Thursday, December 19, 2013

Nailed or Mailed?'s hard for me to think those words without hearing my son saying them as 7 syllables with emphasis. He seems to have picked up some things about Martin Luther but I don't think he understands the question that interests me here. Did Martin Luther nail his 95 theses to the church door or send them in the post? A blog post here handles it fairly well. I think Melancthon is reliable.

Friday, December 13, 2013

No fool

A quick google shows me that this is not an original observation but here goes anyway.

Jim Elliot had a great quote:

He is no fool, who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.

Allan Harman's biography of Matthew Henry quotes his father Philip Henry with much the same words:

He is no fool who parts with that which he cannot keep, when he is sure to be recompensed with that which he cannot lose.

–from Matthew Henry: His Life and Influence, by Allan Harman, (Chritian Focus, 2012), Kindle location 345-47.

It would be remarkable if Elliott were not echoing Henry. Neither men were fools. They lived by these words. What about you?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus

One or two notes taken from a sermon by one of our ministers some years ago. This is a summary not a verbatim quote.

Philippians 3 v 8-10, especially "I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord".

Excellency here means heavenliness and majesty. Knowledge is not mere head knowledge, but that which fills the whole soul. The verses are about justification. Man does not have righteousness but the Lord Jesus has worked out a righteousness that is eternal and unchangeable. This is imputed in justification to the ungodly who believe in His name. Justification is forensic, it is a legal matter where the sinner is declared righteous -- a sentence is passed by the Judge.

Faith lays hold of Christ. In terms of time, faith and the sentence that the sinner is righteous happen at the same point. But in terms of logic, the declaration of the sentence happens first and then faith.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What think ye of Christ?

The following notes are fragments from a sermon preached by one of our ministers some years ago on the text "What think ye of Christ?" Matthew 22v42. The notes are only a summary and not a verbatim report of words that were used.

The Father testifies to what He thinks of Christ - "this is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased". The Father takes pleasure from all eternity in the infinite beauty and winsomeness and holiness and loveliness of Christ. The Spirit takes of the things of Christ and shows them to us.

One Puritan Divine said of Isaiah 6 that the angels do not have bodily parts but that the passage uses such words to allow our minds to understand something of them. The angels covered their eyes to show they are not worthy to look on Christ, covered their feet to show they are not worthy that He look on them, and that their wings signify that they go around serving him.

It is the view the Lord's people got in the Bible of his beauty and suitability that changed them.

The question remains for the sinner without Christ: "What think ye of Christ?"...why should the unrepentant or careless sinner be alone in the universe, not esteeming or valuing Him, while the Father and Spirit and angels and redeemed men say "He is altogether lovely".

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

the "difference between obscure and difficult"

Notoriously, Jeanette Winterson is no friend to the evangelicalism that she grew up with. But as she explained on Start the Week and here she owes a vast debt to the Authorised (King James) Version and appraises its value and lack of difficulty.

"I did not find the language difficult and I was not unusual. The King James translation was written to be read out-loud – and that simple overlooked fact changes every argument about ‘difficulty’ and ‘comprehension’. If you do not believe me, try it for yourself.

Even now, when patterns of spoken and written English have changed considerably since my 1960’s Bible debut, the phrasing of the King James has a naturalness to it. Awkwardness disappears within a few chapters of vocal reading – providing that you will trust yourself and trust the text...King James does not use sub-clauses or dependent clauses; it is a direct English, and one you can still hear, even now, in northern speech...The language is grammatically uncluttered, but rich in vocabulary and image...There is a difference between obscure and difficult. I accept that by now, the King James version seems more difficult than it is, but its rewards are greater than its difficulty. And can someone please pinpoint for me the cultural moment when ‘difficult’ became a dirty word?"

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Conference #3

Dr R Dickie gave a very comprehensive paper on Martin Luther and some of his Writings.
He reminded us that books by Luther were being imported into Scotland by 1525 when the parliament prohibited it. It was scarcely successful given that by 1527 there was a subsequent ban on Scots promoting the teachings of Luther or even discussing them.

Part 1 covered the historical context of the transition into renaissance from late middle ages.
Part 2 discussed the theology of the Roman Catholic church, particularly referring to scholastic theologians.
Part 3 was Luther's early life and education. This covered the period up until around 1520
Part 4 looked more closely at developments that Luther encountered in questioning the theology of the medieval Church. He could not harmonise Augustine and Paul with the scholastics, particularly the view of the latter that faith is solely assent. In his lectures he began to attack Aristotle and the scholastics. Scripture became the final authority. His lectures to students on the Psalms 1513 - 1517 were important as he discovered Pauline theology there and saw Christ as key to the psalter. Before the 95 theses there were also 97 theses against scholasticism which ended by saying that they were in no way in conflict with the Church. The 95 theses contained no such qualification.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Conference #2

Dr A. Ross gave a paper on The Response of the Churches to the Challenges of Evolution in the 19th Century. It focussed largely on Scotland but also with reference to relevant matters in the rest of the UK and across in the USA.

He showed how the origins of the controversy lay in the debates over old earth geology. Some such as Charles Hodge encouraged old earth geology but then attacked Darwinism as atheism for denying design in nature. Old earth geology arose from Moderate ministers in the Church of Scotland and elsewhere but there were also secular enthusiasts such as James Hutton who was a deist.

There were various uniformitarian and catastrophic theories. Thomas Chalmers had the gap theory and did not change his views once converted. Darwin acknowledged a debt to Hugh Miller who advanced the day-age theory with the fifth and sixth day being geological ages. The Sabbath, Miller argued was an immensely protracted period ignoring the natural meaning of the language of Scripture. There was no protest within the Free Church at these views  A secular newspaper commented with the question could there be a more unfaithful reader of the Scriptures and noted that falsehood was being applauded in the Free Church. Such theories were now being taught in the Free Church colleges. Robert Rainey gave his inaugural lectures on theology and evolution.

Those who sought to respond were few. The english minister Rev George Bugg advanced "Scriptural Geology".  Among presbyterians, Robert Watts in Belfast successfully countered Evolution for at least a generation.

Why was there such capitulation? There was fear of denying a scientific advance such as the Copernican revolution but as Bugg pointed out the Copernicus theory was never a "heresy" against the Bible itself. The reality was that there was implicit trust of scientific academia. A problem that continues to this day.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Guest Posts

Two new guest posts on Mark Hausam's blog -
Part 1 and Part 2. These add to his 40 posts on the subject of schism and visible church unity and 36 posts on presbyterian church government.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

the phone hacking scandal and the NIV

At least twenty News journalists will face trial for phone hacking and/or corruption and could well face jail. While further focus centres upon the ethics of the News Corp Murdoch empire as the phone hacking scandal reignites, it is worthwhile pondering the NIV connection. Zondervan markets itself as the world's biggest publisher of bibles and the NIV is to this publishing company what News of the World was to News International (at least before it closed) - a cash cow, greedily milked for the past 23 years into Murdoch's billions. Did I mention that besides the immorality of his newspapers his empire comprises many pornographic TV channels? Harper Collins markets the Satanic Bible and books promoting sodomite immorality. It may also be worth mentioning that his empire controls exactly how much of the NIV and other versions you are allowed to quote. Would you buy a bible from Murdoch? Well, there are over 300 different types to choose from including Holy Bible: Stock Car Racing. What about the horrible histories theme 2:52™ Boys Bible ("Discover gross and gory Bible stuff")? NIV Faithgirlz! Bible ("Every girl wants to know she’s totally unique and special. This Bible says that with Faithgirlz!™ sparkle!") is another option. Of course they are printed in China, controversially given the degree of persecution of Christians there. 

Can anyone recall that it was this kind of profiteering out of religion that drove Luther to protest as he did on 31 October 1517? 

The Bible Industry. From Geez magazine, Fall 2009. Credit: Darryl Brown and Aiden Enns.

