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“ Every youth,” he observes, “can preach, but he must be a man indeed, who can profitably catechize*.” It is evidently implied, however, in these passages, that the catechist does not confine himself to the bare questions and answers drawn up in any fixed formula, but varies, explains, amplifies, and interrogates as he finds occasion; and when this is done discreetly, and with a true pastoral love and condescension, it must be allowed that no mode of teaching carries either more light or impression.
The primitive church (as all know who have the least acquaintance with ecclesiastical antiquity) was particularly attentive to this preliminary part of her charge. Those who were candidates for her communion, were first taught privately at home, by persons deputed by the bishop; and it was not before they were sufficiently instructed in the primary and simplest principles of christianity, that they were admitted to some parts of the public worship of the church; particularly to such sermons as were adapted to their present capacity, and meant to prepare them for a nearer union with the faithful. For none, in those purer times, were admitted to the higher forms of christianity, till they had passed the inferior with approbation *. “ It was the wicked policy of heretics,” says Tertullian, “ to make no difference between the catechumen and the confirmed believer +.” It is true, that what is here said referred to converts, and consequently to adults, from among the heathens; but it shows the extreme caution then used by the church in receiving members to full communion. And are there no adults in christian countries who are little better than heathens? None who are grown up to every other kind of knowledge and accomplishments, and yet who need to be taught the first principles of the oracles of God; and to whom the church ought to assign the place of catechumens ? unless, in the present relaxed state of discipline, she thought it more prudent to
* Mixt contempt, sect. 49.
* See Cave's Primitive Christianity, part i. p. 215-17: and Sir Peter King's Constitution of the Prim. Church, part i. p. 100-3.
+ “ Quis catechumenus, quis fidelio, incertum est; pariter audiunt, pariter orant.” TERTUL, de præscript.
teach them indirectly their christian elements, through the medium of her particular addresses to children in the public congregation.
From what causes the part of religious instruction of which we have been speaking, has fallen into such general disuse, it may not be unnecessary for those to inquire, whose peculiar office it is to apply a remedy. It may deserve their consideration, whether our present catechisms are sufficiently accommodated, either in matter or manner, to the capacities of children. He who shall look into the Assemblies' Catechism, generally used in Scotland, or into that of our own church, will hardly rank them under this description; and after all the attempts that have been since made to supply this deficiency, a catechism for children, I apprehend, still remains a desideratum, which, whoever shall furnish, will thereby do religion a more essential service, than she would receive from works that are held in much greater estimation. And were other catechetical forms drawn up, adapted in like manner to the several stages of youth, and proportioned to the gradual opening of the understand
ing, they would doubtless be attended with many special advantages.
3. Her general discourses from the pulpit, must rather be plain and expository, than carious or polemical, or confined to single and insulated texts of scripture. The bulk of most congregations is composed of the poor and the unlearned, to whom a sermon must be plain, both in its matter and expression, to be intelligible; it must neither be perplexed with subtleties, embarrassed with learning, nor clouded with rhetoric. What constitutes the chief matter of a truly evangelical ministry, may be learnt from the apostle Paul's address to the elders of the church of Ephesus, in which he tells them, that “ he had kept back nothing that was profitable for them ; that he had taught them publicly, and from house to house; testifying both to Jews and Greeks, repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ ;” obserying, in conclusion, that he had not shunned to declare unto them all the counsel of God *.” Which shows, that the standing subject of his teaching amongst them, consisted of no abstruse or curious speculations, but of the two great fundamental doctrines of the gospel, repentance and faith. And in what language the church ought to speak to her children, she may also collect from the example of the same apostle, who, in declaring the testimony of God, came not with ercellency of speech,—not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the spirit,--not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect*. In which passages, though no one will suppose that any exclusion was intended of that simple and pathetic eloquence, of which the apostle himself was so great a master, there is certainly contained a strong censure of those pedantic or declamatory harangues, which are so often admired, and so little felt or understood.
* Acts xx. 20, 21, and 27.