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If we consider the excellency of that religion which Jesus Christ hath revealed and delivered to us in His Gospel, we may well expect, that all who embrace and profess it, should be the most excellent persons upon earth, far exceeding all other men in piety, and justice, and charity, and temperance, and every thing that is virtuous and praiseworthy. But we see, to our grief and shame, that many who do not only profess it among us, but have the Gospel continually preached to them, are notwithstanding as bad, if not much worse, than some of those who never heard of it. Neither can it be otherwise, so long as the great duty of catechising, or instructing people in the first principles of the Christian religion, is so generally neglected or slightly performed, as it hath been for many years together. For people being baptized into Christ, as they ought to be, in their infancy, although they then promised by their sureties to believe all the Articles of the Christian faith, and to obey God's commandments, and are accordingly obliged to do so, yet unless they be rightly informed, as they grow up, of what they then promised, before they have contracted any ill habits, whatsoever outward profession they may make of the Christian religion, it hath little or no effect upon them. For they usually profess it, not as it is the religion of Christ, but as it is the religion of their country, in which they are born and bred. And although they have the Gospel preached over and over again to them, and make it a great part of their religion to hear it, yet it makes but little impression upon them, because they do not understand the principles we go upon, nor the meaning of the terms we use, and must of necessity use, in the right preaching of it: which to me seems one of the chief reasons, why so many sermons in our days are preached to no purpose, except it be to aggravate the faults of those that hear them; whereas if the principles of our holy religion were first instilled into those which are young, as they grow in years they would grow in grace tow and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and so by degrees would be rightly disposed and qualified both to understand and to receive the word with all readiness of mind, and would profit more by any one Sermon they hear, than others do by all, how many soever they be.
Upon these among many other accounts, it is to be carnestly wished by all that love Christ and His religion, that the Rubrics and Canons of our Church concerning catechising, could be generally and duly observed. The Church of Christ would then put on another face, and true primitive Christianity would soon be revived among us. For in the Book of Common Prayer, first composed and established by our Church, and then confirmed by the civil power in the last Act of Uniformity, immediately after the Catechism, we have these two Rubrics, that is, directions or rules to be observed.
“ The Curate of every parish shall diligently upon “ Sundays and Holydays, after the Second Lesson at
Evening Prayer, openly in the church, instruct and “ examine so many of his parish, sent unto him, as he “ shall think convenient, in some part of this Catechism.
“ And all fathers, mothers, masters, and dames, shall
cause their children, servants, and apprentices (which “ have not learned their Catechism) to come to the church " at the time appointed, and obediently to hear and be « ordered by the Curate, until such time as they have “ learned all that is here appointed for them to learn."
Where we may first observe, that in the Book of Common Prayer, set forth in King Edward the Sixth and in Queen Elizabeth's reign, as also in the 59th Canon of our Church, the time appointed for catechising was half an hour before Evening Prayer; but now it is to be done after the Second Lesson at Evening Prayer, that those also of riper years which were not taught the Catechism in their youth, (which, though not heretofore, yet now make
up the greatest part, if not the whole, of most congregations in England,) may learn what they ought to believe and do, by hearing the younger sort examined and instructed in it.
Here we may likewise observe, that every Curate or Minister of every parish in England is obliged by this law, not carelessly but diligently, not privately but openly, to examine and instruct some of his parish in some part of the Catechism every Sunday and Holyday throughout the year.
So that none can ever neglect or omit it upon those days, without manifest and wilful disobedience to the laws both of the Church and State under which they live, and that too in a thing which they are bound to do, out of duty to God, and to the people committed to their charge, although there was no such positive law for it. But howsoever, lest any should be so stupid and insensible of their duty herein, as, notwithstanding all this, still to continue in the neglect of it, our Church in the foresaid Canon hath enforced it with the greatest penalty that she can inflict: for her words are these; “ And if any Minister
shall neglect his duty herein, let him be sharply reproved
upon the first complaint and true notice thereof given “ to the Bishop or Ordinary of the place. If after sub“ mitting himself, he shall willingly offend therein again, “ let him be suspended. If so the third time, there being “ little hope that he will be therein reformed, then excom“municated, and so remain until he be reformed.” Can. lix.