Conference #1

The FP theological conference in Glasgow was very profitable of a high standard and quite well attended although there was plenty of room for more. All the papers were heard in public. God willing, it would be good to be able to give some summaries of the papers given. I plan to start in reverse order and am indebted to a friend for notes of the last paper as it was the only one that I could get to. It must be strongly stressed that these notes are just a summary by way of paraphrase and not verbatim and things might have more meaning in their original context.

The last paper was by Rev. R. Macleod on The Covenant of Grace. He took Luke 14:12-30 as the focus, especially verse 17 "come, for all things are now ready". This speaks of how God has prepared a feast of the forgiveness of sins. He has appointed preachers of the gospel as his servants and the time of the feast is the availability of gospel ordinances. The persons of the Trinity prepared the Son of God as a feast for sinners. The invitation is to feast by faith on the Lamb of God who was offered on Calvary. This was a sacrifice of infinite merit because sin is an infinite evil. Christ is the surety of his people and his righteousness is the condition of the covenant. We must believe, yet by nature cannot. With God, however, all things are possible. The gift of faith is his to bestow.

Posted via Blogaway

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Reformed consensus on 1 Cor 11:29 #2

Continuing from the previous post, we can demonstrate that the Westminster divines and a wide range of puritan authors held that 1 Cor 11:27, 29 and 32 indicate that unworthily partaking of the Supper would lead to chastisement but also damnation if not repented of.

In countering separatist arguments Samuel Rutherford said the following:
A worship corrupt by accident only through the fault of the worshipper, may and does make the Lord’s Supper damnation to the eater, and therefore the eater is forbidden so to eat. A worship in the matter and intrinsical principle unjust and sinful is defiled both to the man himself and to all that take part with him, as the teacher of false doctrine and all that hear and believe are defiled; but if the sin of an unworthy communicant even known to be so, is damnation to himself, and defiles the worship to others, then Paul would have said, he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh his own damnation, and the damnation of the whole church, and Paul should have forbidden all others to eat and drink withal, who communicates unworthily, if he allowed separation. But he says, he eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not to others.
David Dickson in his Commentary on 1 Corinthians makes it clear that the punishment of eating unworthily is "judgement, or temporal and eternal punishment, unless hee repent".

Richard Vines was one of the leading Presbyterians at the Westminster Assembly. He published A Treatise of the Institution, Right Administration, and Receiving of the Sacrament of the Lords-Supper. In this he deals extensively with the latter part of 1 Cor 11. Alluding to 1 Cor 11:29 and speaking of how Chrysostom says that just as bodily food can aggravate a disease albeit not in itself so the Lord's Supper may be the cause of spiritual death to the partaker yet not in itself, he says, "He that eats and drinks unworthily, eats damnation, drinks damnation to himself...So this Sacrament received by wicked men, aggravates their condemnation, not of it self, but through their unrepented sins" (p69).
That the Apostle in setting home the sin and danger of eating and drinking unworthily, speaks thundring and lightning in very pertinent, but yet new and unusual phrases, which...have no brother in any other part of Scripture, as guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, eating or drinking judgement or damnation, etc. full of terrour, and fit for compunction (p179)
The sin of receiving unworthily is largely insisted on in the following part of this Chapter, where the aggravation of this sin is shown by the special guilt that attends it, and that is a guiltiness of the Lords Body; by the particular cause of this guiltiness, Not discerning the Lords Body, by the judgement that Follows upon it, damnation or punishment; by the way of prevention of the sin, the guilt and judgement, and that is Self-examination, and Self-judging (p198)
Vines speaks of the danger of this sin of unworthily partaking. "'He eats and drinks judgement to himself'if he be a godly man that eats and drinks unworthily, or haply also damnation, if he be an hypocrite, for the word krima, may respectively extend to both. A strange phrase it is to eat and drink judgement, but it is sure as he eats of the Bread and drinks of the Cup unworthily, so sure is judgement to follow thereupon, or to accompany it, for he eats judgement, but it is to himself, not to others, except they be partakers in his sin, which may be divers ways (p385)

We might also refer to Thomas Vincent's Explication of the Shorter Catechism, officially commended by a large array of the most eminent Puritan ministers of the time.

Q. 11. What is the sin of unworthy receiving the Lord's supper?
A. The sin of unworthy receiving the Lord's supper is, that such are guilty of the body and blood of the Lord; that is, they are guilty of an affront and indignity which they offer to the Lord's body and blood. "Whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord."— 1 Cor. 11:27.

Q. 12. What is the danger of our unworthy receiving the Lord's supper?
A. The danger of our unworthy receiving the Lord's supper, is the eating and drinking judgment to ourselves; that is, provoking the Lord, by our unworthy receiving, to inflict temporal, spiritual, and eternal judgments upon us. "For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep."— 1 Cor. 11:29, 30.

Likewise John Flavel:
Q. 10. What is the danger of coming to the Lord’s table without these graces?
A. The danger is exceeding great both to soul and body. (1.) To the soul; 1 Corinthians 11:29. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, (2). And to the body; 1 Corinthians 11:30. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.

Jonathan Edwards writes, “Those who contemptuously treat those symbols of the body of Christ slain and
His blood shed, why, they make themselves guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, that is, of murdering Him."

James Fisher comments:
Q. 27. What risk do they run who omit to examine themselves as to the above graces, before they come to the Lord's table?

A. They run the risk of coming unworthily.

Q. 28. What is it to come unworthily?

A. It is to come without any real sense, or consciousness of the need that we stand in of Christ, as "of God made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption," 1 Cor. 1:30.

Q. 29. What danger do they incur who thus come unworthily?

A. They eat and drink judgment to themselves, 1 Cor. 11:29.

Q. 30. In what sense can they who come unworthily, be said to eat and drink judgment to themselves?

A. In so far as by their eating and drinking unworthily, they do that which renders them obnoxious to the righteous judgment of God.

Q. 31. To what judgment do they render themselves obnoxious?

A. To temporal judgments, or afflictions of various kinds, in the present life; and to eternal judgment, or condemnation (if mercy prevent not) in the life to come, 1 Cor. 11:30, 32.

Joseph Woodward was a puritan minister in England settled at Dursley in Gloucestershire who declared his resolve to admit none to the Lord's Supper except those who had a credible profession.
A certain man obstinately said that he would not submit to examination and that if the minister would not give him the sacrament he would take it! In pursuance of this impious resolution, this man attended the church on sacrament day, but had scarcely set foot in the building before he fell dead, the Lord thus making clear to all the church members that the solemn admonitions addressed to the Church of the Corinthians by the apostle in the first Christian century were ageless in their solemn application.

The Reformed consensus on 1 Cor. 11:29

As we noticed in a previous post, the Westminster Assembly were very clear in their interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:27, 29 and 32, i.e. that it includes the warning of damnation as well as chastisement. The Confession states: "Although ignorant and wicked men receive the outward elements in this sacrament; yet, they receive not the thing signified thereby; but, by their unworthy coming thereunto, are guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, to their own damnation."

We stressed that those who are not brought to repentance for partaking unworthily through chastisement are liable to damnation. In what follows we wish to make clear the Reformed consensus on 1 Corinthians 11:29, i.e. that it includes the warning of damnation as well as chastisement. This is the context for understanding the statement in the Confession and other relevant parts of the Standards. Without this context we will try to force the interpretation of the Confession to our own preferences rather than acknowledge the plain sense according to the original intent. While the interpretations of former times are determinative of the interpretation of Scripture we ought to have the humility to take seriously how the Spirit has illuminated men of old with greater godliness and understanding of the Scriptures.

