The Young Communicant’s Catechism
John Willison (1680-1750), minister at Dundee, Scotland, was a prominent voice against the spiritual laxity of the mid-eighteenth-century Church of Scotland. Early in his ministry, Willison was instrumental in the revivals that occurred at Kilsyth. In later years, he spoke out against the increasing decline into moralistic preaching and away from the proclamation of free grace to sinners. Willison wrote an exposition of the Shorter Catechism, as well as a number of treatises and catechisms designed to foster devotional piety, inculcating Sabbath observance and meditation in preparation for the Lord’s Supper. His catechism for small children, The Mother’s Catechism, and several of his sacramental meditations, are still in circulation.
A proposal for young communicants, for expressly renewing the baptismal engagements, before their first admission to the Lord’s table.
Question 1. What moves you to seek access to the Lord’s table?
Answer. The Lord’s command, and because I desire to renew my baptismal engagements, and declare myself a Christian by my own free choice and consent, and would join myself unto the Lord by my own voluntary act and deed.
Q. 2. Why do you desire to do so?
A. Because, when I got the first seal of the covenant, namely, baptism, I knew not what was done for me, nor was I capable to consent to my parents’ deed; but now, when I am come to some knowledge and capacity, I am willing to declare, that I make religion my free choice, and reasonable service.
Q. 3. Why do you come so early? Will it not be soon enough to mind religion in old age?
A. No; for besides that I may die young, these who neglect religion, and give themselves up to the world, or the flesh in their youth, do fall into hardness of heart, from which few recover.
Q. 4. What is the most proper season to seek acquaintance with Christ and religion?
A. The time of youth, because in this age the heart is more easily melted, and the habits of vice are not so riveted as afterward; and because God has a special delight in early piety.
Q. 5. What views then have you got of your natural state and condition?
A. I do see it to be a most sinful, wretched, and helpless case; I am condemned to perish under a load of guilt and wrath, having broke the covenant of works, which I cannot fulfill, offended the justice of God, which I cannot satisfy, and lost the image of God, and my precious soul, which I cannot recover. O what shall I do to be saved?
Q. 6. Where do you look for relief?
A. Only to Jesus Christ, who hath, in his free love to lost sinners, undertaken as Surety and Mediator in the new covenant, which is exhibited and sealed to believers at the Lord’s table.
Q. 7. What views have you got of that covenant which is there sealed?
A. I see the way of salvation laid down in it through the suretyship and righteousness of Jesus Christ, to be an excellent contrivance, well-ordered in all things and sure. I look upon it as a device every way worthy of God, and of infinite wisdom, and I do heartily approve of it, consent to it, and desire to come and venture my soul and eternal salvation upon it.
Q. 8. What think you of the love of God, that was the spring of this new covenant?
A. I view it as wonderful and amazing; I admire the love of the Father, in contriving and sending his beloved Son to execute it; I admire the love of the Son of God, in undertaking to be a Surety and sacrifice for lost sinners of Adam’s race, when the sinning angels were passed by, and left to perish forever; and I admire the love of the Holy Ghost, in undertaking to apply that redemption to lost elect sinners, by working in them conviction, conversion, and faith in Jesus Christ.
Q. 9. With what disposition do you come to renew your baptismal covenant?
A. I desire to sense my guilt in breaking this covenant, in running away from Christ’s flag, in going over to Satan’s camp, and in standing so long out against Christ’s calls and offers; and I desire now to return to the Lord as a penitent prodigal, and a mourning backslider, with my face toward Zion, weeping as I go, willing to renew my baptismal vows with others, saying, Come, let us join ourselves to the Lord in an everlasting covenant never to be forgotten. And, in a word, I desire to go to a broken Christ with a broken heart.
Q. 10. What is that baptismal vow or covenant, which you design to renew?
A. According to my engagement and dedication in baptism, I desire expressly to own and acknowledge the only living and true God as my God in Christ, as he offers himself in the covenant of grace; and to give up myself, soul and body to him, to be for him and not for another. And I design, in the most solemn manner, to go and renounce all the enemies of the Holy Trinity, namely, the devil, the world, and the flesh; and to declare my acceptance of God the Father as my Father, of God the Son as my Redeemer, and of God the Holy Ghost as my Sanctifier; in whose blessed name I was baptized, and to whose service and glory I was dedicated.
