Friday, March 21, 2008

Long Sermons or Short?

The Original Secession Magazine (Vol 5, 1860-61-62) took notice of a remark in the London Times, "We really wish that clergymen would remember that even a good sermon, more than three-quarters of an hour in length, is a bore from the moment that the third quarter is up." It would be hard to find many who would agree to even this criticism these days. Half-an-hour or 20 minutes is too long for many. The article by the Original Secession Magazine makes the point that 'such restrictions are directly opposed to the design of preaching—to the sanctification of the Sabbath—to the Directory for Public Worship—to the examples of the best ministers of the primitive and reformed churches'. 'The sanctification of the Sabbath requires that we "spend the whole time in the public and private exercises of God's worship, except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy." Unless it can be shown that the private exercises are more important than those which are public, the balance of due proportion must be kept up between them. But the testimony of the Spirit and the experience of God's saints give the preponderance to the exercises of the sanctuary."The Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than all the
dwellings of Jacob." If the worshippers know anything of the spirit of their Lord, they will do so also. If David could say that a day in the courts of the Lord was better than a thousand, we cannot understand how the shortest services should be most prized by any who profess to worship David's God'.

'Such restrictions have never been known to the Church except in an age of formal Christianity, or at a time when religious entertainment is fashionable, and multitudes enter the house of God, not to worship — not to have the head enlightened and the heart enlarged,—but merely to obtain a little intellectual excitement, in order to relieve the tedium of the Sabbath.' This is very true in our own day but I fear it is excitement of a kind other than intellectual that is sought within many so-called evangelical or otherwise churches.

The Magazine makes the points that in 'almost anything else but the service of God, hours are freely devoted without a grumble'. Worldly entertainments all demand much more than this. Reading the newspaper takes many longer than this. 'Until we see similar brevity in the time devoted to business, to recreation, to meetings for carnal pleasure, we will not believe either in the consistency or the sincerity of those who would reduce the public worship of God to the smallest possible limits. Is the message of God to men the only subject that can be crushed within the compass of a few minutes?'

Men debate for hours on politics and discuss various other topical matters. Is the message of heaven less important? 'Is the salvation of the soul, or the communion of the spirit with God in His Word, less interesting?'

The Magazine article puts its finger on the real reasons behind such objections. 'The secret of the matter lies in the fact, that the former is opposed to, while the latter is in harmony with, the depravity of human nature. Will any rational man say that one, two, or three hours may be requisite for the discussion of some philosophical principle, or the exposition of some natural law, while half-an-hour, or, at most, thirty-five minutes, is quite sufficient for expounding and applying the sublime and mysterious doctrines of grace? The idea is preposterous.
If eternity, with all the additional light of the upper sanctuary, will never exhaust the themes of the gospel, is the herald of the cross— the commissioned ambassador of Christ—to be bound down to a few fleeting moments in proclaiming the word and will of the living God?

Is it not a mockery of God and men to deal thus with the questions of life and death—with the present privileges and eternal interests of gospel hearers ? The men of the world and the votaries of pleasure will have time for the accomplishment of their special objects, so also must the Church and the gospel ministry have a due proportion of time for the service of the sanctuary. It is not becoming the house of God, nor in keeping with subjects of eternal moment, for either ministers or people to be pulling out watches, as if God were being served by the minute, and as if there was anxiety lest He should get more time than was due. All such habits have sprung from mere conventional ideas, and the want of a proper sense of that reverence which is due to the God of the sanctuary'.

The Magazine states: 'We are no advocates for protracted sermons, much less for long
prayers; but we protest against the modern restrictions which many, with self-constituted authority, would impose upon the worship of God. The want of spiritual appetite, and reluctance to make any sacrifice for the service of God, are the chief sources from which such restrictions emanate. Full of the world and its pleasures, there is little longing after the bread of life. Were gospel hearers earnest in their preparation for public worship, and found, like the Psalmist, waiting to hear what God the Lord will speak unto His people, there would be no desire to bring the sermon within the limits of half an hour, or to restrict the whole service of the Sabbath to ninety minutes, as is now done in some fashionable churches'.

These restrictions do not allow for the liberty and outpouring of the Holy Spirit. 'By such things the Spirit is grieved and quenched, while the hungering and thirsting children of God are deprived of that full provision which the Master of assemblies has made for His own house. It is alike dishonouring to God and to His commissioned servants to expect the prayerful preparation of a discourse that must be eut short, however momentous the theme, when the conventional minutes are exhausted'. 'The complaints of restless hearers in reference to the length of a sermon, are impertinencies which ought to have no place among sincere and spiritual worshippers. We cannot conceive of Christ or His Apostles being guided in their work by any such inventions or influences. With them, and with every genuine ambassador, the fleeting moments of time are forgotten while dealing with the realities of eternity'.

The sabbath services are vitally important: 'As each Sabbath comes with a special message, and may be the last to some gospel hearer, it becomes the herald of the cross to furnish that message, although he may exceed the tolerated limits of modern taste. In the time requisite, as well as in the message propounded, the minister can have no master but Christ—no dictation in the matter of duty but the guidance of the Spirit of God'.

