No wonder that no book outside of the Bible has been translated into so many languages, or circulated so widely. Thirty-seven years after its publication one hundred thousand copies were in circulation. The first book translated into any of the dialects of the American Indian, it was from its pages that the red man read his first lessons concerning the true God, and his own relations to that God. At the present day it is taught in ten different languages in our own land.
And yet how sadly neglected and abused, even by those who bear its author's name! It is neglected, if not entirely ignored, in countless Lutheran homes and Sunday-schools. It is even neglected by many so-called Lutheran pastors. They set at naught the testimony of nearly four centuries. They set their own opinions above the testimony of the wisest, as well as the most deeply spiritual and consecrated witnesses of their own Church. They prefer the baseless, shallow, short-cut methods of this superficial age. Some of them have even joined in the cry of the fanatic, and called all catechisation in the Church dead formalism! Fortunately, their number is growing rapidly less, and many, who were for a while carried away with the tide of new measures, are asking for and returning to the good and tried old ways.
Not only is this Catechism neglected, but it is and has been much abused. Abused, not only by its enemies, who have said hard things against it, but it has been and still is abused, like all good things, by its professed friends. And doubtless it is the abuse by its friends that is largely responsible for the neglect and contempt into which it has sometimes fallen. Thus in the family, it is still too often taught as a mere task. The home teacher often has no higher aim than that the children should learn it by rote -- learn to rattle it off like the multiplication table, or the rules of grammar.
Worse than this, it has often been used as an instrument of punishment. A child has done something wrong. It is angrily told that for this it must learn a page or two of the Catechism! The task is sullenly learned and sullenly recited; and the Catechism is hated worse than the sin committed. Then too, it is slurred over in the Sunday-schools, without an earnest word of explanation or application. The learner does not realize that it is meant to change the heart and influence the life.
This same sad mistake is also made by many pastors in the catechetical class. Strange as it may seem, this mistake is most commonly made by those very pastors who profess to be the warmest friends of and the most zealous insisters on the catechisation of every lamb in the flock. Thus we find not a few pastors who catechise their classes after the schoolmaster fashion. They go through the exercise in a perfunctory, formal manner. They insist on the letter of the text, and are satisfied if their pupils know the lessons well by rote! To urge on the dull and lazy pupil they will scold and rage, and even use the rod! The Catechism becomes a sort of text-book. The pupils get out of it a certain amount of head knowledge. There are so many answers and so many proof-texts that must be committed to memory. And when all this is well gotten and recited by rote, the teacher is satisfied, the pupil is praised, imagines that he has gotten all the good out of that book, and is glad he is done with it!
Now we would not for a moment depreciate the memorizing of the Catechism. It is of the most vital importance, and cannot be too strongly urged. What we object to -- and we cannot object too strenuously -- is the idea that head knowledge is enough! There must of course be head knowledge. The memory should store up all the precious pearls of God's truth that are found in the Catechism. The mind must grasp these truths and understand their meaning and their relation to one another. But if it stops here, it is not yet a knowledge that maketh wise unto salvation. In spiritual matters the enlightening or instructing of the intellect is not the end aimed at, but only a means to an end. The end aimed at must always be the renewal of the heart. The heart must be reached through the understanding. To know about Christ is not life eternal. I must know about Him before I can know Him. But I might know all about Him, be perfectly clear as to His person and His work, and stop there, without ever knowing Him as heart only can know heart, as my personal Saviour and loving friend, my Lord and my God.
Here, we fear, many ministers make a sad mistake. They are too easily satisfied with a mere outward knowledge of the truth. They forget that even if it were possible to "understand all mystery and all knowledge" -- intellectually -- and not have charity, i.e., deep, fervent, glowing love to God in Christ, springing from a truly penitent and believing heart, it would profit nothing. The true aim and end of all catechetical instruction in the Sunday-school, in the family, and especially in the pastor's class, should ever be a penitent, believing and loving heart in each catechumen.
We have, in a former chapter, shown the duty of the Sunday-school teacher in this matter. The pastor should likewise use all diligence to find out in whom, among his catechumens, the germs of the divine life, implanted in baptism, have been kept alive, and in whom they are dormant. Where the divine life, given in holy baptism has been fostered and cherished -- where there has been an uninterrupted enjoyment of baptismal Grace, more or less clear and conscious -- there it is the pastor's privilege to give clearer views of truth and Grace, to lead into a more intelligent and hearty fellowship with the Redeemer, to deepen penitence and strengthen faith through the quickening truth of God's word.
Where, on the other hand, the seeds of baptismal Grace have been neglected, where the germs of the new life lie dormant or asleep, or where there never has been any implanting of Grace through Word or Sacrament -- in short, where there are no pulsations, no manifestations of the new life, there the pastor has a different duty. He must endeavor to so bring the acquired truth to bear on the conscience and heart, as to awaken and bring about a sense of sin, a genuine sorrow therefor, a hatred thereof, a longing for deliverance, a turning to Christ and a laying hold on Him as the only help and hope.
Thus the one great aim and object of the conscientious pastor, with each impenitent catechumen, is to awaken and bring about genuine, heartfelt penitence and a true, trusting, clinging faith. In one word, he must labor for that catechumen's conversion. Only those of whom there is evidence that they are in a converged state should be admitted to confirmation.
By this we do not mean, as some do, that each one must be able to tell when, and where, and how he was converted. We mean simply this: That each one must have in his heart true penitence, i.e., sorrow for and hatred of sin, and true faith, i.e., a confiding, trustful embracing of Christ as the only Saviour.
Whether these elements of the new life have been constantly and uninterruptedly developed from Baptism, or whether they have been awakened gradually by the Word, is not material. The only important question is: Are the elements of the new life now there -- even though as yet feeble and very imperfect -- or, is the person now turned away from sin to a Saviour? If so, we consider that person in a converted state.
And this much, we believe, should be demanded of each catechumen before he is admitted to the rite of confirmation. And it is largely because this has not been demanded as the only true and satisfactory result of catechisation, that this important branch of the Church's activity has so largely fallen into disrepute. It is doubtless because of carelessness on this point that so many fall back after confirmation to the world, the flesh and the devil. They did not hold fast to their crown because they had no crown.
Where the Catechism is properly learned, understood and applied, the intellect is used as the gateway to the heart. Where the result of an enlightened mind is a changed heart, there are intelligent believers. They know what it means to be a Christian. They have an earnest desire for closer fellowship with Him who has loved them and washed them from their sins in His own blood. There is good hope that such will be faithful unto death.