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"Milk for Babes..."


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#1 Artful Dodger

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Posted 04 November 2016 - 12:43 PM

By John Cotton (Dec 4, 1585 - Dec 23, 1652)
 
John Cotton's most popular book was doubtless "Milk for Babes, Drawn Out of the Breasts of both Testaments. Chiefly, for the spiritual! Nourishment of Boston Babes in either England: But may be of like use for any Children" (1646). This catechism went through nine printings in the seventeenth century.
 
Milk for Babes is a remarkable document. It sums up with great succinctness Cotton's main interests as a teacher in words that a child could readily understand. Cotton's catechism deals with God, Man, the Ten Commandments, Jesus Christ and His office, the plan of salvation, the church, the sacraments, and the Last Judgment. Each answer is accompanied by as many as eight Scriptural references. Today the work is rare indeed, and since without the references it is less than two thousand words in length, it is well worth reproducing here.
 
Q. What hath God done for you?
A. God hath made me, He keepeth me, and He can save me.
 
Q. Who is God?
A. God is a Spirit of Himself and for Himself.
 
Q. How many gods be there?
A. There is but one God in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
 
Q. How did God make you?
A. In my first parents holy and righteous.
 
Q. Are you then born holy and righteous?
A. No, my first father sinned, and I in him.
 
Q. Are you then born a sinner?
A. I was conceived in sin and born in iniquity.
 
Q. What is your birth-sin?
A. Adam's sin imputed to me, and a corrupt nature dwelling in me.
 
Q. What is your corrupt nature?
A. My corrupt nature is empty of grace, bent unto sin, and only unto sin, and that continually.
 
Q. What is sin?
A. Sin is the transgression of the Law.
 
Q. How many Commandments of the Law be there?
A. Ten.
 
Q. What is the First Commandment?
A. Thou shalt have no other gods but me.
 
Q. What is the meaning of this Commandment?
A. That we would worship the only true God and no other beside Him.
 
Q. What is the Second Commandment?
A. Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image.
 
Q. What is the meaning of this Commandment?
A. That we should worship the true God with true worship such as God hath ordained, not such as man hath invented.
 
Q. What is the Third Commandment?
A. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
 
Q. What is here meant by the name of God?
A. God Himself and the good things of God, whereby He is known, as a man by his name, as His attributes, worship, Word, and works.
 
Q. What is it 'not to take His name in vain?'
A. To make use of God and the good things of God to His glory and our good, not vainly, not unreverently, not unprofitable.
 
Q. What is the Fourth Commandment?
A. Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath Day.
 
Q. What is the meaning of this Commandment?
A. That we should rest from labor and much more from play on the Lord's day, that we may draw nigh to God in holy duties.
 
Q. What is the Fifth Commandment?
A. Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.
 
Q. What is the honor due to them?
A. Reverence, obedience, and (when I am able) recompense.
 
Q. What is the Sixth Commandment?
A. Thou shalt do no murder.
 
Q. What is the meaning of this Commandment?
A. That we should not shorten the life or health of ourselves or others but preserve both.
 
Q. What is the Seventh Commandment?
A. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
 
Q. What is the sin here forbidden?
A. To defile ourselves or others with unclean lusts.
 
Q. What is the duty here commanded?
A. Chastity, to possess our vessels in holiness and honor.
 
Q. What is the Eighth Commandment?
A. Thou shalt not steal.
 
Q. What is the stealth here forbidden?
A. To take away another man's goods without his leave, or to spend our own without
benefit to ourselves or others.
 