We are speaking of the sabbath rather than midweek meetings where the nature of the day will mean that there must be some thought given to time. The general principle for all exercises of public worship, however, is well stated as follows. 'To preach or pray by the minute is little more than mechanical devotion'.

The magazine article concludes: 'In regard to long or short sermons, we must be guided by subjects and circumstances; but we repudiate all such conventional limits as are set by...fastidious hearers. The matters of the ministerial embassy are too weighty to be regulated, either in mode or measure, by the flippant dictum of popular opinion'.

The Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland website puts the whole matter rather well in the following way:
'A ten-minute sermon once a week is unlikely to convey much biblical teaching. That is why the Free Presbyterian Church teaches its congregations through sermons of 30-60 minutes' duration, twice on the Lord's Day, and usually at midweek prayer meetings. A recent survey shows that most people in the U.K. gain their knowledge of Christianity through sermons and would like to have more information provided this way. If people are to attain to a saving knowledge of Christ they must find this knowledge in the Bible...It is hardly remarkable, however, when people are not sufficiently aware that the Bible is God's Word from which the Church must derive all her teaching.'

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Books we never have read: Books we never should

Professor of French literature at the University of Paris VIII, Pierre Bayard's essay on "How to discuss books that one hasn't read" raises some intriguing thoughts. According to Bayard, it is possible to have a fruitful discussion about a book one hasn't read. Bayard is more interested in the 'constraining need to appear cultured' and discussing literary works. In other words – pride – this can come even into theological reading. 'Knowledge puffeth up'.

'And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.' (Ecclesiastes 12:12). Life is short, there are too many books to read and the pursuit of them can lead us away from the one book needful if we do not approach them in the right way: prayerfully, humbly, and scripturally. Martin Luther has an appropriate comment on this in 'An Open Letter to The Christian Nobility':

'The number of theological books must also be lessened, and a selection made of the best of them. For it is not many books or much reading that makes men learned; but it is good things, however little of them, often read, that make men learned in the Scriptures, and make them godly, too. Indeed the writings of all the holy fathers should be read only for a time, in order that through them we may be led to the Holy Scriptures. As it is, however, we read them only to be absorbed in them and never come to the Scriptures. We are like men who study the sign-posts and never travel the road. The dear fathers wished, by their writings, to lead us to the Scriptures, but we so use them as to be led away from the Scriptures, though the Scriptures alone are our vineyard in which we ought to work and toil.'

But it is true that one can discuss books one hasn't read. The false idea that one must have viewed, heard or read something that is obviously blasphemous or immoral before one can protest about its content is frequently made but absurd. It is the idea and the content not the 'artistic merit' one is discussing. 'whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things' (Phil 4:5).

This brings us on to books one should never read. These are what R.L. Dabney called 'dangerous books' by which he referred to 'particularly the usual kinds of fictitious narratives, novels, impure sentimental poetry, and biographies, whether accurate or not, of criminal and degraded characters. profess only to amuse while they destroy; which say, "Am I not in sport," [Prov. 26.19,] while they "scatter firebrands, arrows, and death." [Verse 18.]'

Dabney's objections to these can be summarised as follows, but the whole article is not long and repays careful reading. One point is interesting which is the one that anticipates the observation that television and film portrayal of violence, distress etc desensitises us to real, factual portrayal of these things. Another point is that fiction creates an alterior world which when indulged gives an altered sense of reality akin to what we complain of nowadays in relation to computer games, mind-altering drugs etc.

1. To do what they profess to do, to give a correct picture of human life and character in a fictitious narrative, is extremely difficult.I fearlessly assert that, even though their intentions and principles were pure, and their scenes undefiled by pictures of vice, the views of human life and of the human heart which they give would not be true to nature, but unnatural, exaggerated and absurd. They do not truly paint the springs of human conduct and feeling. The true history of the past, on the contrary, gives true, and useful views of life, because they are painted from nature. There men are drawn as they really lived and acted.
2. The habitual contemplation of fictitious scenes, however pure, produces a morbid cultivation of the feelings and sensibilities, to the neglect and injury of the active virtues.
3. Now, all works of fiction are full of scenes of imaginary distress, which are constructed to impress the sensibilities. The fatal objection to the habitual contemplation of these scenes is this, that while they deaden the sensibilities, they afford no occasion or call for the exercise of active sympathies. But the beholder of these fictitious sorrows has his sympathies impressed, and therefore deadened, while those sympathies must necessarily remain inert and passive, because the whole scene is imaginary. And thus, by equal steps, he becomes at once sentimental and inhuman.
4. All men who read novels will confess that usually they read them as an indulgence, and not as a means of improvement. Now, it is an indulgence which is not recreation, for it excites, wearies and emasculates the mind even more than excessive mental labor. But every man is responsible to God for the improvement of every hour which is not devoted to wholesome recreation. Novel-reading is the murder of time, and on this simple ground every mind which professes to be guided by religious principles is sternly challenged by God's authority to forego it. "Redeem the time." "The night cometh." [Eph. 5.16; John 9.4.]
5. The vast majority, besides being liable to the objections formerly stated, in their full force, lie under the still more damning charge of moral impurity. Many of them are, in truth, systems of error, covertly embodying and teaching ruinous falsehoods. Some are written for the secret purpose of teaching infidelity, and some to teach the epicurean philosophy. Many of them are the aimless effusions of a general hatred against every thing correct and pious. There may be no professed attack on right principles, probably no didactic discussion at all, in the whole book, and yet the whole may be false philosophy or heresy, teaching by fascinating incident and example.

