January 6: School & Family Catechist – Q. 1

The School & Family Catechist.

SmithThis new year brings us to some “new” material on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Each Sunday this year we will be drawing from a work by the Rev. William Smith of Glasgow, published in 1836. The full title of the work is The school and family catechist, or, An explication and analysis of the Assembly’s Shorter catechism; : with appropriate passages of Scripture, attached to each division of the analysis, proving the doctrine or precept, and showing it to be founded on the word of God. From what we’ve been able to find, it was popular enough in its day, but appears now to be something of a rare work, with no more than five copies to be found worldwide, one of which is thankfully at the PCA Historical Center. It has been equally difficult to find out anything about the author, the Rev. William Smith (a common name makes the search more difficult!). He was at least an author of some note in his own era, having published at least four or five other works, and this particular work seems to have met with some success, going through at least three editions in Scotland and one in North America. As he opens this little volume in a Preface, I’m struck by true words which remain timely even today:

An acquaintance with the principles of our holy religion is a matter of high importance, both to our present happiness, and to our future welfare. It is always in a religious community that the best members of society are to be found, whether man be contemplated in the capacity of a magistrate, or of a subject, as filling the higher, or as occupying the more subordinate stations of human life. In those countries where true religion is unknown, or, which amounts to nearly the same thing, where it has little or no hold upon the minds of the people at large, crimes the most shocking, and the most revolting to humanity, are perpetrated without remorse. If then, a religious education be highly advantageous to us, even as members of civil society, and as beings appointed to act a part on the stage of time, how does it rise in importance, when we consider that it is essentially necessary, and indispensable, to our preparation for eternity, and for entering upon that state of being, in which our everlasting happiness or misery shall, as we are assured, greatly depend upon the habits we have formed in the present life. If we be desirous of reaping the proper fruit, let us take care that the soil be well cultivated, and the seed sowed in due time. If we are anxious, that our children should act their part in life in such a manner as to promote their comfort and respectability here, and their eternal happiness hereafter, let us be careful to have their minds stored, as early as possible, with sentiments of religion and of virtue. This is the only sure foundation that we can lay for their future usefulness and comfort in life, and for their welfare in another world. If a religious education is thus important, it must then be evident, that an acquaintance with the principles of religion is indispensably necessary, since without this no real progress can be made in spiritual knowledge. Hence the evident utility of those publications in which these princples are laid down clearly and distinctly, divested of all extraneous matter. [emphasis added]

Smith’s approach is similar to that of Fisher in his Catechism, where additional questions and answers are added to explain and expound those found in the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Rev. Smith however is careful to note that his approach is to remain succinct and to keep the whole work short, thus the more likely to be used with some profit.

But for today, here is our first entry, in which Rev. Smith briefly deals with the first question of the Shorter Catechism. You will quickly note that his treatments are briefer than those which we ran last year by Rev. Van Horn. But I trust a more succinct handling of each question will in turn allow our readers more time to reflect on what is said here:—

Quest. by  1. WHAT is the chief end of man?
Ans. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.

EXPLICATION.

Chief end.—The principle purpose or design for which man was made, and to which he should, above all things, labor to attain.

To glorify God
.—To do honor to his name, by loving him, and trusting in him, believing his word, and keeping his commandments.

To enjoy him for ever
.—To have God’s favor, and the influences of his Spirit in this world, and to share in the happiness of his immediate presence in heaven hereafter.

ANALYSIS.
Here we learn that the principle design of every man’s being sent into the world is twofold:

1. To glorify God.—1 Cor. x. 31. Whether therefore ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.

2. To enjoy God.—Psalm lxxiii. 25, 26. Whom have I in heaven but thee, and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee.—God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever.

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