Samuel E. McCorkle on the duty and practice of catechizing

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In a 1792 sermon titled A Sermon, on the Doctrine and Duty of Sacrificing, which was preached more than once and published in 1794, Samuel Eusebius McCorkle highlighted the duty of catechizing and explained the particular method that he used in his own congregation (Thyatira Presbyterian Church in Rowan County, North Carolina).

The next [duty] I shall mention is, the ancient and important duty of Catechising.* Many things might be said on this subject, but I forbear with only Qbserving that it may have its influence on both sermons and sacraments, by preparing the mind to be profited by them.

* Here I beg leave briefly to suggest to my brethren the plan of catechising from the Scriptures, as the platform or ground of a catechism. I have proceeded from Genesis to Job, and through part of the four evangelists; and I design, if God permit, to proceed on to the end, asking questions that lead to reading and reflection. I have found it profitable to myself and my people, and can venture to say that as far as I have proceeded there is not a congregation on the continent better acquainted with the Scriptures.

The Congregation I have divided into a number of divisions, of fifteen or sixteen families each, assigned to each division a set of written questions, and from one part of one or two books, as they may be long or short, in each Testament; catechising in the morning from the Old, in the afternoon from the New Testament, and closing by calling on the youth to repeat the shorter catechism.

This set of scriptural questions thus examined on, pass to the next division of the Congregation, who often attend as spectators, knowing that they are next to be examined on the same questions. Thus in rotation, every individual will be examined on every part of the Bible.

William Henry Foote, in his Sketches of North Carolina, Historical and Biographical (pp. 360-361), add this:

His daughter says, the divisions were eight in number; and that an elder was attached to each division; to this elder, he gave the copy of questions, and the elder supplied the division. In the examination he never publicly questioned the elders, they met him at his own house. The children were early brought to say their catechism; and the parents were reproved or commended according to the proficiency manifested in the examination.

Thus we have here an historical snapshot showing the importance placed on catechizing a congregation, young and old, as it was implemented by a leading North Carolina Presbyterian minister at the close of the 18th century.

It may be asked, separately from an analysis of the particular methods used here, whether the church today places the same high premium on catechizing. McCorkle set the bar high to the end that his congregation would know the Scriptures thoroughly. This, no doubt, ought to be our goal as well.

William Henry Foote's Sketches of North Carolina and Virginia

You don't have to live in North Carolina or Virginia to be curious about the founding and progress of the Presbyterian churches in these states. To read accounts of God's work from the perspective of a pre-Civil War minister of the gospel, check out the writings of William Henry Foote (1794-1869). He was a native of Connecticut who pastored in North Carolina and Virginia. In the 1840s and 1850s he wrote historical sketches of the most significant events and personalities from those two states, and toward the end of his life he wrote a volume on the French Huguenots. Without his books, there is much we would not remember about early Presbyterian history.