Monday, March 17, 2008

John Rainolds and the AV Project

John Rainolds or Reynolds was the theologian who famously suggested a revision of the existing English translations to King James at the Hampton Court Conference in 1604.

Early life

Born in 1549 at Penhoe near Exeter, in Devon, he went up to Oxford University at the age of thirteen. He was made Fellow of Corpus Christi College in 1568, at the early age of seventeen. Of his five brothers, four others were fellows at Oxford University.

Although he was later known as a prominent Puritan he actually began as an ardent Roman Catholic, and it is thought that he may have spent some time educated by Roman Catholics on the continent. It was at this period, in the late 1560s that Rainolds was converted together with his brother William. It was a time of controversy between Protestants and the Roman Catholics who were still prominent in the land. There was a famous debate at this time carried on between Thomas Harding and John Jewel. This may well have had some influence in turning both brothers away from the errors of Rome. It seems that both were brought to the truth and sought at the same time to bring each other to the same knowledge. Sadly, however, his brother William later returned to Romanism and in 1575 he made a public recantation at Rome. One of the professors at the English College in Rheims he was to be one of the translators of the Rheims New Testament of 1582 and a bitter opponent of Protestant theology in print.


In 1572, at age 23, Rainolds was appointed reader in Greek at Corpus Christi College. His public lectures on Aristotle's Rhetoric were held in particularly high regard and also remained very popular in their printed version. He resigned his lectureship however, and gave himself more to the study of theology. He was adept in theological debate and entered into the areas of dispute between Protestants and Romanism in significant depth. He studied the Scriptures in the original languages, and read all the Greek and Latin early fathers. It appears that he was gifted with a photographic memory since it was said that "his memory was little less than miraculous. He could readily turn to any material passage, in every leaf page, column and paragraph of the numerous and voluminous works he had read." He came to be known as "the very treasury of erudition" and was spoken of as "a living library and a third university".

He became the leader of the puritans at Oxford and proved to be a strong defender of Calvinism. In 1575 he led the case for disciplinary action against Francesco Pucci who publicly taught against various Calvinistic doctrines. The next year he protested against conferring a doctorate on Antonio del Corro because of heretical views in relation to predestination and justification by faith. It was at this time that Rainolds was ordained and quickly became a noted preacher

Rainolds entered into extended debate with John Hart who saw himself as a champion of Romish doctrine. The summary of the debate was published in 1584 as The summe of the conference betweene John Rainoldes and John Hart: touching the head and the faith of the church.

In 1586 Rainolds became a tutor at Queen's College. Rainolds lectured three times a week during term to large audiences: ‘never were any lectures in our memory so frequented as these in that university’, wrote Daniel Featley, ‘nor any in Cambridge, save those of Dr. [William] Whitaker’ (Abel redivivus, 2.226). The Jesuit Cardinal Bellarmine was another more widely-known individual who had set himself to refute Protestant teaching and published various books with this aim. While he publicly lectured against Protestantism in the Gregorian University there were those with connections to England who were recording what he delivered. It is said that the notes of his lectures against Protestantism were sent regularly to Rainolds from Rome who refuted them publicly. Rainolds refuted Bellarmine's attempt to make the Apocryphal books part of the Old Testament canon. The 250 lectures were not published during Rainolds's lifetime, but appeared in 1611 in two enormous quarto volumes under the title Censura librorurn apocryphorum veteris testamenti.

Dr. Bancroft, Archbishop Whitgift's chaplain, and his successor as Archbishop of Canterbury, maintained in a sermon, preached January 12th, 1588, that "bishops were a distinct order from priests and that they had a superiority over them by divine right, and directly from God." This was a startling doctrine to many at the time. Sir Francis Knollys, one of Queen Elizabeth's distinguished statesmen, remonstrated warmly with Whitgift against it. In a letter to Sir Francis, who had requested his opinion, Dr. Rainolds observes, "All who have labored in reforming the Church, for five hundred years, have taught that all pastors, whether they are entitled bishops or priests, have equal authority and power by God's word; as the Waldenses, next Marsilius Patavinus, then Wiclif and his scholars, afterwards Huss and the Hussites; and Luther, Calvin, Brentius, Bullinger, and Musculus. Among ourselves, we have bishops, the Queen's professors of divinity, and other learned men, as Bradford, Lambert, Jewell, Pilkington, Humphrey, Fulke, &c. But why do I speak of particular persons? It is the opinion of the Reformed Churches of Helvetia, Savoy, France, Scotland, Germany, Hungary, Poland, the Low Countries, and our own. I hope Dr. Bancroft will not say, that all these have approved that for sound doctrine, which was condemned by the general consent of the whole church as heresy, in the most flourishing time. I hope he will acknowledge that he was overseen, when he announced the superiority of bishops over the rest of the clergy to be God's own ordinance”.