It is interesting that John Calvin, in opposing paedocommunion, makes clear that he regards damnation as a potential consequence of receiving unworthily:
He does not admit all to partake of the Supper - but confines it to those who are fit to discern the body and blood of the Lord.... ‘He who eats and drinks unworthily, eats and drinks damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body’ [First Corinthians 11:29].... Why should we offer poison - to our young children? 
The Form of Prayers and Ministration of the Sacraments, etc. Used in the English Congregation
at Geneva (1556) was used in Scotland following the Reformation. This makes very clear the same interpretation:
Therefore, whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink the cup of the Lord unworthily, he shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. Then see that every man prove and try himself, and so let him eat of this bread and drink of this cup; for whosoever eateth or drinketh unworthily, he eateth and drinketh his own damnation, for not having due regard and consideration of the Lord's body.
so is the danger great if we receive the same unworthily, for then we are guilty of the body and blood of Christ our Saviour, we eat and drink our own damnation, not considering the Lord's body; we kindle God's wrath against us, and provoke him to plague us with diverse diseases and sundry kinds of death.
Without making a minute examination of every key document or key minister that we might we shall pass to consider the views of Robert Bruce from the generation immediately following the Reformation. During his five sermons on the Lord's Supper, Bruce refers to the warning of damnation on those receiving unworthily.
Therefore come not to the sacrament, except you bring both faith and obedience with you. If thou come not with a heart minded to obey Christ, at least more than thou wast wont to do, thou comest to thine own damnation. And if thou bringest a heart void of faith, thou comest to thine own damnation.
He then deals with an objection regarding damnation upon an unbeliever who receives the Lord's Supper. It was objected that since an unbeliever could not receive Christ in a spiritual manner, he was not eating and drinking unworthily, and not therefore guilty of the Body and Blood of Christ. Interestingly, Bruce makes it clear that it is the elements that are being eaten and drunk and therefore whether or not the body and blood of Christ is spiritually received, there is still guilt. "Yet theyare accounted guilty of the body and blood of the Son of God, because they refused Him".
For when they did eat that Bread and drink that Wine, if they had had faith, they might have eaten and drunk the flesh and blood of Christ Jesus. Now because thou refusest the body of Christ, thou contemnest His body; if thou have not an eye to discern and judge of His body that is offered thee. For if they had had faith, they might have seen His body offered with the Bread; by faith they might have taken and eaten that body. Therefore lacking their wedding garment, lacking faith whereby they should eat the body and drink the blood of Christ; lacking faith, which is the eye of the soul to perceive, and the mouth of the soul to receive that body which is spiritually offered ; they are counted guilty of the body and blood of Christ. 
if thou come as a swine or a dog to handle the seals of the body and blood of Christ...I say, mayest thou be reckoned guilty of His body and blood.

From Hebrews 6:6 and 10:29 he shows that these are not real believers but apostates who in their apostasy crucify Christ again and are so guilty of his body and blood.

The wicked cannot eat the body of Christ; but they may be guilty of it. The Apostle makes this more plain yet by another speech which I have aforetime handled from this place. In Heb. vi. 6, it is said that the apostates, they that make grievous defection, "crucify again to themselves the Son of God;" and their falling away makes them as guilty as they were who crucified Him. He is now in heaven, they cannot fetch Him from thence to crucify Him : yet the Apostle says they crucify Him. Why? Because their malice is as great as theirs that crucified Him ; so that if they had Him on the earth, they would do the like : therefore they are said to crucify the Son of God. Likewise in Heb. x. 29, there is another speech: the wicked are said to tread the Blood of Christ under their feet. Why? Because their malice is as great as theirs that trode upon His blood. They are accounted for this reason to be guilty of the body and blood of Christ, not because they eat His body, but because they refuse it, when they might have had it.  
Now the time remains yet, wherein we may have the body and blood of Christ. This time is very precious, and the dispensation of times is very secret and has its own bounds ; if you take not this time now, it will away. This time of grace and of that heavenly food has been dispensed to you very long: but how ye have profited, your life and behaviour testify. Remember, therefore, yourselves in time, and in time make use of it, for you know not how long it will last : crave a mouth to receive, as well the food of your soul that is offered, as the food of your bodies : and take this time while you may have it, or assuredly the time shall come, when you shall cry for it but shall not get it ; but in place of grace and mercy, shall come judgment, vengeance, and the dispensation of wrath.

In a further post we wish to make extensive reference to the Puritans on this topic, God Willing.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Queensferry Paper

Photo: Flickr James B. Brown
Whilst leaving Dalmeny Station last week I noticed on a map that there was a street in Queensferry called Covenanter Lane. This rang a few bells in relation to the Queensferry Paper. It appears that this was the location from which Donald Cargill was nearly captured on 3 June 1680 while Henry Hall of Haugh Head was seized together with a draft document that came to be known as the Queensferry Paper. Hall later died of the wounds that he sustained. They were originally betrayed by the curates of James Hamilton and John Park, Ministers at Bo'ness and Carriden who notified the governor of Blackness Castle, Middleton. Park was deposed from the ministry some years later.

John Howie devoted a chapter to Hall in the Scots Worthies. He describes how when the persecuting governor discerned "the house where they alighted, he sent his servant off in haste for his men, putting up his horse in another house, and coming to the house to them as a stranger, pretended a great deal of kindness and civility to Mr. Cargil and him, desiring that they might have a glass of wine together. -- When each had taken a glass, and were in some friendly conference, the governor, wearying that his men came not up, threw off the mask, and laid hands on them, saying, they were his prisoners, and commanded the people of the house, in the king's name to assist. But they all refused, except one Thomas George a waiter; by whose assistance he got the gate shut. In the mean while Haugh-head, being a bold and brisk man, struggled hard with the governor, until Cargil got off; and after the scuffle, as he was going off himself, having got clear of the governor, Thomas George struck him on the head, with a carbine, and wounded him mortally. However he got out; and, by this time the women of the town, who were assembled at the gate to the rescue of the prisoners, convoyed him out of town. He walked some time on foot, but unable to speak much, save only some little reflection upon a woman who interposed, hindering him to kill the governor, that so he might have made his escape more timeously. At last he fainted, and was carried to a country house near Echlin; and although chirurgeons were speedily brought, yet he never recovered the use of his speech any more. Dalziel, living near-by, was soon advertised, and came quickly with a party of the guards, and seized him; and although every one saw the gentleman just a-dying, yet such was his inhumanity, that he must carry him to Edinburgh.

Photo: Flickr James B. Brown
But he died, on their hands, on the way thither; and made an end of this his earthly pilgrimage to receive his heavenly crown. His corpse was carried to the Cannongate tolbooth, where they lay three days without burial; and then his friends conveened for that end, to do their last office to him; yet that could not be granted. At last they caused bury him clandestinely in the night; for such was the fury of these limbs of antichrist, that after they had slain the witnesses, they would not suffer them to be decently interred in the earth; which is another lasting evidence of the cruelty of those times". A week later Margaret Wauchope was brought in  as a prisoner from Queensferry "for being accessory to Mr Cargill's escape". It seems likely that this was the lady who tended to his wounds and brought him to a nearby house where he sheltered in a barn for the night. Another man who took Cargill to a doctor, William Punton of Carlowrie was imprisoned in Edinburgh and heavily fined. Three days later Cargill was preaching in the fields in Lanarkshire.

A drawing of the house where the incident took place is available. The house was demolished in the 1930s but a photograph of it exists. It was called The Palace or Covenanters' House.

The Queensferry Paper is extensive and considered to be quite detailed and advanced. It is also said to contain republican political views. It was also called "The Fanaticks New Covenant". It was also called "Cargill's Covenant". There were no signatories and it seems likely that much though not all of it was the work of Donald Cargill. Cargill could not readily consent to all of its content, however. It was indeed expressed as a Covenant and was resolute in its language:
we cannot but with much trembling of heart renew our covenant, or engage anew, especially considering our own weakness and hazard; yet the clear conviction of duty, zeal to God’s glory, and love of Christ’s reigning, which is the highest duty that a man can perform to God, trusting in his mercy, who knows the integrity and rightness of our intentions, will both instruct, enable, accept, preserve and prosper us: we go on declaring those, and nothing but those to be our present purpose

It can be read here and here. Its key points have been summarised as follows.

1. To covenant with and swear acknowledgement of the Trinity and to own the Old and New Testaments to be the rule of faith.

