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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

The Shorter Catechism

John Whitecross

Q. 55. What is forbidden in the third commandment?

A. The third commandment forbiddeth all profaning or abusing of any thing whereby God maketh Himself known.

1. John Brown of Haddington, once passing the Firth of Forth, between Leith and Kinghorn had for a fellow-passenger one who appeared to be a Highland nobleman. Brown observed with grief that he frequently took the name of God in vain; but suspecting that to reprove him in the presence of the other passengers might tend only to irritate him, he forbore saying any thing till he reached the opposite shore. After landing, and observing the nobleman walking alone, Brown stepped up to him, and said, 'Sir, I was sorry to hear you swearing while on our passage. You know it is written, "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain." 'On this the nobleman, lifting his hat, and bowing to Mr Brown, made the following reply: 'Sir, I return you thanks for the reproof you have now given me, and shall endeavour to attend to it in future; but,' added he, 'had you said this to me while in the boat, I believe I should have run you through with my sword.'

2. John Maclaurin of Glasgow, well known to the world by his valuable Christian writings, in passing one day along the street, was disturbed by the noise of some disorderly soldiers. One of them, just as Mr Maclaurin approached them, uttered this awful imprecation, 'God damn my soul, for Christ's sake'. The good man, shocked at hearing such blasphemous language, went up to him, and laying his hand on the shoulder of the man, said to him with peculiar mildness and solemnity, 'Friend, God has already done much for Christ's sake: suppose He should do that too, what would become of you?' It was a word in season, and it came with power. The conscience of the soldier sank under the reproof. He was led not only to reform the evil habit of swearing, to which he had long been addicted, but to reflect on his ways, and to turn to the Lord. He became a genuine Christian; and proved the soundness of his conversion, by maintaining to the end of his life a conversation worthy of the gospel.

3. A minister of the gospel one day finding a servant beating his master's horses, and taking the name of God in vain, stood still and reproved him sharply. The servant made no reply; but, prompted by curiosity; came next Lord's-day to hear his reprover preach. 'Swear not at all,' said the preacher, when concluding his discourse, 'is a divine command, that binds both master and servant. I knew a man who not long ago surprised one of the swearing tribe of servants, in the very act of damning his master's horses. The son of Belial, though challenged, durst not open his mouth for his father's interest; but hung his head like a coward in the devil's service. He passed by, and had not the manners to thank his reprover, or grace to pronuse amendment. Is he here?—Do I see him ?—Shall I name him?' After some pause, he added, 'We shall rather pray for him.' The servant was sitting trembling before him; and it may be proper to add, that he came after-wards to the minister, confessed his fault, gave signs of true penitence, was added to the church, and was never afterwards heard to blaspheme the worthy Name.

4. One evening as the Rev. William Wilson of Perth was passing along the streets of that town, three soldiers then quartered in it happened to walk behind him, who were indulging in the utterance of most profane and blasphemous language. One of them, on some frivolous account, declared it to be his wish that God Almighty might damn his soul in hell to all eternity. The minister turned round and with a look of dignity and pity said, 'Poor man, and what if God should say amen, and answer that prayer?' So saying, he passed on. The man stood as if petrified, and on going to his quarters was in such distraction of mind and feeling that he knew not where he could turn for relief. He was soon afterwards seized with fever and began to suffer the forebodings of eternal misery. His case was so singular that several Christians went to visit him, to whom he invariably said that he was beyond the reach of God's mercy and that an angel had been sent to tell him so. One of them asked him to describe the appearance of the visitor who had pronounced this doom on him. As he did so, the Christian perceived that it must have been William Wilson, and inquired whether he would like to see him again. 'Oh,' said he, 'I should like above everything to see him, but he will not come near a wretch like me.' The minister was soon brought, and as soon told the soldier of the way of salvation through Christ crucified, encouraging him to flee for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before him. Divine power accompanied the words, the soldier was enabled to believe in Christ, and shortly he found peace and comfort to his troubled soul. Recovering from his sickness, he became an exemplary Christian, and as he felt the army unfavourable to his profession of the Lord, the minister at his request used influence and procured his honour-able discharge. He settled in Perth, became a member of the Church, attached himself steadily to the minister, and was through life a comfort to him and an ornament to the Christian profession.

