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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

The Shorter Catechism
Illustrated

by
John Whitecross


Q. 62. What are the reasons annexed to the fourth commandment?

A. The reasons annexed to the fourth commandment are, God's allowing us six days of the week for our own employments, His challenging a special propriety in the seventh, His own example, and His blessing the Sabbath-day.


1. 'I now beg permission,' says a missionary, 'to relate the simple argument of a pious poor man with a Sabbath-breaker. I had it from the poor old man a few weeks since, in the course of a conversation with him, which very much interested me; he is a member of our church at Mattishall (Norfolk). In reasoning with the Sabbath-breaker, he said, "Suppose now, I had been at work hard all the week, and earned seven shillings; suppose now I met a man, and gave six shillings out of the seven, what should you say to that?" "Why, I should say that you were very kind, and that the man ought to be thankful." "Well, but suppose he was to knock me down, and rob me of the other shilling; what then?" "Why, then he would deserve hanging." "Well, now, this is your case; thou art the man: God has freely given you six days to work in, and earn your bread, and the seventh He has kept to Himself, and commands us to keep it holy; but you, not satisfied with the six days God has given, rob Him of the seventh; what then do you deserve?" The man was silenced.'

2. On the Jura mountains in Switzerland, where the winter is very long, and the summer very short, it is of great consequence for men to preserve their hay, and put it up in good order, for if they run out, their cattle must starve, as the snow lies so long and so deep, they cannot go to their neighbours to get any, even if they had sufficient to spare. In this area lived an old man who had the love of Jesus and the fear of God in his heart, and kept the Lord's-day as the Lord commands His people to keep it. One Lord's-day, when the hay was just in the finest order for putting up, his sons came to him, and proposed to him to go and put up the hay: but he said, 'Not so, my sons; this is the Lord's-day.' However, his sons were tempted by the value of the hay, and the fineness of the weather, to prepare themselves for work, but the moment they put their forks into it, a storm broke over their heads, and the rain poured upon them in torrents—one of the most violent storms they ever had—and the hay was completely destroyed. The old man addressed his sons: 'Thou shalt do no work on the Sabbath-day. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work; but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God; in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy man-servant, nor thy maid-servant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates. My sons,' continued the old man, 'you have done a work to save your hay, and the rain has destroyed it. Learn from this to respect the commandments of the Lord.' His sons never forgot this lesson; and they never again did common work on the Lord's-day.

3. On a Lord's-day, at the time of a great frost in the year 1634, fourteen young men were playing at football on the river Trent, near Gainsborough. While thus engaged, in the open violation of God's command, they met together in a scuffle; the ice suddenly broke, and they were all drowned!

4. When a minister of the gospel was spending a few weeks in Edinburgh, there came, on business, to the house where he was, a man of the world—one of those modern scoffers who are so constantly fulfilling Peter's prediction, 2 Peter 3.3. He was introduced to the preacher in the following manner: 'This is Mr——, an acquaintance of mine, who, I am sorry to add, though young and healthy, never attends public worship.' 'I am almost tempted to hope,' replied the minister, 'that you are bearing false witness against your neighbour.' 'By no means,' said the infidel, 'for I always spend my Sunday in settling accounts.' The minister immediately replied, 'You will find, sir, that the day of judgment will be spent in exactly the same manner.'

5. It is remarkable, wrote Dr William Scoresby in his account of a voyage to Greenland in 1820, 'that during the whole of the voyage, no circumstance ever occurred to prevent us engaging in public worship on the Sabbath Day. In a few instances, the hour of worship could not be easily kept, but opportunity was always found of having each of the services in succession on a plan adopted at the commencement of the voyage. And it is worthy of observation that in no instance, when on fishing stations, was our refraining from the ordinary duties of our profession on the Sunday ever supposed, eventually, to have been a loss to us; for we in general found, that if others who were less regardful, or had not the same view of the obligatory nature of the command respecting the Sabbath Day, succeeded in their endeavours to promote the success of the voyage, we seldom failed to procure a decided advantage in the succeeding week. Independently, indeed, of the divine blessing on honouring the Sabbath Day, I found that the restraint put upon the natural inclinations of the men for pursuing the fishery at all opportunities, acted with some advantage, by proving an extraordinary stimulus to their exertions when they were next sent out after whales . . . I could relate several instances in which, after our refraining to fish upon the Sabbath while others were thus successfully employed, our subsequent labours succeeded under circumstances so striking, that there was not, I believe, a man in the ship who did not consider it the effect of the divine blessing.'