2. To advance God`s kingdom, free the church from Prelacy and Erastianism, and remove those who had forfeited authority.

3. To uphold the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, with her standards, polity, and worship, as an independent government.

4. To overthrow the kingdom of darkness, ie Popery, Prelacy and Erastianism.

5. To discard the royal family and set up a republic.

6. To decline hearing the indulged clergy.

7. To refuse the ministerial function unless duly called and ordained.

8. To defend their worship and liberties, to view assailants as declarers of war, to destroy those assaulting, and not to injure any but those that have injured us

Friday, October 11, 2013

eating and drinking damnation

These words in 1 Cor 11:29 are very solemn, spoken as they are in connection with partaking of the Lord's Supper in an unworthy manner."For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body." Some object to this translation as too strong, and that krima, ought to be rendered condemnation or judgement in the sense of chastisement. Modern bible versions follow this preference.

The Westminster Confession follows this wording in Chapter 29:8. "Although ignorant and wicked men receive the outward elements in this sacrament: yet they receive not the thing signified thereby, but by their unworthy coming thereunto are guilty of the body and blood of the Lord to their own damnation. Wherefore, all ignorant and ungodly persons, as they are unfit to enjoy communion with Him, so are they unworthy of the Lord’s table; and cannot, without great sin against Christ while they remain such, partake of these holy mysteries, or be admitted thereunto".

Some believe that the Westminster Divines were referring here to unbelievers. This is not the case, however, they distinguish ignorant as well as wicked men. This does not absolutely define such as unbelieving, it refers to their fitness for this duty i.e. knowledge and discerning the Lord's body. We can see this by comparing with other uses of this verse in the Westminster Standards. In the Larger Catechism it refers to the ability to examine oneself in this matter.  Question 173: May any who profess the faith, and desire to come to the Lord’s Supper, be kept from it? Answer: Such as are found to be ignorant or scandalous, notwithstanding their profession of the faith, and desire to come to the Lord’s Supper, may and ought to be kept from that sacrament, by the power which Christ hath left in his church, until they receive instruction, and manifest their reformation (see also Q170, 171, 174 and 177 - Q112 indicates that it relates to the right use of the sacraments).

The Shorter Catechism asks:
Q. 97. What is required to the worthy receiving of the Lord’s supper?
A. It is required of them that would worthily partake of the Lord’s supper, that they examine themselves of their knowledge to discern the Lord’s body, of their faith to feed upon him, of their repentance, love, and new obedience; lest, coming unworthily, they eat and drink judgment to themselves.

The fact that the word judgement is used here as well as offered in the margin means that the words are interchangeable. The word damn in older usage could just mean to condemn someone for something as well as its most solemn meaning. Romans 14:23 in the AV is an example of this - they did not always use the word damn in its most solemn sense (it is likely that the use of the word in Rom 13:2 also carried a lesser connotation).

The truth is that being guilty of the body and blood of Christ may not be the unpardonable sin but if it is not repented of it does expose a person to damnation (John 19:11; Heb. 10:29). We are considering here the sin of blasphemy as the Divines themselves were keen to make clear in bringing in this consideration as part of the third commandment. Careless partaking through negligent preparation or the absence of such preparation altogether fails to distinguish between common bread and the sacramental bread, which represents the Lord's body; but treats it the same which is a contempt of Christ, his ordinance and his body and blood.

This is the blood that delivers the justified from damnation (Rom. 5:9). In 1 Cor 11:32 we understand that there is a divine purpose in chastisement in order that "we should not be condemned with the world". When someone eats and drinks unworthily then chastisement is necessary to bring them to repentance otherwise they would be condemned with the world through eating and drinking damnation to themselves. Even if we were simply to understand damnation as referring to objective guilt, that guilt must be repented of and removed and "every sin deserves God’s wrath and curse". What guilt are we speaking of? The guilt of the body and blood of the Lord, i.e. the worst sin ever committed and do we not think that Paul might mean that this objective guilt is unto damnation?

Do we understand "the guilt and heinousness of this sin"? John Willison defines this as "they are guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, i.e. It is an accession to the guilt of shedding the innocent blood of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. — It is an implicit approbation of the Jews' act in crucifying Christ. — It is a trampling Christ's blood under our feet. — It is a crucifying Christ afresh and harbouring the traitors and enemies of Christ in our bosom".  "The sin of it is no less than murdering the Son of God, and being accessory to the guilt of shedding his innocent blood".

"It argues a low esteem and an undervaluing of Christ, his precious blood, and redeeming love...It is a solemn affront to Christ; as it is to a king to throw his picture or great seal into a puddle...It is a horrid mocking of Christ, as it is a pretense of love to him, and hatred of sin, while, in the mean time, sin is hugged and Christ despised...It is a plain accession to the guilt of the Jews and Romans, who imbrued their hands in Christ's blood; for he is reckoned accessory to a murder who consents to it, aids, or abets the murderers, and this unworthy communicants are guilty of".
"Unworthy receivers of the Lord's supper contract great guilt, and also incur great danger to themselves". 
"They provoke God to inflict sore judgments on them, temporal and spiritual judgments here, and eternal judgments hereafter. The meaning is not, that this sin is unpardonable, but that it deserves damnation, and will bring it on, without repentance, and flying to the blood of Christ for cleansing. Every sin is in its own nature damning, and therefore such a heinous sin, as profaning this holy ordinance, must surely be so. But timorous and fearful believers should not be discouraged from attending this holy ordinance by the sound of this word, as if they bound upon themselves the sentence of damnation, by coming to the Lord's table unprepared. For hearing and praying unworthily, incurs damnation, as well as communicating unworthily. But this sin, as well as others, leaves room for forgiveness upon repentance".
"as the virtue of this precious blood saved and cleansed many, who actually shed it at Jerusalem; so it can save and cleanse those who spill and trample it under foot in the sacrament, upon their application to it, (Luke 24:46-47; Acts 2:36,38,41; 1 John 1:7)"
In relation to the word chosen by the AV translators and the Westminster Divines, I am inclined to agree with a former Professor of Church History and Principles at the Free Church College who expressed his preference for the older rendering in the face of the criticism that is all too commonly heard.

We should not lose the significance of the rendering however, as it is drawn out by Willison and "be much concerned to guard against this heinous and dangerous sin; and cry with the Psalmist, 'Lord, deliver us from blood-guiltiness.'"

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

the beams of our house

Whilst away in one of our other congregations elsewhere in the Highlands I heard a precious sermon on a text that is not expounded as frequently as others. The following are not the words that were used but simply a paraphrase in recollecting the drift of some of the things that were expressed.

Song of Solomon 1:17  The beams of our house are cedar, and our rafters of fir

The minister emphasised that the text speaks of "our house"; something that is a shared possession. A house speaks of a mutual dwelling place for fellowship. Jacob found this at Bethel in Genesis 28. What is referred to is a spiritual house, a place for the habitation of God where He may dwell and meet with His people. Moses had to build a house for the purpose of worship and communion, it had to be built according to the pattern shown in the mount but this is a spiritual house. Hebrews 3:1-6 brings in a contrast between Christ and Moses, particularly that Christ excelled Moses in building a spiritual house.  "Whose house are we if we hold fast". This spiritual house was designed in eternity by God who built all things and built in the incarnation, life and atoning work of the Redeemer. Solomon also built a house, the house of holiness, this had beams of the cedar of Lebanon which is of course very durable. There would have been a fragrance of the wood there. Christ built a house with the beams of cedar that are the beauty and glory of Christ's work in righteousness and atonement. There is fair, carved work there that doesn't need to be gilded with paint. He is the foundation and chief corner stone. He built a house which is for the mutual communion of Himself and His people. It includes all of the means of grace in public and private, all of which are intended for the exercise of grace. We should be seeking that grace would be in exercise anytime that we engage in these means of grace. Those that sit down at the Lord's table are beholding the fabric of this house for the fellowship that they are able to enjoy at that ordinance. They can say "the beams of our house are cedar".