5. A lady on her way from Edinburgh to Glasgow in the stage coach, was very much annoyed by a young military officer, whose conversation was interspersed with oaths. The lady sat very uneasy, till she could no longer keep silence. 'Sir,' said she to the officer, 'can you talk in the Gaelic tongue?' To this he replied in the affirmative, seemingly with great pleasure, expecting to have some conversation with the lady in that dialect. She then politely requested, that if he wished to swear any more, it might be in that language, as the practice of swearing was very offensive to herseff and the rest of the company. The officer was quite confounded at the smart reproof and no more oaths were heard from him during the remainder of the journey.

6. An officer, much addicted to profane swearing, visited the mines in Cornwall, attended by a godly person who was employed in the works. During his visit the officer uttered many profane and abominable expressions; and as he descended in company with the miner, finding it a long way, he said to him, 'If it be so far down to your work, how far is it to hell?' The miner promptly replied, 'I do not know how far it is to hell, sir; but I believe, that if the rope by which we are descending should break, you would be there in a minute.'

7. A General who was in early life much addicted to profane oaths, dates his reformation from a memorable check he received from a Scottish clergy-man. When he was a lieutenant, and stationed at Newcastle, he got involved in a brawl with some of the lowest class in the public street; and the altercation was carried on, by both parties, with abundance of impious language. The clergyman, passing by, was shocked with the profanity, and stepping into the crowd with his cane uplifted, thus addressed one of the leaders of the rabble—'Oh John, John! what is this I hear! you only a poor collier boy, and swearing like any lord in all the land. Oh John! have you no fear of what will become of you? It may do very well for this gallant gentleman (pointing to the lieutenant) to swear as he pleases; but you—but you, John! it is not for you, or the like of you, to take in vain the name of Him in whom ye live and have your being.' Then turning to the lieutenant, he continued, 'Ye'll excuse the poor man, sir, for swearing, he is an ignorant body, and kens no better.' The young officer slunk away in confusion, unable to make any reply. Next day he made it his business to wait on the minister; he thanked him sincerely for his well-timed reproof and has ever since been an example of the strictest purity of language.

8. When any indecent or profane language was uttered in the presence of the Rev. Jonathan Scott, pointed reproof was sure to be given; but there was at once a peculiar delicacy in the management, as well as singular fidelity in the application of it. An ostler at an inn in Coventry, being about to attend to his horse, used profane language. The animal turned round to look at Mr Scott, who improved the opportunity, and said to the ostler, 'Do you observe how my horse is caused to wonder? He is not used to such bad words at home: he never hears an oath there; and he does not know what to make of it.' Thus the profane sinner was reproved, but could not be offended.

9. 'My lads,' said a naval captain when reading to the crew on the quarter-deck, his orders to take the command of the ship, 'there is one law that I am determined to make, and I shall insist upon its being kept; indeed it is a favour which I ask of you, and which, as a British officer, I expect will be granted by a crew of British seamen—what say you, my lads, are you willing to grant your new captain, who promises to treat you well, one favour?' 'Hi, Hi, sir,' cried all hands, 'please to let's know what it is, sir,' said a rough-looking hoarse-voiced boatswain. 'Why my, lads,' said the captain, 'it is this; that you must allow me to swear the first oath in this ship; this is a law I cannot dispense with; I must insist upon it: I cannot be denied. No man on board must swear an oath before I do; I am deter mined to have the privilege of swearing the first oath on board H.M.S.C——. What say you, my lads, will you grant me this favour?' The appeal seemed so reasonable, and the manner of the captain so kind and so prepossessing, that a general burst from the ship's company announced, 'Hi, Hi, sir,' with their accustomed three cheers, when they left the quarterdeck. The effect was good, swearing was wholly abolished in the ship.

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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