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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

The Shorter Catechism
Illustrated

by
John Whitecross


Q. 90. How is the word to be read and heard, that it may become effectual to salvation?

A. That the word may become effectual to salvation, we must attend thereunto with diligence, preparation, and prayer; receive it with faith and love, lay it up in our hearts, and practise it in our lives.


1. When Archbishop Cranmer's edition of the Bible was printed in 1538, and fixed to a desk in all parochial churches, the ardour with which men flocked to read it was incredible. They who could procured it; and they who could not, crowded to read it, or to hear it read in churches, where it was common to see little assemblies of workmen meeting together for that purpose after the labour of the day. Many even learned to read in their old age, that they might have the pleasure of instructing themselves from the Scriptures. John Foxe mentions two apprentices who joined each his little stock, and bought a Bible, which at every interval of leisure they read; but being afraid of their master, who was a zealous papist, they kept it under the straw of their bed.

2. When the arrival of the cart, which carried the first sacred load of the Scriptures to Wales in 1816, sent by the British and Foreign Bible Society, was announced, the Welsh peasants went out in crowds to meet it. Welcoming it as the Israelites did the ark of old they drew it into the town, and eagerly bore off every copy as rapidly as they could be dispersed. The young people were to be seen spending the whole night in reading it. Labourers carried it with them to the field, that they might enjoy it during the intervals of their labour, and lose no opportunity of becoming acquainted with its sacred truths. Let those consider this, who despise or neglect the Bible; who have it, but seldom open it, or when they do, slumber over it, as a record in which they have little or no interest, and soon lay it aside in weariness or disgust.

3. As a minister named Nicoll of Exeter was once preaching, he saw several of the aldermen asleep, and thereupon sat down. Upon his silence, and the noise that presently arose in the church, they awoke, and stood up with the rest, upon which he arose, and said, 'The sermon is not yet done, but now you are awake, I hope you will hearken more diligently,' and then went on.

4. 'I was once preaching a charity sermon,' says Richard Cecil, 'when the congregation was very large, and chiefly of the lower order. I found it impossible by my usual method of preaching to gain their attention. It was in the afternoon, and my hearers seemed to meet nothing in my preaching which was capable of rousing them out of the stupefaction of a full dinner. Some lounged, and some turned their backs on me. "I must have attention," I said to myself; "I will be heard." The case was desperate; and, in despair, I sought a desperate remedy. I exclaimed aloud, "Last Monday morning a man was hanged at Tyburn." Instantly the face of things was changed and all was silence and expectation! I caught their ear, and retained it through the sermon.'

5. The first day that Dr Robert Balmer went with his mother to attend public worship at Jedburgh, having formerly gone with his father, during his lifetime, to Morebattle, was one on which the sacrament of the Lord's Supper was dispensed. The action sermon, as it is called, was preached from a tent erected in a green adjoining the church. Robert sat before his mother on the grass. She, having never seen his demeanour in the public assembly before, was surprised and somewhat grieved by his apparent restlessness, but took no notice. However, when the services were concluded, and the little band which came from Eckford-moss were returning, and talking by the way of what they had heard, and endeavouring to recall the particulars of the sermons delivered, he was found able to supply much of what the older people had forgotten. He had several times thus assisted them to the recollection both of the heads of the discourses and of remarks made in illustration, when an elder who was among them, looking to his mother, said, 'Margaret, do you know wha's laddie that is?' She might, no doubt, have felt something of maternal pride as she replied, 'The boy is mine.

6. The pastor of a congregation in America, after many years labour among his people, was supposed by some of them to have declined much in his vigour and usefulness; in consequence of which two gentlemen of the congregation waited upon him, and exhibited their complaints. The minister received them with much affection, and assured them that he was equally sensible of his languor and little success, and that the cause had given him very great uneasiness. The gentlemen wished he would mention what he thought was the cause. Without hesitation, the minister replied, 'The loss of my prayer-book.' 'Your prayer-book?' said one of the gentlemen with surprise; 'I never knew that you used one.' 'Yes,' replied the minister, 'I have enjoyed the benefit of one for many years till lately, and I attribute my want of success to the loss of it. The prayers of my people were my prayer-book; and it has occasioned great grief to me that they have laid it aside. Now, if you will return and procure to me the use of my prayer-book again, I doubt not I shall preach much better, and that you will hear more profitably.' The gentlemen, conscious of their neglect, thanked the minister for the reproof, and wished him a good morning.

7. A merchant at Boston in America, according to his wonted liberality, sent a present of chocolate and sugar to a minister of the gospel, with a note desiring his acceptance of it, as a comment on Gal. 6.6, 'Let him that is taught in the word, communicate to him that teacheth, in all good things.' The minister, who was then confined by sickness, returned his compliments to the merchant, thanked him for his excellent family expositor, and wished him to give him a practical exposition of Matt. 25.36, 'I was sick, and ye visited me.'

8. A poor woman in the country went to hear a sermon, wherein, among other evil practices, the use of dishonest weights and measures was exposed. With this discourse she was much affected. The next day, when the minister, according to his custom, went among his hearers and called upon the woman, he took occasion to ask her what she remembered of his sermon. The poor woman complained much of her bad memory, and said she had forgotten almost all he had delivered. 'But one thing,' said she, 'I remembered—I remembered to burn my bushel.' A doer of the word cannot be a forgetful hearer.

9. 'There was one thing,' said an individual, who was then following his godly parents in the path to heaven, 'which, in my wildest days, I never could get over, and that was the holy and devoted conduct of my father and mother. I watched them constantly and intently, in the hope of finding something which would supply me with a reason for thinking meanly of religion; but I watched in vain. Their whole conduct so exemplified their creed, and so adorned the gospel, as to leave me without excuse.'

10. Two learned physicians, and a plain honest countryman, happening to meet at an inn, sat down to dinner together. A dispute presently arose between the two doctors, on the nature of aliment, which proceeded to such a height, and was carried on with so much fury, that it spoiled their meal, and they parted extremely indisposed. The countryman, in the meantime, who understood not the cause, though he heard the quarrel, fell heartily to his meat, gave thanks to God, digested it well, returned in the strength of it to his honest labour, and at evening received his wages. 'Is there not sometimes,' adds Bishop Home, 'as much difference between the polemical and the practical Christian?'


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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