Rainolds went on to say that "unto us Christians, no land is strange, no ground unholy; every coast is Jewry, every town Jerusalem, every house Sion; and every faithful company, yea, every faithful body, a temple to serve God in. The presence of Christ among two or three, gathered together in his name, maketh any place a church, even as the presence of a king with his attendants maketh any place a court."

(to be continued)

Friday, March 07, 2008

The Constitutional Aspect of the Declaratory Act

This article originally appeared in the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland Magazine. It relates to Free Church Declaratory Act and the separation made from the Free Church of Scotland (sic) in 1893.

by Rev. D. Beaton

In our Deed of Separation the constitutional aspect of the Declaratory Act is very clearly set forth in the following words: "That by passing of the Declaratory Act of 1892, the said present subsisting Church, calling herself the Free Church of Scotland, through her General Assemblies, has, in so far as said Church is concerned, destroyed the integrity of the Confession of Faith as understood and accepted by the Disruption Fathers and their predecessors, and instead of the Westminster Confession of Faith as the recognised standard of orthodoxy in the Church, in all its heads and articles, has substituted what is called 'the substance of the Reformed Faith therein set forth,' the Church, through the majorities of the members of her Courts, being by the said Declaratory Act made the sole judge of the particular points that are to be included under this category of doctrines — a provision which overthrows the fixed doctrinal Constitution of the Free Church of Scotland, and lays its Creed at the feet of an irresponsible majority to determine the same as it will."

In making this charge of violating the Constitution of the Free Church, Free Presbyterians have appealed to the fact that this Act was passed under the Barrier Act of 1697. The title of this famous Act indicates its purpose: "Act anent the method of passing Acts of Assembly of general concern to the Church and for preventing of Innovations." The relevant part of the Act bearing on the subject under discussion may now be quoted: "Considering the frequent practice of former Assemblies of this Church, and that it will mightily conduce to the exact obedience of the Acts of Assemblies, that General Assemblies be very deliberate in making the same, and that the whole Church have a previous knowledge thereof, and their opinion be had therein, and for preventing any sudden alteration or innovation, or other prejudice to the Church, in either doctrine or worship, or discipline, or government thereof, now happily established; do, therefore, appoint, enact, and declare, that before any General Assembly of this Church shall pass any Acts, which are to be binding rules and constitutions to the Church, the same Acts be first proposed as overtures to the Assembly, and, being by them passed as such, be remitted to the consideration of the several Presbyteries of this Church, and their opinions and consent reported by their Commissioners to the next General Assembly following, who may pass the same in Acts, if the more general opinion of the Church thus had agreed thereunto."

There are two points in this Act which have a direct bearing on the violation of the Free Church's Constitution by the Declaratory Act. (1) The Barrier Act expressly states the kind of Acts with which it deals, viz., Acts "which are to be binding rules and constitutions to the Church." These words are plain enough, and lend themselves to only one interpretation, viz., that Acts which the Church sends down to Presbyteries under the Barrier Act are meant to be "Acts which are to be binding rules and constitutions to the Church," otherwise the collected wisdom of the Church, in General Assembly gathered, is betraying its utter incompetence to deal with legislation. (2) It is also clear from the wording of the Barrier Act that, while it was intended "for preventing any sudden alteration or innovation or other prejudice to the Church, in either doctrine or worship, or discipline, or government thereof," yet, though no doubt it was meant to hinder "sudden" alteration or innovation, it gave a significance to any alteration or innovation in doctrine or worship passed under it that it would not otherwise have but for the fact of having passed through the Barrier Act. It is this aspect of the Barrier Act which, it may safely be surmised, its framers never intended, that aided the wreckers of the Westminster Confessional doctrine in the Free Church of Scotland.

The founders of the Free Presbyterian Church, while holding that the majority in passing the Declaratory Act were acting ultra vires, inasmuch as a use was made of the Barrier Act for which it was never intended, at the same time asserted that the Declaratory Act, being inconsistent with the Confession, violated the Constitution of the Free Church. In taking up positions seemingly at variance, there was no inconsistency. Both positions were tenable and consistent with the real facts of the situation created by the ecclesiastical policy of one of the astutest ecclesiastical leaders Scotland ever had, though, alas! his gifts were prostituted to a bad cause. It is true, of course, that in 1894 an Act was passed in which it is enacted "that the Assembly hereby declare that the statements of doctrine contained in the said [Declaratory] Act are not thereby imposed upon any of the Church's office-bearers as part of the standards of the Church; but that those who are licensed or ordained to office in this Church, in answering the questions and subscribing the formula are entitled to do so in view of the said Declaratory Act." This was only a makeshift, and deceived only those who wished to keep their eyes shut. When Principal Rainy found the Free Church in the serious position in which she was placed by the passing of the Declaratory Act his subtle brain immediately set to work on formulating some method whereby the Declaratory Act would not appear to have the formidable position it really had under the Barrier Act, he fell on what must have appeared to himself and others a real inspiration in his ecclesiastical need. According to this presentation of the case, the Declaratory Act was not the serious piece of legislation that some men took it to be; it was only a "relieving Act." This phrase did ignoble service in many a speech, and captured the imagination of the facile followers of Dr Rainy to such a degree that those who thought differently were laughed to scorn. A relieving Act! What else was it but a relieving Act? It did not need Dr Rainy's subtle brain to coin this phrase, but there was one thing he ought to have laid a little more emphasis on to meet the real situation, and that was that this relieving Act relieved office-bearers from doctrines which were embedded in the constitution of the Free Church. The fact that it was a relieving Act did not nullify the damaging fact that it violated the Constitution of the Free Church.

