How do you teach the faith to children? Memorising Scripture is vital, but a catechism helps a child to see how the verses they learn fit together. They then have the message of the Bible in their minds and not just the words. They also see how truths relate to each other and depend on other teachings.
A catechism summarises the Bible’s teachings through questions and answers. The question and answer format allows the truths to be presented in an organised way and makes the truths easier to learn and remember.
The Shorter Catechism is very short. It only includes the most essential doctrines. It covers the key truths about God, creation and providence, how we fell into sin, and God’s way of saving sinners. It also unpacks God’s requirements for how we should live our lives, and explains what we must do to be saved. It also opens up what we must do to be saved and explains God’s requirements for how we should live our lives. Much (but not all) of the teaching in the Westminster Confession is condensed into the Shorter Catechism. It gives us what we need to grasp first of all.
Generations of believers, with their children, have not only read the Shorter Catechism but memorised it. By learning it off by heart, we fix its important truths in our mind so that we can use it again and again and so that it shapes our thinking and our behaviour.
By its brief and precise wording, the Shorter Catechism gives us a ready-made articulation of what the Bible teaches. We don’t have to start from scratch or use our own words every time we want to explain some part of Christian doctrine. Instead we can use the descriptions and definitions which are carefully crafted, ready and waiting in the Catechism.
In the Catechism we learn about the most important subjects, such as who God is, what He has done to save us from our sin and how we should obey God through keeping His commandments. It teaches us about this life, and life after death. It also helps us understand about the Trinity and the ways God communicates His grace. We can learn the Catechism ourselves by reading and answering the questions.
Why did God make me? What is the purpose of life? Why am I here? These are important questions that most people ask at some point in their lives. The Shorter Catechism dives in at the deep end by tackling this fundamental issue in the very first question. “What is man’s chief end?” is basically asking, “What is the point of our existence?”
Q. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
Many people think that we have no special purpose in life. They think everyone can choose their own goals in life, because there is no more to life than enjoying ourselves and getting the most out of our time here. What a poor, selfish attitude that is! Jesus told us about a man who said to himself, “Take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry” (Luke 12:19). Because that was his sole purpose in life, God called him a fool. The Catechism tells us that we do have a purpose, or an “end,” a goal or aim in life.
Many people also think that there are many special purposes for living. They include to work and look after our families, education, science and development, and of course recreation. While all these are important in their own place, none of them is our chief end. We have one “chief” purpose, one special, supreme aim. Glorifying God is not
just the whole point of our existence it is the over-ruling purpose for everything that exists.
Our chief end has two aspects. The first aspect is “to glorify God.” Does this mean that we have to try and make God more glorious than He already is? No. We cannot add to God’s glory. It is already perfect. It can neither be increased nor reduced.
However, there can be variation in how God’s creatures display His glory. Think of the sun. We cannot make the sun shine brighter, but clouds sometimes hide or block the sun’s brightness. We cannot make God any more glorious than He is. But our sins are like clouds, which hide or overshadow God’s glory. Our sins make the world a darker place and obscure God’s honour.
To “glorify God” is not to add to His glory but to live in such a way as honours Him and declares His gloriousness to all who see and hear us. It is to live a life of obedience to God, not hiding His glory behinds clouds of disobedience.
Our duty is to do everything to the glory of God. Our lives are not divided into parts, one part about spiritual matters and the other part worldly concerns. It is not a case of having one part of our lives obeying God and another driven by a desire to please and glorify ourselves. Whether at home or work, study or leisure, our whole lives are to be focused on glorifying God.
The other aspect of our chief end is “to enjoy God for ever.” Enjoying God means being pleased and delighted with who God is, finding Him to be the one source of our deepest satisfaction and pleasure. This enjoyment is a consequence of glorifying God, although it should not be our main motivation for glorifying God. We should glorify God because God is so glorious, not because of the pleasure we may consequently experience.
When we think of how we enjoy God, we can think both of enjoying Him in this world and of enjoying Him in the world to come.
The Christian enjoys the presence of God. This is because God has restored a friendly relationship between Him and them. Instead of being afraid of God and antagonistic towards Him, the Christian finds pleasure and satisfaction in the presence of God.
The Christian enjoys pleasing God. Instead of making it their priority to please themselves, or keep other people happy, the Christian enjoys thinking about God and how
they can serve Him and glorify Him best with their lives and talents.
The Christian enjoys activities in which they meet with God. Instead of being most happy when God is pushed to the back of their minds and feels very far away, the Christian enjoys every opportunity to spend time with God. These opportunities include reading the Bible, praying, and worshiping church services on the Lord’s day.
The Christian’s enjoyment will last “for ever” because God is everlasting. The enjoyment of God which the believer has in this world is only a little foretaste of what they will enjoy in eternity. In heaven, they will be able to completely and continually glorify and enjoy God.
Our chief end is something that should absorb our attention and energy. It should never be far from our thoughts that the main reason for our existence is to glorify and enjoy God. When we are more concerned about our own glory, and find our pleasures in other things, we show that we are not fit for our main purpose and our priorities are all wrong. We should take Paul’s advice, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
• What does it mean to glorify God, since it is impossible for us to make God any more glorious than He is?
• Life is pointless without an ultimate purpose. Some people find the Bible negative because it tells them about their sin but isn’t their idea of a meaningless world governed by chance the most negative?
If you were write a list of ‘Things I Enjoy,’ would you include God? If not, what needs to change?
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Catechising has always been one of the ways used by the Church to teach the Bible. It is hard to think of a better way to ensure that the truth is in our children’s minds and on the tip of their tongue.
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