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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

The Shorter Catechism

John Whitecross

Q. 33. What is justification?

A. Justification is act of God's free grace, wherein He pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.

1. The first time Andrew Fuller passed through Oxford, he was conducted by a friend to see the principal buildings of the University. He viewed them with little emotion; and on being requested to notice one object of peculiar interest, he said, 'Brother, I think there is one question, which, after all that has been written on it, has not yet been well answered.' His friend desired he would name the subject; he said, 'The question is, What is justification?' It was immediately proposed to return to the fireside and discuss the subject, to which Fuller gladly acceded, saying, 'That inquiry is far more to me than all these fine buildings.'

2. Robert Fleming, in his Fulfilling of the Scriptures, relates the case of a man who was a very great sinner, and for his horrible wickedness was put to death in the town of Ayr. This man had been so stupid and brutish, that all who knew him thought him beyond the reach of all ordinary means of grace; but while in prison, the Lord wrought wonderfully on his heart, and in such a measure revealed to him his sinfulness, that after much serious exercise and sore wrestling, a most kindly work of repentance followed, with great assurance of mercy, insomuch that when he came to the place of execution, he could not cease crying out to the people, under the sense of pardon and the comforts of the presence and favour of God — 'O, He is a great forgiver! He is a great forgiver!' And he added the following words: 'Now has perfect love cast out fear. I know God has nothing to lay against me, for Jesus Christ has paid all; and those are free whom the Son makes free.'

3. 'I once saw,' says the Rev. William Innes, 'so much joy produced by the good news of deliverance from a great dreaded evil, as may diminish our surprise at the same effect resulting from the first discovery of pardoning mercy. In the town where I resided a reprieve was expected for a man under sentence of death. I requested the chief magistrate to let me know when it arrived, as I should like to be the first messenger of the good news to the criminal. He did so. I went in and communicated to the poor man the glad tidings. He instantly fell on his knees on the cold earthen floor of his dungeon, and clasping his hands, and lifting up his eyes to heaven, while the tears rushed down his cheeks, he prayed that the seven days of reprieve might be to him as seven thousand years of genuine turning to God. This man afterwards received a pardon.'

4. When the Rev. John Eyre was only four years of age, his mind was powerfully acted upon by an incident, which he ever afterwards regarded as an element in the formation of his religious character. A friend of his family, eminently godly and benevolent, took up young Eyre one day in his arms, and said to him, 'There is such a thing, my dear child, as the pardon of sin, and there is such a thing as knowing it too.' This affectionate appeal, though in no way remarkably adapted to the infant mind, seized on the conscience of Eyre, and left such an abiding impression on his memory and feelings, that in the days of childhood and youth he often reflected on the words of his venerable friend; and at the early age of fourteen began to seek in prayer the blessing of forgiveness, under a deep sense of his sinfulness in the sight of God.

5. When George Burder of London was preaching at Warwick, he was called to attend the execution of three men, one a coiner, and the other two housebreakers. 'One circumstance,' says he, 'affected me very deeply. All the men were on ladders, then the mode of execution, with the ropes about their necks, about to be turned off when the coiner, endeavouring to fortify his mind in this awful situation, uttered words to this purpose, which I distinctly heard, being at a short distance, "I never killed any body, I never hurt any body—I hope the Lord will have mercy upon me." This poor creature seemed to die nearly in the spirit of the Pharisee, "I thank God, I am not as other men are, or as this publican," for I thought he alluded to the two thieves suffering with him. I was so deeply affected that I could scarcely refrain from crying out to the man, Do not trust in your own righteousness, look to Christ. This has often occurred to me as one of the most glaring instances of a self-righteous spirit that I ever knew.'

6. In the parish where James Hervey preached, when he inclined to Arminian sentiments, there resided a ploughman, who usually attended the ministry of Dr Doddridge, and was well informed in the doctrines of grace. Hervey being advised by his physician, for the benefit of his health, to follow the plough, in order to smell the fresh earth, frequently accompanied this ploughman in his rural employment. Understanding the ploughman was a serious person, he said to him one morning, 'What do you think is the hardest thing in religion?' To which he replied, 'I am a poor illiterate man, and you, sir, are a minister: I beg leave to return the question.' 'Then,' said Hervey, 'I think the hardest thing is to deny sinful self;' and applauded at some length this instance of self-denial. The ploughman replied, 'Mr Hervey, you have forgot the greatest act of the grace of self-denial, which is to deny ourselves of a proud confidence in our own obedience for justification. You know I do not come to hear you, Sir, but I take my family every Sabbath to Northampton to hear Dr Doddridge. We rise early and have prayers and walk there and back. I enjoy it, but to this moment I find it very hard not to be proud of my Sabbath-keeping.' In repeating this story to a friend, Hervey observed, 'I then hated the righteousness of Christ; I looked at the man with astonishment and disdain, and thought him an old fool. I have since clearly seen who was the fool: not the wise old Christian, but the proud James Hervey.'

7. A citizen of Bristol named Reynolds being importuned by a friend to sit for his portrait, at last consented. 'How would you like to be painted?' 'Sitting among books.' 'Any book in particular?' 'The Bible.' 'Open at any part?' 'At the fifth chapter of the Romans; the first verse to be legible:

"Therefore, being justified by Faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ."'

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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