RPM, Volume 19, Number 3, January 15 to January 21, 2017





THESE PROLEGOMENA are partly general, such as treat of the entire doctrine of the Church: and partly special, such as have respect merely to the Catechism.

The general prolegomena, concerning the doctrine of the church, may be included in the following questions:

I. What is the doctrine of the church?
II. What are the parts thereof and in what do these parts differ from each other?
III. Wherein does the doctrine of the Church differ from that of the various Sects, and from Philosophy, and why these distinctions should be retained?
IV. What are the evidences of the truth and certainty of this doctrine?
V. What are the various methods of teaching and studying this doctrine?


The doctrine of the church is the entire and uncorrupted doctrine of the law and gospel concerning the true God, together with his will, works, and worship; divinely revealed, and comprehended in the writings of the prophets and apostles, and confirmed by many miracles and divine testimonies; through which the Holy Spirit works effectually in the hearts of the elect, and gathers from the whole human race an everlasting church, in which God is glorified, both in this, and in the life to come.

This doctrine is the chief and most expressive mark of the true church, which God designs to be visible in the world, and to be separated from the rest of mankind, according to these declarations of scripture: You keep yourselves from idols." "Come out from among them, and be ye separate." "If there come any unto you and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your houses, neither bid him God speed." "Be ye holy, touch no unclean thing, ye that bear the vessels of the Lord. Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues." (1 John 5:21, 2 Cor. 6:17, 2 John 10.Isa. 52:11. Rev. 18:4.)

God wills that his church be separate and distinct from the world, for the following considerations: First on account of his own glory; for, He himself will not be joined with idols and devils, so he will not have his truth confounded with falsehood, and his church with her enemies, the children of the devil; but will have them carefully distinguished and separated. It would he reproachful to God to suppose that he would have and acknowledge as his children, such as persecute him; yea, it would be blasphemy to make God the author of false doctrine, and the defender of the wicked; for "what concord has Christ with Beliel." (2 Cor. 6:14.) Secondly, on account of the consolation and salvation of his people; for it is necessary that the church should be visible in the world, that the elect, scattered abroad among the whole human race, may know with what society they ought to unite themselves, and that, being gathered into the church, they may enjoy this sure comfort, that they are members of that family in which God delights, and which has the promises of everlasting life. For it is the "will of God that all those who are to be saved, should be gathered into the church in this life. Out of the church there is no salvation.

How the church may be known, and what are the marks by which it may be distinguished from the various sects, will be shown when we come to speak regularly upon the subject of the church. We may, however, here say that there are three marks by which the church is known: Purity of doctrine the proper use of the sacraments, and obedience to God according to all the parts of this doctrine, whether of faith or practice. And if it be here objected, that great vices have often made their appearance in the church, we would reply that these are not defended and adhered to by the church, as by the various sects. Yea, the church is the first to censure and condemn them. Hence, if there are faults in the church, these are disapproved of and removed. As long as this state of things lasts, so long the church remains.


The doctrine of the church consists of two parts: the Law, and the Gospel; in which we have comprehended the sum and substance of the sacred Scriptures. The law is called the Decalogue, and the gospel is the doctrine concerning Christ the mediator, and the free remission of sins, through faith. This division of the doctrine of the Church is established by these plain and forcible arguments.

1. The whole doctrine comprised in the sacred writings, is either, concerning the nature of God, his will, his works, or sin, which is the proper work of men and devils. But all these subjects are fully set forth and taught, either in the law, or in the gospel, or in both. Therefore, the law and gospel are the chief and general divisions of the Holy Scriptures, and comprise the entire doctrine comprehended therein.

2. Christ himself makes this division of the doctrine, which he will have preached in his name, when he says, "Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name." (Luke 24:46, 47.) But this embraces the entire substance of the law and gospel.

