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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

The Shorter Catechism

John Whitecross

Q. 17. Into what estate did the fall bring mankind?

A. The fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery.

1. The Rev. Dr Ives, whose house was on the road by which the criminals were carried weekly in carts to Tyburn, used to stand at his window and say to any young friends who might be near him, pointing out any of the most notorious malefactors, 'There goes Dr Ivesl' If an explanation was asked, he took occasion to expound the innate corruption of the heart; and appealed to the experience of his auditors, 'whether they had not often felt the movements of those very passions, errors, prejudices, lusts, revenge, covetousness, etc., whose direct tendency was to produce the crimes for which these offenders satisfied the claims of public justice, and which were solely prevented from carrying them to the same dreadful fate, by the restraining grace of God.'

2. 'I have this evening,' says Mrs Housman, in her diary, 'had my dear child with me in my room, conversing with her, endeavouring to awaken her, and convince her of her sin and misery by nature and practice. The child was seemingly affected, and melted into tears. So greatly was she distressed, that I was obliged to turn my discourse, and tell her God was good, and willing to pardon and receive sinners, especially those children that were desirous to be good betimes, and in their younger days set themselves to love God and serve Him. I told her she must pray to God to pardon her, and give her grace to serve Him. The child seemed willing to pray, but lacked words to express herself. I asked her if I should help her, and teach her to pray?' The pious mother adds, '0 Lord, may this dear offspring rise and call Thee blessed!'

3. A minister of the gospel once made use of the following illustration to show the awful nature of sin. 'Suppose,' he said, 'a person went to a blacksmith and said to him, "Sir, I wish you to make me a very long and heavy chain; have it ready by such a day and I will pay you cash for it." The blacksmith is pressed with other and more important work, but for the sake of the money he commences to make the chain. After toiling hard many days he finishes it. The individual calls. "Have you made the chain?" "Yes, sir, here it is." "That is very well done; a good chain, but it is not long enough." "Why, it is just the length you told me to make it." "Oh, yes, yes, but I have decided to have it much longer than at first; work on another week, I will then call and pay you for it." Thus flattered with praise, and encouraged with the promise of full reward for his labour, the blacksmith toils on, adding link to link, till the appointed time when his employer calls again, and as before praises his work. But still he insists that the chain is too short. "But," says the blacksmith, "I can do no more; my iron is used up, and so is my strength. I need the pay for what I have done, and can do no more till I have it." "Oh, never mind; I think you have the means of adding a few links more, and then the chain will answer the purpose for which it is intended, and you will be fully rewarded for all your toil." With his remaining strength and a few scraps of iron he adds the last link of which he is capable. Then says the man to him, "The chain is a good one; you have toiled hard and long to make it; I see that you can do no more, and now you shall have your wages." But instead of paying him the money, he takes the chain, binds the workman hand and foot, and casts him into a furnace of fire!' 'Such,' said the preacher, 'is a course of sin! It promises much, but its reward is death; and each sin is an additional link to that chain which will confine the transgressor in the prison-house of hell.' 'Now therefore, be ye not mockers, lest your bands be made strong' (Is. 28.22). Providentially, there was in the congregation that day a blacksmith, who had lived a very wicked life. He was much excited, and declared at the close of the meeting that the whole discourse had been directed to him. He wished to know 'who had been telling the preacher all about him?' The preacher had never even heard that there was such a man. It is recorded that the blacksmith was soundly converted.

4. Cyrus the Great, King of Persia, after he had long been attended by armies and vast trains of courtiers, ordered this inscription to be engraved on his tomb, as an admonition to all men of the approach of death, and the desolation that follows it: '0 man, whosoever thou art, and whencesoever thou comest, I know thou wilt come to the same condition in which I now am. I am Cyrus, who brought the empire to the Persians do not envy me, I beseech thee, this utile piece of ground which covers my body.'

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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