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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

The Shorter Catechism

John Whitecross

Q. 81. What is forbidden in the tenth commandment?

A. The tenth commandment forbiddeth all discontentment with our own estate, envying or grieving at the good of our neighbour, and all inordinate motions and affections to any thing that is his.

1. 'When I was a lad,' says one, 'an old gentleman took some trouble to teach me some little knowledge of the world. With this view, I remember, he once asked me, when a man was rich enough? I replied, when he had a thousand pounds. He said, No.—Two thousand? No.—Ten thousand? No.—Twenty thousand? No.—An hundred thousand? which I thought would settle the business; but he still continuing to say no, I gave it up, and confessed I could not tell, but begged he would inform me. He gravely said, When he has a little more than he has, and that is never! If he acquires one thousand, he wishes to have two thousand; then five, then ten, then twenty, then fifty; from that his riches would amount to a hundred thousand, and so on, till he had grasped the whole world; after which he would look about him, like Alexander, for other worlds to possess.'

2. A young person once mentioned to Benjamin Franklin his surprise that the possession of great riches should ever be attended with undue solicitude; and instanced a merchant, who, although in possession of unbounded wealth, was as busy as the most assiduous clerk in his counting-house, and much more anxious. The doctor, in reply, took an apple from the fruit basket, and presented it to a child in the room, who could scarcely grasp it in his hand. He then gave it a second, which filled the other hand; and choosing a third, remarkable for its size and beauty, he presented that also. The child, after many ineffectual attempts to hold the three apples, dropped the last on the carpet, and burst into tears: 'See, there,' said he, 'is a little man with more riches than he can enjoy.'

3. Dr. William Dodd, author and clergyman, in early life was an associate of Bishop Home, Jones of Nayland, and, it is believed, of Wm. Romaine, and other religious persons of that age: and it was hoped that he would have continued in fellowship with them and their connections. But he yielded to the seductions of the world, became giddy with popular applause, sought and obtained admission within the circles of high life, gained preferment and royal favour, and eventually was a stranger among the companions of his better days. He was conscious of this desertion, and, on one occasion, meeting with a lady who belonged to the party he had abandoned, he asked her, what his former associates thought of him; she only answered, 'Demas hath forsaken us, having loved this present world'—a reply which, at the moment, deeply affected its object. Dr Dodd, however, pursued his career; and finally endeavouring, and with success, to defraud his former pupil, Lord Chesterfield, by forging his name to a financial document, he was convicted and executed.

4. Mutius, a citizen of Rome, was noted to be of so envious and malevolent a disposition, that Publius, one day observing him to be very sad, said 'Either some great evil has happened to Mutius, or some great good to another.'

5. A countryman presented Louis XI of France with a turnip of unusual size. The king, delighted with the simplicity of the man, commanded him to be presented with a thousand crowns; and the turnip (wrapped up in silk) to be reserved among his treasures. A covetous courtier observing this, in hopes of a greater sum, bought a very handsome horse, and made a present of him to the king, who cheerfully accepted the gift, and gave orders that the turnip should be presented to him, telling him it cost a thousand crowns.

6. A lady and gentleman, when taking a morning ride in their carriage, passed some reapers in a field near the road, immediately after they had finished their dinner. They were amusing themselves in the most cheerful and jovial manner. The lady asked her husband, whether he thought the reapers or they were the happier. 'There can be no difficulty,' said he, 'in answering that question-undoubtedly they are by far the happier.' 'Do you suppose they think so ?' 'No, I am certain they do not; for very probably some of them are now saying of us "O how happy these people must be, who have nothing else to do but to sit in their carriage, to look about them, and when they are tired, to go home to a good dinner: but here we must toil from morning to night for a poor pittance."'

7. A gentleman was once extolling at an extravagant rate the virtue of honesty; what a dignity it imparted to our nature; how it recommended us to the Supreme Being. He confirmed all by a celebrated line from Alexander Pope,

'An honest man's the noblest work of God.'

'Sir,' replied one, 'however excellent the virtue of honesty may be, I fear there are few men in the world that really possess it.' 'You surprise me,' said the stranger. 'Ignorant as I am of your character, sir, I fancy it would be no difficult matter to prove even you a dishonest man.' 'I defy you.' 'Will you give me leave then to ask you a question or two, and promise not to be offended?' 'Ask your questions and welcome.' 'Have you ever met with an opportunity of getting gain by unfair means?' The gentleman paused. 'I don't ask whether you made use of, but whether you have met with such opportunity. I for my part have, and I believe everybody else has.' 'Very probably I may.' 'How did you feel your mind affected on such an occasion? Had you no secret desire, not the least inclination to seize the advantage which offered? Tell me without any evasion, and consistently with the character you admire.' 'I must acknowledge, I have not always been absolutely free from every irregular inclination; but—' 'Hold, sir, none of your salvos, you have confessed enough. If you had the desire, though you never pursued it further, this shows you were dishonest in heart. This is what the Scriptures call concupiscence. It defiles the soul. It is a breach of that law which requires truth in the inward parts; and unless you are pardoned by the blood of Christ, it will be a just ground of your condemnation, when God shall judge the secrets of men.'

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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