3. The writings of the prophets and apostles, comprise the old and New Testament, or covenant between God and man. It is, therefore, necessary that the principal parts of the covenant should be contained and explained in these writings, and that they should declare what God promises and grants unto us, viz: his favor, remission of sins, righteousness, and eternal life; and also what he, in return, requires from us: which is faith and obedience. These, now, are the things which are taught in the law and gospel.

4. Christ is the substance and ground of the entire Scriptures. But the doctrine contained in the law and gospel is necessary to lead us to a knowledge of Christ and his benefits: for the law is our schoolmaster, to bring us to Christ, constraining us to fly to him, and showing us what that righteousness is, which he has wrought out, and now offers unto us. But the gospel, professedly, treats of the person, office, and benefits of Christ. Therefore we have, in the law and gospel, the whole of the Scriptures, comprehending the doctrine revealed from heaven for our salvation.

The principal DIFFERENCES between these two parts of the doctrine of the church consist in these three things:

1. In the subject, or general character of the doctrine, peculiar to each. The law prescribes and enjoins what is to be done, and forbids what ought to be avoided: whilst the gospel announces the free remission of sin, through and for the sake of Christ.

2. In the manner of the revelation peculiar to each. The law is known from nature; the gospel is divinely revealed.

3. In the promises which they make to man. The law promises life upon the condition of perfect obedience; the gospel, on the condition of faith in Christ and the commencement of new obedience. Hereafter, however, more will be said upon this subject in the proper place.


The doctrine of the church differs from that of all other religions, in four respects. First: the doctrine of the church has God for its author, by whom it was delivered, through the prophets and apostles, whilst the various religious systems of sectarists have been invented by men, through the suggestion of the devil. Secondly: the doctrine of the church alone has such divine testimony in confirmation of its truth, as is sure and infallible, and which is calculated to quiet the conscience, and convict all the various sects of error. Thirdly: in the church the law of God is retained entire and uncorrupted, whilst in other systems of religion it is narrowed down and basely corrupted; for the advocates of these false religions entirely reject the doctrine of the first table, concerning the knowledge and worship of the true God, either setting forth some other God besides him who has revealed himself to the church by his word and works, and seeking a knowledge of God, not in his Son, but out of him, or worshipping him otherwise than he has commanded in his word. And not only so, but they are also equally ignorant of the inward and spiritual obedience of the second table; and whatever truth and excellence there is in these systems of religion, it is nothing more than a part of the precepts of the second table, in relation to the external deportment of the life, and the civil duties which men owe to each other. Fourthly: it is only in the church that the gospel of Christ is fully taught, and rightly understood; for the various sects, such as the Ethnics, the Philosophers, Jews, and Turks, are either entirely ignorant of it, and thus reject it, or else they add to their errors what little they have culled from the doctrine of the apostles; the use of which, however, they do not properly apprehend nor understand; as is true of the Arians, Papists, Anabaptists, and all other heretics; some of whom hold errors concerning the person, and others concerning the of Christ, the mediator. These great distinctions prove that the doctrine of the church alone should be taught and held fast to, whilst the doctrines and religious systems of the sects which oppose the truth, should be rejected and shunned, as the perversions and wicked devices of the devil; according as it is said, " Beware of false prophets." And, "Keep yourselves from idols." (Matt. 7:15. 1 John 5:21.)

It is, however, different with Philosophy. True philosophy, although it also differs very much from the doctrine of the church, yet, it does not array itself against it, nor is it a wicked fabrication, and device of Satan, as is true of the false doctrines of the Sects; but it contains truth, and is, as it were, a certain ray of the wisdom of God, impressed upon the mind of man in his creation. It is a doctrine that has respect to God and his creatures, and many other things that are good and profitable to mankind, and has been drawn out from the light of nature, and from principles in themselves clear and evident, and reduced to a system by wise and earnest men. It follows, therefore, that it is not only lawful, but also profitable, for Christians to devote themselves to the study of philosophy; whilst, on the other hand, it is not proper for them to devote themselves to the study of the various doctrines of the sects; because these are all to be detested and avoided, as the wicked devices of the devil.

