Westminster Shorter Catechism for Today's Youth

When the Westminster Shorter Catechism was written in 1646-1648, it was designed, according to the Church of Scotland which adopted it, "to be a directory for catechising such as are of weaker capacity," in contrast the the Westminster Larger Catechism, which was, according to the same, designed to be a "a directory for those who have made some proficiency in the knowledge of the grounds of religion." 

Yet, in the 19th century -- not to mention the 21st -- some catechizers found it useful to revise the Shorter Catechism for the benefit of young persons. First, is Joseph Patterson Engles (1793-1861), a ruling elder at the Scots Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, and publishing agent for the Presbyterian Board of Publication. He designed a version of the Shorter Catechism titled Catechism for Young Children: Being an Introduction to the Shorter Catechism (1840). This work has been widely republished in modern times (and a very helpful study guide was produced about it by Jeff Kingswood, From the Lips of Little Ones: A Study in the in the Catechism for Very Little People, 2008), but it is believed that the PDF which appears on Log College Press (courtesy of Wayne Sparkman at the PCA Historical Center) is the only such scanned copy of the original work available on the internet today. The introduction is a precious word of encouragement to parents and teachers: "Emulate the spirit of the pious mother who, when asked by a witness of her patience and successful perseverance in the instruction of one of her children, 'How could you repeat that sentence to the child twenty times?' answered, 'If I had repeated it only nineteen times I should have lost my labor.'" The beginning of Engles' Catechism is also beloved by many: 

Q. 1. Who made you?
A. God.
Q. 2. What else did God make?
A. God made all things.
Q. 3. Why did God make you and all things?
A. For his own glory.
Q. 4. How can you glorify God?
A. By loving him and doing what he commands.

Second, James Robert Boyd (1804-1890), a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, pastor, educator, author of text-books, and other works, including an exposition of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. He also wrote The Child's Book on the Westminster Shorter Catechism (1855, since republished as A Child's Guide to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, 2015). Boyd designed this work for children 12 and under, and recommends that study and memorization of this version of the catechism be undertaken for an half hour each Sabbath afternoon. 

For parents who might feel that their young ones are not quite ready for the Westminster Shorter Catechism, these 19th century Presbyterian abbreviated versions may provide a suitable alternative, and while they are available in modern reprints, the introductions particularly to both works are not always included, and they are worth downloading for thoughtful consideration.

A 19th Century Devotional for Youth, by Charles Salmond

If you're looking for a way to get your junior high and high school children into the word of God, check out this 19th century devotional by Charles Adamson Salmond (1853-1932), For Days of Youth: A Bible Text and Talk for the Young for Every Day in the Year (1896). In this devotional, Salmond expounds a different verse each day of the year (there are even 366 entries - 1896 was a leap year), applying it to the hearts and lives of young people. The applications are somewhat dated, although the temptations and trials of young adulthood have not changed in the least, and so the principles of truth found in this book are enduring. 

Here is the entry for January 1, to get a taste of Salmond's book.

January 1
The Days of Thy Youth

“Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth.” (Ecclesiastes 12:1)

Thy youth! As the old preacher utters his counsel, he calls to mind his own youth with a sigh. It is for ever gone. Its days, and years too, are like a short-lived dream of the long ago. But thy youth is still thine, though its days are hurrying by. Remember God in them, he says. Let no day pass without thinking of Him, and of what you owe to Him. Hear His loving-kindness in the morning — in the morning of your life — in the free bright morning time, before the noisy voices of earth can claim and keep your ear and heart. And as you hear His loving-kindness every morning, let your life each day speak forth His praise!

“The days of thy youth” — how precious they are! They are happy days, influential days, fleeting days.

(1) Happy days — surely you feel them to be that! No doubt youth has its own troubles; its sorrows, losses, disappointments. It is not all brightness. But there is in it far more of the sunshine than of the shadow. Youth’s tears are quickly dried; and there is soon again the clear shining after rain. One thing you may be very sure of — that, if you are spared to be old, you will look back upon the days of your youth as very gladsome days. “The days of our youth” — when we looked with new eyes upon a new world that met us with a smile — when the earth seemed so beautiful, and men so true, and women all so good — when we marched to the music of hope, with few burdens upon the back, and few cares upon the heart, to make the wealth of life our own — what wonder that we who are older look back upon them even now with a peculiar pleasure! They were for us what God and all the good desire that they should be for you — happy days.

(2) Influential days — yes, they are that too, even when you are least thinking of it. Youth is undoubtedly the seed-time for the harvest that is to follow. The babe has been called “a bundle of possibilities.” In youth you have already begun to determine what you are actually to be. Your heart is now open to impressions which will leave their mark on all your future life. The choices you now make, the friendships you form, the patterns you accept, the habits you acquire—tell me these, and I may with much confidence predict what sort of man or woman you will be. Now is the time for high thoughts and noble purposes. Now is the time for seeking a lifelong friendship with Him who will enable you to realize them.

(3) Fleeting days — how swiftly fleeting! You are anxious to grow quickly older? That is a wish very sure to be fulfilled. The year just gone — how short it seems to look back upon! The years will ever seem to vanish more swiftly as they go. The days of youth will speedily pass into other days. But they need not be “evil days”; and will not be, if we have Him with us who has promised to be with His people “all the days even to the end.” With a heart kept young by His presence even to old age, you will have the best of life — an immortal youth — before you still.

“Then be thou zealous in thy youth;
Fill every day with noble toils;
Fight for the victories of Truth,
And deck thee with her deathless spoils.”