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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

The Shorter Catechism

John Whitecross

Q. 14. What is sin?

A. Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of the law of God.

1. The last words that Archbishop Usher was heard to express, were, 'Lord, forgive my sins, especially my sins of omission.'

2. A minister explaining the distinction between sins of omission and sins of commission, made use of the following simile by way of illustration: 'Behold yonder fire which lately burnt with so much brightness; it is now dull; let it alone, and it will soon go out; but if you pour water on it, you will put it out. The first is an act of omission, the second of commission.'

3. Count Gondomar, Spanish ambassador to Britain in the reign of James I, often professed, in his declining years, when death and the eternal world seemed near, 'That he feared nothing in the world more than sin; and whatever liberties he had formerly taken, he would rather now submit to be torn to pieces by wild beasts, than knowingly or willingly commit any sin against God.'

4. Phoebe Bartlet, a very little girl, went with some other children to gather plums in a neighbouring orchard. When she brought some of the fruit home, her mother mildly reproved her, and said she ought not to have gathered the plums without leave, because it was sin: God had commanded her not to steal. The child, not being sensible of the evil before, seemed greatly surprised, and bursting into tears, cried out, 'I won't have these plums!' and turning to her sister Eunice, very earnestly said to her, 'Why did you ask me to go to that plum tree? I should not have gone, if you had not asked me.' The other children did not seem much concerned; but there was no pacifying Phoebe. Her mother mentioned the circumstance to the owner of the tree, and requested of him that she might have the plums; but still she was deeply affected; and being asked what it was that troubled her now, she said that she wept, because it was sin. She declared, that if Eunice were to ask her a hundred times, she would not go again, and she retained an aversion to that fruit for a long time after.

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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