Philosophy and the doctrine of the church differ, especially in the following respects. First: in their principles. Philosophy is altogether natural, and is constructed and based upon principles deduced from nature. And, although there are many things in the doctrine of the church, which may be known from nature, yet the chief and principal part of it, which is the gospel, is so far beyond and above nature, that, unless the Son of God had revealed it unto us from the bosom of the Father, no wisdom of men or of angels could have discovered it. Secondly: they differ in their subjects; for, whilst the doctrine of the church comprehends the true sense and meaning of the law and gospel, philosophy is entirely ignorant of the gospel, omits the most important parts of the law, and explains very obscurely and imperfectly, those parts which it embraces in relation to civil duties, and the external deportment of the life, gathered from some few precepts of the Decalogue. And not only so, but philosophy also teaches some of the arts and sciences, which are useful and profitable; such as Logic, Natural Philosophy, and Mathematics, which we do not find in the doctrine of the church, but which, nevertheless, have an important influence upon the interests of society, when taught and understood. Thirdly: they differ in their effects. The doctrine of the church alone traces all the evils and miseries which are incident to man to their true source, which is to be found in the fall and disobedience of our first parents in Paradise. It, moreover, ministers true and solid comfort to the conscience, pointing out the way by which we may escape the miseries of sin and death, and, at the same time, assures us of everlasting life, through our Lord Jesus Christ. But philosophy is ignorant of the true cause of all our evils, and can neither bestow nor direct us to that comfort which can satisfy the desires of the human heart.

There are, however, certain comforts which are common, both to philosophy and theology; among which, we may mention the doctrine of the providence of God, the necessity of obeying the law, a good conscience, the excellency of virtue, the ultimate designs which virtue proposes, the examples of others, the hope of reward, and a comparison of the different events and circumstances of life. But those greater and more precious comforts, by which the soul is sustained and supported, when exposed to the dreadful evils of sin and death, are peculiar to the church, and consist in the free remission of sin, by and for the sake of Christ, the grace and presence of God under these evils, together with final deliverance and eternal life.

But, although true philosophy is insufficient to meet the full demands of our moral nature, and, although it may be imperfect, as compared with theology, yet it does not oppose, and array itself against the doctrine of the church, as though it were hostile to it. Hence, whatever erroneous sentiments, such as are in plain opposition to the truth of God's word, are found in the writings of the different philosophers, and which are brought forward, by heretics, for the purpose of controverting and overthrowing the true sense of the Scriptures, these are either not philosophical, being nothing more than the subtle devices of human ingenuity, and the very ulcers of true philosophy, as the opinion of Aristotle concerning the creation of the world, and that of Epicurus concerning the immortality of the soul. &c., or they are indeed philosophical, but inappropriately applied to theology.

These distinctions between the doctrine of the church and that of other religions, and of philosophy also, should be observed and maintained, for these reasons. First: that all the glory which properly belongs to God may be attributed to him, which cannot be done unless we acknowledge and confess whatever he will have us to believe concerning himself and his will, and unless we add nothing to these revelations which he has been pleased to make of himself; for God cannot be joined with idols, neither can his truth be mingled with the lies and falsehood of Satan, without casting the greatest reproach upon his name. Secondly: that we may not endanger our salvation, which might occur if we were to be deceived, and embrace philosophy or the teaching of some one of the sects, for the true religion. Thirdly: that our faith and comfort may be increased, by seeing the superior excellency of the doctrine of the church to the teachings of all other systems of religion; and how many things are found in the religion of the Bible, which are wholly wanting in all others; and why it is that only those who confess and hold to the teachings of the word of God are saved, whilst all the various sects, with their adherents, are condemned and rejected of God. Finally: that we may separate ourselves from the Epicureans and Academics, who cither despise everything like godliness, or so pervert it as to suppose that every man who professes some form of religion will be saved, thus interpreting the declaration of the apostle where he says, "The just shall live by his faith." (Rom. 1. 17.) Now, as far as it respects these Epicureans, they are not worthy of being refuted; and as for the Academics, they evidently wrest the declaration of the Apostle from its proper signification, and may, therefore, easily be refuted; for the pronoun his never signifies that faith which any man may imagine, or frame for himself, but it signifies the true Catholic faith, peculiar to everyone that has embraced the gospel of Christ; and thus it opposes the faith of every other man, even though it be true; and also the doctrine of justification by works. Hence, the true sense of this passage of Scripture is, The just man is justified, not by the works of the law; but only by faith in Christ, and that by his own peculiar faith, and not by the faith of another man.


