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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

The Shorter Catechism
Illustrated

by
John Whitecross


Q. 70. Which is the seventh commandment?

A. The seventh commandment is, Thou shalt not commit adultery.


Q. 71. What is required in the seventh commandment?

A. The seventh commandment requireth the preservation of our own and our neighbour's chastity, in heart, speech, and behaviour.


1. John Newton, as the commander of a slave-ship, had a number of women under his absolute command; and knowing the danger of his situation on that account, he resolved to abstain from flesh in his food, and to drink nothing stronger than water during the voyage, that by abstemiousness he might subdue every improper emotion. Upon his setting sail, the sight of a certain point of land was the signal for his beginning a rule which he was enabled to keep.

2. Zeleucus, prince of the Locrians, enacted a law, by which the person guilty of adultery was to lose both his eyes. His own son became guilty of the crime. The father, to show at once his regard for the law, and his love to his son, ordered one of his son's eyes to be put out, and submitted to lose one of his own.

3. Scipi0 the Younger, soon after the conquest of Carthage, having retired to his camp, some of his officers brought a young virgin to him of such exquisite beauty, that she drew upon her the eyes and admiration of every person. The young conqueror started from his seat with confusion and surprise. In a few moments, having recovered himself he inquired of the beautiful captive, in the most civil and polite manner, concerning her country, birth, and connections; and finding that she was betrothed to a Spanish prince, named Allucius, he ordered both him and the captive's parents to be sent for. When the prince appeared in his presence, Scipio took him aside; and to remove the anxiety he might feel on account of the young lady, addressed him thus: 'You and I are young, which admits of me speaking to you with freedom. They who brought me your future spouse, assured me at the same time, that you loved her with extreme tenderness; and her beauty and merit left me no room to doubt of it. Upon which I reflected, that if I were in your situation, I should hope to meet with favour. I therefore think myself happy in the present conjuncture to do you a service. Though the fortune of war has made me your master, I desire to be your friend. Here is your wife; take her, and may you be happy. You may rest assured, that she has been as safe among us, as she would have been in the house of her father and mother. Far be it from Scipio to purchase any pleasure at the expense of virtue, honour, and the happiness of an honest man. No; I have kept her for you, in order to make you a present worthy of you and of me. The only gratitude I require of you for this inestimable gift, is, that you will be a friend to the Roman people.'

4. In the early nineteenth century there was a certain town in North Wales notorious for its immorality and, in particular, for its carelessness with regard to the seventh commandment. Despite regular preaching from the pulpit the situation grew worse until the state of things was mentioned to Thomas Charles of Bala. 'Having considered the subject, he made up his mind to make an attempt to storm this stronghold of Satan in a way different from that of preaching. About two months before the wakes, he sent word to the teachers of their Sunday school, requesting them to get the children to search the Bible for texts which prohibit directly or indirectly such evil practices as dancing, drunkenness, fornication, etc., and to commit them to memory; saying that they might expect him there at the feast to catechise the children. The young people set to work; and there was a great deal of talk in the town and neighbourhood about the subject. When the time arrived, Mr Charles went there; and most of the people of the place, led by curiosity perhaps in a great measure, went to hear what the children had to say on those subjects. The meeting began as usual with singing and prayer. Then Mr Charles began to ask them questions on the points given them to learn. "Is dancing, my dear children, a sin?" "Yes," said one emphatically, "it was owing to dancing that the head of John the Baptist was cut off" "Is drunkenness set forth as bad and sinful in Scripture?" "Yes," another answered, and repeated these words, "Woe unto them that follow strong drink, that continue until night, till wine inflame them! And the harp and the viol, the tabret and pipe, are in their feasts; but they regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operation of his hands." Isa. 5. 11, 12. In this way he proceeded with them concerning the other sins, and the answers were given with great propriety and seriousness. The people began to hold down their heads, and appeared to be much affected. Observing this, he addressed them in the kindest manner and exhorted them by all means to leave off their sinful practices, to relinquish the works of darkness and to attend to the concerns of their never-dying souls; to learn the Word of God after the example of the children, and to try to seek superior pleasures and a better world. The effect was so great that all went home, and the houses of revelling were completely forsaken.'

5. In the conversion of Colonel James Gardiner recorded by Philip Doddridge there is a striking account of how this famous soldier's contempt for the seventh commandment was ended. While in Paris, in July 1719, Gardiner had spent the evening in some gay company and had planned an unhappy association with a married woman whom he was to meet that same night at exactly twelve o'clock. The company broke up about eleven, and not judging it convenient to anticipate the time appointed, he went into his chamber to kill the tedious hour, perhaps with some amusing book. But it accidentally happened that he took up a religious book, which his good mother or aunt had, without his knowledge, slipped into his cases. It was The Christian Soldier; or, Heaven taken by Storm, by Thomas Watson. Guessing by the tide of it that he should find some phrases of his own profession spiritualized, in a manner which he thought might afford him some diversion, he resolved to dip into it; but he took no serious notice of anything he read in it: and yet, while this book was in his hand, an impression was made upon his mind, perhaps God only knows how, which drew after it a train of the most important and happy consequences.

He thought he saw an unusual blaze of light fall on the book while he was reading, which he at first imagined might happen by some accident in the candle; but lifting up his eyes, he apprehended, to his extreme amazement, that there was before him, as it were suspended in the air, a visible representation of the Lord Jesus Christ upon the cross, surrounded on all sides with a glory; and was impressed, as if a voice, or something equivalent to a voice, had come to him, to this effect (for he was not confident as to the very words), 'O sinner! did I suffer this for thee, and are these thy returns?' Struck with so amazing a phenomenon as this, there remained hardly any life in him, so that he sunk down in the armchair in which he sat, and continued, he knew not exactly how long, insensible. Nor did he, throughout all the remainder of the night, once recollect that criminal and detestable assignation which had before engrossed all his thoughts. He rose in a tumult of passions not to be conceived, and walked to and fro in his chamber till he was ready to drop down in unutterable astonishment and agony of heart; appearing to himself the vilest monster in the creation of God, who had all his lifetime been crucifying Christ afresh by his sins, and now saw, as he assuredly believed, by a miraculous vision, the horror of what he had done. With this was connected such a view both of the majesty and goodness of God, as caused him to loathe and abhor himself, and to repent as in dust and ashes.


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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