A number who were opposed to the Declaratory Act still remained in the Church, and argued that they were not under it. This plausible argument ignored the working of ecclesiastical law. Take, for instance, a supposed case - The members of a whole Presbytery, with one or two exceptions, might refuse to licence a student because he wished to take advantage of the Declaratory Act, the case would be appealed to the Synod by the dissentients, and supposing the majority of the Synod supported the Presbytery, the matter would probably be appealed to the Assembly. The Assembly, in dealing with the case, had no option but to ask the Presbytery to licence the student and to give him the full benefit of any relief the Declaratory Act, its own Act, gave him. No amount of ecclesiastical argumentation could alter this fact, that the Assembly had passed this Act for such a purpose, and no amount of dissents could alter the fact that it was not an inoperative piece of legislation, but operative. Students, therefore, must be licensed and ministers ordained who were in the fullest sympathy with the Declaratory Act, and all the arguments of those who were opposed to it but yet remained in the Church betrayed their incapacity to realise the real logic of the ecclesiastical situation.

It has been argued by those who remained in the Church in 1893 and afterwards refused to enter the Union in 1900, that Free Presbyterians should be silent about being under the Declaratory Act, for (1) the Rev. D. Macfarlane remained in the Church a year after the Declaratory Act was passed, and during that year accepted a call to Raasay. In answer to this we have only to remind our readers that Mr Macfarlane explicitly stated in a letter to the press, reprinted in the Free Presbyterian Magazine, vol. XXVIII, p. 150, that it was at the request of the Constitutional party, who were opposed to the Act, that he remained in the Church, in the hope that the Declaratory Act would be repealed at the Assembly of 1893. But even though, it could be proved that Mr Macfarlane was under the Decalaratory Act for a year, which he denied, for the reasons stated in the forementioned letter, that does not prove that the Free Presbyterian Church was; for in the formation of the Free Presbyterian Church there was a complete break by Messrs Macfarlane and Macdonald with the Church which passed the Declaratory Act. (2) It has been argued that the Free Presbyterian Church never repealed this Act. One scarcely wishes to believe that those who use this argument are serious, as it shows an exceptionally low mental acumen, but, as it has been used time and again, and by those of whom better things might be expected, it is necessary to point out for the reason above stated that the Free Presbyterian Church, in making a complete break with the Church of the Declaratory Act, and in going back to the attainments of the Disruption Church, was under no necessity to repeal a law which never had a place on its statute book. The charge, therefore, that the Free Presbyterian Church is still under the Declaratory Act because it did not repeal the same is a piece of inconsequent reasoning that no man who wishes to be credited with even a minimum of logical acumen should ever dream of using. It was entirely different with the Free Church, which claimed to have a continuity with the Free Church up to 1892 and onwards. They were in duty bound to repeal the Declaratory Act in accordance with their profession at the earliest possible opportunity. That opportunity came in 1900, but it is a matter of history that it was not repealed until after the property case had been decided, and it is also a matter of history that the reason of this delay was owing to the question of the Church property then in dispute between the United Free and Free Churches. It has often been a question of interest to us: Supposing there had been no Union, would an effort ever have been made by those who afterwards formed the Free Church to have it repealed? We are aware we are dealing with hypothetical propositions, but propositions which nevertheless are very interesting. In the famous Church Case, Lord James of Hereford put a very interesting question to Mr Salvesen, one of the Free Church counsel: "Supposing," he said, "the majority of the United Free Church said: 'We take that view, and we will administer the Trusts according to their original form.' What would prevent their taking possession of and seeking to administer the property?" To which Mr Salvesen replied: "I think they would have to rescinded the Union, because our view is that the Union necessarily involves the abandonment of the principles of the Free Church; but if they rescind the Union and came back to the Church, of course they would be entitled to participate along with the Pursuers [i.e., the Free Church!]" In other words, had there been no Union the Free Church would not have been able to claim the property on the pleas she put forward in the case. Such, at anyrate, seems to be the inference that may be drawn from the opinions of the learned counsel of the Free Church.

It was because those who afterwards formed the Free Presbyterian Church believed that it was impossible to remain in the Free Church without being bound by the Declaratory Act, with its anti-Scriptural, anti-Confessional teaching, that they left the Free Church as then constituted. Events have proved that they were wisely guided in this matter. Even from a worldly standpoint any little sacrifice made for the cause of truth has been made up more than a hundred-fold. The Lord has owned the stand made in 1893 in the interests of His truth, and there are many now at rest who rejoiced to see the day of deliverance when they experienced a joy which must have been akin to that felt by Israel when they left the bondage of Egypt forever behind.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

What is Communicating Unworthily?

