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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

The Shorter Catechism

John Whitecross

Q. 99. What rule hath God given for our direction in prayer?

A. The whole word of God is of use to direct us in prayer; but the special rule of direction is that form of prayer which Christ taught His disciples, commonly called The Lord's Prayer.

1. A good man was told one day by a girl of prayer, 'When I was a child my mother taught me to pray, but now the Lord makes me.' Being asked how she knew the Lord's teaching from that of her mother, her reply was: 'The Lord makes me both to rejoice and weep; He makes my heart glad, and gives me new words.'

2. When Thomas Watson was in the pulpit on a lecture-day, before the infamous Bartholomew Act of 1662 took place, among other hearers, 'there came in,' says Dr Calamy, 'that reverend and learned prelate, Bishop Richardson, who was so well pleased with his sermon, but especially with his prayer after it, that he followed him home, to give him thanks, and earnestly desired a copy of his prayer. "Alas!" said Mr Watson, "that is what I cannot give; for I do not use to pen my prayers: it was no studied thing, but uttered as God enabled me, from the abundance of my heart and affection." Upon which the good bishop went away wondering that any man could pray in that manner extempore.'

3. A Hottentot of immoral character, being under deep conviction of sin, was anxious to know how to pray. He went to his master, a Dutchman, to consult with him; but his master gave him no encouragement. A sense of his own wickedness increased, and he had no one near to direct him. Occasionally, however, he was allowed to join with the family at the time of prayer. The portion of Scripture which was one day read by the master, was the parable of the Pharisee and Publican. While the prayer of the Pharisee was read, the poor Hottentot thought within himself, 'This is a good man: here is nothing for me;' but when his master came to the prayer of the Publican, 'God be merciful to me a sinner.'—'This suits me,' he cried: 'now I know how to pray!' With this prayer he immediately retired, and prayed night and day for two days, and then found peace. Full of joy and gratitude, he went into the fields, and as he had no one to whom he could speak, he exclaimed, 'Ye hills, ye rocks, ye trees, ye rivers, hear what God has done for my soul—He has been merciful to me a sinner.'

4. A Sabbath school boy in London, who had been well taught, received a visit from a country cousin, about the same age, and it was agreed they should sleep together. When they went to their room, the Sabbath school boy knelt down by the bedside, and said his prayers; but the country cousin stripped off his clothes, and jumped into bed. When the other arose from his knees, he asked his cousin how he could think of going to bed without saying a prayer. He replied that he did not know any; however this did not satisfy the Sabbath scholar; he made his cousin get out of bed, and repeat the evening prayer after him.

5. A minister was once endeavouring to prevail with a young believer, to begin to pray in his family. The person said he had a great desire to engage in this work, but he feared he had not sufficient gifts to pray publicly. The minister said he would write him a prayer if he would promise to use it. He said he certainly would. The prayer was composed, and the man devoutly used it for some time, both morning and evening; but on one occasion as he was reading his prayer, the candle went out; however, the good man proceeded with great comfort and enlargement; and he found no need of a written prayer ever after.

6. 'Once,' said William Romaine, 'I uttered the Lord's prayer without a wandering thought, and it was the worst prayer I ever offered. I was on this account as proud as the devil.'

7. James Hervey, giving an account of his method of catechising children, says, 'As to instructing children, my method is to ask them easy questions, and to teach them easy and short answers. The Lord's prayer was the subject of our last explanation. In some such manner I proceeded: Why is this prayer called the Lord's prayer? Because our Lord taught it.—Why is Christ called our Lord? Because He has bought us with His blood.—Why does He teach us to call God Father? That we may go to Him as children to a father.—How do children go to God as a Father? With faith, not doubting but He will give them what they want.—Why our Father in heaven? That we may pray to Him with reverence.—What is meant by God's name? God Himself, and all His perfections.—What by hallowed? That He may be honoured and glorified—How is God to be honoured? In our hearts, with our tongues, and by our lives'.

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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