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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

The Shorter Catechism

John Whitecross

Q. 51. What is forbidden in the second commandment?

A. The second commandment forbiddeth the worshipping of God by images, or any other way not appointed in His Word.

1. The gospel of Christ having spread into Persia, the priests who carried out the sun worship of that land, persuaded the King Sapor to decree the death of all Christians throughout his dominions. Many persons eminent in church and state alike fell martyrs. Usthazares, tutor to the Persian princes, was a Christian. One day the king found him in deep distress. He answered: 'O King, this grieves me, that I am this day alive, who should rather have died long since, and I grieve that I see the sun which, against my heart and mind, for your pleasure and at your decree dissemblingly I appear to worship.' The king accordingly appointed his death. One request he made to the king, that for all the faithful service he had rendered to his father and to him, he would now cause to be proclaimed openly that Usthazares was beheaded, not for any treachery or crime committed against the king or his realm, but only because he was a Christian and would not, at the king's command, deny his God. This request was granted, and many were established in Christianity at his death, as many had been staggered by his apostasy.

2. One day in the spring of 1823, a little girl, about five years old, accompanied her mother to pay a visit to a lady. When alighting from the carriage in the court-yard, she saw a statue of King William III, and immediately addressed her mother in these words: 'Mother, is that a graven image there? If it is, I will not fall down and worship it, I will only worship God Almighty.' This prompt and Christian-like determination of the little girl not only pleased but astonished all present.

3. An Irish boy, when the master of the school was one day teaching his scholars how we are forbidden to worship any image, interrupted him by saying, 'Please, Sir, there is one image we ought to worship.' 'Indeed!' said the master, 'pray what is that?' The boy replied, 'Why, sir, we are told to worship Christ who is "the image of the invisible Cod" ' (Col. 1.15).

4. A missionary in India named Thomas was one day travelling alone through the country when he saw many people entering a temple of an idol. He too entered and, standing in front of the idol, he held up his hand and asked for silence. Putting his fingers over his eyes, he said to them, 'It has eyes but it cannot see; it has ears but it cannot hear, a nose but it cannot smell, hands but it cannot handle, a mouth but it cannot speak; neither is there any breath in it.' The people were taken by surprise. An old Brahmin was so convinced of his folly that he cried out, 'It has feet but cannot run away.' The people raised a shout, but, being ashamed of their stupidity, left the temple and went to their homes.

5. A Protestant who rented a small farm under Alexander, second Duke of Gordon, having fallen behind in his payments, a vigilant steward, in the duke's absence, seized the farmer's stock, and advertised it to be sold by auction on a fixed day. The duke happily returned home in the interval, and the tenant went to him to supplicate for indulgence. 'What is the matter, Donald?' said the duke, as he saw him enter with sad downcast looks. Donald told him his sorrowful tale in a concise natural manner; it touched the duke's heart, and produced a formal acquittance of the debt. Donald, as he cheerfully withdrew, was staring at the pictures and images which he saw in the ducal hall, and expressed to the duke, in a homely way, a wish to know what they were. 'These,' said the duke, who was a Roman Catholic, 'are the saints who intercede with God for me.' 'My lord duke,' said Donald, 'would it not be better to apply yourself directly to God? I went to muckle Sawney Gordon, and to little Sawney Gordon; but if I had not come to your good grace's self; I could not have got my discharge, and both I and my bairns had been turned out from house and home.'

6. Whilst Sir Henry Wotton was in Italy, as ambassador of King James I at the court of Venice, he went, at the request of a Roman Catholic priest, to hear the music at their vespers, or evening service. The priest, seeing Sir Henry stand in an obscure corner of the church, sent to him by a boy of the choir this question, written on a small piece of paper, 'Where was your religion to be found before Luther?' To which question Sir Henry presently underwrote, 'My religion was to be found then, where yours is not to be found now—in the written word of God.'

7. The Vicar of Bray, in Berkshire, was a papist under Henry VIII, a Protestant under Edward VI, a papist again under queen Mary, and a Protestant in the reign of queen Elizabeth. He was reproached, as bringing scandal upon his office. 'I cannot help that,' said the vicar; 'if I changed my religion, I am sure I keep true to my principle, which is, to live and die vicar of Bray.'

8. 'One day,' says a person, 'as I was crossing a meadow, I met with an old man, a Roman Catholic, and entering into conversation with him on his religion, I said to him, "Why do your priests say their prayers in Latin?" The poor man replied with considerable warmth, "Why, to be sure, the devil don't understand the Latin tongue." Well, I thought, here is a mystery explained in a few words. Here is an importance attached to the Latin tongue that I never before knew. Here the devil is beat outright. Who would not study the Latin tongue?'

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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