The Practical Use of the Shorter Catechism
by Rev. David T Myers
Having written on the Larger Catechism on July 20, we now turn your attention to the Shorter Catechism, as on this day, July 28, 1648, the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly approved it.
There has always been a plurality of definitive books explaining its matchless answers for Presbyterians. The books this author has in his personal library on the Shorter Catechism are the following: Thomas Watson: A Body of Divinity, The Ten Commandments, The Lord’s Prayer; Thomas Vincent: The Shorter Catechism Explained from Scripture; Alexander Whyte: The Shorter Catechism; John Whitecross: The Shorter Catechism Illustrated from Christian Biography and History; and a modern book, G.I. Williamson of The Shorter Catechism, Vol 1 & 2. These have all been effective in teaching and training both children and adults, especially the officers of the local church. I would like to commend to our readers the practical influences of this Shorter Catechism in this post.
First, whenever the good news of Jesus Christ is preached or shared by teaching elders from the pulpit, the answer of Shorter Catechism No. 31 regarding Effectual Calling is beneficial. It states, “Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he does persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.” Each one of these statements can be pleaded in quick petitions to the Holy Spirit that He will “convince (sinners) of (their) sin and misery,” “enlighten (their) minds in the knowledge of Christ,” and “renew (their)wills,” and “persuade and enable (them) to embrace Jesus Christ” as He is freely offered in the gospel. We need both the elders and the deacons, to say nothing of the members, to apply this answer in their personal prayers during the preaching of the gospel.
Second, to the church member who wishes to find out his personal calling in life, there is no better description of purpose than the magnificent answer to Shorter Catechism no. 1. You should know the answer already, as it tells us that “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” There you have it, reader, in a proverbial nutshell. In whatever field you pour out your life and time, keep this before you always.
Shorter Catechism No. 4 gives us a matchless description of God’s attributes, which can be repeated in our adoration in prayer. It says, “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” Take each attribute, and magnify it in your prayers.
Once this author’s wife was confronted by a visitor at the door who asked about her definition of God. Being a “Shorter Catechism woman,” she answered with this catechism. The young man was so “blown away” with her answer that he could hardly contain himself, and literally ran from the door to tell his calling friends about the great definition of God which he had heard from her.
Justification, Adoption, and Sanctification each have their biblical definitions in answers 33, 34, and 35. Read them, indeed memorize them, so as not to be swayed from the Bible’s truth on them.
Nothing beats in this author’s mind and heart the section on the Law of God as exemplified in the Ten Commandments, in question and answers 39 – 81. A memorization of them, as this author has done, adequately helps out every Christian to stay true to Scripture in his faith and life.
I have written the words of Shorter Catechism answer 90 on the reading and hearing of the Word of God on the front flyleaf of my Bible many years ago. It reminds me of my proper worship in the house of God.
How many of our readers can adequately sum up the two sacraments. Shorter Catechisms 92 – 97 deal with their definitions? They are there for your understanding.
Then the Shorter Catechism ends with the Lord’s Prayer, with explanations of each of the parts of that prayer which the Lord taught His followers to say, in 98 – 107. When it is prayed in our worship services, a review of these answers enable us to mean what we say and say what we mean.
Words to Live By:
In short, we need the Presbyterian and Reformed churches in which our readers attend, to press upon the spiritual leaders the necessity of featuring in some way the remarkable questions and answers of this Westminster Shorter Catechism in their worship and work. It may be a bulletin insert, which this author once wrote for his members in his last church. It may be a weekly emphasis in our youth and adult Sunday School classes. I once offered an Adult class entitled “Everything you wanted to know about theology, but was afraid to ask.” It essentially was a summary of the Shorter Catechism. It certainly needs to be the instruction for our church officers. Above all, do not let its questions and answers become foreign or strange to the members in our circles. Let us become “Shorter Catechism people” in our faith and life.