6. In the city of Bath, during the eighteenth century, lived a barber, who made a practice of following his ordinary occupation on the Lord's-day. As he was pursuing his morning's employment, he happened to look into some place of worship, just as the minister was giving out his text, 'Remember the Sabbath-day to keep it holy.' He listened long enough to be convinced, that he was constantly breaking the laws of God and man, by shaving and otherwise attending his customers on the Lord's~day. He became uneasy, and went with a heavy heart to his Sabbath task. At length he took courage, and opened his mind to the minister, who advised him to give up Sabbath work and worship God. He replied that beggary would be the consequence; he had a flourishing trade, but it would almost all be lost. At length, after many a sleepless night spent in weeping and praying, he was determined to cast all his care upon God, as the more he reflected, the more his duty became apparent. He discontinued Sabbath work, went constantly and early to the public services of religion, and soon enjoyed that satisfaction of mind, which is one of the rewards of doing our duty, and that peace of God, which the world can neither give nor take away. The consequence which he foresaw actually followed. His genteel customers left him, as he was nicknamed a Puritan or Methodist. He was obliged to give up his fashionable shop; and in the course of years became so reduced, as to take a cellar under the old market house, and shave the common people. One Saturday evening, between light and dark, a stranger from one of the coaches, asking for a barber, was directed by the ostler to the cellar opposite. Coming in hastily, he requested to be shaved quickly, while they changed horses, as he did not like to violate the Sabbath. This was touching the barber on a tender chord: he burst into tears, asked the stranger to lend him a halfpenny to buy a candle, as it was not light enough to shave him with safety. He did so, revolving in his mind the extreme poverty to which the poor man must be reduced. When shaved, he said, 'There must be something extraordinary in your history, which I have not now time to hear. Here is half-a-crown for you: when I return, I will call and investigate your case. What is your name?' 'William Reed,' said the astonished barber. 'William Reed!' echoed the stranger: 'William Reed! by your dialect you are from the west?' 'Yes, sir; from Kingston, near Taunton.' 'William Reed, from Kingston, near Taunton! What was your father's name?' 'Thomas.' 'Had he any brothers?' 'Yes, sir, one, after whom I was named; but he went to the Indies, and as we never heard from him, we suppose him to be dead.' 'Come along, follow me,' said the stranger; 'I am going to see a person, who says his name is William Reed of Kingston, near Taunton. Come and confront him. If you prove to be indeed the man whom you say you are, I have glorious news for you; your uncle is dead and has left an immense fortune, which I will put you in possession of when all legal doubts are removed.' They went by the coach, saw the pretended William Reed, and proved him to be an impostor. The stranger, who was a godly attorney, was soon legally satisfied of the barber's identity, and told him that he had advertised for him in vain. Providence had now thrown him in his way, in a most extraordinary manner, and he had much pleasure in transferring a great many thousand pounds to a worthy man, the rightful heir of the property. Thus was man's extremity God's opportunity. Had the poor barber possessed one halfpenny, or even had credit for a candle, he might have remained unknown for years; but he trusted God, who never said, 'Seek ye my face in vain.'

7. The Rev. J. Scott of Hull, in his funeral sermon for the distinguished William Wilberforce, observes, when speaking of his high veneration for the Sabbath: 'On each returning Sabbath, his feelings seemed to rise, in proportion to the sanctity of the day, to a higher degree of spirituality and holy joy, which diffused a sacred cheerfulness to all around him. I have often heard him assert, that he never could have sustained the labour and stretch of mind required in his early political life, if it had not been for the rest of the Sabbath; and that he could name several of his contemporaries in the vortex of political cares, whose minds had actually given way under the stress of intellectual labour, so as to bring on a premature death, or the still more dreadful catastrophe of insanity and suicide, who, humanly speaking, might have been preserved in health, if they would but have conscientiously observed the Sabbath.'


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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