If you would like to read James Durham's comments on this beautiful portion of Scripture go here.

Monday, September 09, 2013

the configurations of their glorie!

Biblical visualisations of cross-references are found here. The above rainbow shows the distance between two places among 63,779  cross-references using colour. The following one uses 340, 000 references.

Seeing not onely how each verse doth shine,
            But all the constellations of the storie.

This verse marks that, and both do make a motion
             Unto a third, that ten leaves off doth lie:

Thy words do finde me out, & parallels bring,

These are George Herbert's words from the poem on Holy Scripture. Would it not be beautiful if we could trace cross-references with our own life and experience? The "lights" and "perfections" of the Urim and Thummim found in Scripture as a lamp to our feet. What would that look like as a patchwork of colour and embroidery of light? This places the emphasis upon the word "I" at the start of Herbert's poem.

OH that I knew how all thy lights combine,
             And the configurations of their glorie!

Thursday, August 01, 2013


"my judgment is that presupposed in the Apostle’s words is the accepted practice of head covering for women in the assemblies of the Church" John Murray

While we may not cross every "t" and dot every "i" with the detail of interpretations offered in relation to this passage on the above website, it is encouraging to see the issue given more prominence and this biblical requirement encouraged. For more of John Murray's views read here. There are some useful sermons here and here. See also things written by Brian Schwertley and Richard Bacon. Again we are not of course recommending every detail of the arguments offered or of the bible versions that have been used.

Monday, July 29, 2013

audio sermons

For those who appreciate audio sermons, there is a valuable quantity to be found from the London ministry of Rev. Keith Watkins on

One that I first listened to on cassette not far short of twenty years ago, and which made a lasting impression, is the sermon on Lovest thou Me? I would also recommend the series on Godly Sorrow. There are many precious sermons on the Song of Solomon, it is often rare to find multiple sermons on this book these days. Listen also to the inspired Title of Psalm 45 being expounded.

Mr Watkins came to paedobaptist convictions while worshipping in churches that did not hold to these principles and his sermons on Baptism are often very helpful for this reason. It's a shame that the very beneficial lectures on Church Principles given in London have not been put onto as these are very useful expositions of presbyterian and FP principles. You can hear a sermon on Acts 15 though and obtain Lectures on Church Principles on another site. You can also find more up to date sermons on the Old Testament and New Testament as preached in Barnoldswick (near Colne), Lancashire.

The series on Ruth is also very helpful in bringing out the types of Christ and the gospel in that narrative. In his book Ruth: Her Story for Today, Mr Watkins writes the following:

Through the work of the ministry, in which His truth is proclaimed with authority and sinners are called to faith and repentance, the Lord Jesus saves those who believe. Sinners are united to Christ through faith, and "faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17). Usually, they hear through a preacher, for "how shall they hear without a preacher?" (verse 14). The Lord uses the preaching of His servants to bring people to Himself. That is why Paul spoke of himself as a "masterbuilder", of all ministers as "labourers together with God", and of the Church as "God's building" (1 Corinthians 3:9,10). So we should pray for the ministers of the Word, that the Lord would use their labours to build His house.

Friday, July 12, 2013

My two mites

And will the LORD, indeed, condescend to avouch me for his own? Shall I be of his chosen ones! Will the FATHER of mercies look upon me as accepted in the beloved, and mark me as the object of his peculiar love? Hath my JESUS purchased me with the peculiar price of his blood? Hath the HOLY GHOST visited my soul with the influences of his peculiar grace? Am I, indeed, the object of the united mercy of the Holy Three in One: and are the peculiar blessings of the covenant, the portion of my soul? LORD! grant me grace this day to avouch myself, with all I have, and all I am, to be thine forever. Take my two mites (for soul and body are nothing more, compared to this vast treasury) and accept them, O LORD, in JESUS, for of thine own do I give thee. Witness for me, ye angels of light, that I will know no other GOD but the LORD GOD of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; that I desire to be distinguished from all the nations of the earth, that are not the Israel of GOD, as separated from them; and that henceforth I will make mention of his righteousness, even his only, who is the GOD of my life, and will be my portion forever.

Robert Hawker


Saturday, July 06, 2013

breaking bread

It is good, though not always possible, to witness visibly the minister actually break the bread at the Lord's table. There is some historical and doctrinal significance to this - since it not only functioned as an obedience to the example of Christ but affirmed that Christ's presence was spiritual and not locally as a physical substance with, around, under or even within the bread. It seems that for this reason Lutherans, historically did not break the bread i.e. in order to signify that the substance of Christ was joined to the bread. As a side point it is worth noting that breaking of bread of bread in Scripture does not always or necessarily refer to the Lord's Supper (Acts 27:35 - it is debatable to what extent other uses of the term "breaking of bread" in the book of Acts refer to the Lord's Supper, Acts 2:46 is clearly common meals as per Luke 9:16; 24:30&35; Matt. 14:19; 15:36; Mark 6:41; 8:6,19; and Jeremiah 16:7). 

The apostle Paul asks: "The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?" (1 Cor 10:16). In other words, there is a greater spiritual significance to the bread and its being broken that we must enter into. If we would consider the bread that is set before us at the Lord's Table, John Willison reminds us that "Bread, ere it be fit to nourish us, must be first sown, and die in the earth; then it must be threshed, grinded in the mill, baken in the oven, broken and eaten: So Christ, that he might be a fit Saviour to us, was content to die, and be bruised for our sins, and scorched in the oven of his Father's wrath. Bread is the most necessary thing in the world; it strengthens man s heart, it is the staff that upholds his life; so Christ is the mercy of mercies, the most useful and necessary blessing to our starving souls".

He goes on: "When we see the minister take the bread, think how God did choose and take Christ from among men to be our Mediator, and a sacrifice for our sins. When the minister sets apart, blesses, and consecrates the bread, think how God set apart and sent his Son, sanctified and furnished with all gifts and graces needful to his mediatory office".

When you see the bread broken, think on the breaking and tormenting of Christ s body, and the bruising of his soul for our sins. He suffered a double death, one in his soul, and another in his body; he suffered from men and devils: But all was nothing to what he suffered from his Father; for, when men were wounding his body, the Father s hand bruised his soul, made a thousand wounds therein, and poured in a whole ocean of wrath upon him: he brake him with breach upon breach, and overwhelmed him with one wave of vengeance upon the back of another, till all his billows went over him. This was a sad time to our Saviour: yet all these floods could not drown his love to us, nor make him quit the grip he had taken of us, but, come of him what will, his poor people must not perish; his love to them flamed highest when his sufferings were greatest. 
Again, when you see the bread broken, look to Christ's wounds as an open city of refuge for thy soul, that is pursued by justice, to take sanctuary in: His wounds are laid open, that you may see into his bleeding heart, and see his yearning bowels of mercy, and hear them sounding towards you, an object of pity and spectacle of misery. Poor shelterless soul, quit all other shelters, and flee to the clefts of the rock here opened, saying, "This is my rest, and here I will stay." 
Pray at this time, "Lord, may my hard heart be broken and melted, that I may in some measure be conformed to my broken Saviour" Or, "Lord, break the united forces of my sins, and scatter them by thy mighty arm."
When you see the minister offering the bread to the communicants, and hear him saying, "Take ye, eat ye," think how freely God offers his Son, and Christ offers himself to be ours: Think how you see him at the head of the table, making offer of himself to you, saying, "Take me, and the whole purchase of my blood; take my sealed testament, and all the legacies in it; take a sealed pardon of all your sins, and a sealed right to eternal life."

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Preparation for the Lord's Supper

In many churches the Lord's Supper is administered without any acknowledged need for due spiritual preparation for this means of grace. The Puritan Richard Vines gives some indications as to the necessity of spiritual preparation.

