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Matthew Henry on the Relationship between Catechism and Preaching

8 September, 2008

Here are some excellent thoughts from an excellent pastor on the mutual enrichment that comes from preaching for those who are well catechized (in other words, those well taught in the ins and outs of the Christian faith). In Henry’s day, this concern was mainly directed toward youth. In our day, the need for basic instruction in the Bible and Christian doctrine and practice is as pressing as ever, and not only for youth. Here’s some of what Henry has to say on the importance and helpfulness of being well taught in the scriptures, especially when you hear the scriptures preached Lord’s day by Lord’s day:

“[By being well catechized] you will become better able to understand the word preached, and more capable of profiting by it, and so it will be a great advantage to you. I am sure it is the duty of ministers to preach the word, and therein to be constant, to be instant in season and out of season; they have (2 Tim 4:1-2) received a solemn charge to do so, and if so either you must hear, or they must preach to the walls. And I am sure you are concerned to hear, so that your souls may live; and therefore to take heed how you hear, and, in order to your profiting, to hear with understanding.

The highway ground in our Saviour’s parable represents those who hear the words of the kingdom, and understand it not (Matt 13:19); for it is not ploughed up and prepared to receive it; they are not instructed in the things that are spoken of, and therefore such as speak to them of those things are barbarians [whose language is unintelligible]. They who are not catechized, not taught the forms of sound words, apprehend not what we mean when we speak of their misery by nature, the sinfulness of sin, the mediation of Christ, the operations of the Spirit, and the great things of the other world; we had as good talk Greek to them; they are ready to say of us, as the people did of Ezekiel’s preaching, ‘Doth he not speak parables?’ (Ezek 20:49).

But you who are catechized understand our dialect, are acquainted with Scripture language; you are accustomed to it, and can say, ‘This good word is the confirmation, and that the illustration, and the other the application, of what we have many a time heard, and knew before, but thus are made to know better.’ And therefore those who have not been catechized do most need instruction, by the preaching of the word (and for their sakes we must many a time stay to explain things which are most plain, wherein they who are strong ought to bear with us, in compassion to the infirmities of the weak), yet those who have been well catechized do most desire it, and delight in it, and are edified by it, because they understand it.

Catechizing does to the preaching of the word the same good office that John the Baptist did to our Saviour; it prepares its way, and makes its paths straight, and yet like him does but say the same things: ‘Repent with an eye to the kingdom of heaven.’…”

A little later on, after pressing the importance of remembering the preaching we hear, he adds this encouragement (encouraging, certainly, to hearers and preachers of the word alike):

“Let not what I have said of the necessity of remembering the sound words we hear be a discouragement to any serious, conscientious Christians, who have honest and good hearts, but weak and treacherous memories; nor make the righteous sad, who ought not to be made sad. You who tremble at God’s word, do really get good by it, though you cannot recollect the method and language in which it is delivered to you. If you live in the fear of God, and in a course of holy watchfulness against sin , and diligence in duty, you retain the impressions of the word, though you cannot retain the expressions of it.

I have been told of a good man, who was much affected with a sermon he heard concerning, as it would appear, the vanity of the world; and commending it afterwards to a friend, was desired to give some account of the sermon: ‘Truly,’ says he, ‘I cannot remember any thing of it, but I am resolved, by the grace of God, I will never set my heart so much upon this world as I have done.’ ‘Why then’ (says his friend) ‘thou rememberest all.’

David will never forget God’s precepts, for (says he) by them thou hast quickened me (Ps 119:93). If we find our hearts quickened by the word, we do not forget it; and it is to be hoped we will not, we shall not, forget it. Put a sieve that is dirty into the water, and thou when you take it out it carries away little or nothing of the water with it, yet it is washed and made clean. Though we cannot repeat the good sermons we have heard; yet if, through grace, our hearts and ways are purified by them, they are not lost.”

One Comment
  1. creedorchaos permalink*
    10 September, 2008 9:19 am

    “atechizing does to the preaching of the word the same good office that John the Baptist did to our Saviour; it prepares its way, and makes its paths straight, and yet like him does but say the same things: ‘Repent with an eye to the kingdom of heaven.’…””

    John the Baptist’s ministry is the first thing I thought of while reading this. And it does seem to be a problem, even in those churches that fly the Reformed banner, that we don’t believe in catechism anymore. It was fine for ‘way back when’ during a time when families didn’t waste their time watching television, or on the internet, or listening to thousands of songs on their I-pods. But now formal catechism is not relevant. Talk about a way to reduce the size of your congregation in seconds. No one has that kind of attention span anymore many will say. And catechisms were written for a different sort of people with a different sort of sitz en labem. This seems to be the attitude communicated by the practice of many contemporary Ref’d churches. However, I don’t see how a church member can really identify with the Ref’d tradition apart from being catechized in it in preparation for Ref’d preaching.

    One thing that is criticized of those churches that do faithfully catechize their people is the practice of ‘preaching’ and even ‘exegeting’ the catechism during ‘worship.’ Should catechesis be done in covenant worship or is their a more appropriate time and place? What is practiced in churches like the URC is not embraced by all.

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