An excerpt from a sermon by Thomas Boston

The way that many mar this duty: they do it unworthily, that is unsuitably, unmeetly; they mar it in the making, not going about it in the right way and manner. They are guests, but not meet guests, for the holy table. They come to the marriage-feast, but not with wedding-garments. 

What comes of it. The consequences are dreadful. They eat and drink damnation [Greek: judgment] to themselves. This judgment to some is temporal, to others eternal. This they are said to eat and drink to themselves; it becomes poison to them, and so they take their death with their own hands. While the meat is in their mouth, wrath goes down with it, as the devil did with Judas’ sop. 

A particular sin lying on them, which provokes God so to treat them: they do not discern the body of the Lord Christ; they do not duly consider the relation betwixt the elements and Christ, and so they rush in upon these creatures of bread and wine, that are of so deep a sanctification as to be the symbols of the body and blood of the Son of God; they sit down at that table, as to their ordinary meals, without that reverence and devotion that ought to be in those who sit down at such a holy table.  

1. People communicate unworthily when they have not an honourable respect for, and a due reverence to, this ordinance, when they partake of it, Mal. 1:6, 7. If it bear the stamp of divine authority, is it meet that persons should despise it, and not be touched with reverence of it? When the angel of the covenant appeared to Moses in the bush, he said to him, “Put off thy shoes from off thy feet; for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground,” Exod. 3:5. But, behold in this sacrament there are bread and wine of deeper sanctification than that holy ground, they being the symbols of Christ’s body and blood. 

2. When people do not go about it out of respect to the command of Christ, may he not justly astonish such at his table with that question, “If I be a master, where is my fear?” Mal. 1:6. Is it meet that people should communicate out of custom, vain-glory, &c.? If the sense of his command do not bring thee there, thou canst not expect the sense of his love, but rather to feel the weight of his hand, when there. As we must believe the truth because God has said it, otherwise our assent is not divine faith; so we must do our duty because God has commanded it, otherwise our obedience is not acceptable to him. 

3. When people look to any other quarter than to Christ for the good of the sacrament. Some look no farther than the elements. This is to put them in Christ’s stead: but be not deceived, bread and wine cannot nourish thy soul. Some are apt to look to ministers: and if such a one as they affect, serve the table they are at, they think they are sure of advantage. If they knew your hearts so led aside, they would, with a sad heart and angry countenance, say to you, as Jacob did to Rachel, “Am I in God’s stead?” Gen. 30:2. The spouse went a little further than the watchmen before she found her beloved, Cant. 3:4. Many smart by this respecting particular ministers, and overlooking the Master of this ordinance. Secondly, Consider the time of the institution: “The same night in which he was betrayed by Judas, when the hour and power of darkness was approaching.” If so, then it appears that this sacrament was left us as a token by our dying friend. He was now to go out of the world to the Father; but before he goes, he will leave his people a feast and token of love. Did he not know what was abiding him? Yea, verily he knew all. O! then, might not the prospect of the agony and bloody drops in the garden, the racking of his body, and the load of wrath under which his soul was to wrestle, have made him mind himself and forget us? Nay, in the night in which he was betrayed, he instituted this sacrament. Surely then it is most suitable, (1.) That we prize it highly as the love-token of a dying friend. (2.) That we be at pains to prepare to keep the tryst which he was so concerned to set. (3.) That at such a time we avenge the treachery upon our lusts.

So they partake unworthily, 

1. Who partake of this ordinance without a due valuing of it as the love-token of a dying Lord. A token from a friend, though it be small in itself, yet ought to be prized; a token from a dying friend more; but a token from a friend dying for us most of all; and he would be reckoned a monster of men, that would not highly value it. Not to value this ordinance highly, and so desire and delight in it, as many communicants do – who, if they could get their credit kept, could well live without it, and in their unconcernedness of heart for it and about it, say practically, The table of the Lord is contemptible – is to trample upon our dying Lord’s love-token, and to say in effect, He should have been otherwise taken up that night in which he was betrayed. 

2. Those communicants who are not at pains to prepare to keep the tryst our Lord set at that time. I may say, he forgot to eat his own bread, that he might provide for us. He did not so mind the cup of wrath which he was to get himself, as to forget the sacramental cup for our comfort. When he was on the cross, he trysts to meet the believing thief in heaven; and when the clouds of wrath were gathering, and ready to pour down upon him, he trysts to meet believers on earth. And shall we forget the tryst set in that remarkable night? But, ah! how many are there that will not be at pains to prepare for this ordinance, to examine themselves as to their state, frame, &c. They have built up mountains and walls of separation betwixt Christ and them, but are at no pains to remove them, nor to employ Christ to level them. Do not these communicate unworthily? 