But then we must observe withal, that as all Ministers are bound to catechise every Lord's-day and Holyday in their respective parish-churches, so all fathers, mothers, masters, and dames, even every head of a family in every parish, are bound by the same law, to cause all in their respective families that have not yet learned the Catechism, whether children, servants, or apprentices, to come to Church at all such times, and there obediently submit themselves to be examined, instructed, and ordered by their Minister, not only now and then, but constantly, until they have learned all that is here appointed. And to make them more careful to perform their duty herein, I wish they would consider the punishments which the
Church hath declared to be due, and therefore decreed to be inflicted upon those who neglect it, in these words; “ And likewise if any of the said fathers, mothers, masters,
or mistresses, children, servants, or apprentices, shall “ neglect their duties, as the one sort in not causing them “ to come, and the other in refusing to learn, as aforesaid, “ let them be suspended by their Ordinaries, (if they be “ not children,) and if they so persist by the space month, let them be excommunicated.” Can. lix.
Another thing much to be observed in these laws is, that every Minister is bound not only to teach the youth and ignorant persons of his parish their Catechism, and to examine whether they can say it, but he is bound likewise to instruct them in it, and to examine whether they understand it or no; and that too, so long, till they can all, according to their several abilities, give a good account of their faith, and of all the duties which God requireth of them.
Now if all this was duly and generally observed all the kingdom over, what an excellent Church and people should we then become? Then the promise which God hath made to His Church in general, would be fulfilled to ours particularly. For we should all know Him, from the least to the greatest of us, Jer. xxxi. 34. And if we knew Him aright, we could not but serve, honour, and obey Him as we ought, and so live as becometh Christians, shining as lights in the world.
But this we can never expect, until it please God to open the
eyes of parents and others, that they may see it to be both their duty and their interest, to teach their children their Catechism as well as they can at home, and then to send them, together with their servants and apprentices, to be further instructed in it by the Minister of their parish, not only while they are six or seven years old, as the custom of late hath been, but till they come to years of discretion, so as to be able fully to understand all that is necessary for them to know, in order to their living in the true faith and fear of God all the while they are upon earth, and so to their obtaining forgiveness of their sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified, by faith, that is, in Jesus Christ.
Whatsoever they may
think, I am sure they can do nothing more pleasing to God, or of greater advantage to themselves: for by this means they may upon good grounds promise themselves a great deal of comfort in their children and families, together with God's blessing upon them ; which otherwise they can never expect: in that they live in such a sin, for which the Church hath declared them worthy to be excommunicated, and requireth them to be so, if they continue in it.
And as for such (of which there are too many the kingdom) who never having learned the Catechism themselves, cannot teach it their children, they have more need to attend constantly when it is repeated and explained openly in the church, and must take the more care to send their children to the Minister of their parish, that he may teach them, and instruct them in it, whose duty it is to do it.
And it is indeed a very hard and difficult duty, to do it effectually. It is easy enough, I confess, to hear children or others say their Catechism by rote: but that signifies very little, unless they understand what they say. But to make them understand every word and expression, as it is necessary they should, in order to their being fully instructed in it; this I think is one of the hardest duties belonging to the Ministerial office. For it requires great presence of mind, and quickness of invention, to explain every thing so, as the weakest capacities may apprehend it. But how hard soever it is, it is necessary to be done. And therefore every Minister should study and strive all he can to do it so, as that it may answer the end for which it is appointed, and that he may give a good account of it at the last day. For which
purpose many have taken great and worthy pains in subdividing the Catechism into lesser questions and answers, to be got without book, and repeated by those who come to be examined and instructed in it. And that doubtless is of great use, if due care be taken that they do not make such answers, as they are apt to repeat the Catechism, only by rote, without understanding what is meant by them. But herein lies the main difficulty, even how to possess young and ignorant people with a clear understanding, right apprehensions, and a due sense