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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

The Shorter Catechism
of the Westminster Assembly
Explained and Proved
from Scripture

Thomas Vincent

An Epistle to the Reader

To the Masters and Governors of Families Belonging to My Congregation.

To the Young Ones of My Congregation, Especially Those That Answer This Explicatory Catehcism in Our Public Assembly.

An Epistle to the Reader
That Popish axiom is long since exploded—That ignorance is the mother of devotion. The world doth now see that without knowledge the mind is not good. And, look, as no knowledge is so necessary as that of the grounds and principles of the Christian religion, so no way is so apt to convey it to the minds of men as that which is called catechistical. More knowledge is ordinarily diffused, especially among the ignorant and younger sort, by one hour's catechistical exercise than by many hours' continued discourses. This way helps the understanding, whilst it provokes the attention; many elaborate sermons being lost through the inadvertency of the hearers. Thus, not only ignorance is cured, but error also is prevented; too many being misguided, because they were not at first well-grounded in the principles of the doctrine of Christ. For such reasons as these, we highly approve the labours of this reverend brother, in his "Explanation of the Assembly's Shorter Catechism." And having, to our great satisfaction, perused it ourselves, in whole or in part, do readily recommend it to others: for though he composed it at first for his own particular congregation, yet we judge it may be greatly useful to all Christians in general, especially to private families. The manner of using it in families must be left to the discretion of the masters and governors respectively; though yet we concur with the author, and think it advisable (as he hints in one of his epistles), that after a question in the Catechism is propounded, and an answer, without book, returned by one of the family, the same person, or some other, be called upon to read (if not to rehearse) the explanation of it, the rest reading along with him in several books; by which means their thoughts (which are apt to wander) will be the more intent upon what they are about. To conclude, though the Assembly's Shorter Catechism itself be above our recommendation, as having its praises already in the Churches of Christ, yet we think it good to give it under our hands, that this Explanation of it is very worthy of acceptation.

(Signed) J. Owen, D. D. Ben. Needler.
Joseph Caryl. Dan. Bull
G. Griffith. Cha. Morton.
Hen. Stubs. Willm. Carslake.
Edm. Calamy. Robert Franklin.
Mattw. Barker. Mattw. Sylvester.
John Loder. Nathan Vincent.
John Ruyther T. Jacomb, D. D.
Nicol Blaikie. T. Case.
James Janeway. T. Watson.
H. Vaughan. T. Doolittle.
Willm. Maddocks. James Innes.
John Turner. Jo. Wells.
Will. Thomson. Richard Mayo.
T. Manton, D. D. John Hicks.
Will. Jenkyn. Edw. Veal.
C. Fowler. Edw. West.
T. Lye. Edw. Lawrence.
T. Cawton. Jo. Chester.
Thos. Brooks. J. Sharp.

To the Masters and Governors of Families
Belonging to My Congregation.

Some dedicate their books unto lords and ladies, or other great persons; such possibly I might find out, had I a mind to seek; but as my love is most endeared unto you, to whom I stand so nearly related, so my greatest ambition is to be serviceable unto your souls. Your cordial and constant love to me and my labours (in a whiffling age), of which you have given many manifest proofs, deserveth a greater expression of my grateful sense than the dedication of this book unto you. God, by bringing you under my ministry, hath given me the charge of your souls; and God, by bringing persons into your families, hath given you a charge of their souls. Our charge is great, and to be guilty of the ruin of souls is dreadful. Happy shall we be, if we be found faithful to our own and others' souls, in the great day of accounts. Too many, even in our nation and city perish and run blindfold into hell, for want of knowledge; and the most are without knowledge, for want of instruction; and as no way of instruction doth convey clearer light of distinct knowledge in the principles of religion than the way of catechising, so the neglect of this in ministers and masters of families is such a sin of unfaithfulness unto the souls of them that are under their charge, that all of us should take heed we have it not to answer for at the appearance of our Lord. It is not sufficient for you to bring your children and servants to receive public instruction; but it is your duty also to instruct them privately, and at home to examine them in their catechisms. I know no catechism more full of light and sound doctrine than the Shorter Catechism of the late Reverend Assembly; yet, because in many answers there are things not easy to be understood by beginners, therefore, in this my Explanation of it, I have taken pains to take abroad every answer, to open it in several under-questions and answers, and to confirm the truths thereof by reasons and Scripture proofs; which I have endeavoured to do as plainly and familiarly as I could, that everything therein might be the more intelligible and useful unto such as either learn or read it. Some chief controversies in religion I have touched upon, briefly propounding arguments for the backing of the truth, and not left objections wholly unanswered; which I have the rather done, that all of you, especially the more unexperienced young ones under you, might get some armour against everywhere prevailing error. You know that some have committed the whole of the Explanation, so far as we have gone, unto memory (how beneficial they have found this, others besides themselves can speak); yet all have not that strength of memory, neither would I impose this Explanation to be learned without book by all; yet this I advise, that you, who are masters of families, would set apart time, twice, or at least once every week, to examine your children and servants in the Assembly's Catechism, taking Mr Lye's excellent method in the way of asking questions, whom God hath made singularly useful in the diffusing much light amongst young ones. And after they have given you the answers, without book, which are in the Catechism, that then yourselves would read, or cause one of them to read, some part of this Explanation on those answers, so far as you can well go at a time. And if each of them that can read should, both in your families and in our public assembly, have one of these Explanations in their hands, to read along with them that read or publicly answer, they would the better attend and understand what is read or answered: which course, I apprehend, will exceedingly tend to their great profit; and that such as do this with diligence will, through God's blessing, attain in a short time much proficiency in the best knowledge, which is such a jewel, that none, me-thinks, should be contentedly without, when with less labour than for other jewels of inferior value, it may be obtained. This Explanatory Catechism was chiefly, if not only, intended for you, and the use of such as are of my congregation; which, if it may find acceptation also with, an prove beneficial unto other families, I shall rejoice. The more generally useful my poor endeavours are, as it will tend so much the more to the glory of my great Master, so it will yield to myself the greatest comfort, especially in a dying hour. I shall take my leave of you, though I be not departed from you, with the departing exhortation of the apostle: "And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified."-Acts 20:32.-Your earnest souls' well-wisher.