There are a great number of arguments which go to establish the truth and certainty of the teachings of the church, some of which convince the conscience; as is the case with the first XIII, which we here subjoin, whilst those which follow, incline and convert the heart. These arguments we shall present in the following order:

1. The purity and perfection of the Law. It is not possible that that religion should be true and divine, which either invents and tolerates idols, or approves of those forms of wickedness which are in plain opposition to the law of God and the judgment of sound reason. Now all the different forms of religion, except that which has been revealed in the sacred Scriptures, and which is received and acknowledged by the church, evidently do this. For all of them, as has already been said, either entirely abrogate the first table of the Decalogue, which has respect to the one true God and his worship, or they shamefully corrupt it; whilst they, at the same time. retain only a small part of the second table, relating to external propriety, and civil duties. It is only the church that retains both tables of the Decalogue entire and uncorrupted, according to the Scriptures. Hence, it is only the doctrine of the church that is true and divine.

2. The same may be argued from the gospel, which points out the only way of escape and deliverance from sin and death; for, most assuredly, that doctrine and religion is true and divine which reveals a method of deliverance from these great evils, without doing any violence to the justice of God, and which administers solid comfort to the conscience, in relation to everlasting life. Now, as the doctrine of the church is the only system of religious truth that has ever discovered and proclaimed a way of deliverance from the evils of sin and death, which alone affords real and substantial comfort to the conscience, it must be true and divine.

3. The great antiquity of this doctrine affords evidence of its truth: for no other system of religious truth besides that which we have delivered in the Holy Scriptures, can trace its origin to God, and prove its certain and continual descent from the beginning of the world. All the various histories of the world unite their testimony with that of sacred history, in affirming that all other religions took their origin subsequent to this, and are new in comparison with it. Inasmuch, therefore, as the most ancient religion challenges the highest regard, and has the strongest evidence of truth, for men ordinarily receive and regard the first religion as having come immediately from God, it follows that the doctrine of the church, alone is true and divine.

4. The miracles by which God confirmed the truth of this doctrine, from the beginning of the world, bear testimony to its divine character; which miracles the devil cannot imitate, even as far as it has respect to their external appearance; such as the raising of the dead, making the sun stand still and go backward, the dividing of the sea and rivers, making the barren fruitful, and others of a similar character, all of which bear the strongest testimony to the truth and divine character of this doctrine, in as much as they were wrought by God, (who could not bear such testimony to what is false,) for the confirmation of those things which were spoken by the prophets and apostles.

5. The prophecies and predictions, of which there are very many, both in the old and new Testament, that have received a most complete and exact fulfillment, establish in the most satisfactory and conclusive manner the divine character of the teachings of the church, inasmuch as no one but God can utter such declarations.

6. The harmony of the different parts of the doctrine of the church is an evidence of its truth. That doctrine which contradicts itself can neither be true, nor from God, since truth is in perfect harmony with itself and God cannot contradict himself. And as all other religions, except that which is taught in the writings of the prophets and apostles, differ very much from and among each other, even in points which are regarded chief and fundamental, this alone, which harmonizes so fully and perfectly in all its various parts, must be true and from God.