3. Who do not avenge the treachery. How came Judas to betray him? Was it not the sins of his own people that were the spring of the unhappy action? Your sins were the chief traitors. Then surely Christ instituting this sacrament at this time, says in effect concerning our lusts, as Ps. 137:7, 8, 9, “Remember, 0 Lord, the children of Edom, in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Raze it, raze it, even to the foundation thereof. O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed: happy shall he be that rewardeth thee, as thou hast served us. Happy shall he be that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.” Can a worthy communicant partake of this ordinance, and mind the treachery his Lord met with, and not break his covenant with his lusts, and renounce his old master? No, surely. They communicate unworthily who come to this ordinance at peace with any lust; they react Judas’ sin-kiss of Christ, and betray him. Thirdly, Consider what is represented by the sacred symbols in this ordinance. The broken bread and wine represents Christ’s broken body, and his shed blood, Christ suffering for sinners. He is sacramentally crucified before our eyes in that ordinance. Now, if the bread and wine represents to us Christ’s body broken for us, and his blood shed for us, it is meet that, in communicating, (1.) We meditate believingly on these sufferings. (2.) That our hearts be inflamed with love to him. (3.) That they be filled with sorrow for and hatred of sin. Then, 1. They communicate unworthily, who do not in their partaking meditate believingly on the sufferings of Christ. Christ will ask that question at communicants, Matt. 16:15, “Whom say ye that I am?” And I would ask beforehand, Do ye believe that Jesus the Son of Mary, who was crucified betwixt two thieves without the gates of Jerusalem, was the Son of God, the only Saviour of the world, and that Christ? Do ye believe that Christ suffered? If ye do indeed believe it aright, I say, as Matt. 16:17, “Blessed art thou: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but Christ’s Father which is in heaven.” And sure I am, if ye do believe, ye cannot shun to meditate on it at the sacrament. This wonderful sight will dazzle your eyes; a sight of God suffering will blind your eyes as to other objects, and make you retire into yourself, to see and wonder, and with admiration to think on this terrible sight. Do they not act most unworthily here, who are not thus taken up? What would ye have said of Moses, had he not turned aside to see that great sight, the bush burning, yet not consumed? Exod. 3. Had ye been on Mount Calvary, within hearing of Christ’s dying groans, within sight of his pierced, mangled, and racked body, and had unconcernedly turned your back, and passed all without notice, would ye not say, he had been just had he turned you off that place quick into hell? Here ye have the same sight; and if ye behold it unconcernedly, ye act a most unworthy part, and oppose yourselves to the most direful effects of his vengeance. 2. Who communicate without love to Christ in exercise. He is represented a king’s son in love with a beggar, loving her, and dying for her. O miserable miscreant! does not this affect thy heart, who art this beggar? Can there be greater love? John 15:13. What hellish cold has frozen thy affections, that this fire cannot warm, nay, melt them! What a heart of a devil hast thou, that Christ, in his glorious apparel, his red garments, cannot captivate? Be astonished, O heavens, be horribly afraid; tremble, O earth; rend, O rocks; be struck blind, O glorious sun in the firmament, when ye see the communicants sitting without love to Christ, when he is sacramentally lying before them, broken, wounded, and pierced with the envenomed arrows of God’s curse, and all for them? 3. Who communicate impenitently. Have ye pierced him? How unworthy will ye be, if ye do not “look upon him whom ye have pierced, and mourn for him, as one mourneth for an only son, and be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his first born,” Zech. 12:10. Will ye come to the table without the tear in your eye? O! unworthy communicants, what has petrified your hearts, turned you into stones harder than the adamant, which the blood of the goat will dissolve? Christ’s dying groans rent the rocks, and raised and alarmed the dead; and wilt thou sit stupid? Where sorrow for sin and hatred of it is wanting at a communion-table, there is eating and drinking judgment, which, when it begins to work within you, will make you mourn bitterly, either here or in hell. 

Fourthly, Consider the bread and the wine is offered and given to you at the table of the Lord, in token of Christ’s offering himself to you, with all his benefits, 1 Cor. 10:16; and your taking both, eating and drinking, declares your acceptance of the offer and application of Christ to your souls. Surely, then, it is meet, (1.) That ye believe that Christ is willing to be yours. (2.) That ye do sincerely and cordially accept of the offer. 

1. They are unworthy communicants who partake doubting of Christ’s willingness to be theirs, with all his saving benefits. Will ye not believe him when he gives you a sealed declaration of his mind? To doubt of this, is to say he is but mocking and solemnly cheating you; so that no wonder we say, “He that doubteth is damned if he eat.” What though ye be most unworthy? he stands not on that. Though your sins be many, the sea of his blood can drain them all, Isa. 1:18; Micah 7:18. If the devil get in thus far on you, it will be an error in the first concoction; and till ye get over it, it is impossible to communicate aright, or get good of the sacrament. 

2. Who taking the elements, yet do not take Christ by faith. Then it may be said, as John 1:11, “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” Is the bread or cup offered to you, then by that Christ says, “Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in,” Ps. 24:7. Therefore, we ought to set our hearts wide open, clasp him in the arms of faith, embrace and welcome him into our souls. To take the bread in your mouths, and yet to hold Christ out of your hearts, is to put a solemn cheat upon the King of glory, which will bring upon you the curse of the deceiver, Mal. 1:14, “Which hath in his flock a male, and voweth and sacrificeth unto the Lord a corrupt thing;” and the cheat will be discovered, if ye repent not, before the whole assembled world at the great day, to your everlasting confusion. This is to betray Christ, with a witness. Either, then, meddle not with these sacramental symbols, or take him by faith. And if ye take him, ye must let your lusts go. 

