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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

The Shorter Catechism

John Whitecross

Q. 83. Are all transgressions of the law equally heinous?

A. Some sins in themselves, and by reasons of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others.

1. On the 4th August, 1796, between eleven and twelve o'clock in the forenoon, a violent storm of thunder and lightning arose in the district of Montpellier, Southern France. In a field about a mile from the town, a body of nine hundred soldiers lay encamped. At a small distance from the camp, five of the soldiers were assisting a husbandman in gathering in the produce of the earth, for hire. When the storm came on, the whole party took refuge under a tree, where the five soldiers began to blaspheme God for interrupting them in their labour; and one of them, in the madness of his presumption, took up his firelock, which he happened to have by him, and pointing it towards the skies, said he would fire a bullet at Him who sent the storm! Seized with horror at this blasphemous declaration, the husbandman made all the haste he could to quit their company; but scarcely had he got the distance of ten paces from the tree, when a flash of lightning struck four of the soldiers dead, and wounded the fifth in such a manner, that his life was despaired of.

2. When that truly devoted missionary, Henry Martyn, was at Shiraz in Persia, translating the New Testament into the language of that country, he seems to have been delighted with the following incident, which he notices in his journal, June 28, 1811: 'The poor boy,' says he, 'while writing how one of the servants of the high priest struck the Lord on the face, stopped and said, Sir, did not his hand dry up?'

3. Edmund Bonner, Bishop of London, was one of the most bloody instruments of persecution during the cruel reign of Mary Tudor of England. Being confined in the Tower of London upon the accession of queen Elizabeth, which was the highest punishment inflicted on him, he went to visit some of the criminals kept in that prison, and wishing to ingratiate them, called them his friends and companions. One of them bade him begone, for they were none of his friends; adding, 'I killed but one man on a provocation, and do truly repent of it; but you have killed many holy persons of all sorts, without any provocation from them, and are hardened in your impenitence.' This fact is told by Bishop Jewel, in a letter to Peter Martyr.

4. 'I was lately called,' says one, 'to visit a sick person. On entering the room, I found him very weak in body, and troubled in mind. Seeing the Bible lying upon a table, near the chair upon which he sat, I said, "You have a blessed book here." "Yes," he replied; "but the sight of it is like a dagger to my heart." "Cannot you read it?" "O yes, yes! I have read it again and again; but I have not properly regarded it, nor minded what I read in it; it condemns my conduct—it troubles my mind, and now—O what must become of my soul!" I could not attempt, nor did I wish, to justify such neglect; I therefore spoke in a plain manner against such a course, and at the same time pointed out Jesus as the only possible means of escape, and way by which pardon and peace could be obtained. The advice seemed to increase his sorrow and anguish. I closed the visit with prayer, and left the room, deeply impressed with the words of the wise man, "The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity, but a wounded spirit who can bear?" Not many days after, I committed the mortal part to the earth, from whence it was taken, and the soul has been summoned to the bar of that God who gave it.'

5. An Indian chief having been at one time a little intoxicated, his friend said to him, 'There is one thing very strange, and what I cannot account for—it is why the Indians get so much more drunk than the white people!' 'Do you think that to be strange?' said the old chief 'it is not strange at all. The Indians think it no harm to get drunk whenever they can; but you white men say it is a sin, and get drunk nevertheless!'

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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