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THE SHORTER CATECHISM is confessedly the
best compendium of Christian doctrine that has ever been composed by uninspired
It embodies, in regular and consecutive order, the principal doctrines of the Bible, and presents to every Christian a concise view of those tenets which ought to regulate his faith and practice.
Convinced of its intrinsic excellence, pastors and people have, for many ages, harmoniously united in preserving its use in the reiigious education of children ; and thus the Shorter Catechism has, from its being the schcol companion of our fathers, and the text book of pious instruction in the fanıily circles, become identified witä our national feelings and principles, and rendered every Scotsman anxious to transmit it as ar: in vaiuabie boon to the generations to come.
But though we reflect with gratitude upon the kindness of our fathers in leaving behind them such a rich legacy, yet experience compels us to call in question their wisdom, in committing this Catechism, which was intended for adult Christians, into the hands of children. That very quality which forms its excellence as a compendium, and which, doubtless, made them so desirous to teach it immediately to their children, renders it very improper for being prescribed as the first book by which a child is to be instructed.
This assertion is easily proved. The mind, like the body, advances to maturity by succes. sive steps; and the power of combining simple principles into general ones, or of reducing general principles into their constituent elements, is perhaps the last step in the growth of mind. Now the Shorter Catechism is, by its very nature, a hook of general principles; and therefore, it is a violation of the order of nature, to command children to learn it, at a time when their faculties are not sufficiently matured and expanded to evolve and perceive its compendious meaning. On this account it might, with perfect certainty, have been predicted, antecedently to experience, that they might commit it's words to memory, but that they would not of themselves understand its doctrines. That this result has really followed in all its extent, every one will be convinced, who shall but appeal to the reminiscences of his early days. Sober reflection and experience will force him to acknowledge, that the
Shorter Catechism was by him learned, but not understood ; and that it was not till he brought his mind, after being enlightened and strengthened by the exercise of many years, to bear upon its doctrines, that he perceived their comprehensiveness, richness, and beautiful connection; and we doubt not but he will also recollect the pleasure which he then felt, when its amazing condensation of truth began to develope itself to his view, and convinced him of the real value of that book, which he in his youth had considered as an irksome and disagreeable companion.
Experience has moreover shewn, that the putting of this Catechism too early into the hands of children, has, besides frustrating the pious intentions of our fathers, really been productive of baneful consequences. Nine out of ten who have learned this Catechism, have afterwards neglected to subject it to the enlightened investigation of their judgment, and of course, have never understood it. The cause of this is obvious. When the mind is frequently compelled to encounter a task which it cannot master, it becomes dispirited, shrinks from the trial, and contracts a disgust at the repe. tition of the same hopeless experiment. Indeed, the prescribing of a task to children which they are incapable of mastering, is sure to freeze their youthful ardour, and to compel them to become idle and regardless. On this account, the Shorter Catechism has been to children a book altogether devoid of interest ; and they have only been forced to drawl through its pages by the stern voice of authority, or the fear of corporal punishment.
The evil however does not stop here. This method weakens the capacities of the child, unfits him for further improvement, and begets a dislike to every kind of learning. No sooner, accordingly, has he felt himself emancipated from the galling bondage of catechism-learning, than he has formed the determination, no doubt often insensibly, never again to encounter its irksomeness. Thus it happens, as already asserted, that but exceedingly few in after life reflect upon the Catechism with pleasure, or bestow upon it that labour which is necessary for its right understanding. And, even in those cases in which this trial has fairly been made, the memory is so apt to run away with the mere words, that it has been found extremely difficult to penetrate the meaning, and to reap any advantage from the exercise. There is, moreover, a natural tendency in all to attach the ideas of simplicity and meanness to our youthful books, which prevents us from afterwards putting that value upon the Catechism, which its merits actually deserve. This can only be counteracted by making the child perceive distinctly the meaning of its important doctrines ; for if this were properly done, the grandeur and sanctity of these would beget in the mind, even of the young, a reverence and awe which would