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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

The Shorter Catechism

John Whitecross

Q. 37. What benefits do believers receive from Christ at death?

A. The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, being still united to Christ, do rest in their graves till the resurrection.

1. 'Death,' says one, 'is a subject of deep solemnity, and therefore should always be treated with seriousness. The "assurance of hope" itself will never justify an opposite course. I once knew "an old disciple" who had no patience with Christians that were afraid to die; it was bringing, he said, such a reproach upon religion. For his own part, as be expressed it, he was always looking out for the holidays, and wondering why his Father was so long in sending to take him home. But when the message came, he was filled with consternation. During the illness which brought him to the grave, he clung to earthly existence, with a tenacity which was perfectly distressing. On the announcement of his decease, a neighbour, who was unprepared to appreciate his religious character, and still less able to understand the lesson which such a circumstance was calculated to impart, remarked concerning him, "Poor old man! he would have given the world to die: and in death, he would have given the world to live."'

2. Joseph Addison, after a long and manly but vain struggle with his distemper, dismissed his physicians, and with them all hopes of life. But with his hopes of life, he dismissed not his concern for the living, but sent for his step-son who was highly accomplished. He came, and, after a decent pause, the youth said, 'Dear sir, you sent for me, I believe: I hope you have some commands; I shall hold them most sacred.' Forcibly grasping the young man's hand, he softly said, 'See in what peace a Christian can die.' He spoke with difficulty, and soon expired.

3. Douglas Cousin, one of the missionaries whom Dr Ebenezer Henderson mentions in his Travels, and whose grave he visited when at Karass, died, as his brethren observed, like a true Christian. Being asked a little before his death, if he wished any thing to be written about him to an old Christian friend in Scotland, whom he greatly loved, he said, after thinking a little, with a peculiar and expressive tone, 'Yes; tell him I died in the faith—full in the Faith.'

4. 'Conversing once,' says a writer, 'with a hardened sinner who was well acquainted with divine truth, I said, "In your present state of mind, have you any hope of going to heaven?" Mark his reply! "In my present state of mind, sir, heaven would be worse to me than hell." Fearful as was this acknowledgment, it was unquestionably true; and should the unconverted reader cherish the persuasion that he is safe for eternity, he knows less of himself, and less of God, and less of heaven, than did that unhappy man.'

5. 'In the article of death,' says the Rev. James Dore, 'the righteous have glorious prerogatives. The truth of this principle is generally admitted. We do not hear men exclaiming, "Let me die the death of the philosopher!" in whatever terms they express their admiration of his talents, his experiments, and his discoveries: or, "Let me die the death of the warrior!" with whatever ardour they celebrate his martial virtues, and his military achievements; or, Let me die the death of the statesman!" whatever encomium they may be disposed to pass on his political abilities. No, their language is, "Let me die the death of the righteous, and my last end be like his."'

6. The Rev. Robert Bruce, the morning before he died, being at breakfast, and having, as he used, eaten an egg, said to his daughter Martha, 'I think I am yet hungry; you may bring me another egg.' But having mused a while, he said, 'Hold, daughter, hold, my Master calls me.' With these words his sight failed him: on which he called for the Bible, and said, 'Turn to the 8th chapter of the Romans, and set my finger on the words—"I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, etc., shall be able to separate me from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus my Lord."' When this was done, he said, 'Now, is my finger upon them?' Being told it was, he added, 'Now, God be with you, my dear children: I have breakfasted with you, and shall sup with my Lord Jesus Christ this night.' And then he expired.

7. 'I am just returned,' says Legh Richmond, in a letter to one of his daughters, 'after executing the difficult and affecting task of preaching a funeral sermon for my most excellent and revered mother, at her parish church. I took my subject from Psalms 115.1, as best suited to her humble, meek, and believing frame of mind. It was indeed a trying effort; but God carried me through surprisingly. I introduced some very interesting papers, which I found amongst her memoranda, in her own handwriting. Her last message to me was—"Tell my son I am going direct to happiness."

8. A young girl at Portsea, Hampshire, who died at nine years of age, one day in her illness, said to her aunt, with whom she lived, 'when I am dead I should like Mr Griffin to preach a sermon to children, to persuade them to love Jesus Christ, to obey their parents, not to tell lies, but to think about dying and going to heaven. I have been thinking,' said she, 'what text I should like him to preach from—2 Kings 4.26. You are the Shunammite, Mr Griffin is the prophet, and I am the Shunammite's child. When I am dead, I daresay you will be grieved, though you need not. The prophet will come to see you, and when he says, "How is it with the child?" you may say, "It is well." I am sure it will then be well with me, for I shall be in heaven, singing the praises of God. You ought to think it well too.' Mr Griffin accordingly fulfilled the wish of this pious child.

9. A little girl in Yorkshire, about seven years of age, went, accompanied by a brother younger than herself, to see an aunt who lay dead. On their return home, the little boy expressed his surprise that he had seen his aunt, saying, 'I always thought when people were dead, that they went to heaven; but my aunt is not, for I have seen her.' 'Brother,' replied his sister, 'You do not understand it; it is not the body that goes to heaven: the soul is the thing that goes to heaven; the body remains, and is put into the grave, where it sleeps till God shall raise it up again.'

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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