There is a certain peculiar preparation due to the celebration of this Ordinance; for where the manner is so contrary, as worthily and unworthily, and the effect of the Ordinance much depending upon the manner of receiving it, and the benefits so great, as communion of Christ's body, the danger no less than of condemnation, reason will tell us, that there is a preparation requisite, that the fruit may be of the Tree of Life, and not of the Tree of knowledge of good and eyil, Eat and die. It's either too much blindness or boldness to rush upon this Ordinance without preparation...Our Saviour did not only use, but honour preparations, when he fasted and pray'd in order to his great work. To the Passover there belong'd...a solemn preparation: The Lamb was taken upon the tenth day, the leaven was enquired after and purged out which if they have now no obligation, yet they have a meaning: and you use to have Sermons for preparation, which are but preparatives to preparation they do but light the candle, but you must, as that woman, Luke 15:8 "Sweep the house and seek diligently"; else Sermon preparation may (as I fear it often doth) go without soul-preparation. That word 1 Cor. 11:28 "And so let him eat", tells us plainly, that somewhat must go before. 

Preparation is not something that we may trust in and though we must take it seriously and engage in it with sincerity we must take ourselves to Christ by faith and only go to the Lord's Table in his strength and merit.
I look for no preparation that shall not stand in need of mercy. If I see so much in my self, as makes my self empty, and that emptiness doth make me athirst for Christ, then I shall not dispute my preparation, but deny my worthiness, and yet come.

Monday, June 24, 2013

self-examination with Love

Dr John Love of Greenock (1757-1825) writes helpfully concerning the duty of self-examination with regard to our state, i.e. "am I in Christ?" He gives the following scripture proofs (Ps 28:5; Ps 111:2; Ps 103:2; Ps 106:7).

He also distinguishes a duty of self-examination with regard to our frame or condition, i.e. "am I growing in Christ?" (2 Peter 3:18; Lam 3:40; Ps 119:59). In relation to the latter text he observes that self-examination is absolutely necessary for repentance.

Self-examination as to both state and frame are required in order to have that peace of conscience that is desirable. Without self-examination no man can utter 2 Cor 1:12 "For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward". Only after self-examination can the conscience give its testimony - both our state and frame will come under judgement of Christ at the last day.

'Memorials,' vol. 2:499

Monday, June 10, 2013

Unsearchable Riches

Rev Donald Maclean (1915-2010) of the St Jude's congregation of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland was well-known to generations of people who lived, worked or studied in Glasgow. His previous Portree ministry (1948-1960) had also been noted for its wide influence. (Dutch friends can find out more here)

This volume of his sermons -- available now on Kindle and expected soon in hard-back and paper-back -- shows some of the reason why. Twelve sermons are preceded by an insightful biographical sketch.

His Christ-focused preaching was warm in tone, clearly explained the text of the Bible, robustly tied the verse(s)to the doctrine, appealed to the hearer's conscience, showed where the text fitted into the 'big picture' of the teaching of the covenants in the Bible, and stressed 'the free offer of the gospel'.

Many people who wanted to have Scripture explained by Scripture, instinctively listened to Mr Maclean's preaching. Many felt it reflected the Reformed confessional Calvinistic Scottish pulpit in its better days. A new generation can now sample it in 'Unsearchable Riches'.

Review by N. Campbell.

p.s. you can listen to audio sermons of Rev. D. Maclean here and here.

p.p.s. hard copies can be ordered and an excerpt can also be read here.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

the decree of a most fearful parliament in heaven

Sure I am, the decree of a most fearful parliament in heaven is at the very point of coming forth, because of the sins of the land. For “we have cast away the law of the Lord, and despised the words of the Holy One of Israel” (Isa. v. 24). “Judgment is turned away backward, and justice standeth afar off; truth is fallen in the streets, and equity cannot enter” (Isa. lix. 14). Lo! the prophet, as if he had seen us and our kirk, resembleth Justice to be handled as an enemy holden out at the ports of our city [so is she banished!], and Truth to a person sickly and diseased, fallen down in a deadly swooning fit in the streets, before he can come to an house.

Samuel Rutherford, 1628

Friday, May 10, 2013

free ebook

Now available at The pdf file is sized for ereader devices and tablets.

This timely publication bears witness to some of the important principles for which the Free Presbyterian
Church of Scotland stands. It outlines the historical and doctrinal reasons for her separate position
and seeks to provide basic teaching in relation to certain errors that are common in the Christian Church
today. Important constitutional documents and resolutions of Synod are included as appendices.

Friday, May 03, 2013

a wise servant

To my great regret, I never heard Rev. Fraser Macdonald preach except on cassette recording. If you have never listened go here. He was gifted by the Lord with abundance of utterance, a ready mind and the tongue of a ready writer.  "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver" (Prov. 25:11)."Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season?" (Matthew 24:45)  That wise servant has entered into the joy of his Lord.  "The king's favour is toward a wise servant" (Proverbs 14:35).

One obituary notes:
"He was blessed with a rich, resonant voice; he had extraordinary command of vocabulary, pitch and cadence, and could move in moments from down-to-earth tender clarity to the majesty of the seis, the traditional, ringing chant of Gaelic preaching".

For more read here.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Sabbath Public Transport

Every so often the vexed question of Sabbath public transport raises its head. It's not always clear why since it is very clearly contrary to the fourth commandment to engage others to work on our behalf. A clear provision and consequence of the fourth commandment is that we cannot employ someone or make them work on the sabbath, 'the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates' (Exodus 20:10).

The use of public transport on the Sabbath is against Scripture because it is a commercial transaction taking place on the Sabbath requiring someone to work for a purpose other than that of necessity and mercy. The traveller is effectively hiring the transport and the driver and employing someone on the Sabbath. As Thomas Boston put it – this is a commandment that prohibits 'all handy-labour or servile employments tending to our worldly gain'.

The core matter is whether or not use of transport run for commercial gain on the Sabbath is a breach of the fourth commandment even when used in order to attend public worship.  For what it may be worth, a clear stand on this matter is neither novel nor unique. Noted leading ministers of the past such as J.C. Ryle, R. Murray M’Cheyne, James Begg and John Kennedy of Dingwall were staunchly united against public transport on the sabbath. It may be of interest to learn that Samuel Miller led the 1836 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in condemning sabbath public transport as tending to “disgrace the church of God” and making those who used it to be “partakers in other men's sins” More historical examples can be found here.

Engaging public transport on the Sabbath is “wrong on the part of the payee, because, without deference, implied or expressed, to what the Fourth Commandment prohibits, on the one hand, or allows, on the other, he, as a contracting party, carries forward into the business of the Lord's Day the same mercenary aims, the same working conditions, and the same contract terms which he lawfully and necessarily employs on the six days during which, God says, "thou shalt do all thy work" and wrong on the part of the payer, because, as the other contracting party, by availing himself of the service, and by paying the stipulated fare, he voluntarily, and for the most part, cheerfully accommodates himself to these aims and conditions and accepts these terms. Nor can any amount or species of motive serve to make it right”, ‘Statement in Reference to Churchgoing by Public Conveyances on the Sabbath’, Synod of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, 1928.

It is quite clear that the paying traveller cannot remain guiltless in using this transport: 'Any use made of them on the part of an individual entails the giving by that individual of a certain proportionate moral and material contribution towards the support of the evil, thereby making him a party to it and involving him in the guilt of it.'

'This may appear in the case of some to constitute a hardship in so far as it precludes them from worshipping under conditions to which they had formerly accustomed themselves. The Synod believe, however, that in the end this will be found to be a hardship in appearance only; that the difficulty of it will be seen to have yielded to the forces of faith and faithfulness; and that the compensations of obedience to the truth and of preserving a conscience void of offence toward God and man are more than sufficient to counter-balance any amount of specious comfort foregone and of inconvenience suffered. "Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect to all thy commandments."

Chapter 11 of The History of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland 1893-1970, which can be viewed at outlines the reasons that the Free Presbyterian Church took this stand.

