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§ 91. The Scotch Catechisms.

Catechetical instruction became soon after the Reformation, and remains to this day, one of the fundamental institutions of Presbyterian Scotland, and accounts largely for the general diffusion of religious information among the people.

The First Book of Discipline, adopted in 1560, prescribes public catechising of the children before the people on Sunday afternoon. The General Assembly of 1570 ordered ministers and elders to give to all the children within their parishes three courses of religious instruction—when they were nine, twelve, and fourteen years of age. Later assemblies enacted similar laws, and enjoined it also upon the heads of families to catechise their children and servants. The Assembly of 1649 renewed the act of the Assembly of 1639 'for a day of weeklie catechising, to be constantly observed in every kirk.'13421342   Book of Discipline, ch. xi. sect. 3; Buik of Universal Kirk, p. 121 (Peterkin's edition); Horatius Bonar, Catechisms of the Scottish Reformation (London, 1866), Preface, p. xxxvii.

The older Catechisms, both domestic and foreign, contain the same system of doctrine in a fresher though less logical form than the Westminster standards, by which they were superseded after the middle 697of the seventeenth century. 'Our Scottish Catechisms,' says Dr. Bonar, the hymnist,' though gray with the antiquity of three centuries, are not yet out of date. They still read well, both as to style and substance; it would be hard to amend them, or to substitute something better in their place. Like some of our old church-bells, they have retained for centuries their sweetness and amplitude of tone unimpaired. It may be questioned whether the Church has gained any thing by the exchange of the Reformation standards for those of the seventeenth century. . . . In the Reformation we find doctrine, life, action nobly blended. Between these there was harmony, not antagonism; for antagonism in such cases can only arise when the parts are disproportionately mingled. Subsequently the balance was not preserved: the purely dogmatical preponderated. This was an evil, yet an evil not so easily avoided as some think; for, as the amount of error flung upon society increased, the necessity for encountering it increased also; controversy spread, dialectics rose into repute, and the dogmatical threatened to stifle or dispossess the vital.'13431343   L.c. p. viii.


The Catechism of Calvin and the Palatinate or Heidelberg Catechism were approved by the Church of Scotland, and much used in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.13441344   See both in Dunlop's and Bonar's Collections. Comp. above, pp. 467 and 537 sq.

An English edition of the former by the translators of the Geneva Bible appeared first at Geneva, 1556, for the use of the congregation of exiles, of which Knox was pastor, and then at Edinburgh, 1564. The latter was printed in Edinburgh, 1591, 1615, and 1621.


The number of these must have been very large. King James remarked at the Hampton Court Conference that in Scotland every son of a good woman thought himself competent to write a Catechism. We mention only those which had ecclesiastical sanction:

1. Two Catechisms of John Craig (1512–1600), an eminent minister 698at Aberdeen, and then at Edinburgh.13451345   Both in Bonar, pp. 187–285. The Shorter Catechism is also printed in Dunlop's Collection, Vol. II. pp. 365–377. He was the author of the Second Scotch Confession.13461346   See p. 686; Calderwood, Vol. III. p. 354; M'Crie, J. Knox, pp. 236 sqq.

The Larger Catechism of Craig was first printed in Edinburgh, by Henrie Charteris, in 1581, and in London, 1589. The General Assembly of 1590 indorsed it, and ordered an abridgment by the author, which was approved and published in 1591. In this shorter form it was generally used till superseded by the Westminster Catechism. The author says in the Preface (dated July 20, 1581): 'First, I have abstained from all curious and hard questions; and, next, I have brought the questions and the answers to as few words as I could, and that for the ease of children and common people, who can not understand nor gather the substance of a long question or a long answer confirmed with many reasons.' The work begins with some historical questions, and then explains the Apostles' Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord's Prayer, and ends with the means of grace and the way of salvation. The questions and answers are short, and of almost equal length. We give some specimens from the larger work; which is little known:

First Questions.

Ques. Who made man and woman?

Ans. The eternal God of his goodness.

Ques. Whereof made he them?

Ans. Of an earthly body and an heavenly spirit.

Ques. To whose image made he them?

Ans. To his own image.

Ques. What is the image of God?

Ans. Perfect uprightness in body and soul.

Ques. To what end were they made?

Ans. To acknowledge and serve their Maker.

Ques. How should they have served him?

Ans. According to his holy will.

Ques. How did they know his will?

Ans. By his Works, Word, and Sacraments.

Ques. What liberty had they to obey his will?

Ans. They had free will to obey and disobey.

Of the Sacraments.

Ques. What is a Sacrament?

Ans. A sensible sign and seal of God's favor offered and given to us.


Ques. To what end are the Sacraments given?

Ans. To nourish our faith in the promise of God.

Ques. How can sensible signs do this?

