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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

The Shorter Catechism

John Whitecross

Q. 61. What is forbidden in the fourth commandment?

A. The fourth commandment forbiddeth the omission or careless performance of the duties required, and the profaning the day by idleness, or doing that which is in itself sinful, or by unnecessary thoughts, words, or works, about our worldly employments or recreations.

1. A distinguished nobleman, having observed, one Lord's-day at church, that the greater part of his servants were absent, on his return home, inquired the reason. On the butler's stating that it was owing to the wetness of the roads, his lordship replied, 'Well, this shall soon be remedied;' and on the next wet Sabbath-day that occurred, he ordered the servants to take their places in a large covered cart, while he followed them on foot all the way to church. This singular kind of reproof had the desired effect; and the day must have been very bad indeed, if any of his lordship's servants were absent from public worship.

2. It was the frequent and almost constant custom of William Grimshaw, to leave his church whilst the psalm was singing, to see if any were absent from worship, and idling their time in the church-yard, the street, or the ale houses; and many of those whom he so found he would drive into the church before him. 'A friend of mine,' says John Newton, 'passing a public-house in Haworth, on a Lord's-day morning, saw several persons making their escape out of it, some jumping out of the lower windows, and some over a low wall: he was at first alarmed, fearing the house was on fire; but, on inquiring what was the cause of the commotion, he was told that they saw the parson coming. They were more afraid of their parson, than they were of a justice of the peace. His reproofs were so authoritative, and yet so mild and friendly, that the stoutest sinners could not stand before him.'

3. A minister, observing that some of his people made a practice of coming in very late, and after a considerable part of the sermon was over, was determined that they should feel the force of a public reproof. One day, therefore, as they entered the place of worship at their usual late hour, the minister, addressing his congregation, said, 'But my hearers, it is time for us now to conclude, for here are our friends just come to fetch us home.' We may easily conjecture what the parties felt at this curious but pointed address.

4. 'A native lad,' says a missionary in India, 'about ten or eleven years of age, distinguished for his understanding and general good behaviour, being at chapel on a Lord's-day, went to sleep during the sermon; on returning home, I reproved him for so doing, but not harshly. A short time after, going out into the verandah, I found him sobbing most bitterly. I inquired of the other boys the cause; they replied, "We do not know; he came and sat down, and began to cry, and we cannot pacify him." I then called him, and, taking him aside, asked the reason of his crying. After some effort he said, "Oh, sir, I went to sleep at chapel!" and then sobbed louder than before. I said, "Do you weep because I was angry with you, or because God was angry with you?" His answer was, "Because God is angry with me; for in going to sleep at worship, I sinned against Him." He was then informed, that since he repented of his conduct, there was reason to hope that God would forgive him. After hearing this, and reading a passage from the Scriptures suited to his case, which I pointed out to him (Proverbs 28.13) he left me much comforted.'

5. An active and skilful young minister, while engaged under circumstances of the most promising kind in the village of J——, was told of a miller, who, with more than usual of the bravery of profaneness, had repelled every attempt to approach him on the subject of religion, and had daunted all the hopes and efforts of the few serious persons in this vicinity. Among other practices of sinful daring, he uniformly kept his windmill, the most striking object in the hamlet, going on the Sabbath. In a little time, the clergyman determined to make an effort for the benefit of the hopeless man. He undertook the office of going for his flour the next time himself 'A fine mill,' said he, as the miller adjusted his sack to receive the flour; 'a fine mill, indeed, one of the completest I have ever seen.' This was nothing more than just—the miller had heard it a thousand times before; and would firmly have thought it, though he had never heard it once; but his skill and judgment were still gratified by this new testimony, and his feelings conciliated even towards the minister. 'But, O!' continued his customer, after a little pause, 'there is one defect in it!' 'What is that?' carelessly asked the miller. 'A very serious defect too.' 'Eh,' replied the miller, turning up his face. 'A defect that is likely to counterbalance all its advantages.' 'Well what is it?' said the miller, standing straight up, and looking the clergyman in the face. The minister went on: 'A defect which is likely to ruin the mill!' 'What is it?' rejoined the miller. 'And will one day, no doubt, destroy the owner.' 'And can't you say it out?' exclaimed the impatient miller. 'It goes on the Sabbath!' pronounced the minister, in a firm, and solemn, and monitory tone. The astonished man stood blank and thunderstruck, and remained meek and submissive under a remonstrance and exhortation of a quarter of an hour's length, in which the danger of his state and practice, and the call to repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, were fully proposed to him.

