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Author’s Introduction$ 

Author’s Introduction


Christian Reader:


            You have here presented to you a brief explanation of the Shorter Catechism composed by the Assembly of Divines at Westminster, and presented by them to both Houses of Parliament. Since this is a somewhat unusual method, I thought it necessary to give you this brief rationale for it.


            You may have seen a Catechism previously published in similar form by that godly, learned, and reverend divine, now with God, Mr. Herbert Palmer. This form, though somewhat unusual, was considered by him to be very useful, and it was accordingly received with great commendation. It was his earnest desire (as is well known) that the Assembly’s Catechism (intended for public use) should be published in a similar form, either by the Assembly, or (at least) by some private author. He was fully resolved to do it himself [and would have] had God granted him life to see that catechism fully completed. For this reason, and also due to the intimate acquaintance I had with him, I was quite persuaded to undertake that which Palmer was prevented by death from doing, both to accomplish Palmer’s desires, and to gratify those who may receive benefit from using it.


            The questions and answers of the Assembly’s Catechism (together with the texts of Scripture annexed by them for the proofs of it), I have completely preserved without any variation. In composing the questions and answers, the Assembly was careful that all of the answers would be complete sentences by themselves so that the meaning of the answer would not depend upon the foregoing question. Indeed, these form so many distinct aphorisms [concise formulations of truth] that contain in brief the basis of the Christian religion. By this means, the learner is not required to tax his memory with the question in order to understand the answer. Nor is there the similar danger of confounding his understanding by misapplying the answer to the wrong question, a problem in many other catechisms. The questions are also so framed that any one of them may be asked alone by itself without depending upon the previous question.


            The only thing I did in it was to add, right next to the Assembly’s answers, the shorter questions that are answered by “Yes” or “No.”[1] Thus, the different particulars of the larger answer are distinctly pointed out and briefly explained. [This is suitable] to the comprehension of those [unfamiliar with the Christian religion or of young age,][2] who might not observe [some of the particulars of], or understand, the large answer if it were learned by rote.[3] All of this is done without taxing the learner’s memory because to answer these short questions is not so much an exercise of the memory, but of judgment, and ability to distinguish between truth and falsehood, assenting to the former and denying the latter. Indeed, the memory is greatly helped by it since there is nothing in the general answer except what the learner is reminded of by some of the questions. When using it, especially for tender minds,[4] the instructor may first rehearse the main question without expecting an immediate answer to it until he has asked all of the shorter questions belonging to it and received answers to them. He may then repeat the main question. Thus the learner will be better able to give the general answer to the whole, having already assented to all of it by parts. However, the judicious instructor is not limited; at need, he may vary his method or material by addition, omission, or alteration as he sees fit. If you receive any good from these endeavors, let God have the glory, and he [Wallis] will have fulfilled his purpose,

                                    Who is yours in Christ Jesus,

                                    J. W. [John Wallis]




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[1] Wallis’s work was in three columns, from left to right: Questions, Yes or No answers, then the Catechism answers. The editor has chosen a format for the present work that is easier to use.

[2] The original has “weak capacities,” which is unnecessarily offensive to modern ears. Wallis would have been thinking primarily of younger children in a culture where substantially complete knowledge of Christianity was general.

[3] Recall that the Shorter Catechism was frequently committed to rote memory in Wallis’s time.

[4] The original has “weak capacities.”