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John Brown on Catechizing and Evangelizing Children

Questions & Answers on the Shorter Catechism, John Brown of Haddington
(Reformation Heritage Books; pb., 356 pp.)

John Brown of Haddington (1722-1787) was a giant in the land. I first read of him in A. T. Robertson’s grammar where Robertson recounts the amazing story of Brown teaching himself Greek as a young man. Some years later I picked up a reprint copy of his Systematic Theology. I have just recently been perusing this new reprint form Brown, in which he walks straight through the Shorter Catechism raising and answering various questions arising from each catechism question. This reads essentially like his notes from teaching catechism classes to children. As such it is a helpful guide for using the catechism with your children (and others!) today.

His “Address to Young Readers” which opens the book is well worth reading itself for its earnestness and directness as he appeals to children for the salvation of their souls. There is no banter here. He reminds them that they possess

“immortal souls, worth inconceivably more than ten thousand worlds; souls that are capable of enjoying an infinite God as their everlasting All in All; souls which must and shall, before long, enter into an eternal state of either inconceivable misery or happiness.”

He reminds them of their state in sin before God.

“Having no holiness, you have no hope and are ‘without God in the world.’ Being children of the devil, your heart is filled with all unrighteousness, pride, deceit, malice, and hatred of God.”

He elaborates this point for almost a whole page quoting scripture after scripture driving home in no uncertain terms that they are alienated from God, culminating in this:

“eternal destruction is ready at your side. God is angry with you every day; His wrath rests on you; His sword is drawn and His arrows are set to destroy you. The sound of your approaching condemnation roars loudly at every warning of His word, if only you had ears to hear it. Even while you read this, hell stands open to receive you, and devils stand ready to drag you into everlasting fire.”

Brown does not end with the warnings of Sinai, however. Having clearly made the point of our desperate condition, he turns to the remedy of the gospel (much like Paul’s pattern in Rom 1-3) pleading in glowing terms from the children to repent and believe.

The call to faith makes much of what their parents have found to be true of God.

“My dear young people, know the God of your fathers …. We parents tell you, our children, that this God is our God, forever, and that He ‘will be our guide even unto death.’ We never found him a barren wilderness or a land of drought. We have found infinitely more satisfaction in this God, given to us in His Word, than could balance all the pleasures, all the wealth, all the honor of ten thousand worlds…. There is none like the God of Jeshurun, who pardons iniquity, transgression and sin, and who delights in mercy…. If wisdom’s ways are so pleasant even on this sinful earth, what will it be like to enter the joy of our Lord forever! … Come, taste and see that our God is good.”

Isn’t this how Christian parents should address their children? Of course our wording may be different, but these truths with this passion must be communicated. We need to be able to present to our children that we have in our own experience found God to be faithful. They need to see in us people who find their delight in God.

This is a helpful book in various ways. It is worth buying simply to read this opening address and to be challenged by it in speaking the gospel to our own children.

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