By Sinclair B. Ferguson
There was never a time when there was more need for a solid catechism. Yes, of course, we are not under biblical obligation to learn the Shorter Catechism. I am not suggesting its necessity. But if we have it, we would be less than wise to be unfamiliar with it. Its 107 questions provide a pocket manual for the whole of the Christian life.
Why has it been such a powerful tool? For one thing, it teaches us how to think.
But why is the Shorter Catechism so influential?
- It teaches us how to ask questions. It teaches us that we will find the right answers only if we ask the right questions. It teaches us how to move in a logical way from one answer to the next question. It teaches us how to think out of a center in God. It teaches us that we live in a world that makes ultimate sense (a principle without which all science becomes ultimately meaningless). Yes, doubtless some learn the catechism but reject it. But its mark is indelible. Robert Louis Stevenson comes immediately to mind (we used to live on the remote island on which he modeled his Treasure Island and have reason to lament his rejection of Christ). But in some sense, he could not have become the great writer he was if he had not learned the Shorter Catechism. Perhaps he never really grasped its truths, or never saw it adequately illustrated in loving Christian living. But then perhaps he did, and rejected both. He is a reminder, especially to parents who take their children’s education seriously, that no man-made words can substitute for the work of the Spirit or for faith in the heart.
- The Shorter Catechism provides Velcro strips for our minds, enabling us to understand, organize, retain, and develop all we learn, biblically and otherwise. These “strips” enable us to grow exponentially in our understanding as the Word of God is read and expounded.
Years ago, a lady in the congregation I served told me she had listened five times to the recording of a sermon I had preached—and each time she had learned something new. (The sermon was not particularly long or abstruse.) I appreciated her zeal to understand and the fact that she meant to encourage me. But at the same time, I thought, “Dear lady, if you had known the catechism you would have been able to take all that in by listening twice.”
- Reading, studying, and learning the Shorter Catechism helps us to think through biblical teaching in a way that builds Christian character.
The power and value of the catechism
There is no better illustration of the power and value of the catechism than the story told by B.B. Warfield in his splendid little essay “Is the Shorter Catechism Worthwhile?”
We have the following bit of personal experience from a general officer of the United States army. He was in a great western city at a time of intense excitement and violent rioting. The streets were over-run daily by a dangerous crowd. One day he observed approaching him a man of singularly combined calmness and firmness of mien, whose very demeanor inspired confidence. So impressed was he with his bearing amid the surrounding uproar that when he had passed he turned to look back at him, only to find that the stranger had done the same. On observing his turning the stranger at once came back to him, and touching his chest with his forefinger, demanded without preface: “What is the chief end of man?” On receiving the countersign, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever”—”Ah!” said he, “I knew you were a Shorter Catechism boy by your looks!” “Why, that was just what I was thinking of you,” was the rejoinder.
It is worthwhile to be a Shorter Catechism boy. They grow to be men. And better than that, they are exceedingly apt to grow to be men of God.
Warfield was possibly writing about his brother. But how marvellous if the same could be written about you.
Courtesy and Copyright © 2016, Ligonier Ministries.
The Shorter Catechism : Why Bother? by Sinclair B. Ferguson