If we shy away from the difficult applications of the commandment it will in fact undermine the consistency of our whole approach and encourage people to search for loopholes where they wish to find them. How far does one push this particular open question? Is taking a Sabbath flight (run by a commercial airline) for the purposes of attending or perhaps leading corporate worship to be winked at too? How can one condemn the drivers, attendants, operators and owners of public transport run on the Sabbath who are employed by those who travel to corporate worship? If one form of employment in the realm of worldly gain could be permitted then, to be consistent, no type of employment on the Lord's Day can be made a matter of discipline. Having reached this point it is futile and contradictory to maintain any witness against breach of the Sabbath. “He who is not prepared to stand in a minority of one with a majority of millions against him, will not keep a good conscience respecting the Lord’s Day” (William Plumer).

To take refuge in the assertion that one would not travel by Sabbath public transport but could not condemn others for doing so is, as the Free Presbyterian minister Neil Cameron pointed out, a form of sophistry. “God’s Word says: 'Thou shalt not suffer sin on thy neighbour.'  The real meaning of such an argument is that the Synod should consent to allow their people to do that which they (these sophists) feel to be sin in their own conscience. If that be so why do they say that they would not do it themselves? Such arguments are devoid of any real force in face of the terms of the Fourth Commandment, and integrity of conscience.”

Monday, March 18, 2013

Baptism: Whose Children?

A debate exists among Presbyterians as to whether baptism or not ought only to administered to the children of parents who are communicant members. The debate rests upon some very crucial points such as the nature of the visible church and its membership and the nature of the profession that qualifies a person for membership in the visible church. The issue matters not just in its practical outworking but because it affects our view of the visible Church, its membership and the nature of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

The visible church and its membership
Separatism of the Independent and Congregational variety has tended to view the visible Church as solely made up of regenerated persons who are received into a gathered congregation (which is often the only kind of visible church they tend to recognise) as regenerated persons who have given some evidences of their experience to indicate that this is the case. Those who believed in the baptism of children were not always sure about what to do with them but regarded them as part of the visible church in a secondary sense or else did not regard them as in any sense within the visible church. The difficulty of applying baptism only to the children of the regenerate is that, apart from not knowing categorically who are and who are not regenerate, we cannot assume that the children of the regenerate are themselves regenerate. To say that children belong to the church but not in the same sense as their regenerated parents is to create two visible churches in effect. We will come back to this (DV) in a separate post at another time.

Scottish Presbyterianism, with the Westminster Standards, has distinguished between the church as viewed in its visible aspect and as viewed in its invisible aspect. There are not two churches but the same universal church can be viewed in these two aspects. They were careful in this regard because they could see that Scripture uses the word for church in a flexible way that may refer to the Visible Church or to the Invisible Church, or to both (although one of them is usually foremost). The context in which the word is found makes the interpretation clear. As James Durham notes, it is common to find references to both together, as “when an epistle is written to a Church, some things are said of it, and to it, as visible, some things again are peculiarly applicable to believers, who are members of the Invisible Church in it”. According to the Westminster Confession, the Invisible Church is the “the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all”—a number which no man can number and whose members are only ultimately known by God.

It is a fundamental mistake therefore to confuse the two together and require invisible evidences for a visible profession required for visible membership in a visible Church. We cannot look into men’s hearts. Thomas M’Crie summarises matters well in stating that “all who make a profession of the faith compose the Church considered as visible, while those among them who are endued with true faith constitute the Church considered as invisible. The former includes the latter; and it is sometimes spoken in Scripture under the one and sometimes under the other view”. The Lord Jesus Christ makes it clear that “many are called (visible Church) but few are chosen (Invisible Church).”

The order and government of the Church, as appointed in Scripture have nothing to do with the Invisible Church but rather concern the Visible Church. The Visible Church, according to the Westminster Confession of Faith, “consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God”. Christ has entrusted it with “the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world” (25:3-4). The Scottish Presbyterian view was a vision of covenanted and discipled nations made up of parishes where the truth was taught and the ordinances administered rather than a gathered church.

The difference between the Congregationalist and Presbyterian views of the visible church and its membership are easily seen by contrasting the definition from the Westminster Confession with that of the Savoy Confession. The latter reads: “The whole body of men throughout the world, professing the faith of the gospel and obedience unto God by Christ according to it, not destroying their own profession by any errors everting the foundation, or unholiness of conversation, are, and may be called the visible catholic church of Christ; although as such it is not entrusted with the administration of any ordinances, or have any officers to rule or govern in, or over the whole body”. That is to say that the visible Church is simply the membership of particular congregations aggregated together without mutual government or any other mutual relationship. The London Confession of 1689 adapted this language but refused to speak of the catholic visible Church.

The Visible Church involves visible office-bearers administering the visible ordinances appointed by Christ to those who have a visible profession of the true religion as distinguished from the rest of the world. It is the means used to gather the Invisible Church. The Visible Church is a great house containing vessels of honour and dishonour (2 Tim. 2:20). It is Christ's vineyard (Is. 5:1), sheepfold (John 10:1-16), barn floor (Matt. 3:12), and dragnet (Matt 13:47). The Visible Church is also “the light of the world”. It is "the city of truth" and "the righteous nation that keepeth the truth" (Zech. 8:3; Is. 26:2). A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid” (Matt.5:14).

One may, however, belong to the visible Church but not to the invisible Church and vice versa. This mirrors the covenant of grace which has an outward administration and membership but also a real, inward, efficacious administration and membership by God’s grace and Spirit. There is therefore a right to church privileges in the eyes of the Church and a right to church privileges in the eyes of God

The nature of profession needed for initiation
The Confession speaks of those who profess the true religion as opposed to those who profess the false religion or indeed have no formal religion at all. It does not speak of those who truly profess the true religion but simply of those who make profession of it. It doesn’t say those who make a profession that they are regenerated but those who profess the true religion. This is an objective matter and something that can be tested. The language of the Confession echoes and reflects Scripture itself in passages such as 1 Cor 5:12 where the assumption is that ordinary hearers of the word (those hearing the letter read) were within not, without the visible Church. Those without were pagans not professing the true religion who could not be judged because they did not come under the word in any sense at all.

This is of course the nature of profession in the Old Testament Church. They avouched the Lord to be their God and entered into covenant with him (Ex. 19:5-6; Deut 26:17-19; Deut 27:9-10). Mostly this was done en masse (Deut 29:10-13; 2 Chron 15:9-12). All were received as disciples to be taught “they sat down at thy feet; every one shall receive of thy words” (Deut 33:3). Gentile proselytes were admitted into the Old Testament Church upon making a serious profession of the true religion and expressing willingness to subject themselves to the institutions commanded by God.

Circumcision was for all who were born within the visible Church and whose parents had not been cut off from God’s people. In Joshua 5 we read of circumcision being administered to all of the children of the generation who perished in the wilderness.  They were circumcised as in covenant with God because born within the visible Church and part of the covenant community even though their parents ultimately gave no evidences of real grace or true faith.  The Lord speaks of the children of the visible church as having been born unto him Ezekiel 16:20, even though they were the children of rebellious parents, this did not cancel that external relationship. Esau was circumcised, even though we read that he was hated by God.

It is expressly commanded in Genesis 17:10 that every man child shall be circumcised. There was some restriction on this, certain conditions and tribes were restricted from coming into the congregation for several generations. It was, however, a default position that unless there were necessary restrictions the children of all within the visible Church making a serious profession should be circumcised. We would ask: where is the command and warrant now to restrict the breadth of this command under the New Testament? The tendency of the New Testament administration of the Covenant of Grace is to widen privileges, not restrict. Women and Gentiles are now brought onto the same footing in terms of formal admission into the visible Church and receiving the seal.

Sometimes the observation is made that circumcision automatically qualified someone for the Passover with the implication that the same standard ought to be equivalent for baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  Children were not automatically qualified for the Passover meal, however. There were conditions, moreover, under which the circumcised were restricted from partaking of the Passover. This might be defilement or being prevented by some matter such as being on a journey. (They were not debarred from circumcision for their children by this).