7. The acknowledgement of the superior excellency of the Christian religion by its enemies, may be urged as an argument in favor of its truth. The devil himself was constrained to confess, "Thou art Christ, the Son of God." (Luke 4:41.) Other enemies have also been repeatedly induced to bear testimony to the superior excellency of the teachings of the church. Yea, it may be said that whatever goodness and truth may be found in other religions, the same is also contained in the religion of the Bible, only much more clearly and fully; and it may very easily be shown that they have borrowed these things from the teachings of the church, and that they have commingled them with their own inventions, as the devil himself is accustomed, as an imitator of God, to unite certain truths with his falsehoods, that he may thus the more easily deceive men. Therefore, those things which the various Sects have in common with the teachings of the church are not to be opposed, because they have borrowed them from us; but those things which are in opposition to the doctrine of the church may easily be refuted, since they are nothing more than the inventions of men.

8. The malignity of satan, and his various emissaries, against the doctrine of the church is an evidence of its truth: for most assuredly that religion is true and from God, which the devil and wicked men, with one mind and purpose, despise and endeavor to destroy. Truth generally calls forth opposition from the wicked, and the devil, we are told, was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth. Now, it is manifestly true that the world and satan do not hate and impugn any other doctrine so violently as that of the church, which results from this, that it reproves them more sharply, calls their errors in question, exposes their fallacies and frauds, and more severely condemns all their idols and vices, than the various Sects which connive at these things, and even, in many instances, defend them. "The world hateth me because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil." "If ye were of the world, the world would love his own; but because ye are not of the world, therefore it hateth you." (John 7:7; 15:19.)

9. The wonderful protection and preservation of this doctrine, notwithstanding the malice and rage of Satan and other enemies, is a proof of its truth; for, since no other religion has been so fiercely and constantly assailed by tyrants and heretics as that of the church, which God has, notwithstanding, wonderfully protected against the rage of its enemies and the gates of hell, so that it alone remains to the present time, to the astonishment of the world, whilst other religions, in the meanwhile, have degenerated and disappeared from the earth, with little or no opposition; we may, therefore, safely conclude that the doctrine of the church is approved of and cared for on the part of God, or else he would never have extended to it the protection which he has.

10. The punishments and various judgments which God has, at different times, inflicted upon the enemies of the church, declare the divine character of her teachings; for that religion is doubtless from God, against which no one can array himself with impunity, which may be said to be true, as all history testifies, of that system of religion delivered in the writings of the prophets and apostles. And, although the wicked may often prosper in the world, and the church seem to be trodden under foot, yet, this does not come to pass, as the final issue of these events abundantly testifies, and as the Scriptures everywhere teach, by mere chance, or because God has greater pleasure in the wicked than in the Church; for the church is always preserved, even amidst the greatest persecutions, and at length obtains deliverance from her most violent opposers, whilst, on the other hand, the short season of prosperity and triumph of cruel tyrants and wicked men is followed by a most awful destruction. Nor is the force of this argument weakened because all the persecutors of the church are not, in this life, punished in the same tragical manner, as Antiochus, Herod, and others; for whilst God, for the most part, avenges himself upon his enemies in this life, he declares plainly enough, by these judgments, what he will have us think of others of a similar character who are not thus severely punished, viz: that he regards them as his enemies, and will cast them into everlasting punishment unless they repent and seek his favor.

11. The testimony and constancy of martyrs who testified in the midst of the most excruciating pains that they did truly believe as they taught, that they were most firmly persuaded in their hearts of the truth of the doctrine which they professed, and that they drew from it that comfort which they had preached unto others, that they were indeed the sons of God for the sake of Christ, and that God had a care for them, even in the midst of death, may be regarded as an evidence of the truth of the Christian religion; because God, by sustaining and supporting them with the precious consolations of the gospel, declared that he approved of the doctrines on account of which they were thus called to suffer.

12. The piety and holiness of those who wrote the Holy Scriptures, and professed the doctrine contained therein, is a strong confirmation of its truth; for that religion which makes men holy and acceptable to God must itself necessarily be holy and divine. Now, as the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and others who have, as well as those who now sincerely embrace and believe this doctrine, greatly excel the adherents of other religions in virtue and practical piety, as everyone may most clearly see who will but make a proper comparison, we may reasonably conclude that the teachings of the church have stronger and more satisfactory evidences of truth and certainty than those of any other system of religion that has ever been devised.

