Thomson's Sacramental Catechism
HIS FIRST CHARGE
ANDREW THOMSON was licensed to preach the Gospel, by the Presbytery of Kelso, early in 1802; and ordained by the same Presbytery of the Church of Scotland, and inducted into the pastoral charge of Sprouston, on the 11th of March. He was to labour in the Border country for six years, laying a solid foundation of knowledge and experience during those years of obscurity, for his later ministry of great power and influence in the nations metropolis.
Shortly after settling in Sprouston, he married Miss Carmichael. The union was, from all accounts, a singularly happy one; its fruit being ten children, seven of whom - five daughters and two sons - survived their father. Fine to read that this pater familias was "if possible . . still more attractive and delightful in the family circle than he was commanding and distinguished in the public walks of professional and active life"
A young minister quickly becomes aware of the privilege and responsibility of dealing with new communicants, as they prepare to enter the full membership of the church on profession of faith. Finding nothing exactly suited to his purpose, Mr Thomson compiled his own Sacramental Catechism. Intended only for use in his parish, it soon became widely known and used, proving immensely popular in the Kirk of those days. No fewer than thirty editions, comprising upwards of 130,000 copies, were struck off in the quarter-century following its first impression in 1807. This was a phenomenal demand. In 1957, the Westminster Fellowship of evangelical Presbyterians in New Zealand, with which the writer is closely associated, brought out a Triple Jubilee Edition:- which also has sold well.
In his Foreword, the young pastor wrote: It is not intended that the following Catechism should be committed to memory, in the way that other Catechisms are usually learnt. Most of the answers are so long as to render this in a great measure impracticable; but the Catechetical form has been adopted, because it seems best calculated for conveying instruction to the generality of readers, with ease, distinctness, and effect". After explaining the nature of the Sacrament of the Lords Supper (Questions 1-28), and advancing nine reasons why Christians should partake of it (29-61) the author goes on to deal more fully with the duty of self-examination, under the familiar heads of Knowledge, Faith, Repentance, Love and New Obedience (62 - 122) . The rest of the space is devoted to: the need for prayer before partaking (123136) the duty of believers while partaking (137-1 52). and their responsibility after partaking (153-165).
As typical of the style, we may select the following:
"49. In what respect do Baptism and the Lords Supper differ?
"Baptism is to be administered but once, the Lords Supper frequently: the former is a sign of our regeneration and putting on Christ, the latter is a sign of the spiritual nourishment that we derive from him; the former may be administered to infants, the latter to such only as are able to examine themselves; by the former we are admitted, or initiated, into the visible church of Christ, by the latter we profess our willing continuance in the church, and our adherence to its doctrines and laws."
" 50. In what respect do these two ordinances agree?
"They are both of divine appointment; they both represent Christ and the benefits of his purchase; they are both seals of the same covenant: they both lay us under peculiar obligations to holiness in heart and life: and they are both to be continued in the church till Christ's second coming"
Much the longest answer is the 73rd. We reproduce it here as an interesting piece of apologetic:
"What reasons have you to believe in the mission and doctrine of Christ?
" (1) I believe in Christ, because in him were fulfilled a great variety of prophecies. that were uttered some ages before he appeared; and by him were wrought many miracles, or wonderful works, which no man could do except God were with him (Jn 3:2) This I know on the evidence of testimony more powerful than what was ever employed to establish the truth of any other fact the testimony of a great number of witnesses, of irreproachable character; who showed no symptoms of enthusiasm: who were capable of judging of what they saw and heard: whose declarations were consistent, although made at different times, in different languages and in different circumstances; whose evidence was contrary at once to their strongest prejudices and their worldly interests: who, notwithstanding, gave it boldly and distinctly: who maintained it be a life of danger and suffering; and who (many of them at least) sealed it with their blood, amidst tortures and in death.
(2) I believe in the religion of Christ, because it is worthy of God to promulgate, and every way suitable to the nature and circumstances of man; because it contains the sublimest truths and the purest system of morality that were ever taught; and because, with all this excellence, it was published not only at a time when the world around was grossly mistaken with respect to the very first principles of religion and morals, but also by men who had received no education, and who were utterly unqualified of themselves for teaching mankind.
(3) I believe in the religion of Christ, because, although it was universally resisted by interested priests and civil rulers, by bigoted Jews and idolatrous mobs; although it opposed the whole current of religious opinion, and condemned the most favourite practices that prevailed in those times; although it was preached by none almost but men of low birth, without force, without learning, and without influence; although the most effectual means that can be imagined were made use of to crush and destroy it: yet, in spite of all these disadvantages, it made such a rapid and triumphant progress, that in the space of thirty years after the death of Christ it was diffused over the greatest part of the then known world; which astonishing success can be reasonably ascribed to nothing else than the power of God accompanying the labours of the Apostles.
(4) Lastly, I believe in Christ because he delivered several prophecies which were afterwards most exactly fulfilled: one, in particular, of the destruction of Jerusalem, which was so circumstantially foretold, and so minutely accomplished, that we should consider the language of our Saviour rather as a history than a prediction of the event, were we not certainly informed of the contrary".
Thomsons Sacramental Catechism concludes on a characteristically positive and reassuring note:
"164. Has not God provided you with support and consolation fully adequate to these hardships and difficulties? Yes; every support and consolation that my situation needs - that I could reasonably expect or possibly desire.
"165. What is that support and consolation? An assurance that God will make his grace sufficient for me, and perfect his strength in my weakness (II Cor. 12:9) ; a divine intimation that Christ has already subdued my spiritual enemies, and that through him every true believer shall be more than a conqueror; a promise that the Holy Ghost shall be given to them that ask him, to abide with them continually, and to lead them in the way everlasting: and there is set before me the certain prospect of a most happy and glorious immortality in heaven, if I be faithful even unto death. With such encouragements, and such motives, I have every reason not only to be stedfast and unmoveable, but even to go on my Christian way, rejoicing with joy unspeakable, and full of glory.
In a fairly recent work, written from the Moderate standpoint, and entitled Two Centuries of the Church of Scotland (1707-1929), A. J. Campbell frankly traces the decline of Moderatism towards the end of the 18th century, and adds: The first thirty years of the 19th century form one of the notable periods of Scottish history; and as far as the Church of Scotland is concerned, they belong to the Evangelicals" "The Evangelicals", Campbell also tells us," . . believed strongly in preaching. The empty churches began to fill. Patrons and town councils, coming themselves under the new influences, showed a preference for Evangelical candidates for vacant pulpits. The stern doctrines of Calvinism have always had their greatest power of appeal in times of dangerous upheaval; and so it was in those days. In a season of panic Evangelicalism spoke with authority"
The young pastor of Sprouston had come to the kingdom for such a time as this. His name had been made by his Sacramental Catechism; and within a year of its first publication, he was translated to the East Church, Perth, in 1808, after a six years ministry on the Border. At Perth, his fellow-ministers included his own brother, William; and here, we are told, he lived happily, and laboured successfully" But not for long.
(From the Biography "A Great Scottish Churchman" by Strang Miller)
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