To the Young Ones of My Congregation,
Especially Those That Answer This Explicatory
Catehcism in Our Public Assembly.

Should I leave you out in my dedication of this book, I might seem both injurious unto you, for whose sake chiefly the book itself was composed, and injurious to my own love which I have for you, so many ways endeared, whereby also I am strongly obliged to do all the service I can for your souls. Your reciprocal love is a great tie; but the chief obligation of all, is the near relation between us, when I can write to you, not as my hearers only, but to many of you as my children; and that I may lay, in the words of the apostle, 1 Cor. 4:15 (which I desire to speak, not to mine own, but to the praise and glory of God, through whose blessing alone it is that my ministry, so mean comparatively, hath had this effect): "Though ye should have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you, through the gospel." My endeavours are (as a father to his children), to feed you with knowledge and understanding, and that of incomparably the most excellent things. Had you as large understanding in the secrets and mysteries of nature as the greatest and most wise philosopher, Solomon himself not excepted—had you skill in all languages under heaven, and could speak with the tongues of men and angels; yet all human knowledge, in the greatest height and improvement of it, would not be worthy to be compared and named the same day with the knowledge of Jesus Christ, and the mysteries of salvation with which I would acquaint you. You have seen the light of the moon, and some brightness in the stars, when the curtains of night have been drawn over the heavens all which luminaries, upon the rising of the sun, with its more glorious light, have disappeared and shrunk out of sight into darkness '-such is the light of all human knowledge, compared with the beams of divine light, which do issue forth from the Sun of Righteousness. It is the light of the knowledge of the will, and ways, and glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, that I desire to hold forth unto you. The whole Scripture is full of this light; but as, in the moon, some parts are clearer than others, so in the Holy Scriptures some parts are more full of this light. Such are those parts which contain the chief things to be known and believed, to be done and practised, in order to salvation. These things are excellently reduced by the late Reverend Assembly into questions and answers, in their Shorter Catechism. In this Catechism I have been some years instructing some of you; and that you might the better understand what you there learn, I did, above four years ago, begin this Explanation of it; which at first you had in writing, and upon your desire afterward, I put it sheet after sheet, as you learned it, in the press for you. The often failure of the printer hath caused many interruptions and intercessions in our work. Therefore, having finished the whole, I have now printed the whole together, that we be not broken off upon that account any more; which, as the fruit of much study, and as a token of most dear love, I present unto you. And now, dear young ones, think not much of taking pains in learning that which hath cost me so much pains in composing for you. Such of you as have not time, or strength of memory, for the learning of it, I advise to the frequent reading of it; and where it is not read in your families, that you often read it over alone. How profitable this will prove, experience, through God's blessing, in a short time will show. Hereby you may be able to look over the heads of most of your years in knowledge; which that you may be filled with, as with every grace, is the prayer for you to the Father of lights, from whom cometh every good and perfect gift, of

Yours in the sincerest bonds,


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