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OF THE BAPTISMAL COVENANT.
Motive to the Lectures.-Catechism.-Christian Name.Member of Christ, &c.-Promise.-Assent.-Grace by Baptism. Sustained by Scripture.-Duty of Parents and Sponsors. Admonition to Persons Baptized; especially to those who live in violation of the Baptismal Vow.
IT is occasionally a subject of complaint, and with too much reason, that many young people of our Communion arrive at maturity, with very little information, even on the most familiar subjects of our holy religion. Indeed, it is not uncommon to meet with persons educated among us, who are sufficiently intelligent and informed in other matters, and who have even been in the habit of attending on divine worship, and yet are incompetent to the stating of the grounds on which we rest the articles of our belief, or the ordinances received among us on divine authority; or even the ordinary duties of life, with the prohibition of the sins which stand in opposition to them.
It may seem, that the evil might be sufficiently guarded against, in regard to those who attend the reciting of the Catechism, by explanations given at the times of recitation. Some years ago, this was attempt
ed; but the plan was dropt, because of there being little or no use resulting from it, owing to the very early ages of the children who attended. The opinion is become too prevalent, that the exercise in question is limited to those who are below the age at which they may be competent to the understanding of what they recite; and before which, they cannot be expected even to listen to what their ministers may say in explanation.
After much consideration of the difficulty, the best expedient which I could devise, was to avail myself of the seasons of confirmation. For, as it ought to be supposed, that all who offer for that holy rite are drawn to it by the operation of religious principle, the hope may be entertained of an improvement to be made of such a season of sensibility; and that those young persons who present themselves, unless there be unavoidable hindrances, will see a propriety in attending to the few lectures, designed for the explaining of the instrument; their knowledge of which, they perceive to be made by the Rubricks the condition of their being admitted to confirmation.
Perhaps, however, it may seem, that the narrow compass within which the proposed instruction is to be contained, must fall short of the extent of the matter to be brought before us. Concerning this I have to declare my opinion, that where the object is explanation merely, the truths and the duties comprehended in the Catechism, may be more intelligibly stated within the space which has been prescribed, and with a better prospect of the retention of memory, than by a more enlarged amplification. If this were the object; and if, accordingly, every clause in every sentence of the instrument should be branched out into its relative considerations; it would require not less than a weekly lecture for the space of a year, to go through the intended series of instruction. This would differ but little from our usual sermons. Now it has been very much the complaint of judicious divines and others, that sermons have too much superseded the
old and useful expedient of catechetical instruction. But by this term, they mean the repeating over and over of the same primary truths of religion, until they are made familiar to the minds of the instructed: a work much more useful to them, than what is understood under the name of preaching; although not opening a like field for the ingenuity or for the eloquence of the teacher.
Although my limits exact brevity on the different branches of the Catechism, it needs not to be carried to such an extreme, as to prevent the stating of the reasons of the positions, which are the most likely to be doubted of or contradicted. Without this, the contemplated exercises would fall short of a considerable part of my design; which is to show what our Church has to say in defence of certain of her institutions, against the objections of other societies of professing Christians. This, it is to be hoped, may be done within the bounds of charity and of meekness; and yet with the confidence, which should be the result of the full persuasion, that our faith is that which was "once delivered to the saints."
Besides the views intimated, it would be out of character to lose the opportunity of occasional reflections, calculated to impress the truths and the duties explained on the consiences of the hearers. But this must be with the brevity, which supposes what will be said in this way to be mere hints, as a foundation for subsequent reflection. At the same time, there will be cherished an humble dependence on the grace of God, for the giving of a blessing to the proposed elementary instruction. And the prayers of the hearers are now solicited for the obtaining of it.
This first Lecture will embrace the introductory questions and answers, relative to the Baptismal Covenant.
The instrument before us is called "A Catechism," that is to say, for so the definition continues-" An Instruction to be learned by every person, before he be brought to be confirmed by the bishop." In what
way it is to be learned, whether by the ear from the mouth of the minister, or through the medium of a written or printed form, is not specified. Accordingly, the words should be considered as applying to both these ways. The attending to this circumstance, is of some importance. The word "Catechism" comes from a Greek word,* which signifies to teach by sound. From some remains of catechetical instruction in the primitive church, we learn that it first passed from the catechist to the catecumen; who was afterwards examined on the purport of what had been delivered. The reason of this was partly in the scarcity of books, before the discovery of the art of printing; and in the comparatively small number of persons qualified to use them. Even when our Catechism was drawn up, at the eve of the reformation, it would have been useful but to few of those for whom it was designed, otherwise than as proceeding from the lips, and taken in by the ear. These remarks are made with a reference to any persons, who, at the present day, have not had the opportunity of learning to read. Any such persons, on notifying their cases to their ministers, would be attended to in the only way in which they can be furnished with the instruction in contemplation. We can never be sufficiently thankful, for the benefit reaped in various ways, and in this way in particular, by the general possession of the art of reading, and by the cheapness of needful books. But this blessing, enjoyed by the community, ought not to throw the few deprived of it, out of the reach of the knowledge essential to Christian faith and practice.t
+ Besides the loss here referred to, of persons not taught to read; there is another, affecting the same persons in the difference of extent of catechetical instruction, as practised in the primitive Church, and at present. St. Augustine may be supposed to have given a specimen of catechising as practised in his day. It comprehended the whole thread of gospel history; and was executed by persons devoted to that employment.