief doctrines of godliness there. They will better apprehend the meaning of sermons which they hear in public; they will more easily take in the particular branches and articles of our holy religion when they come to read them in the larger catechisms; and it will teach them to judge better in the affairs of religion when they have learned the general substance of it in their infancy, contracted into a short easy scheme, and brought within the grasp and survey of their understanding in their earliest years.
Nor can it be objected here, with any colour of reason, that in their second and third catechisms they will be put to learn over again the same things which they have already learned in the first; for I have shewn, that though the same articles of faith and practice are inserted in the following catechisms, yet this is done in other forms of expression, and with more particular enlargements as to the sense.. Thus the child as he proceeds from one catechism to another, will have the advantage of learning the same great truths of christianity more perfectly by the variety
of language in which they are expressed, and the amplification of them in more particulars.
I add further, That the scripture itself intimates what we find by constant experience, viz. That when we teach knowledge to children who are weaned from the milk, and make them who are drawn from the breasts to understand doctrine, precept rust be upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little and there a little; Is. xxviii. 9, 10. Their young understandings must be addressed and allured in various and repeated forms of speech, and their memories must be refreshed in an agreeable manner, otherwise all our teachings will be in vain.
II. Rule. In the younger catechisms insert only those things which are necessary to be known by children, and which are plain and easy to be understood by them.
There are many things relating to our religion, which are not only very important, but very necessary in themselves, in order to bring about our salvation, both in the counsels and in the transactions of God and Christ: and yet they are by no means necessary to be known even by men in order to their interest in this salvation. Otherwise no man could be saved who could not enter into the incomprehensible depths of the nature and counsels of God. There are also many things needful and proper to be known by persons of maturer years, which children should not be troubled with, as being too far above their understandings, and not requisite for any part of their practice. I think it best to have scarce any thing mentioned in these younger catechisms but what children can in some measure conceive, or of what they can frame some tolerable notion, what they can put to some proper use, and what will direct, or some way influence, or assist their practice. Thus they will learn religion indeed, and not mere words and syllables.
Under this head I may observe, that it is hardly possible to compose a catechisin for young children in so evangelical a manner as may be done for the instruction of grown persons. Young children are more easily taught to understand what are the chief duties they must practise, and what are the chief vices they should avoid; and they more readily learn the rewards of obedience and the punishments due to sin. They may be taught indeed that they are sinners, and that there is no salvation for them but by the mercy of God and for the sake of Jesus Christ, who hath suffered death which they have deserved; and that they must pray to God to pardon their sins for the sake of Jesus Christ. This is as much of faith in Christ, as they can well understand very early. But they can never take in the whole scheme of the covenant of grace, with the doctrines of election, regeneration, and of justification by faith in Christ, or be taught
to distinguish how far, and in what sense works are to be excluded from our justification. Therefore if any persons imagine some expressions in these catechisms, and especially in the first of them, to be too legal, let them consider it is hardly possible to make the generality of children understand much more of the gospel than I have here represented. And indeed if it were possible, I can hardly think it proper to enter the spirits of children into nice distinctions and controversies.
III. Rule. Seek out and make use of the very plainest words that can convey these necessary things to the minds of children. Endeavour to find out such ways of expressing the things of God as are borrowed from the things of men: And as far as the dignity of the subject will permit, use those expressions which are familiar, and are known to children in their younger years. It is a needful advice with regard to words, as well as to things, that when we teach children we must take the apostle's example, and provide milk for babes.
In this case therefore we are not always to chuse out the most elegant and polite forms of speech, nor even the most significant and comprehensive words, if they are hard to be understood; but we should rather use easier and plainer and more familiar forms of speech which come something nearer to our ideas of divine things, though they may not fully come up to our manly conceptions of them; for it is much better that a child should have some tolerable notion of the things of religion conveyed to the mind by the plainest words that come near to those sacred ideas, than that he should be taught to pronounce the most polite, the most comprehensive phrases, the most accurate and expressive terms, under which he has no notion at all of the things designed.
For this reason the language of scripture is not always necessary to be made the language of our younger catechisms: Indeed where the words of scripture are plain and intelligible to children, they should be preferred before other expressions; but since the scripture was written for men rather than children, since it abounds in metaphorical expressions and in Eastern idioms of speech, since the doctrines and duties of it are not delivered in a short catechetical or systemstical manner, and since they are often expressed with a special reference to some particular time, or place, or persons, and intermingled with long sentences of argument, or particular narratives of fact, I cannot think it best to confine our instruction of children to the very expressions of scripture, when we can find shorter, easier and more familiar forms of speech to convey the same doctrines and duties to the understanding. It is evident therefore that it cannot be always necessary to use scriptural phrases in younger