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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

The Shorter Catechism

John Whitecross

Q. 89. How is the word made effectual to salvation?

A. The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation.

1. A certain libertine of a most abandoned character happened one day to stroll into a church, where he heard the 5th chapter of Genesis read, importing that such and such persons lived for so long, and yet the conclusion in all cases was, 'they died.' Enos lived 905 years, and he died—Seth 912, and he died—Methuselah 969, and he died. The frequent repetition of the words he died, notwithstanding the great length of years they had lived, struck him so deeply with the thought of death and eternity, that, through divine grace, he became a most exemplary Christian.

2. Dr Edmund Staunton was called 'the searching preacher'. Once when preaching at Warborough, in Oxfordshire, a man was so much affected with his first prayer, that he ran home and desired his wife to get ready and come to church, for there was one in the pulpit who prayed like an angel. The woman hastened away and heard the sermon, which, under the divine blessing, was the means of her conversion; and she afterwards proved an eminent Christian.

3. An aged minister addressing a young minister at his ordination, said, 'I cannot conclude without reminding you, my young brother, of some things that may be of use to you in the course of your ministry. 1. Preach Christ crucified, and dwell chiefly on the blessings resulting from His righteousness, atonement, and intercession. 2. Avoid all needless Controversies in the pulpit; except it be when your subject necessarily requires it; or when the truths of God are likely to suffer by your silence. 3. When you ascend the pulpit, leave your learning behind you: endeavour to preach more to the hearts of your people than to their heads. 4. Do not affect too much oratory. Seek rather to profit, than to be admired.'

4. 'I was conversing,' says Charles G. Finney, in his 'Lectures on Revivals of Religion,' 'with one of the first advocates in America. He said, the difficulty which preachers find in making themselves understood is, that they do not repeat enough. Says he, "In addressing a jury, I always expect that whatever I wish to impress upon their minds, I shall have to repeat at least twice, and often I repeat it three or four times, and even more. Otherwise, I do not carry their minds along with me, so that they can feel the force of what comes afterwards." If a jury, under oath, called to decide on the common affairs of this world, cannot apprehend an argument, unless there is so much repetition, how is it to be expected that men will understand the preaching of the gospel without it?'

5. A young man, gay, thoughtless, and dissipated, with a companion like himself, was passing along the street, intending to go to one of the theatres. A little boy ran by his side, and attempted to put a letter into his hand: he repulsed the boy, but he persevered: and when his companion attempted to take it, the boy refused him, saying to the other, 'It is for you, sir.' He opened the paper, and read its contents. They were simply these words, 'Sir, remember the day of judgment is at hand.' It pleased God that these words should meet his attention; he was struck with them; he felt disinclined to go to the theatre, and said he would return home. His companion rallied him, but he took leave of him, and bent his course homewards. On his way he observed a chapel open, and though he was not accustomed to attend such places, he went in. A venerable minister was about to preach, and just then reading his text. He had chosen as his text: 'This is the finger of God.' The sermon was blessed to him, and he became a new man.

6. Archbishop Leighton, before he attained his high dignity in the church, being asked why he did not preach on the times, as the rest of his brethren did, replied, 'That if they all preached on time, might not one poor brother be allowed to preach on eternity!'

7. A minister, one Sabbath morning, opened his Bible to mark the passage he had been studying throughout the week, and from which he intended to deliver a discourse that day; but to his great surprise, he could not find the passage: for neither words nor text could he recollect. He endeavoured to recall the subject to memory, and made it a matter of prayer; but all to no effect. While thinking how he should be confounded before the congregation another passage darted into his mind with peculiar energy. He accordingly preached from it, and during the discourse he observed a person, apparently in a clerical habit, enter the place. After having heard a little he seemed bathed in tears, and never raised his head through the whole of the sermon. The minister never had more liberty in preaching. In the evening, this person called on him, and after expressing his obligations for the sermon he had heard, he added, 'Two or three years ago, I heard you, in such a place, preach upon a subject, and ever since I have been under the spirit of conviction and bondage. This day I took my horse and rode to hear you, and blessed be God, He has now given me to see Him as my reconciled God and Father in Jesus Christ, and has also given me to enjoy that liberty wherewith He makes His people free.' 'After some interesting conversation, we both,' says the minister, 'began to see the good hand of God in this matter, and His good providence in determining me in such a remarkable manner, to preach upon a subject I had never before proposed, and which He had accompanied with such a powerful efficacy. To me it was one of my best days, and one which, both by him and me, will be remembered through a joyful eternity.'

8. Hugh Clark, a pious minister of Northamptonshire, in queen Elizabeth's reign, having in his sermon announced the just judgment of God against certain particular sins to which the people were much addicted, the next morning a young man came to his house wishing to see him. Mr Clark, having invited him into his chamber, and knowing his vicious character, sharply reproved him, and warned him of his awful danger. God wrought so effectually upon his heart by this pointed and faithful dealing that the man, falling on his knees, and crying for pardon, pulled out a dagger by which he had determined to murder him. 'I came hither,' said the man, 'with a full resolution to stab you, but God has prevented me. This was occasioned by your terrifying sermon yesterday. But, if you please to forgive me, I shall, by the grace of God, never attempt any such thing again.' Clark freely pardoned the offence, and, after giving him suitable advice, dismissed him.

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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