Q. What is the duty here commanded?
A. To get our goods honestly, to keep them safely, and to spend them thriftily.
 
Q. What is the Ninth Commandment?
A. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
 
Q. What is the sin here forbidden?
A. To lie falsely, to think or speak untruly of ourselves or others.
 
Q. What is the duty here required?
A. Truth and faithfulness.
 
Q. What is the Tenth Commandment?
A. Thou shalt not covet.
 
Q. What is the coveting here forbidden?
A. Lust after the things of other men and want of contentment with our own.
 
Q. Whether have you kept all these commandments?
A. No, I and all men are sinners.
 
Q. What is the wages of sin?
A. Death and Damnation.
 
Q. How look you then to be saved?
A. Only by Jesus Christ.
 
Q. Who is Jesus Christ?
A. The eternal Son of God, who for our sakes became man that He might redeem and save us.
 
Q. How doth Christ redeem and save us?
A. By His righteous life and bitter death and glorious resurrection to life.
 
Q. How do we come to have part and fellowship with Christ in His death and resurrection?
A. By the power of His word and Spirit, which bring us to Christ and keep us in Him.
 
Q. What is His Word?
A. The Holy Scriptures of the prophets and apostles, the Old and New Testament, Law and Gospel.
 
Q. How doth the ministry of the Law bring you towards Christ?
A. By bringing me to know my sin and the wrath of God against me for it.
 
Q. What are you thereby the nearer to Christ?
A. So I come to feel my cursed estate and need of a savior.
 
Q. How doth the ministry of the Gospel help you in this cursed estate?
A. By humbling me yet more and then raising me up out of this estate.
 
Q. How doth the ministry of the Gospel humble you more?
A. By revealing the grace of the Lord Jesus in dying to save sinners and yet convincing me of my sin in not believing on Him and of mine utter insufficiency to come to Him, and so I feel myself utterly lost.
 
Q. How then doth the ministry of the Gospel raise you up out of this lost estate - to come unto Christ?
A. By teaching me the value and the virtue of the death of Christ and the riches of His grace to lost sinners, by revealing the promise of grace to such and by ministering the Spirit of grace to apply Christ and His promise of grace unto myself and to keep me in Him.
 
Q. How doth the Spirit of grace apply Christ and His promise of grace unto you and
keep you in Him?
A. By begetting in me faith to receive Him, prayer to call upon Him, repentance to
mourn after Him, and new obedience to serve Him.
 
Q. What is faith?
A. Faith is a grace of the Spirit whereby I deny myself and believe on Christ for righteousness and salvation.
 
Q. What is prayer?
A. It is a calling upon God in the name of Christ by the help of the Holy Ghost, according to the will of God.
 
Q. What is repentance?
A. Repentance is a grace of the Spirit whereby I loath my sins and myself for them and confess them before the Lord and mourn after Christ for the pardon of them and for grace to serve Him in newness of life.
 
Q. What is newness of life or new obedience?
A. Newness of life is a grace of the Spirit whereby I forsake my former lusts and vain company, and walk before the Lord in the light of His Word and in the communion of his saints.
 
Q. What is the communion of saints?
A. It is the fellowship of the church in the blessings of the Covenant of Grace and the seals thereof.
 
Q. What is the church?
A. It is a congregation of saints joined together in the bond of the Covenant to worship the Lord and to edify one another in all His holy ordinances.
 
Q. What is the bond of the Covenant in which the church is joined together?
A. It is the profession of that Covenant which God hath made with His faithful people to be a God unto them and to their seed.
 
Q. What doth the Lord bind His people to in this Covenant?
A. To give up themselves and their seed first to the Lord to be His people and then to the elders and brethren of the church to set forward the worship of God and their mutual edification.
 
Q. How do they give up themselves and their seed to the Lord?
A. By receiving, through faith, the Lord and His Covenant to themselves and to their seed, and accordingly walking themselves and training up their children in the ways of His Covenant.
 
Q. How do they give up themselves and their seed to the elders and brethren of the church?
A. By confession of their sins and profession of their faith and of their subjection to the Gospel of Christ. And so they and their seed are received into the fellowship of the church and the seals thereof.
 
Q. What are the seals of the Covenant now in the days of the Gospel?
A. Baptism and the Lord's Supper.
 
Q. What is done for you in baptism?
A. In baptism the washing with water is a sign and seal of my washing with the blood and Spirit of Christ and thereby of my ingrafting into Christ, of the pardon and cleansing of my sins, of my rising up out of affliction, and also of my resurrection from the dead at the last day.
 
