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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

The Shorter Catechism

John Whitecross

Q. 69. What is forbidden in the sixth commandment?

A. The sixth commandment forbiddeth the taking away of our own life, or the life of our neighbour unjustly, or whatever tendeth thereunto.

1. It is recorded of the Puritan minister John Dod, that one night at a very late hour, he felt strongly moved to visit a gentleman of his acquaintance, who lived at some distance. Not knowing what might be the design of Providence in this, he went. Having come to the house and knocked at the door, the gentleman himself opened it; to whom Dod said, 'I am come to you, I know not why myself but I was restless in my spirit till I had done it.' The gentleman replied, 'You know not why you came; but God knew why He sent you.' On which he showed him the halter with which he intended to take away his own life, which, by this means, was happily prevented.

2. A young gentleman, who had spent his fortune in riotous living, was reduced to poverty. For a while his friends supported him; but at last they all forsook him. Wandering about as a vagabond, and having no prospect of any further supply, he formed the dreadful resolution of drowning himself. Being then in a strange place, he put lead into his pocket, and went to the river side for this horrid purpose; but waiting till it was dark, he saw a light in a house at no great distance, and went to it. On his arrival, there were people singing psalms; he listened at the door till a chapter of the Bible was read, and a prayer offered up to God. He was surprised to find people assembled there for worship, and wished for admittance, for which purpose he knocked gently at the door. One of the company opened it, and asked what he wanted. He signified his desire to be admitted. He was told it was not customary to admit strangers into their meeting; however, if he would behave decently, he might enter. In the astonishing kindness of Divine Providence, the passage of Scripture under consideration that evening was, Acts 16.28; 'Do thyself no harm.' After the several members had made their remarks upon the subject, they concluded as usual with prayer, and they had no sooner done, than the stranger asked them how they came to know his thoughts, for he had not mentioned his intention to any person upon earth. This equally surprised the members of the meeting, who said they had not seen or heard of him till that evening. Upon which the young gentleman told them his design of taking away his life, and how he had been prevented by seeing a light in their window. This remarkable providence struck him to such a degree, that, by the Divine blessing, it was made the means of his conversion.

3. A gentleman, who was very ill, sending for a physician, told him that he felt he must die, and gave him the following account of the cause of his death. He had, about a fortnight before, been riding over Hounslow-heath, where several boys were playing at cricket. One of them striking the ball, hit him just on the toe with it, looked him in the face, and ran away. His toe pained him extremely. As soon as he came to Brentford, he sent for a surgeon, who was for cutting it off. But unwilling to suffer that, he went on to London. When he arrived there, he immediately called another surgeon to examine it, who told him his foot must be cut off But neither would he hear of this. Before the next day, the mortification seized his leg, and in a day or two more struck up into his body. The physician asked him whether he knew the boy that struck the ball? He answered, 'About ten years ago, I was riding over Hounslow-heath, where an old man ran by my horse's side, begged me to relieve him, and said he was almost famished. I bade him begone. He kept up with me still; upon which I threatened to beat him. Finding that he took no notice of this, I drew my sword, and with one blow killed him. A boy about four years who was with him, screamed out, "My father is killed!" His face I perfectly remember, That boy it was who struck the ball against me, which is the cause of my death.'

4. A man and his wife were, a number of years ago, executed at Augsburg for a murder, the discovery of which, after a long lapse of time, strongly manifests the impossibility of eluding the all-seeing eye of Providence. The criminal, whose name was Wineze, was originally of Nuremburg, but removed to Augsburg in 1788, where he followed the law. In this city he became intimate with the family of M. Glegg, to whose daughter he paid his addresses; but the old man not sanctioning his visits, in order to remove the only obstacle to their union, he persuaded the daughter to administer poison to her father. The horrid plan succeeded—no suspicions were entertained, and their union put him in possession of the old man's wealth. During a period of twenty-one years, they lived externally happy, but in secret, a prey to the greatest remorse. At length, unable to endure any longer the weight of guilt, the wife made confession of the particulars of the atrocious crime she had been prevailed upon to commit. The husband was apprehended; and both of them received their due desert in an ignominious death.

5. Laurence Shirley, the fourth Earl Ferrers, was executed at Tyburn for the murder of his land steward. Many pleas were made to the king, George II, to turn aside the course of justice in favour of this noble delinquent; or, if his life might not be spared, that at least he might enjoy the privilege of his peerage, that of being beheaded in the Tower. But the king steadily rejected all applications on his behalf declaring that justice could own no difference in rank between him and the victim of his passion; that the blood of a peasant demanded the blood of a nobleman, if he had shed it, as much as that of a nobleman would, in like circumstances, demand that of a peasant; and that this crime had degraded him to a level with the very meanest of criminals.

6. A slave-dealer, looking out for a cargo on the African coast, found a trader on the beach, who produced two negro women, each with an infant in her arms. As the slave-dealer declined purchasing, he was asked the reason. He replied that the women would suit him well enough, but their children were an objection. The trader immediately went up to one of the women, and taking the child out of her arms, dashed its head upon a stone. He did the same to the other, and then sold the women!

7. A missionary in Africa mentions that near his station in Kaffirland, a young man left his home for a few days, to visit a village in the neighbourhood. He found there that an infectious disease was prevailing, and immediately returned. His father, selfishly dreading the spread of the infection, instead of pitying his son, went for his gun, loaded it, came into the hut, and while the poor lad was thinking himself safe in his father's house, shot him dead; and to make sure of his death, his two brothers then rushed upon him, and stabbed his dead body with their spears.

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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