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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

The Shorter Catechism
Illustrated

by
John Whitecross


Q. 11. What are God's works of providence?

A. God's works of providence are, His most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all His creatures, and all their actions.


1. The punctuality of John Newton, while tide-surveyor at Liverpool, was particularly remarked. One day, however, some business had detained him, and he came to his boat much later than usual, to the surprise of those who had observed his former punctuality. He went out in the boat as heretofore, to inspect a ship, but by some accident the ship blew up just before he reached it; and it appears, that if he had left the shore a few minutes sooner, he must have perished with the rest on board.

2. Inscription on a Tomb-stone in Jamaica. 'Here lies the body of Lewis Galdy, Esq., who departed this life at Port-Royal, the 22nd of December 1736, aged eighty. He was born at Montpelier, in France; but left that country for his religion, and came to settle in this island, where he was swallowed up in the great earthquake, in the year 1692, and by the providence of God, was by another shock thrown into the sea, and saved by swimming, until a boat took him up. He lived many years after, in great reputation, beloved by all who knew him, and much lamented at his death. God is a God of providence, as well as a God of grace. "Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall to the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not, therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows."

3. There is at Bristol a charitable institution called 'Colston's School,' from the name of its founder. The scholars wear on their breasts the figure of a dolphin in brass, the reason for which is as follows: Edward Colston, a rich West India merchant, was coming home with a ship which contained all his treasure: she sprung a leak, and after having pumped for a long time, day and night, the people on board were every moment expecting to go to the bottom. At once, to their great astonishment, the leak was stopped. On examination, it was found that a dolphin had providentially squeezed itself into the hole, and thus saved them from destruction. Colston, therefore, ordered this emblem of a dolphin to be worn as a signal both of his deliverance and gratitude.

4. Sir Thomas Gresham, who built the Royal Exchange in London, was the son of a poor woman, who, while he was an infant, abandoned him in a field. By the providence of God, however, the chirping of a grasshopper attracted a boy to the spot where the child lay; and his life was by this means preserved. After Sir Thomas had, by his unparalleled success as a merchant, risen to the pinnacle of commercial wealth and greatness, he chose a grasshopper for his crest; and becoming, under the patronage of queen Elizabeth, the founder of the Royal Exchange, his crest was placed on the walls of the building in several parts, and a vane or weathercock, in the figure of a grasshopper, was fixed on the summit of the tower.

5. John Craig, a distinguished minister, and colleague of John Knox, having gone to reside in Bologna, in a convent of Dominicans, found a copy of Calvin's Institutes, which God made the means of his conversion to the Reformed Faith. He was seized as a heretic soon after, and carried to Rome, where he was condemned to be burnt; but on the evening preceding the day of execution, the reigning pontiff died, and, according to custom, the doors of all the prisons were thrown open. All others were released; but heretics, after being permitted to go outside the walls, were re-conducted to their cells. That night, however, a tumult was excited, and Craig and his companions escaped. They had entered a small inn at some distance from Rome, when they were overtaken by a party of soldiers sent to recapture them. On entering the house, the captain looked Craig steadfastly in the face, and asked him if he remembered having once relieved a poor wounded soldier in the neighbourhood of Bologna. Craig had forgotten it. 'But,' said the captain, 'I am the man; I shall requite your kindness; you are at liberty; your companions I must take with me, but for your sake I shall treat them with all possible lenity.' He gave him all the money he had, and Craig escaped. His money soon failed him; yet God, who feeds the ravens, did not. Lying at the side of a wood, full of gloomy apprehensions, a dog came running up to him with a purse in its teeth. Suspecting some evil, he attempted to drive the animal away, but in vain. He at length took the purse, and found in it a sum of money, which carried him to Vienna.

6. The providence of God has been often remarkably displayed in the discovery of murder. A Basle publication relates the following instance: A person who worked in a brewery quarrelled with one of his fellow-workmen, and struck him in such a manner, that he died upon the spot. No other person was witness to the deed. He then took the body, and threw it into a large fire under a boiling vat, where it was in a short time so completely consumed, that no traces of its existence remained. On the following day, when the man was missed, the murderer observed very coolly, that he had perceived his fellow-servant to have been intoxicated, and that he had probably fallen from a bridge, which he had to cross on his way home, and been drowned. For the space of seven years after, no one entertained any suspicion of the suggested explanation. At the end of this period, the murderer was again employed in the same brewery. He was then induced to reflect on the singularity of the circumstance, that his crime had remained so long concealed. Having retired one evening to rest, one of the other workmen who slept with him, hearing him say in his sleep, 'It is now full seven years ago,' asked him, 'What was it you did seven years ago?' 'I put him,' he replied, still speaking in his sleep, 'under the boiling vat.' As the affair was not entirely forgotten, it immediately occurred to the man, that his bed-fellow must allude to the person who was missing about that time; and he accordingly gave information of what he had heard to a magistrate. The murderer was apprehended, and though at first he denied that he knew anything of the matter, a confession of his crime was at length obtained from him, for which he suffered condign punishment.

7. Queen Mary Tudor having dealt severely with the Protestants in England, about the end of her reign signed a commission to take a similar course with them in Ireland, and, to execute the same with greater force, she nominated Dr Cole one of the commissioners. The doctor coming with the commission to Chester, the Mayor of that city, hearing that her Majesty was sending a messenger into Ireland, waited on the doctor, who, in discourse with the Mayor, took out of a cloakbag, a leather box, saying, 'Here is a commission that shall lash the heretics of Ireland,' calling the Protestants by that title. The good woman of the house, being well-affected to the Protestant religion, and also having a brother in Dublin named John Edmunds, of the same religious profession, was much troubled at the doctor's words; but watching her convenient time, while the Mayor took his leave, and the doctor accompanied him down stairs, she opened the box, took the commission out, and placed in lieu of it, a sheet of paper with a pack of cards wrapped up in it, the knave of clubs being faced uppermost. The doctor, coming up to his chamber, and suspecting nothing of what had been done, put up the box as formerly. The next day, going to the water side, wind and weather serving him, he sailed towards Ireland, and landed on the 7th of October 1558, at Dublin. When he arrived at the castle, the Lord Fitz-Walter, being Lord Deputy, sent for him to come before him and the privy council. He came accordingly, and after he had made a speech, relating on what account he had come over, he presented the box to the Lord Deputy, who causing it to be opened, that the secretary might read the commission, there was nothing, save a pack of cards, with the knave of clubs uppermost; which not only startled the Lord Deputy and council, but also the doctor, who assured them that he had a commission, but knew not how it was gone. The Lord Deputy made answer, 'Let us have another commission, and we will shuffle the cards in the meanwhile.' The doctor, being troubled in his mind, went away, and returned to England, and, coming into the court obtained another commission; but staying for the wind on the water side, news came to him that the queen was dead. Thus God preserved the Protestants of Ireland. Queen Elizabeth was so delighted with this story, which was related to her by Lord Fitz-Walter on his return to England, that she sent for Elizabeth Edmunds, and gave her a pension of £40 a year during her life.


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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