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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

The Shorter Catechism

John Whitecross

Q. 105. What do we pray for in the fifth petition?

A. In the fifth petition (which is, And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors), we pray, That God, for Christ's sake, would freely pardon all our sins; which we are the rather encouraged to ask, because by His grace we are enabled from the heart to forgive others.

1. Who can forgive sins but God only? (Mark 2. 7). When Tetzel, the seller of papal indulgences, was at Leipsic, and had collected a great deal of money from all ranks of people, a nobleman who had suspected the imposition, put the question to him, 'Can you grant absolution for a sin which a man intends to commit in the future?' 'Yes' replied the commissioner; 'but on condition that the proper sum of money be actually paid down.' The nobleman instantly produced the sum demanded; and in return received a diploma, sealed and signed by Tetzel, absolving him from the unexplained crime, which he secretly intended to commit. Not long after, when Tetzel was about to leave Leipsic, the nobleman made inquiry respecting the road he would probably travel, waited for him in ambush at a convenient place, attacked and robbed him; then beat him soundly with a stick, and sent him back again to Leipsic with his chest empty, and at parting said, 'This is the fault I intended to commit, and for which I have your absolution.'

2. The Marquis of Argyle, who suffered in the reign of King Charles II, was employed in the morning of the day of his execution in settling his worldly affairs. To those about him he spoke right joyfully: 'I am now ordering my affairs, and God is sealing my charter to a better inheritance, and just now saying to me, Son, be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven thee.' Having with great cheerfulness dined with his friends, he retired for a little while. Upon his opening the door, a minister of the gospel said to him, 'what cheer, my lord?' He replied, 'Good cheer, sir; the Lord hath again confirmed, and said to me from heaven, Thy sins be forgiven thee.'

3. A gentleman once went to Sir John Eardley Wilmot (at one time Lord Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas), under the impression of great wrath and indignation at a real injury he had received from a person high in the political world, and which he was meditating how to resent in the most effectual manner. After relating the particulars, he asked Sir Eardley, if he did not think it would be manly to resent it? 'Yes,' said he, 'it will be manly to resent it, but it will be Godlike to forgive it.' The gentleman declared that this had such an instantaneous effect upon him, that he came away quite a different man, and in a very different temper from that in which he went.

4. In a school at Youghall, in Ireland, during the master's accidental absence, one boy having been provoked, struck another. On hearing the complaint, the master determined to punish the culprit, when the aggrieved entreated pardon for the offender. On being asked why he would interpose to prevent a just example, he said: 'I was reading in the New Testament lately, that Jesus Christ said we should forgive our enemies, and I wish to forgive him, and I beg he may not be punished for my sake.' This Christian plea was too powerful to be resisted. The offender was pardoned, and the parent of the boy was highly pleased at the circumstance.

5. A little African Negro, only ten years of age, went to hear the preaching of one of the missionaries, and became through his instrumentality a convert to the Christian religion. His master (an inveterate enemy to missions) hearing of it, commanded him never to go again, and declared he would have him whipped to death if he did. The little boy, in consequence of this mandate, was very miserable. He could scarcely refrain from going, yet knew his death was inevitable if he did. In this critical situation, he sought direction and assistance at the throne of grace, and after having done this, he felt convinced that it was still his duty to attend, but to be careful that he should never interfere with his master's business, and, for the rest, to leave himself in the hands of God. He therefore went, and on his return was summoned to his master's presence. After much violent and abusive language, he received five-and-twenty lashes, and then, in a sarcastic tone of blasphemous ridicule, his master exclaimed, 'What can Jesus Christ do for you now?' 'He enables me to bear it patiently,' said the child. 'Give him five-and-twenty lashes more,' said the inhuman wretch. He was obeyed. 'And what can Jesus Christ do for you now?' asked the unfeeling monster. 'He helps me to look forward to a future reward,' replied the little sufferer. 'Give him five-and-twenty lashes more,' vociferated the cruel tyrant in a transport of rage. They complied; and while he listened with savage delight to the extorted groans of his dying victim, he again demanded, 'What can Jesus Christ do for you now?' The youthful martyr, with the last effort of expiring nature, meekly answered, 'He enables me to pray for you, massa;' and instantly breathed his last.

6. John Owen, a godly and devoted servant of the Lord, having, on a particular occasion, endeavoured in vain to accommodate a matter in dispute between two friends, for both of whom he felt much respect, evinced the amiableness of his disposition, by retiring and writing, impromptu, the following lines, which he transmitted to the disputants:

'How rare that toil a prosperous issue finds,
Which seeks to reconcile divided friends!
A thousand scruples rise at passion's touch,
This yields too little, and that asks too much.
Each wishes each with other eyes to see,
And many efforts can't make two agree:
What mediation then the Saviour showed,
Who singly reconciled us all to God!'

7. John Wesley, in the course of a voyage to America, hearing an unusual noise in the cabin of General Oglethorpe, the Governor of Georgia, with whom he sailed, stepped in to inquire the cause of it. The General thus addressed him; 'Mr Wesley you must excuse me, I have met with a provocation too great for a man to bear. You know the only wine I drink is Cyprus wine; I therefore provided myself with several dozens of it, and this villain Grimaldi (his foreign servant, who was present, and almost dead with fear), has drunk up the whole of it, but I will be revenged on him. I have ordered him to be tied hand and foot, and to be carried to the man-of-war which sails with us. The rascal should have taken care how he used me so, for I never forgive.' 'Then I hope, sir,' said Mr W., looking calmly at him, 'you never sin?' The General was quite confounded at the reproof; and, putting his hand into his pocket, took out a bunch of keys, which he threw at Grimaldi—'There, villain,' said he, 'take my keys, behave better for the future.'

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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