Ans. They have this office of God, not of themselves.

Ques. How do the Sacraments differ from the Word?

Ans. They speak to the eye, and the Word to the ear.

Ques. Speak they other things than the Word?

Ans. No, but the same diversely.

Ques. But the word doth teach us sufficiently?

Ans. Yet the Sacraments with the Word do it more effectually.

Ques. What, then, are the Sacraments to the Word?

Ans. They are sure and authentic seals given by God.

Ques. May the Sacraments be without the Word?

Ans. No, for the Word is their life.

Ques. May the Word be fruitful without the Sacraments?

Ans. Yes, no doubt, but it worketh more plenteously with them.

Ques. What is the cause of that?

Ans. Because more senses are moved to the comfort of our faith.


Ques. What is the signification of baptism?

Ans. Remission of our sins and regeneration.

Ques. What similitude hath baptism with remission of sins?

Ans. As washing cleanseth the body, so Christ's blood our souls.

Ques. Wherein doth this cleansing stand?

Ans. In putting away of sin, and imputation of justice.

Ques. Wherein standeth our regeneration?

Ans. In mortification and newness of life.

Ques. How are these things sealed up in baptism?

Ans. By laying on of water.

Ques. What doth the laying on of the water signify?

Ans. Our dying to sin and rising to righteousness.

Ques. Doth the external washing work these things?

Ans. No, it is the work of God's Holy Spirit only.

Ques. Then the sacrament is a bare figure?

Ans. No, but it hath the verity joined with it.

Ques. Do all men receive these graces with the Sacraments?

Ans. No, but only the faithful.

The Lord's Supper.

Ques. What signifieth the Lord's Supper to us?

Ans. That our souls are fed with the body and blood of Christ.

Ques. Why is this represented by bread and wine?

Ans. Because what the one doth to the body, the same doth the other to the soul spiritually.

Ques. But our bodies are joined corporally with the elements, or outward signs?

Ans. Even so our souls be joined spiritually with Christ his body.

Ques. What need is there of this union with him?

Ans. Otherwise we can not enjoy his benefits.

Ques. Declare that in the Sacrament?

Ans. As we see the elements given to feed our bodies, even so we see by faith Christ gave his body to us to feed our souls.


Ques. Did he not give it upon the Cross for us?

Ans. Yes, and here he giveth the same body to be our spiritual food, which we receive and feed on by faith.

Ques. How receive we his body and blood?

Ans. By our own lively faith only.

Ques. What followeth upon this receiving by faith?

Ans. That Christ dwelleth in us, and we in him.

Ques. Then we receive only the tokens, and not his body?

Ans. We receive his very substantial body and blood by faith.

Ques. How can that be proved?

Ans. By the truth of his Word, and nature of a Sacrament.

Ques. But his natural body is in heaven?

Ans. I no doubt, but yet we receive it in earth by faith.

Ques. How can that be?

Ans. By the wonderful working of the Holy Spirit.

Cause and Progress of Salvation.

Ques. Out of what fountain doth this our stability flow?

Ans. Out of God's eternal and constant [unchanging] election in Christ.

Ques. By what way cometh this election to us?

Ans. By his effectual calling in due time.

Ques. What worketh this effectual calling in us?

Ans. The obedience of faith.

Ques. What thing doth faith work?

Ans. Our perpetual and inseparable union with Christ.

Ques. What worketh this union with Christ?

Ans. A mutual communion with him and his graces.

Ques. What worketh this communion?

Ans. Remission of sins and imputation of justice.

Ques. What worketh remission of sins and imputation of justice?

Ans. Peace of conscience and continual sanctification.

Ques. What worketh sanctification?

Ans. The hatred of sin and love of godliness.


2. A Latin Catechism, entitled Rudimenta Pietatis and Summula Catechismi, for the use of grammar schools.13471347   In Dunlop's Collection, Vol. II. pp. 378–382, and in Bonar, pp. 289–293. It is ascribed to Andrew Simpson, who was master of the grammar school at Perth, and the first Protestant minister at Dunbar. It was used in the high-school at Edinburgh down to 1710.

Besides this, the Latin editions of the Heidelberg Catechism and Calvin's Catechism (translated by Patrick Adamson) were also in use.

3. The Catechism of John Davidson, minister at Salt-Preston, approved by the Provincial Assembly of Lowthiane and Tweddale, 1599.13481348   Bonar, p. 324.

4. A metrical Catechism by the Wedderburns in the time of Knox.13491349   Bonar, p. 301. 701The sentiment is better than the poetry. The Reformation in Scotland, as well as in France and Holland, called forth metrical versions of the Psalms, while in Germany it produced original hymns. The gospel was sung as well as preached into the hearts of the common people. But a Catechism is for instruction, and requires plain, clear, precise statements for common comprehension.

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