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The Heidelbergh Catechism has deservedly been held in high esteem by all Christian denominations, who receive the system of doctrines it embodies. Its various answers are especially distinguished for their expressiveness and force. The fundamental truths of the Gospel are every where made prominent in it, and invariably set forth in such a manner, as to address themselves, not only to the understanding, but also directly to the heart. It is one of its striking peculiarities, that it always supposes the person addressed in the questions and replying in the answers, to be experimentally acquainted with the divine truths about which it inquires.
The plan of the work is so simple in itself as to require but little explanation to render it perfectly intelligible to all. The most difficult and important words and phrases are explained, and the doctrines, which each question and answer contain, separated and proved. In the exercises, the appropriate reference mark is placed at the end of each question when the answer is to be gathered either from the explanations or doctrines. When no reference mark is affixed to the question, the answer is to be gathered either from the question or answer of the Catechism under consideration.
In fixing upon the definitions given, a strict regard was paid to the meaning of the word or phrase in the connection: in which it stands. It was made a general rule also, to bring out all the doctrines comprehended under each question and answer, although some of them may be found in. another place under some other form. The proof texts, as contained in the received copies of the Catechism, have. been used as far as practicable. It was found necessary,
however, to add greatly to their number. In the arrangement of the doctrines and the questions in the exercises, a particular regard was paid to system, which, it was believed, would add essentially to the value of the work.
To some, the explanations, may, perhaps, seem more numerous than is necessary. It ought to be remembered, however, that often the most simple words and phrases are the most difficult to define, and that the work is designed for scholars as well as for teachers. And besides this, the omission of any considerable number of the explanations, would materially interfere with the general plan itself.
The preparation of the work has cost its author a vast amount of labor; but if it shall be found in the end, to have contributed in any way towards rendering the study of this admirable system of divine truths, more general, and, at the same time, more pleasant and profitable, he will consider himself amply rewarded for all his labor.
It may not be out of place to add, that the work has received the approbation of several distinguished ministers of the Reformed Dutch Church, and has also been recommended by the Synod of the German Reformed Church, "to the churches under its care, as a suitable book to be used in connection with Catechetical and Sabbath School instruction."
THE AUTHOR. CHAMBERSBURG, Pa., January 12th, 1844.
HISTORY OF THE CATECHISM.
The Heidelbergh Catechism is so called from the fact of its having been composed and first published in Heidelbergh, the celebrated city of the Palatinate in Germany. It was prepared at the express request of FREDERICK THE THIRD, elector of the Palatinate, who is commonly and deservedly known in history, as the Pious. The persons, to whom this important work was committed, were Casper Olivianus and Zacharias Ursinus, the former a preacher to the court, and the latter a professor in the University at Heidelbergh. Whilst both contributed towards settling the matter or contents of the work, it is said, that we are especially indebted to Ursinus, for the particular form in which it has appeared. When the work was completed, the elector submitted it to the investigation of a Synod, composed of the Superintendents and Ministers of the entire Palatinate, and convened especially for the purpose, who, after a thorough examination, gave it their unanimous approval. It was written originally in German, but immediately translated into the Latin language at the special instance of the elector, in order that it might be generally used both in the schools and churches. It was first published in January 1563 in both the German and Latin languages, and sent by the elector to all the schools and churches of the Palatinate with the direction, that it should be annually gone over in a course of lectures, in view oi which circumstance it was also divided into fifty two portions under the common title of Lord's days. The Catechism met with such general favor in the Palatinate, that no less than four editions of it were called for during the
first year. It was held in high honor in all the Reformed Churches on the continent, and by several of them adopted in form as a symbolical book. Translations of it were soon made into every civilized language, so that it appeared in Greek, Hebrew, Low Dutch, Spanish, French, English, Italian, Bohemian, Polish, Hungarian, Arabic and Malay, as well as in German and Latin. As many as a half a million of editions in various forms, are reputed to have been issued from the press in Germany alone. It was transmitted to this country in connection with the introduction of the Reformed Dutch and German Reformed Churches, by whom it is received as a symbolical book, and used in their Catechetical instructions.