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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

The Shorter Catechism

John Whitecross

Q. 56. What is the reason annexed to the third commandment?

A. The reason annexed to the third commandment is, That however the breakers of this commandment may escape punishment from men, yet the Lord our God will not suffer them to escape His righteous judgment.

1. An elector of Cologne, who was also an archbishop, one day swearing profanely, asked a peasant, who seemed to wonder, what he was so surprised at. 'To hear an archbishop swear,' replied the peasant. 'I swear,' replied the elector, 'not as an archbishop, but as a prince.' 'But, my lord,' said the peasant, 'when the prince goes to the devil, what will become of the archbishop?'

2. A person who lived in the parish of Sedgley, near Wolverhampton, having lost a considerable sum by cock-fighting, to which practice he was notoriously addicted, swore, in the most horrid manner, that he would never fight another cock as long as he lived; frequently calling upon God to damn his soul to all eternity if he did, and with dreadful imprecations, wishing the devil might fetch him if he ever made another bet. It is not to be wondered at, if resolutions so impiously formed, should be broken. For a while, however, they were observed; but he continued to indulge himself in every other abomination to which his depraved heart inclined him. But about two years afterwards, Satan, whose willing servant he was, inspired him with a violent desire to attend a cock-fight at Wolverhampton; and he complied with the temptation. When he came to the place, he stood up, as in defiance of Heaven, and cried, 'I hold four to three on such a cock.' 'Four what?' said one of his companions in iniquity. 'Four shillings,' replied he. 'I'll lay,' said the other. Upon which they confirmed the wager, and as his custom was, he threw down his hat, and put his hand into his pocket for the money; when, awful to relate, he instantly fell a ghastly corpse to the ground. Terrified at his sudden death, some who were present for ever after desisted from this infamous sport; but others, hardened in iniquity, proceeded in this barbarous diversion as soon as the dead body was removed from the spot.

3. Ebenezer Erskine, when crossing the Forth from Leith to Kinghorn, had the unhappiness to find himself in the midst of ungodly passengers, who took the most unhallowed liberties with their Creator's Name. For a time he was silent, but at last, unable to suppress his concern, and eager to curb their blaspheming tongues, he rose from his seat, and taking hold of the mast uncovered his head, and cried loudly, in the manner of a herald or town-crier, 'O yes, O yes, O yes.' Having thus secured the attention of the astonished passengers and crew, he proceeded in a solemn and impressive manner to proclaim that commandment of the law of God that they were flagrantly violating: 'Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain.' Without adding a single word, he quitted the mast, put on his hat, and resumed his seat. Soon, however, general talk became as profane and offensive as before. Among the rest, a lady, regardless of all maxims of politeness, seemed to find a malicious pleasure in continuous acts of profanity, accompanied with smiles of derision and contempt. Soon, however, it pleased God to intervene by sending a sudden storm. The heavens became black with clouds, the sea became angry, and the pilot seemed quite unable to control the ship's helm. This unexpected change of circumstances led to a corresponding change in the demeanour of the passengers. Their sportive gaity gave place to consternation and despair. The same lady who had acted so insolent a part towards Erskine now came to his side as if her only hope of safety lay in her nearness to him, and said, 'O Sir, if I die here, I will die with you.' Soon, however, they weathered the storm, reached the harbour in safety, and dispersed to their various destinations. Such is one way of many in which it pleases God to rebuke blasphemy.

4. In the early nineteenth century as men were drinking in a public house at a village near Dundee, two of them agreed to make a trial who should invent the newest and most profane oaths. While one of them was just opening his mouth to make the dreadful attempt, his jaws were suddenly arrested, so that he was unable to close his mouth, or speak a word. He was carried to the Infirmary and died soon after. Let profane swearers tremble for their danger.

5. A certain man in Oliver Cromwell's time complained to a minister of the gospel: 'The squire of the parish is very much offended by some remarks you made in your sermon last Sabbath Day about profane swearing.' 'Well,' said the Puritan preacher, 'is the squire in the habit of swearing?' It had to be admitted that such was the case, and that therefore he thought himself pointed out by the minister. The Puritan replied to the complainant, who was a tenant of the squire, 'If your lord offends my Lord, I shall not fail to rebuke him, and if he is offended, let him be offended.'

6. A citizen of Glasgow named Jack was remarkable for the cheerfulness as well as the fervour of his piety. When he administered a reproof it was frequently accompanied with a kind of pleasantry which fixed the attention and disarmed the resentment of the person rebuked. Being once in company when a gentleman occasionally embellished his speech with the name of the devil, and at last took the name of God in vain, 'Stop, sir,' said Jack, 'I said nothing while you used only freedoms with the name of your own master, but I insist that you shall use no freedoms with the Name of mine.'

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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