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for the right and deep impression of what they hear.
Catechisms and creeds of human composition, have, in fact, always existed in the church of God—The Jews have them till this day. What is usually called the apostles' creed, though probably not composed by the apostles themselves, was apparently formed in the apostolic age. That creeds of human composition may be abused, and have been abused, we do not deny. But so has the inspired volume itself, and that in the most palpable and lamentable manner. To argue against the usefulness of any thing, because it may be abused, is weak and inconclusive. The argument proves too much-It goes to destroy every thing excellent. In the primitive Christian church, there was an order of men called catechists, whose business it was to instruct in the first principles of religion, a description of persons called catechumens, who, by this instruction, were prepared for baptism and full communion with the church. We have no such order of men at present in our church, but the duties which they performed ought to be discharged faithfully by parents and pastors; for without ihis kind of instruction, I repeat, the best preparation will seldom, if ever, be made, for advancing rapidly and correctly in Christian knowledge and Christian edification.
Creeds and catechisms moreover are of use to make known to the world at large, what are the real religious tenets of the several Christian denominations that adopt them. It is frequently made the subject of complaint, by different sects of Christians, that their religious faith and principles are misrepresented. This complaint, certainly, may be made with great justice, by every sect that has given to the world a full and fair exhibition of its faith and practice. But surely those who have not done this have little reason to complain. At least, they ought not to complain of any misconceptions, or misrepresentations, which do not appear to have been wilful and malignant. It does seem to me that every religious denomination
owes to itself, and to the world at large, a fair exhibition of the fundamentals of its faith. To itself it owes such an exhibition, that unfounded prejudices may not be conceived to its disadvantage—and for the same reason, as well as that those who do not belong to it may be informed, and perhaps edified, the debt is due to the world at large. The justice of this opinion has, in fact, been almost universally felt, if not distinctly admitted.* There are very few sects in Christendom, that have not public and acknowledged formularies of their faith: and those who have not, almost always refer, when inquiries about their principles are made, to some writings, or to some author, generally acknowledged to have made a just representation of their religious belief and practice.
You have now heard my reply to all the objections, of any moment, which I have ever heard, against religious creeds and catechisms, and my reasons for thinking that these formularies and summaries are not only lawful, but exceedingly useful and important. If what I have said on this subject has been satisfactory, you will be prepared to hear the intended course of lectures without prejudice, and consequently with a greater prospect of advantage.
The Catechism on which the subsequent lectures are to be founded, is the production of some of the most learned and pious divines that ever lived. Its origin was this-In the year A. D. 1643, an Assembly of one hundred and twenty-one divines, with thirty lay assessors, was convened, by an order of the British parliament, in Westminster. They were soon joined by commissioners from Scotland. They sat more than five years and a half. They hoped to have formed a rule of faith, and form of church government, for both nations. What they did was ultimately rejected by the English, and adopted by the Scotch. The Presbyterian church in this country, derives its origin from that of Scotland, and has taken its Confession of Faith, with some important altera
* See “Corpus et Syntagma confessionum fidei,” &c.
tions relative to magistrates and civil government, and its catechisms, with only one slight alteration, * from the Scottish model. The present standards of our church were adopted by the Synod of New York and Philadelphia, sitting in this city, in May, 1788.
You will understand, my young friends, that I am no advocate for national churches, or ecclesiastical establishments of any kind; nor is any thing of this sort, in the slightest degree, countenanced, but on the contrary, it is expressly disclaimed, in our church standards, and cordially disapproved, I know, by the clergy, as well as the laity of our church. In this we certainly differ from the Westminster Assembly of divines. What we esteem their error, in regard to national religious-establishments, was, however, rather the error of the day in which they lived, than any thing peculiar to the men who composed that assembly. There is not one word touching this point, and there never was, in the Shorter Catechism which they formed. This is a composition, which has been held, by as competent judges, probably, as the world has seen since the apostolic age, to be among the soundest and best expressed compendiums of Christian faith and practice, that were ever formed by uninspired men. Such, then, is the catechism, and such the short history of it, to which your serious attention is to be drawn, in the subsequent lectures.
In the conclusion of this introductory address, allow me to say, that I indulge the hope, that your attendance here will be regular, punctual and serious. Occasional absences it may not be practicable to avoid. But may it not be expected that slight hindrances, or fashionable amusements, will not be permitted to draw you aside from a course of religious instruction, which will occupy but one evening in the week, and
* The single alteration, or omission rather, was in the Larger Catechism; where, in stating what is forbidden in the second command. ment, the original framers of the catechism, among many things which they specify, mention this—“ tolerating a false religion.” This clause, the writer, who was a member of the Synod that adopted our standards, remembers was rejected very promptly-he thinks without debate, and by a unanimous vote.
which it will be highly advantageous for you to receive in an unbroken series.
One thing more, and I shall have done. Let me beseech you all, not to content yourselves merely with intellectual improvement-important and commendable as such improvement certainly is. I have known some young persons, who were desirous to increase their knowledge, and to render it accurate, on the subject of religion; and who, notwithstanding, guarded themselves very cautiously, against the influence of this knowledge on their hearts and livesthey wished to understand religion, but not to practice it. Take, I entreat you, a different course. Endeavour to open your hearts, as well as your understandings, to the sacred truths which you are to hear explained and inculcated. Do I ask too much, when I request you always to pray for a divine blessing, on what you are going to hear, and after you shall have heard it? If you will do this, the happiest result may certainly be expected. And if, in answer to your prayers, and the prayers
many, which will, I know, be offered for you, your attention to these lectures shall be the means of leading you to genuine Christian piety, we shall have reason to rejoice—and I hope shall actually rejoice together -through every subsequent period of our existenceI, that I was permitted to be the instrument of so much good; and you, that God was pleased to bless my feeble endeavours, to your eternal benefit.
WHAT 'IS THE CHIEF END OF MAN?
HAVING in a former lecture shown that the objections are unfounded, which are raised against Formulas of faith, and a proper exposition of them, I now proceed immediately to consider the first* answer in our Shorter Catechism, which is this,
“ Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever."
It is with great propriety that this is made the first subject of attention in a system of theological truth. Even in natural religion, this is considered as the point at which all inquiry and discussion must begin. “ It seems a point agreed upon-says a writer on natural religion—that the principles of duty and obligation must be drawn from the nature of man: that is to say, if we can discover how his Maker formed him, or for what he intended him, that certainly is what he ought to be.”+
Difficulties, however, of the most serious kind, leading to perplexed and endless disputes, embarrassed the ancient heathen philosophers, and must embarrass all philosophers, whether ancient or modern, in attempting, without the aid of revelation, to explain the nature and chief end of man. We have great reason, therefore, to be thankful, that in investigating this interesting subject, we have clearer light than human reason alone can furnish—that we know, from the declaration of God himself, how, and for
* It is proper to remark, that the questions in the Shorter Catechism are not necessary to a full understanding of the answers, which may be read without the questions; and when thus read, will be found to contain, each a perspicuous proposition, and the whole, taken in connexion, to form a complete and beautiful system. In these lectures therefore, a question will be placed at the beginning of each lecture, merely to indicate the subject of that lecture, and the discussion of the answer will immediately commence.
+ Witherspoon's Moral Philosophy.