February 3: Introduction to the Children’s Catechism (1840)

Departing from the calendar today [off by exactly one month!], I’m sharing something of which I was reminded earlier today. I trust this will be of some interest:

Q. 1.   Who made you ?
A.  God.
Q. 2.  What else did God make ?
A.  God made all things.
Q. 3.   Why did God make you and all things ?
A.  For his own glory.

So begins the Children’s Catechism, a work intended to serve as an introduction to theWestminster Shorter Catechism.  The author of the Children’s Catechism, as it turns out, was Joseph Patterson Engles, a man almost entirely unknown today, though his Catechism remains in print and widely used.  Engles authored several catechetical helps, but this one work alone remains in use to this day.

He was the son of Silas and Annie Patteson Engles, born in Philadelphia on 3 January 1793. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1811 and was subsequently appointed co-master of a Grammar school which operated under the auspices of the University.  In 1817 he began working alongside the Rev. Dr. Samuel B. Wylie in the operation of an academy, remaining at that post for another twenty-eight years after Wylie’s departure.  In February 1845, Engles was elected by the Board of Publications of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. to serve as Publishing Agent.  He is also noted as having faithfully served as an elder in the Scots Presbyterian Church up until the time of his death on 14 April 1861.  Nevin’s Encyclopedia comments that “He was a gentleman of varied literary acquirements, and of signal affability and kindness.  The spiritual element of his character was pre-eminent; it entered into his daily life and walk, it permeated all he said and did; to visit the widow and the fatherless, and keep himself unspotted from the world, was his earnest desire, and fully was it realized.”
[to date, I have not been able to locate a portrait or photograph of Mr. Engles]

Earlier today a patron of the PCA Historical Center asked about the Introduction to The Children’s Catechism, also written by Engles.  In turn it seemed appropriate to open with the above brief biographical sketch.  Here now is the text of the Introduction:


You have an awfully responsible office in being entrusted with the training of immortal spirits for the service of God on earth and for glory in heaven. The temporal welfare and  the  eternal salvation not only of your own children, but of future generations, may depend upon your faithfulness in the discharge of this duty. The prosperity, and even the continuance, of the church of God on earth are connected with the religious education of the rising generation.  To aid you in this all-important task the following little work has been written, and is humbly offered to your acceptance. Brevity and conciseness have been studied in the composition of it as far as the nature of the subjects treated of would allow. But much of the benefit to be derived from this work will depend on the judgment and care exercised in the use of it. Without these requisites even the words of inspiration may be perverted to convey defective or erroneous views of truth ; and with them even an imperfect work like the present may be made a “ light to the feet and a lamp to the path” of your interesting charge.  Be admonished then to enter on this “work of faith and labor of love” “with diligence, preparation and prayer.” Endeavor to impress the minds of the dear children with the importance of understanding what they learn. Be not satisfied with the verbal accuracy of their answers.  Encourage them to ask and be ready to answer questions for information, while you gently check a spirit of idle curiosity. Endeavor to make what most children consider an irksome task a pleasing and profitable study. Be not discouraged nor chafed in your minds if you find that “ line upon line and precept upon precept” are required to overcome the dullness or heedlessness of your youthful disciples.  Remember the words of the divine Teacher, who, when inviting sinners to become his disciples, said, “ Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart.” And emulate the spirit of the pious mother who, when asked by a witness of her patience and successful perseverance in the instruction of one of her children, “ How could you repeat that sentence to the child twenty times?” answered, “If I had repeated it only nineteen times I should have lost my labor.”
Acting thus in the spirit of faith and prayer, you shall in due time reap the fruit of your labors, and when your heads are laid low in the dust your children shall rise up and call you blessed.


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