Before Jonathan Cross (1802-1876) wrote his widely beloved Illustrations of the Shorter Catechism for Children and Youth (1864), he wrote Stories and Illustrations of the Ten Commandments for the Young (1862). In similar fashion as former, the latter, though not as well-known today, is a helpful guide to explaining the intent of the Decalogue in anecdotal form that young ones can understand. He helps young readers to understand that God sees all and is everywhere, and helps them to understand why the second commandment forbids pictures of God, or why coveting and enviousness is wrong. He concludes with an explanation of the Golden Rule, and a gospel message (emphasizing that we have all broken God's law, but Jesus Christ kept it perfectly and how we thus ought to look to Jesus Christ alone for forgiveness of our sins). This is a wonderful little 19th century guide for parents and children about how young ones may better understand and, by the grace of God, to keep the Ten Commandments.
Jonathan Cross was a colporteur for the American Tract Society during the middle of the 19th century - a traveling salesman of Christian books, newspapers and pamphlets. And what he saw in churches across America led him to write a two volume set, Illustrations of the Shorter Catechism, a collection of brief commentary and stories for each question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism.
Here is Cross' explanation of why he wrote, and it reminds us that the struggle of teaching children the catechism is not new: "For a score of years he has travelled more or less in most of the states of this Union, and been in some Sabbath-school almost every Sabbath, and whenever this Catechism was in use he has found superintendents and teachers labouring under the same difficulties. Many of our teachers are young and inexperienced in the Christian life, and many not even professors of religion. These often say that the Catechism is so dry they cannot get the children to learn it, and many honestly confess that they cannot understand it. In this way the Catechism fails to be taught to many of the rising generation in our churches. The same is true with thousands of parents. They say, 'We cannot get our children to learn the Catechism, it is such a dry study; and we are not competent to explain it to them in a way to interest them.' These complaints have been so long made, and to such an extent, that the author has been surprised that some one, much more competent than he, has not given to our Church long ere this a suitable work."
So even parents in the 19th century thought the Catechism was dry and catechizing was difficult! May the Lord use these books to help parents in their high calling to teach their children the doctrines of our holy religion.