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The Most Perfect Human Compendium of Christian Truth

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Yesterday I finished Iain Murray’s biography of theologian John Murray (there is no relation between the two Murrays) and was struck by John Murray’s insistence on the importance of memorizing the catechisms. I was raised on a steady diet of the Heidelberg Catechism at church and the Shorter Catechism at home and can attest to their value. Murray, being a product of Scottish Presbyterianism, was an ardent supporter of the Shorter Catechism and once said this to a group of children:

Now everyone of you children should know the Shorter Catechism from the beginning to the end without a mistake by this age. Now that’s without joking at all. At the age of twelve you ought to know the Shorter Catechism from beginning to end without even making a mistake. You don’t know what you are missing! Get down to learning it, if you haven’t already learned it! It will not only give you the most perfect human compendium of Christian truth that there is in the whole world, but it will be the finest mental exercise, and it will lay a foundation in your mind and in your life for a hundred other things as well as for true religion. The mere mental discipline of learning it with exactness down to each preposition is one of the best disciplines that we know of in this world in the field of education. The primary reason is to learn it for the purpose of having in your mind a comprehensive compendium of Christian truth, but even apart from that there are a hundred by-products. It will be invaluable to you through your whole life, and not only in this life, but in the life which is to come.

I’ll grant that Murray may have been speaking in some hyperbole when he said that the Catechism is “the most perfect compendium of Christian truth that there is in the whole world,” but I do believe it is a wonderful and valuable summary of Christian doctrine. At this point my oldest child is seven and he does not yet know his catechism. We worked through some of the Children’s Catechism based on the Shorter but did not do all that much of it in the end (primarily, I’ll admit, because the book was so tiny that it kept getting lost!). I do hope, in the future, to work through one catechism or another with the children. I’m sure they’ll hate doing it just as much as I did, but I am confident that as they grow older they will be grateful (as I am now) that their father insisted upon it.

How about you? Do you teach your children to memorize a catechism? Do you consider this an integral part of teaching and training your children? If so, what catechism do you use or do you intend to use?


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