13. The candor and honesty which those whom the Holy Spirit employed in committing this doctrine to writing, in speaking of and condemning their own faults, as well as those of others, may be urged as an argument in favor of the truth of what they wrote.

Lastly, we may mention in confirmation of the truth of this doctrine, the testimony of the Holy Ghost, by whose inspiration the Scriptures were given. By this testimony we mean a strong and lively faith, and a firm persuasion, wrought in the hearts of the faithful by the Holy Spirit, that the Scriptures are the word of God, and that God will be gracious to us according to what is affirmed in the Scriptures, which faith is followed by love to God and a calling upon his name with an assured hope of obtaining everything that is necessary for our comfort here and in the world to come, everlasting life. This assurance and abiding consolation of the godly does not rest upon the testimony of man, nor of any other creature, but upon that of God, and is the proper effect of the Holy Spirit. As such it is experienced by all those who truly believe, in whom it is also strengthened and confirmed by the same Spirit, through the reading, hearing, and study of the doctrine delivered by the prophets and apostles. Hence, it is chiefly by the testimony of the Holy Ghost that all those who are converted to Christ are confirmed in the truth of this heavenly doctrine, and have it sealed upon their hearts. This argument being also applicable to the unregenerate, does not only convince their consciences of the truth and authority of the holy Scriptures, but it also moves and inclines their hearts to assent to this doctrine and to receive it as the truth of God. This argument, therefore, is the most important of all those which we have advanced; for, unless those which precede this be accompanied with the inward testimony of the Holy Spirit, they only convince the conscience and stop the mouths of gainsayers, but do not move or incline the heart.


The method of teaching and studying Theology is three-fold. The first is the system of catechetical instruction, or that method which comprises a brief summary and simple exposition of the principal doctrines of the Christian religion, which is called catechizing. This method is of the greatest importance to all, because it is equally necessary for all, the learned as well as the unlearned, to know what constitutes the foundation of true religion.

The second method is the consideration and discussion of subjects of a general and more difficult character, or the Common Places, as they are called, which contain a more lengthy explanation of every single point, and of difficult questions with their definitions, divisions, and arguments. This method belongs more appropriately to theological schools, and is necessary: First, that those who are educated in those schools, and who may afterwards be called to teach in the church, may more easily and fully understand the whole system of theology; for, as it is in other things, so it is also with; the study of Divinity, our knowledge of it is obtained slowly and with great difficulty; yea, our knowledge of it must necessarily remain confused and imperfect unless every separate part of this doctrine be taught in some systematic form, so as to be perceived and understood by the mind. Secondly, that those who are students of theology may, when they are called to act as teachers in the church, be able to present clearly and systematically the substance of the entire doctrine of God's word. To do this it is necessary that they themselves should first have a complete system, or frame-work, as it were, of this doctrine in their own mind. Thirdly, it is necessary, for the purpose of discovering and determining the true and natural interpretation of the Scriptures, which requires a clear and full knowledge of every part of the doctrine of the church, in order that this interpretation may be in accordance with the analogy of faith, so that the Scriptures may be made to harmonize throughout. Lastly, it is necessary for the purpose of enabling us to form a proper decision in regard to the controversies of the church, which are various, difficult, and dangerous, lest we be drawn from the truth into error and falsehood.

The third method of the study of theology is the careful and diligent reading of the Scriptures or sacred text. This is the highest method in the study of the doctrine of the church. To attain this, the two former methods are to be studied, that we may be well prepared for the reading, understanding, and exposition of the holy Scriptures. For as the doctrine of the catechism and Common Places are taken out of the Scriptures, and are directed by them as their rule, so they again lead us, as it were, by the hand to the Scriptures. The catechism, of which we shall speak in these lectures, belongs to the first method of the study of theology.

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