Q. 11. What do you think of Jesus Christ, the Mediator of the covenant?
A. I think him a matchless Person, and an excellent and all-sufficient Saviour; and I am content to accept him in all his offices, namely, as a Prophet to instruct and teach me, as a Priest to atone and intercede for me, and as a King to rule in me and over me.
Q. 12. What do you think of your own righteousness and strength with respect to your salvation?
A. I look upon my own righteousness and strength as insufficient to answer the demands of God’s law, and therefore I renounce them, and flee to a Surety for both, saying, In the Lord Jesus only have I righteousness and strength; and I am content and resolved to make use of a borrowed strength for my performing of duty, and of a borrowed righteousness for my acceptance in duty.
Q. 13. How do you like this self-denying way of saving lost souls?
A. I am well pleased with it, as it makes me an eternal debtor to free grace, as it doth exclude all boasting and glorying in the creature, and ascribes all the glory of my salvation to Christ only; as it takes the crown off the head of self, and puts it upon the head of glorious Christ.
Q. 14. How do you relish the kingly office of Jesus Christ?
A. I am well pleased therewith, and content to take Christ as a King to govern me by his laws, as well as a Priest to save me by his blood; nay, I am desirous he may come in as a King, and execute his kingly office in my soul; that he may set up his throne in my heart, subdue indwelling sin, and conquer all my rebellious lusts and corruption.
Q. 15. What view have you of the Holy Ghost, the third person in the Trinity, and of his office in the business of saving souls?
A. I look upon him as the blessed applier of Christ’s purchase unto me, and do accept him as such; and I am willing to give up myself to him, to convince, enlighten, renew, sanctify and guide me; and I believe he is as willing and ready to make the application, as Christ was to make the purchase; and therefore I desire to trust him for this blessed effect.
Q. 16. What think you of the things of this world as a portion to the soul?
A. I look upon all its profits, honours, and pleasures, to be insufficient to suit the soul’s desires, and that they are nothing but vanity and vexation of spirit; and therefore I will never set my heart upon the world as my portion: it is only the enjoyment of God reconciled in Christ, that can afford complete satisfaction to my soul; and this only I choose for my happiness and portion.
Q. 17. What do you think of the world to come?
A. I look upon it, and the things thereof, as awful, certain, and very near. I look upon hell as the eternal habitation of unbelievers; but I view heaven as the country and dwelling place of the followers of the Lamb, with whom I desire to join, to seek that country, and dwell with them forever.
Q. 18. What do you think of a holy and religious life?
A. I think a religious life, or a life spent in the service of God, and in communion with him, the most pleasant and comfortable life that a man can live in the world.
Q. 19. How do you think to attain to holiness for living this life?
A. I look upon Jesus Christ as the Purchaser of holiness as well as of happiness, as he, who, by his death, hath obtained the Holy Spirit to effectuate the new birth, and form the image of God in his people; and therefore desire to come to Christ and his blood for sanctification, as well as for justification; for conformity and likeness to God, as well as for access to fellowship and communion with God, and I will plead, that he may send his Holy Spirit unto my soul, for producing holiness, and all the graces of the Spirit.
Q. 20. What view have you got of the promises of the covenant, and their usefulness?
A. I look upon them as the ground of all my faith and hope, and I desire to make daily use of them, and to plead them with God for strength to perform every duty, and for perseverance in all the steps of my pilgrimage; and I resolve to have recourse to him in every strait and difficulty.
Q. 21. As you profess willingness to accept God in Christ as your God, are ye not also willing to dedicate yourself to him for his use and service?
A. Yes, I am willing (I hope through grace) to give up and surrender unto the Lord myself, and all that belongs unto me, my soul and body, with all their powers, faculties, senses, members, and enjoyments, to be instruments of his glory, and to be disposed of him for his use and service at his pleasure.