6. It is to be regretted that public vehicles are so frequently used without necessity in conveying persons to and from church on Sabbath. The drivers of these vehicles must either be kept from public worship altogether, or attend at a late hour. One Sabbath morning, a lady stepping into a hackney coach, in order to ride to a place of worship, asked the driver, if he ever went to church on the Lord's-day? She received the following reply: 'No madam; I am so occupied in taking others there, that I cannot possibly get time to go myself!'

7. 'After preaching a sermon,' says James Sherman, 'in which I exhorted every one to do something for Jesus Christ, a little girl, aged eight years, came to me the next morning, and said, "I think, sir, I can do something for Jesus Christ." "And what do you think you can do for your Saviour, my dear child?" said I. "If sir," she replied, "you would enclose some of those little tracts—(Nothing lost by serving God)—in half sheets of writing paper, and direct them to tradesmen who keep open their shops on the Lord's-day, I do not think they would refuse to take them of a little girl, when they did not appear as tracts, but like letters nicely directed to them." I adopted her suggestion, and put the letters into the dear little one's hands, and acting as a missionary in the district, she has been the instrument of shutting up six shops which were formerly kept open on God's day.'

8. One Sabbath-day, two sons of a poor widow in Derbyshire, the elder sixteen, and the younger thirteen years of age, went to slide on some ice at a short distance from home. Before they left their home, they had been requested by their mother to accompany her to the house of God, and, whilst on the ice, were warned of their danger by a person who passed by, and knew the depth of the water. But, alas! their mother's request, and the seasonable warning of their neighbour were both in vain. In a little time the ice gave way, and both were drowned. Thus were these youthful Sabbath-breakers called to stand before the judgrnent-seat of the Almighty, who has said, 'Remember the Sabbath-day to keep it holy.'

9. In the year 1809, a youth about seventeen years of age, the son of a respectable tradesman in London, went out for the purpose of shooting birds on a Lord's-day in the afternoon. He had done so more than once before, which coming to the knowledge of his father, he expressly enjoined him never to do the like again. But the lad, disregarding his command, and taking advantage of his father's absence, borrowed a gun from a person in the neighbourhood, and went out as usual. While he was watching the birds, the gun, by some accident, went off and killed him on the spot.

10. At the village of Ampleforth, in Yorkshire, two young men were playing at fives on the Lord's-day morning. A godly man reproved them, and warned them of the impropriety and danger of their conduct, as they might draw down God's judgment upon them. The reproof, however, had not the desired effect, as the elder of them swore, by the God that made him; and at the same time added, that if he lived until the following Sabbath, he would call three or four of his companions together, to play near the chapel-wall at the time of service. On Sabbath morning he was taken dangerously ill, and in spite of all medical aid, expired in the course of the day!

11. Many years ago the following narrative appeared in a London magazine concerning the death of a cab driver: ' "I'm dying, I feel I'm dying; fetch some one to pray for me," exclaimed the cabman, who like others of his calling had long neglected spiritual concerns. "Run, George, as fast as you can," said the weeping wife to the poor lad, who had buried his face in the bed on which his dying father was laid: "Run and tell Mr—— that your father has got nearly killed, and wants him to come directly and pray for him."

'The medical attendant had done all that was practicable to alleviate the bodily pains of the sufferer; but these were light compared with the horror of death which overwhelmed him. The minister of the parish now arrived.

"I've been a wicked man," the sufferer said. "O that I had lived a different life! It's too late now."

'The words of mercy were then spoken. He listened, but seemed not to comprehend their meaning. A convulsive struggle ensued; his half-closed eyes were once more opened, when, with an expiring effort, he exclaimed, in a hoarse whisper, and with a look of anguish which no pen can describe, "I've had no Sundays!" They were his last words.'

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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