BY WAY OF QUESTION AND ANSWER.
In Two Parts.
PART I. -- OF WHAT MAN IS TO BELIEVE CONCERNING GOD.
PART II. -- OF WHAT DUTY GOD REQUIRES OF MAN.
"Hold fast the form of sound words." -- 2 Tim. 1:13.
PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION
THE Shorter Catechism, composed by the Assembly of Divines at Westminster, with assistance of Commissioners from the Church of Scotland, being approved by the General Assembly of the said church in 1648, and ratified by the Estates of Parliament in the year following, is above any recommendation of ours; having its praises already in all the churches of Christ, abroad and at home, among whom it has been justly admired as a masterpiece of its kind, both for the fullness of its matter, and the compendious and perspicuous manner in which it is expressed.
Although it is only a human composure, yet being "a form of sound words," agreeable unto, and founded on the word of God, it ought to be held fast, and earnestly contended for, by all the lovers of truth, in opposition to the contrary errors that are revived and raging in our day; and, in order hereto, it ought to be considered, that a divine faith is due to the words of the Holy Ghost supporting it, as the evident proofs thereof.
Nothing tends more to the advantage and well-being of the church than sound standards of doctrine, worship, and government, because, as they are a strong bulwark against contrary errors and opinions, so they tend to preserve truth in its purity, and the professors of it in unity and harmony among themselves. On the other hand, there is nothing more galling to the adversaries of truth than such public standards, because they are a very severe check and curb upon their unbounded and licentious liberty, being directly levelled against their erroneous schemes and plainly discovering the harmonious chain of scripture truth in opposition to them.
The divine warrant for such composures is abundantly clear from 2 Tim. 1:13, where we read of the "form of sound words," wherein Paul instructed Timothy; and Heb. 5:12, of "the first principles of the oracles of God;" and chap. 6:1, of "the principles of the doctrine of Christ." -- Besides, there are several summaries, or compendious systems of divine truth, recorded in scripture; such as Exod. 20:2-18; Matt. 6:9-14; 1 Tim. 3:16; and Tit. 2:11-15, with many others, which are the examples, or patterns, upon which the Christian churches, both in ancient and latter times, have deduced, from the pure fountain of the word, the principal articles of their holy religion, as a test and standard of orthodoxy amongst them.
The Shorter Catechism sets forth the principles of Christianity in the most excellent method and order. It would be tedious to give a particular analysis or division of the several heads of divinity, according to the order of the Catechism. But, in general, the method of it may be taken up under these four comprehensive articles, namely, the chief end, the only rule, the glorious object, and the great subject of the Christian religion.
I. The chief end of the Christian religion, which is the glorifying or God, and the enjoying him for ever. QUESTION 1.
II. We have the only rule of the Christian religion described,
1. In its matter; which is the word of God, contained in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. QUESTION 2.
2. In its principal parts; which are, first, what man is to believe concerning God; and then the duty which God requires of man. QUESTION 3.
III. The glorious object of the Christian religion, which is God, considered,
1. Essentially, in his spiritual nature, infinite perfections, and in his most perfect unity and simplicity. QUESTION 4, 5.
2. Relatively or personally, in the three distinct persons of the Godhead; and in the consubstantiality, and absolute equality of these persons. QUESTION 6.
3. Efficiently, in his acts and operations, which are either immanent and essential, such as his decrees; or transient and external, such as his works of creation and providence, wherein he executes his decrees. QUESTION 7-11.
IV. The great subject of the Christian religion, which is man, considered,
1 st, In his state of innocence, where the covenant of works is opened. QUESTION 12.
2 dly, In his state of nature, together with the sinfulness and misery of that state. QUESTION 13-19.
3 dly, In his state of grace, or begun recovery; where the Catechism treats,
1. Of the nature of the covenant of grace. QUESTION 20.
2. Of the Mediator of the covenant; who is described, in his person, offices, humiliation, exaltation, and in the application of his purchased redemption by the Holy Spirit. QUESTION 21-31.
3. Of the benefits of the covenant; in this life, at death, at the resurrection, and through all eternity. QUESTION 32-38.
4. Of the duties by which we evidence our covenant relation and gratitude to God, in the Ten Commandments, as connected with their Preface. QUESTION 39-81.
5. Of man's utter inability to obey the law in this life. QUESTION 82. 6. Of the aggravation and desert of sin. QUESTION 83, 84.
7. Of the means by which our salvation is carried on and perfected at death: the internal means, faith and repentance; the external means, the word, sacraments, and prayer. QUESTION 85, to the end.
The First Part of this catechetical treatise ends with QUESTION 38, What benefits do believers receive from Christ at the resurrection? containing the doctrines we are to believe concerning God. The Second Part respects the duty which God requires of man.
The materials of the following Catechism are collected by several ministers; and it was recommended to three of their number to revise what should be done by so many hands, that there might be a uniformity of style and method, and that repetitions might be prevented as much as possible. It has pleased the Lord to take home to himself one of these three, who assisted in the composing and revising of this First Part; but, though he be dead, he yet speaketh, and will be spoken of, for his excellent works (which have already, or may hereafter see the light), by all those who shall have any relish or taste for sound doctrine and experimental godliness. Whatever loss the Second Part of this Catechism may sustain by the removal of such an able and skilful hand, the other two make not the least doubt but the Lord would carry on this work with as great or greater advantage, though they were laid in the grave likewise.
Meantime, that what is here presented to public view may be blessed of God, for the edification of souls, is, in the name of our brethren, the earnest prayer of
THE words of the Shorter Catechism, being devised with the greatest judgement, and with a peculiar view, both for establishing scripture-truth, and likewise for refuting contrary errors, they are therefore, in this edition, particularly taken notice of; and to distinguish them, they are put in Italics, that the reader may the more easily discern how they are explained in this treatise.
As the Confession of Faith and Larger Catechism are granted to be the best interpreters of the Shorter, the latter is carefully explained by the former, and several of the following questions and answers framed from these standards, as will easily appear by the quotations taken from them, and the references made unto them.
In this edition, almost every answer is confirmed by the scriptures; many are added, where they were formerly wanting, and several exchanged, for those that are thought more apposite. In the former impressions, the scripture-proofs were, mostly, subjoined to the end of the answer; but now, each scripture is immediately annexed to that part of the answer it is designed to confirm, that it may be consulted with greater certainty, and less trouble, by those who incline to bring every position here advanced, to the unerring rule and standard of the Word. Some of the longer answers are divided into two or more, for sake of the memory; and some additional questions are interspersed through the whole, for illustration. A short Index is likewise annexed, of the most material things in both Parts.
I have employed my spare time for several months, in studying to make this Edition as correct and useful to the public as I could; and now I leave it in the hands of the God of Truth, that he may use it for the purposes of his own glory, in edifying the body of Christ, till they all come, in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.
GLASGOW, Jan. 14, 1765