Q. 22. How do you instruct your willingness to give up and surrender the powers and faculties of your soul unto the Lord?
A. I think I am willing to dedicate and give up my understanding to the Lord, to contemplate his perfections, and know his will; my memory to him, to retain and treasure up his gracious promises and counsels; my will to him, to choose and refuse every thing according to his will, and to comply therewith in all things, and my conscience to him, to be his deputy, to accuse and excuse according to his direction.
Q. 23. Do you also resign and give up the passions and affections of your soul unto the Lord?
A. Yes, I give up and dedicate my passion of grief to the Lord, to mourn for every thing that is offensive to him; my hatred, to abhor every thing that is hateful to him; my desires, to long for his presence; my love, to embrace and entertain him; my delight and joy, to solace myself, and to acquiesce cheerfully in him as my soul’s portion and happiness.
Q. 24. In what respects do you resign your bodily senses and members to the Lord?
A. I give up my eyes, to read his word, and behold his wondrous works; my ears to hear his word, and attend to his counsels; my taste, smell, and feeling, to discern and relish his sweetness and excellence in the creatures; my tongue, to proclaim his praise, and commend his ways and service; my hands to help his people; and my feet to walk in paths pleasing to him.
Q. 25. How do you resign your enjoyments and comforts to the Lord?
A. I resign my time, my health, my talents, my opportunities, my relations, my gifts, my interest, my power, my wisdom, my substance, my honour, my reputation, and all I have in the world, unto the Lord, to be employed and disposed of by him for his glory, as he thinks proper.
Q. 26. What view have you now of sin, and of these sins you once esteemed as your right hand and right eye?
A. I see and abhor them as the enemies and crucifiers of my Lord Jesus, and as the very nails and spear that pierced him, and desire to throw them out of my heart, and to cut off every right hand and pluck out every right eye, and to renounce all ungodliness and all beloved lusts, and count no sin too dear to part with for Jesus Christ my Lord.
Q. 27. What do you think now of companions in sin and their invitations to join them in sin?
A. I am convinced of their folly, and resolve never to follow the multitude to do evil, nor to join them in any of the common sins of the age, and steadfastly (through grace) to avoid the snares, and resist the temptations of evil company; saying, with David, Depart from me, ye evil doers, for I will keep the commandments of my God.
Q. 28. What thoughts have you of the people of God and these who bear his image?
A. I look upon them as God’s precious jewel, the excellent ones of the earth, and the most desirable company in the world.
Q. 29. But what will you think of them when you see them few and despised?
A. I resolve through grace to join Christ’s little flock, his praying, and sin-hating flock, though they be few in number; desire to love them above all others, and to accept them as my fellow travelers to the heavenly Zion, and that notwithstanding their being despised or reproached by the world.
Q. 30. But what do you think of the cross, and of sharp persecution, that sometimes accompany the confessing of Christ?
A. I desire to take Christ with his cross, as well as with his crown; and to welcome the world’s hatred, reproaches, injuries, or any kind of trouble or persecution I may meet with for confessing Christ, his truth, and ways.
Q. 31. What think ye of the holy scriptures?
A. I believe they are inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, I value them above all books, I accept them thankfully as a guide through the wilderness, a light to my feet, and a lamp to my paths, and a treasure of comforts and cordials suitable for me in all cases and difficulties, which I desire always to search into and study to be acquainted with.
Q. 32. What do you think of the Lord’s Day?
A. I regard it as holy and honourable; and as a standing testimony of the perfection of Christ’s sacrifice; I look upon it as the best day of the week, as being Christ’s weekly market day, for needy souls, which I resolve to improve carefully for getting provision for my soul through the rest of the week.
Q. 33. What do you think of gospel ordinances?
A. I look upon the word, sacraments, prayer, and praise, to be God’s institutions, and means of conveying grace to souls. I thankfully accept them, as needful helps in the way to heaven, and as meeting places between God and my soul; and I desire to make it my main errand in attending them to meet with him therein.
