Preaching the Shorter Catechism
Recently, Reformed Forum carried an excellent round table discussion on preaching the Shorter Catechism – very informative and thought provoking. You can listen here:
In the Scottish Presbyterian tradition it was usual to have a catechetical sermon each Sunday or midweek. This practice preceded the appearance of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, but the various catechisms that had been used previously were superseded when the Shorter Catechism appeared. This emphasis is seen, for example, in the Act of Assembly, 1720.
Act for Preaching Catechetical Doctrine, with Directions therein.
The General Assembly, considering how much it may conduce unto the establishment of people in the Christian faith, and to the promoting of piety in practice, that they be well instructed in the principles of our holy religion ; do, therefore, recommend to the several ministers of this Church punctually to observe the acts of former General Assemblies for preaching catechetical doctrine; and that in these their catechetical sermons they more especially insist upon the great and fundamental truths, according to our Confession of Faith and Catechisms, such as that of the Being and Providence of God, and the Divine authority of the Holy Scriptures, the necessary doctrine of the ever-blessed Trinity in the unity of the Godhead; particularly, of the eternal deity of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the satisfaction to Divine Justice made by him who is our only propitiation, of regeneration by efficacious grace, of free justification through our blessed surety the Lord Jesus Christ, received by faith alone, and of the necessity of a holy life, in order to the obtaining of everlasting happiness; and that they be earnest and instant in their prayers to God, that, through his blessing upon their labours, their flocks may be preserved from the infections of dangerous errors, and engaged to maintain a conversation that becomes the Gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who is God over all, blessed for ever.
I think that within the Scottish context, where the liturgical calendar is not used, this enables a balanced and biblical approach to teaching the Word. When used alongside expository preaching it guarantees that the most fundamental truths are taught on a regular basis. It is of help to the congregation, but equally to the preacher as he grows more in a confessional Reformed understanding of the Word.
I have taught through the whole of the Shorter Catechism in a congregational mid-week biblestudy, lecturing on each question and opening it up in detail. But preaching the catechism is different. I use it is a springboard to explore the biblical theme, and do not feel a necessity to be exhaustive in what I say – after all, if this was done on a regular basis we would return to each question every two years or so.
Yesterday I was preaching on SC Q 36
Q: What are the benefits which in this life do accompany or flow from justification, adoption, and sanctification?
A: The benefits which in this life do accompany or flow from justification, adoption, and sanctification, are, assurance of God's love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, increase of grace, and perseverance therein to the end.
We use Roland Ward’s excellent modernised version, although on this particular question I prefer to keep the word “grace” rather than his suggestion of “holiness”.
This was a big topic – four (or five) aspects of experiential blessing covered in one sermon. I think the framers of the catechism put these into one question because they wanted us to see the big picture, a panorama of blessings enjoyed by the believer. So rather than in depth analysis of each we looked at the big picture of how God blesses the Christian in each of these areas. Yes, you could preach multiple sermons on each blessing, but that was for other occasions. Here I wanted the people of God to see that in this life there is a spiritual benefits package enjoyed by believers, and conversely missed by unbelievers.
What resources do I use? Interestingly, the Internet has given us a superabundance of resources. Twenty years ago when I taught through the catechism I was reliant on printed texts. Now, thanks to digitisation, I have more resources than I can use. Here are some from my Kindle that I find useful to supplement the standard expositions by Watson, Vincent, Flavel, Boston, Whyte etc:
“The Assembly's Shorter Catechism catechetically illustrated and practically explained…” By “An Elder of the Free Church”
“A concise system of theology on the basis of the shorter catechism” by Alexander Smith Paterson
“The Westminster Shorter Catechism: With Analysis, Scriptural Proofs” by James Robert Boyd
“The Shorter catechism with proofs, analyses, and illustrative anecdotes” Rev. Robert Steel, D.D
A Practical Exposition of the Assembly's Shorter Catechism By Henry Belfrage
And, just to show that I can read outside the rich vein of Scottish theology:
“Notes on the shorter catechism” by Alfred Nevin