The equivalent to this in relation to the Lord’s Supper is worthy partaking, discerning the Lord’s body and self-examination (see Larger Catechism Q171). Something more than what is required for baptism is in view here. Someone may be eligible for baptism but not for the Lord’s Supper. If we compare Larger Catechism Q166 and Q171 we will surely see that this can in fact be the case. Indeed we never find in the New Testament that those who are given baptism are to examine and try themselves regarding their inward state and condition as is necessary for the Lord’s Supper; this is because the qualifications for both ordinances are different. The Supper is a seal of nourishment and growth in Christ not of initial engagement to be Christ’s.

The Reformed understanding of the sacraments following Calvin has generally distinguished between baptism as the sign and seal of entrance into the visible Church and the Supper as the sign of confirmation and growth. The Larger Catechism distinguished clearly in answer to the question 177 “Wherein do the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's supper differ?” “A. The sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper differ, in that Baptism is to be administered but once, with water, to be a sign and seal of our regeneration and ingrafting into Christ, and that even to infants; whereas the Lord's Supper is to be administered often, in the elements of bread and wine, to represent and exhibit Christ as spiritual nourishment to the soul, and to confirm our continuance and growth in him, and that only to such as are of years and ability to examine themselves”.

The tendency to view the two sacraments as almost mutually convertible will have a seriously detrimental impact upon the preciousness of the Lord’s Supper as a means of grace. One sacrament deals with our state in an objective sense, the other deals with our condition in a more subjective sense. This is why there are situations where even those that are regenerated cannot rightly and worthily partake of the Lord’s Supper, due preparation is required, it is not an automatic assumption that they must partake of that sacrament in whatever condition they may be found.

Baptism was instituted by Christ for discipleship; the commission was to disciple the nations. “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matt. 28:19).That Commission can be rendered “Go, make all nations disciples”. As David Dickson notes, “those are made disciples whosoever are given up to Christ, to be taught and governed by him, whether by themselves or being brought be others who have power of them, as parents and masters are dedicated and consecrated to Christ, who has said of children elsewhere: “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not’. All those may and should be taken charge of, admitted into the Church as disciples, and baptized, for he says ‘Go, make disciples of all nations and baptize them’”. This was to be done by teaching and baptizing. It is evident that no one but God can make someone a disciple if we restricted the meaning of the word to those who are regenerated. It is clear also that nations as nations are to be taught and made disciples. Baptism was for the initiate disciples whether older or infants. What were they to teach? The gospel and the fundamentals of Christ and the Trinity but also the commandments of Christ to which disciples are to subject themselves willingly.

It is instructive to compare Pentecost with what we have noted of a people covenanting en masse with the Lord together with their children. Baptism was administered en masse on the basis of a sincere profession but we do not imagine that there was opportunity to interview all 3,000 individuals before baptism was administered particularly if their children were also baptised at the time.

Those who received the outward call of the word, professed belief in Christ and were willing to subject themselves to his institutions were baptised, together with their children. Theirs’ was the promise and therefore they received a seal of their right to that promise. “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:38-39).

The profession accepted by the apostles for baptism is a straightforward profession of discipleship, and baptism took place speedily without any delay. The apostolic practice was that those who gladly received the word were baptised (Acts 2:41). As we know, this probably included Ananias and Sapphira who turned out to be other than their profession indicated. Likewise we read that Simon Magus believed the word and was baptised yet was still in the bond of iniquity (Acts 8:13 and 23). In the same chapter we read of the profession made by the Ethiopian Eunuch which was very basic and straightforward. “And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him” (Acts 8:37-38). The Philippian jailor was baptised “straightway” (Acts 16:33). The baptism of Saul of Tarsus may have extraordinary features in the background, particularly the way that Ananias was sent to meet with Saul, but, being administered without delay, it completes the picture in terms of apostolic practice in relation to baptism.
No evidences of grace were required in any of these situations. It is hard to imagine that even some of the most careless of kirk sessions would admit someone to the Lord’s table so quickly, solely upon this type of profession.

Confusion introduced by Subjectivity
Errors in relation to baptism mostly derive from trying to connect the ordinance with regeneration in some way, not just an ex opere operato baptismal regeneration position, but also a presumptive regeneration position, or a view that all elect children are regenerated at the time of baptism. There is also the view that in order for baptism to be real - regeneration must already have taken place prior to the ordinance being administered. This is of course the Anabaptist position. Baptism has its basis, integrity and validity in the subjective response of man rather than the objective promise of God. It is grace offered that is being sealed not grace received; a sign to grace not a sign of grace. It is the promise of God that is the basis for baptism. The integrity of baptism does not depend upon our subjective response.

Calvin anticipates an objection in the Institutes, "Therefore you will ask do the wicked by their ingratitude make the ordinance of God fruitless and void? I answer, that what I have said is not to be understood as if the power and truth of the sacrament depended on the condition or pleasure of him who, receives it, That which God instituted continues firm and retains its nature however men may vary; but since it is one thing to offer and another thing to receive, there is nothing to prevent a symbol, consecrated by the word of the Lord, from being truly what it is said to be and preserving its power, though it may at the same time confer no benefit on the wicked and ungodly".

In 1 Corinthians 7, the apostle Paul addresses a vexed question. The issue there is to do with whether a believer should divorce their pagan unbelieving spouse on the grounds that the marriage is not sanctified. Pagan Gentiles were unclean but Christian Gentiles were not, they had a covenant holiness which extended to their children who were also in the covenant and within the visible Church. If the covenant root is holy, so also are the branches. “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy” (1 Cor 7:14). Paul is not speaking of a real holiness here but of covenant holiness, dedication and separation to God and his service from the world, and as the word partly signified in the Old Testament, being acceptable for presentation to God in his temple. The language reflects that which is spoken of Israel in the Old Testament, they are a holy nation. It is profession of Christianity as opposed to paganism that is in view here. Baptism puts a visible difference between those within the Church and those that belong to the world. As RL Dabney puts it, we must treat all baptized persons as bona fide members of the visible church unless their membership is legally severed or else accept the Anabaptist theory of the church. We cannot treat them as pagans and heathen.

The need for Objectivity
This is where we return to the visible profession that must be assessed by those admitting to the ordinance of baptism. They must inquire as to the knowledge and profession of the truth made and ask whether or not there is anything that they are aware of and obvious to them that would contradict the reality of a serious visible profession. Rather than disposing of the matter rapidly by the simple test of whether the person is or is not a communicant member a session must take each case on its merits and deal sensitively but thoroughly with the individual using it as an opportunity to counsel and exhort them. We are told of a danger of creating hypocrites if we proceed on this method of administering baptism, we do not believe that to be the case since there is no claim to prior regeneration and on a serious profession there is every hope that the vows will be fulfilled and blessed to the parent themselves. It is surely a sin, however, says Rutherford to break the bruised reed and quench the smoking flax of one who wishes to profess Christ openly and secure a blessing for their children but whose self-examination does not lead them to coming forward to seek acceptance for the Lord’s Supper.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

SRS Historical Journal Volume 3

You can now purchase Volume 3 of the Scottish Reformation Society Historical Journal and previous volumes here.

Contents of Volume 3 (2013)

‘John Knox and the Destruction of the Perth Friaries in May 1559′
Douglas Somerset

‘The Covenanters, Unity in Religion, and Uniformity of Church Government in the 1640s: Presbytery by Coercion or Co-operation?
Jeffrey Stephen

‘The Scots Church in Rotterdam – a Church for Seventeenth Century Migrants and Exiles. Part I’
Robert J. Dickie

‘Alexander Shields, the Revolution Settlement and the Unity of the Visible Church. Part II’
Matthew Vogan

‘The Attitude of James Begg and The Watchword Magazine to the 1872 Education Act’
Andrew R. Middleton

‘The Witness of the Kames Free Presbyterian Church, Argyllshire’
Norman Campbell

‘Movements in the Main-Line Presbyterian Churches in Scotland in the Twentieth Century’
John W. Keddie

‘The Sabbath Protest at Strome Ferry in 1883′
Norman Campbell