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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

The Shorter Catechism

John Whitecross

Q. 3. What do the Scriptures principally teach?

A. The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.

1. David Hume was dining at the house of an intimate friend. After dinner, the ladies withdrew; and in the course of conversation, Mr Hume made some assertion, which caused a gentleman present to observe to him, 'If you can advance such sentiments as these, you certainly are what the world gives you credit for being, an infidel.' A little girl whom the philosopher had often noticed, and with whom he had become a favourite by bringing her little presents of toys and sweets, happened to be playing about the room unnoticed. She, however, listened to the conversation, and on hearing the above expression, left the room, went to her mother, and asked her, 'Mother, what is an infidel?' 'An infidel! my dear,' replied her mother, 'why should you ask such a question? an infidel is so awful a character, that I scarcely know how to answer you.' 'Oh! tell me,' said the child, 'I must know what an infidel is.' Struck with her eagerness, her mother at length replied, 'An infidel is one who believes that there is no God, no heaven, no hell, no hereafter.' Some days afterwards, Hume again visited the house of his friend. On being introduced into the parlour, he found no one there but his favourite little girl; he went to her, and attempted to take her up in his arms, and kiss her, as he had been used to do; but the child shrunk with horror from his touch. 'My dear,' said he, 'what is the matter? do I hurt you?' 'No,' she replied, 'you do not hurt me, but I cannot play with you.' 'Why not, my dear?' 'Because you are an infidel.' 'An infidel, what is that?' 'One who believes there is no God, no heaven, no hell, no hereafter.' 'And are you not very sorry for me, my dear?' asked the philosopher. 'Yes, indeed, I am sorry!' replied the child, with solemnity; 'and I pray to God for you.' 'Do you, indeed! and what do you say?' 'I say, O God, teach this man that Thou art! '—A striking illustration of the words of sacred Scripture, 'Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings Thou hast ordained strength, because of thine enemies, that Thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger' (Ps. 8.2).

2. Dr Elliot, who was well acquainted with Colonel Allen, an infidel in America, visited him at a time when his daughter was seriously ill. He was taken to the library, where the Colonel read to him some of his writings with much self-complacency, and asked, 'Is not that well done?' While they were thus employed, a messenger entered, and informed Colonel Allen that his daughter was dying, and desired to speak with him. He immediately went to her chamber, accompanied by Dr Elliot, who was desirous of witnessing the interview. The wife of Colonel Allen was a pious woman, who had instructed her daughter in the principles of Christianity. As soon as her father appeared at her bedside she said to him, 'I am about to die; shall I believe in the principles you have taught me, or shall I believe in what my mother has taught me?' He became extremely agitated; his chin quivered, his whole frame shook; and after waiting a few moments, he replied, 'Believe what your mother has taught you.'

3. An English officer, who was lately in Valenciennes, states the following fact, which came under his own observation. A number of Bibles, in French, had been sent from England to that city, for sale or distribution. Many of the people received them with gratitude, and read them with avidity; but the priest, getting information of the matter, ordered all the Bibles to be returned. The English officer, who was acquainted with him, asked the reason of this; to which he gave the truly Popish reply, 'I teach the people every thing that is necessary for them to know!'

4. A poor boy, going to a Sabbath School, was met by a companion, who invited him to play truant; but he absolutely refused, and went to school. When this came to be known, the boy was asked what it was that kept him from complying with the temptation? He answered, 'Because I read in my Bible, "My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not" ' (Proverbs 1. 10).

5. It was remarked by one, 'If I have been honoured to do any good in my day; if I have been of any use to the church of Christ, to my family, and to my fellow-creatures; if I have enjoyed any happiness in life (and I am happy to say I have had a large share); if I have any hope beyond the grave, and that hope I would not exchange for a thousand worlds-I owe all to the Bible.'

6. A considerable time ago, a motion was made in Parliament for raising and embodying the Militia; and, for the purpose of saving time, to exercise them on the Sabbath. When the motion was likely to pass, an old gentleman stood up and said, 'Mr Speaker, I have one objection to this, I believe in an old book, called the Bible.' The members looked at one another, and the motion was dropped.

7. 'I once attended, on his dying bed,' says a writer, 'a man whose early history had given promise of better things, but whose goodness was as the morning cloud and the early dew. As I entered the room, he fixed his eyes upon me, with a fearful expression of countenance, and in the spirit and almost in the very language of the Gadarene demoniac, exclaimed,—:"Why are you come to torment me?" I replied, "I am not come to torment you; I am come to tell you that there is mercy, mercy yet, and mercy even for you." He raised his arm with vehemence, and said, "No mercy for me; no mercy for me; no mercy for me. I have sinned through all; I have despised all; I am dying, and I am damned!" His arm fell, and he apparently ceased to breathe. I thought him dead, but was mistaken; there was life still, there was even consciousness. Fetching a long-drawn breath, as if for some desperate effort, and covering his face, with the evident intention of concealing the agony which was written there, he uttered the most awful groan I ever heard, and then expired. If any thing could increase the horror of that scene, it was the following circumstance. That man ascribed the ruin of his soul to a popular preacher, whom, on some public occasion, he heard deliver a sermon which deeply affected him, and whom, at the close of the service, he was delighted to meet at the house of a mutual friend. But great was his disappointment. The individual who, in the pulpit, was a Boanerges, in the parlour played the mountebank, and in either character he seemed perfectly "at home." His adventures, jokes, and anecdotes, kept the company, till past midnight, in a roar of laughter. The consequence may be easily imagined. The unhappy man, who was doomed to witness that incongruous scene, persuaded himself that Christianity was disbelieved by its professional advocates, and thenceforth he treated it as unworthy of his notice.'