Fifthly, Consider this ordinance is a seal of the new covenant, 1 Cor. 11:25, “This cup is the new testament in my blood.” Christ has covenanted and left, in his testament to his people, all things necessary for them. His word in itself is sufficient security; but guilt is a fountain of fears; and we are guilty, and therefore fearful souls. And therefore, that it may be more sure to us, he has appended this seal. It is meet, then, (1.) That they be in the covenant who partake. (2.) That we take the sacrament as a seal of God’s covenant to us. (3.) That we believe more firmly. 1. They are unworthy communicants who are not in covenant with God, and yet come to his table. It is a profaning of God’s seal to set it to a blank. It is a feast for friends, not for enemies, Cant. 5:1; and if ye come in a state of enmity, ye can expect no kind entertainment; “For can two walk together except they be agreed?” Amos 3:3; yea, ye will get a sad welcome, such as the man got who wanted the wedding-garment, Matt. 22:11, 12. If there be not a mutual consent, it is no marriage: and if there be no marriage, ye have nothing ado with the marriage-feast. 2. They that use it as a seal of their covenant with God, and not of God’s covenant with them. Surely the sacrament is an obligatory ordinance to obedience; but this is not the principal end of it, but rather to be a seal of God’s covenant with us. The reason why so many afterwards appear to have been unworthy communicants, is, that they go to that ordinance rather to oblige themselves to obedience, than to get a full covenant sealed to them for obedience. All our strength lies in Christ; and worthy communicants go to Christ in the sacrament to get influences of grace secured to them under his own seal, that they may in time of need afterwards know what quarter to betake themselves to for supply. 3. They whose faith of the benefits of the covenant is not more confirmed. This is to sit down at the table, but not to taste of the meat that is set thereon. Why does the Lord give us such encouragement, and yet we grow never a whit stronger in faith; and though he give us new confirmations, yet we have never a whit more confidence in him? Would not a man think himself affronted to be thus treated? Sixthly, Consider this ordinance is appointed for strengthening our souls, for the nourishing of the Lord’s people, and their growth in grace. It is a supper, a feast where Christ is both maker and matter, whose flesh is meat indeed, and whose blood is drink indeed. The Lord’s people must needs have food to nourish the new man, and grace will decay unless it be recruited. If this be so, then it is meet, (1.) That communicants be spiritually alive. (2.) That they actually feed spiritually at this holy table. 1. Graceless souls must needs communicate unworthily. Where there is no grace there can be no strengthening of it. There can be no communion betwixt a holy God and an unholy sinner, Prov. 15:8. God will not make Nebuchadnezzar’s image of mystical Christ. We must be born from above ere we can be capable to feed on Heaven’s dainties. It was the custom of Egypt, not of Canaan, to bring dead men to feasts. They are rather to be buried out of God’s sight. An unregenerate soul at the Lord’s table is a monster that hath not a hand to take his meat, nor a mouth to eat it, 

II. The next general head is to show, what judgments unworthy communicating exposes people to. It exposes them, 1. To bodily strokes, as the Corinthians felt, 1 Cor. 11:30, “For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. One falls into a decay of strength, another takes sickness after a communion, another slips off the stage. Some give one reason for it, and some another. But, O! unworthy communicating is often the procuring cause of all. What a dreadful distemper seized Belshazzar when he was abusing the vessels of the temple! Dan. 5; but the sin of unworthy communicating is more dreadful. 2. To spiritual strokes; strokes upon the soul, blindness of mind, hardness of heart, searedness of conscience, &c. The Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain; he will let guilt lie on him. Hence some after communions are let fall into scandalous sins; some meet with greater darkness and deadness than ever before, and some with sharp desertions. 3. To eternal strokes. As to such as are out of Christ, unworthy communicating will damn them, as well as gross sins in the life and outward conversation, and no doubt will make a hotter hell than that of Pagans. Murder is a crying sin, but the murder of the Son of God is most dreadful, and the Mediator’s vengeance is most terrible. And they are said to eat and drink judgment to themselves; which I conceive, imports, 1. That the hurt which comes by unworthy communicating comes upon the person himself, not on Christ, whose body and blood he is guilty of; for themselves has a relation not to others, but to Christ. They may eat judgment to ministers and fellow communicants, if they have a sinful hand in bringing them to the table. Only, though the slight is given to Christ, yet it rebounds upon the man himself, and lies heavy on him with its consequences. They do interpretatively murder Christ, in so far as they abuse the symbols of his broken body and shed blood; but they can do him no harm; they kick against the pricks, which run into their bodies and souls. 2. That they themselves are the authors of their own ruin. They take their death with their own hand, like a man that wilfully drinks of a cup of poison, and so murder their own souls. And O, what a dreadful thing is this for a man to perish by his own hands! 3. That they shall be as sure of judgment upon them for their sin, if repentance prevent it not, and cut the thread, as they are of the sacramental bread they eat, and the wine they drink. Death is in the cup to them, and it will go down with the elements into their bowels.