Q. What is done for you in the Lord's Supper?
A. In the Lord's Supper the receiving of the bread broken and the wine poured out is a sign and seal of my receiving the communion of the body of Christ broken for me, and of His blood shed for me3 and thereby of my growth in Christ, of the pardon and healing of my sins, of the fellowship of His Spirit, of my strengthening and quickening in grace, and of my sitting together with Christ on His throne of glory at the Last Judgment.
 
Q. What is the resurrection from the dead, which was sealed up to you in baptism?
A. When Christ shall come to His Last Judgment, all that are in the graves shall arise again, both the just and unjust.
 
Q. What is the Last Judgment which is sealed up to you in the Lord's Supper?
A. At the last day we shall all appear before the judgment seat of Christ to give an account of our works and to receive our reward according to them.
 
Q. What is the reward that shall then be given?
A. The righteous shall go into life eternal, and the wicked shall be cast into everlasting fire with the devil and his angels.
 
 
 
Despite this ominous ending, Cotton's Milk for Babes was not intended to terrify children; it emphasizes rather the orthodox theology on the one hand and strict morality on the other. Since it is strict morality which in the popular mind characterizes Puritanism, it is worth noting that, though Cotton's sermons are always serious, he seldom deals with the demands of morality in them. The catechism is a reminder that what were considered to be the duties of a Christian were taught nonetheless, and H.B. Parkes, who has studied the colonial records with care, reports that moral standards were in fact extraordinarily high.
 
Cotton's expansion of the Ten Commandments is in keeping with his opinion that all principles of morality should be referred to the Commandments. Especially characteristic is his interpretation of the Second Commandment, which limits the ways of worship to what the Bible prescribes, a view which Cotton presents again and again in his writings. Cotton follows the influential teaching of William Ames on the scope of this commandment. The restriction which Cotton finds in the Fourth Commandment, against play on the Lord's Day, is not only a reminder that his catechumen is a child but calls to mind that King James in old England had required ministers to declare from the pulpit the lawfulness of sports on the Sabbath.
 
Cotton's interpretation of the Fifth Commandment to demand that teachers, ministers, and magistrates be honored as well as parents seems at first to be one of the few reminders that the Bay Colony was an organic unit, with all parts considered to have an intimate interrelationship. But this idea is a Puritan Commonplace, found, for example, in Perkins' A Golden Chaine. Perhaps more enduring in New England has been the injunction to spend one's goods thriftily.
 
Cotton's teaching on the role of the preacher in the salvation process is less helpful than one expects as a guide to his sermon practice, for Cotton in his extant sermons does not stress the wrath of God, though he does teach that man on his own is unable to come to Jesus for redemption. But for a brief statement of church polity, the catechism is most helpful.
 
Its influence was great if not easy to state. Cotton Mather reports in "Magnalia Christi Americana" that at the turn of the century "The children of New England are to this day most usually fed with his excellent catechism which is entitled Milk for Babes." Since the law required all masters of families to catechize "their children and servants in the grounds and principles of religion, the book presumably was learned thoroughly by many a Massachusetts Bay child. In many ways Milk for Babes is the most accessible and attractive brief statement of the values of the first generation of American Puritans; it deserves to be better known.
 
Perhaps because he was a Congregationalist who valued the concept of the Covenant of Grace and yet was also a strict Calvinist of the mid-seventeenth century variety, Cotton's theological works reveal strange inconsistencies. The works prepared when he was under pressure to abandon some of his High Calvinism are his most Calvinistic; as a preacher, he urged the validity of both voluntarism and spiritual inability. In his works on baptism and in his treatment of the children of the Covenant, he mixed his teachings painfully and paradoxically. In his catechism, where he could deal with elementary matters, he did manage to avoid knotty points. Church polity, not the doctrine of salvation, was Cotton's great interest. As a theologian he has little importance.
 
 
 

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