8. In the spring of the year 372, a young man in the thirty-first year of his age, in evident distress of mind, entered a garden near Milan. This was no other than the afterwards eminent Augustine. The sins of his youth—a youth spent in following after the sins of the flesh and in impiety—weighed heavily on his soul. Lying under a fig-tree, moaning and pouring out abundant tears, he heard from a neighbouring house a young voice saying and repeating in rapid succession, 'Tolle, lege! Tolle, lege' (Take and read! Take and read !). Receiving this as a word of counsel from God to read the Holy Scriptures, he returned to the place where he had left his friend Alypius, to procure the roll of the Epistles of Paul, the apostle of the Lord, which he had a short time before left with him. 'I seized the roll,' says he, in describing this occurrence: 'I opened it and read in silence the chapter on which my eyes first alighted.' It was the thirteenth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans: 'Let us walk honestly as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof' (Rom. 13.13-14). All was decided by that word. 'I did not want to read any more,' says Augustine, 'nor was there any need; every doubt was banished.' The morning star had risen in his heart. Old things had passed suddenly away and all things had as suddenly become new. His saved soul entered a new world of grace and mercy and peace, and to God he gave all the glory.

9. William Hone, writer and bookseller, having been taught to read from the Bible only, turned against the Word of God in the days of his youth and earned for himself the reputation of a leader of the freethinkers and unbelievers of his day. In 1817 he was prosecuted for parodying one of the great creeds of the Christian Church and for doing his utmost to bring the Christian religion into public contempt. Remarkably, in later life he was convicted of his sins, humbled before God, and turned into a firm advocate of the faith which formerly he had hated so bitterly. The Lord used several circumstances to bring about this happy result, and among them was the following.

One day, riding through a part of Wales, he arrived at a cottage and saw a little girl sitting at the door reading a book. He stopped and spoke to the girl. 'Oh, you are reading the Bible.' 'Yes, sir, it is the Bible.' 'I suppose you are performing your task,' he said. 'Task? Task?' she replied. 'Yes, I suppose your mother has set you so much to read.' 'Mother set me so much to read?' said the little girl. 'Yes, I suppose you would not read the Bible unless she had done so; it is a task, is it not?' 'Oh no, sir,' was the reply, 'I only wish I could read it all the day long. It is my joy and delight when my work is done to get a few minutes to read this lovely book.'

The simple testimony touched the heart of the hard unbeliever as nothing else had done. It was with William Hone as it had once been with Job when he said, 'God maketh my heart soft,' and ere long he was brought out of darkness into God's marvellous light. Later he wrote a tribute of praise to God of which the following is the opening verse:

'The proudest heart that ever beat
Has been subdued in me:
The wildest will that ever rose
To scorn Thy cause or aid Thy foes
Is quelled, my God, by Thee.'

10. In the Memoirs of Thomas Boston of Ettrick appears the following: Singing at family worship Psalm 121, this view of the Bible was given me, namely, that whatever were the particular occasions of the writing of it or any part thereof, I am to look upon it as written for me as much as if there were not another person in the world, and so is everybody else to whose hand it comes.'

11. When Thomas Charles of Bala, North Wales, met a man or woman on the road, he used to stop his horse and make the inquiry, 'Can you read the Bible?' He was so much in the habit of doing this, that he became known everywhere from this practice. 'The gentleman who kindly asked the poor people about the Bible and their souls' was a description of Thomas Charles. Meeting one day with an old man on one of the mountains, he said to him, 'You are an old man and very near another world.' 'Yes,' said he, 'and I hope I am going to heaven when I die.' 'Do you know the road there? Do you know the Word of God?' 'Pray, are you Mr Charles,' said the man. He suspected who he was from his question. He was often thus questioned when asking the poor people he met with about their eternal concerns. When he had time, he scarcely ever passed a man on the road without talking to him about his soul and his knowledge of the Bible. When he found any ignorant of the Word and unable to read it, he put to them, in a kind and simple way, the duty and necessity of becoming acquainted with it, and with pity and much feeling he set before them the awful state of those who leave the world without any knowledge of the Word of God and faith in the glorious Redeemer that it presents to view. He sometimes persuaded them to learn to read, and the good he did in this way was undoubtedly very great.

This material is taken from THE SHORTER CATECHISM ILLUSTRATED by John Whitecross revised and republished by the Banner of Truth Trust edition 1968 and reproduced with their permission.

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