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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

The Shorter Catechism

John Whitecross

Q. 76. Which is the ninth commandment?

A. The ninth commandment is, Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

Q. 77. What is required in the ninth commandment?

A. The ninth commandment requireth the maintaining and promoting of truth between man and man, and of our own and our neighbour's good name, especially in witness-bearing.

1. Petrarch, a celebrated Italian poet of the fourteenth century, recommended himself to the confidence and affection of Cardinal Colonna, in whose family he resided, by his candour and strict regard to truth. A violent quarrel having occurred in Cardinal Colonna's household, the cardinal, wishing to decide with justice, assembled all his people, and obliged them to bind themselves by a solemn oath on the gospels, to declare the whole truth. Every one, without exception, submitted to this determination: even the cardinal's brother, Bishop of Luna, was not excused. Petrarch, in his turn, presented himself to take the oath; the cardinal closed the book~ and said, 'As to you, Petrarch, your word is sufficient.'

2. When George Washington, the president of the United States of America, was about six years of age, some one made him a present of a hatchet. Highly pleased with his weapon, he went about chopping every thing that came in his way; and going into the garden, he unhappily tried its edge on an English cherry tree, stripping it of its bark, and leaving little hope of its recovery. The next morning, when his father saw the tree, which was a great favourite, he inquired who had done the mischief, declaring he would not have taken five guineas for it; but no one could inform him of the offender. At length, however, came George, with the hatchet in his hand, into the place where the father was, who immediately suspected him to be the culprit. 'George,' said the father, 'do you know who killed that beautiful little cherry-tree yonder in the garden?' The child hesitated for a moment, and then said, 'I cannot tell a lie, father,—you know that I cannot tell a lie—I did cut it with the hatchet.' 'Run to my arms. Glad am I, George, that you have killed my tree—you have paid me for it a thousand-fold. Such an act of heroism in my son is of more worth than a thousand cherry-trees, though blossoming with silver, and their fruits of gold.'

3. The Emperor Charles V having given his promise and safe conduct to Luther, to prevail on him to come to Worms, was afterwards urged to violate it by arresting Luther, on this ground, that 'he was a man of that character to whom he was not obliged to keep word.' To which he replied, 'When good faith may be banished from all the earth, it ought to be found with an emperor.'

4. Robert Fleming was a careful observer of that apostolic injunction, 'Speak evil of no man.' He once said to an intimate friend in London: 'I bless God, in fifteen years' time, I have not given any man's credit a thrust behind his back; when I have had grounds to speak well of any man, I have done so with faithfulness; but when I have lacked a subject that way, I have kept silence.'

5. Not many years ago, a man waited on a magistrate near Hitchin, in the county of Hertford, and informed him, that he had been stopped by a young gentleman in Hitchin, who had knocked him down and searched his pockets; but not finding anything, he suffered him to depart. The magistrate, astonished at this piece of intelligence, despatched a messenger to the young gentleman, ordering him to appear immediately, and answer to the charge exhibited against him. The youth obeyed the summons, accompanied by his guardian and an intimate friend. Upon their arrival at the seat of justice, the accused and the accuser were confronted. The magistrate hinted to the man that he was afraid he had made the charge with no other view than that of extorting money, and bade him take care how he proceeded; exhorting him most earnestly, to beware of the dreadful train of consequences attending perjury. The man insisted upon taking oath to what he had advanced; the oath was accordingly administered, and the business fully investigated, when the innocence of the young gentleman was established by the most incontrovertible evidence. The infamous wretch, finding his intentions thus frustrated, returned home much chagrined; and meeting soon afterwards with one of his neighbours, he declared he had not sworn to any thing but the truth, calling God to witness the same in the most solemn manner, and wished, if it was not as he had said, his jaws might be locked, and that his flesh might rot upon his bones. It is recorded that his jaws were instantly arrested, and the use of the faculty he had so awfully perverted was denied him for ever! After lingering nearly a fortnight, he expired in the greatest agonies, his flesh literally rotting upon his bones.

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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