Q. 34. What do you think of the Lord’s Supper that you have in view?
A. I look upon it as Christ’s banqueting house, and spiritual feast, which in his love he hath provided for refreshing and strengthening his people’s souls, while traveling through this wilderness: desire to bless God for it, and to accept it as a rare privilege, a quickener of grace, a memorial of redeeming love, and a pledge of Christ’s second coming.
Q. 35. What do you think of the duty of prayer?
A. I look upon it not only as my great duty, but also as an honourable privilege, seeing hereby I have access to converse with God; and therefore I resolve, through grace, to live a life of prayer and acquaintance with God, in and through Christ, all my days, and that I will always go to God and consult with him in all cases and difficulties.
Q. 36. What do you think of the rest of the duties of Christianity, and of all these which the moral law enjoins?
A. I look upon the law (which Christ hath adopted into the covenant of grace, as a rule of life to his people) to be holy, just, and good; and the duties enjoined by it to be most reasonable, calculated for the glory of God and his people’s good. The gospel, which is the doctrine of grace, doth strongly enforce this law, by teaching us sobriety with respect to ourselves, righteousness with respect to our neighbour, and godliness with respect to God; and the love of Christ doth mightily constrain us to the diligent performance of all these moral duties.
Q. 37. What do you think of the rods and afflictions which attend the children of God?
A. I believe they are fatherly chastisements for our good; and that they are wisely and seasonably ordered by him, who hedges up his people’s way with thorns, that they may not find their crooked paths, and therefore I desire to submit to the rod, as the needful discipline of Christ’s house, and to welcome his convictions and reproofs, as well as his comforts and smiles; and to bless him for afflictions as well as for mercies.
Q. 38. What do you think of the life of faith?
A. I believe it to be the most happy life, and that it ought to be the daily life of God’s people while in this world. And I desire to study and learn this noble life of faith, and of dependence upon the Son of God, and to make daily use of his blood and righteousness to cover my guilt, and of his grace and strength to enable me to perform duty, conquer sin, resist temptation, and bear affliction.
Q. 39. What do you think of the spiritual warfare which Christ calls you to?
A. I look upon that war as just and honourable; and therefore do come in a volunteer at the sound of the gospel trumpet, to enlist myself a soldier under Christ’s banner, I do forever abandon the devil’s camp, and am willing to swear allegiance to Christ Jesus, to take up arms for him, and to fight against his enemies, the world, the devil, and the flesh, all the days of my life. I resolve never to make peace with these enemies, nor agree to a cessation of arms. I will never wittingly nor willingly reset, nor give harbour to, the bosom traitors of indwelling lusts and corruptions; but under the conduct of my glorious Captain, and in his strength, I will carry on the war, till I attain to that complete victory which is promised to all believers in Christ.
Q. 40. What do you think of these who are deserters and runaways from Christ’s standard?
A. I look upon them as guilty of the greatest madness, and exposed to the greatest wrath, seeing Christ’s soul can take no pleasure in these who draw back from him; and therefore I purpose, through grace, to keep close by my Captain, and to adhere to his cause and interest all the days of my life.
Q. 41. In whose strength is it that you engage to all these parts and articles of the covenant?
A. Only in the strength of Jesus Christ my Head and Surety, who hath undertaken for me, and promised to make his grace forthcoming to me. Wherefore I altogether distrust my own strength and resolution, and betake myself to borrowed strength. I resolve never to trust in my promise to Christ, but in Christ’s promise to me, that he will never leave me, nor forsake me.
Q. 42. Will you satisfy yourself with a public profession and engaging to these things before men?
A. No; I will, through grace, profess and declare all these things also in secret before God. And I will give my consent to all the parts and articles of God’s covenant of grace, in the most serious and self-denied manner: and I will, by grace, bind and engage myself to them, by entering into secret transaction, or personal covenant with God, through Christ, before I come to take the seal of God’s covenant. And afterwards I will adventure, in his strength, to approach to his holy table, to ratify and seal this bargain before men and angels.