Thursday, February 25, 2010

Calvin on who should be kept from the Lord's Supper and why

From: Calvin's Ecclesiastical Advice
Calvin's "Essay on the Lord's Supper" from, The Form of Prayers, 1542 and 1545.

The Eucharist is the communion of the body and blood of the Lord. As St. Paul explains, it ought to be taken in order that we might abide and live more fully in Christ and he might live and abide more fully in us. For this reason St. Paul stresses that in the celebration of the Holy Supper we ought increasingly to desire to live and abide in Christ (i.e., to eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Lord) and to receive this meat and drink with greater fruitfulness and religious fervor. Hence, it is necessary to institute and to control this sacrament in order that the people might be duly instructed and admonished as to the necessity of their frequent participation in the flesh and blood of the Lord as well as to its great benefits, which are received from this participation and mastication.

From this it follows, first, that the Supper ought only to be offered to those who are willing and able to live in the Lord, who have him living in them, and who desire that his life be increased and made greater in them. For the reason why the communion of the body and blood of Christ is given in the Holy Supper is to the end that we might live entirely in him and he in us. Consequently, it is necessary for God's faithful ministerial dispensers to know that those to whom they wish to give the Lord's Supper are already incorporated by baptism into the Lord Christ, knowing that they are his true and living members, and that they hunger for this meat of eternal life and thirst for this holy drink. Christian charity, religion, and holy administration have always required this. Other persons, because they cannot participate in the sacrament without condemning themselves, must be kept away from the Holy Supper by the deacon (as the early church commanded). This is true also for those who have not yet been fully instructed in the Christian religion, the wicked, and those who have had to leave the church and who should be making penance, but who have not yet been received in grace. For this reason our Lord himself gave the first supper only to those more elect disciples. It is not fitting to give what is holy to dogs nor to give the meat of eternal life to those who do not hunger for it.

Therefore the Lord's Supper should only be given to those who are known and approved by the rule of charity and religion, a rule which must be practiced in the administration of the Supper, also requiring confession and the acknowledgment that, in our life, nothing contradicts it. Ministers, therefore, act in a holy and correct manner, both by their ministry and by its dignity, when they receive only those persons to the sacrament whom they first of all know to be approved and instructed. Moreover, since this meat and drink of eternal life ought to be administered only to those who truly desire it, it follows that the people to whom the Supper is administered should be admonished so thoroughly as to understand how important it is for them to profit from communion with Christ and what benefits are offered in it to them.

Translated by: Mary Beaty and Benjamin W. Farley

Friday, February 19, 2010

Both Callings

"There are Two Callings to be minded by All Christians. Every Christian hath a General Calling, Which is to Serve the Lord Jesus Christ and Save his own Soul in the Services of Religion that are incumbent on all the Children of men....But then, every Christian hath also a Personal Calling; or, a certain Particular Employment by which his Usefulness in his Neighbourhood is distinguished....

"A Christian, at his Two Callings, is a man in a Boat, Rowing for Heaven, the House which our Heavenly Father hath intended for us. If he mind but one of his Callings, be it which it will, he pulls the Oar but on one side of the Boat, and will make but a poor dispatch to the Shoar of Eternal Blessedness...."

--Cotton Mather, from "A Christian at His Calling" (1701)

This is an excellent quote posted on the Puritan Writing blog. Of course using one oar more than the other takes you off course. Rowing only with one oar takes you round in circles. No wonder we feel stressed if we give to much to our earthly calling.

Monday, February 15, 2010

my songs in the house of my pilgrimage

Pilgrims need songs for their journey. The pilgrims that went up to Zion at the three appointed feasts in the year had an ample store of divinely inspired psalms in the Songs of Degrees (or Ascents) (Pss. 120–134). The songs that we need in this valley of Baca are those which are the word of God or the statutes of God. 'Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage' (Ps 119:54).

The psalms are the Scriptures in miniature; everything that is necessary and appropriate for our use is found there in its sufficiency. There are psalms appropriate for each stage and experience of the journey. Songs for the valley and the heights; the rough path and the plain; the day and the night. The story is told of the Scotsman who was accustomed to travel 20 miles in order that, as he put it, "he might get a guid sing at the auld psalms". Evidently he had at least 20 miles worth in memory, it would be well for us to get our 20 miles worth in memory for even in that selection there will be a diversity to suit our needs. The time may come when the written page is not to hand or if it is, we cannot read it. 'I will
never forget thy precepts, for with them thou hast quickened me'.

The Church Father Jerome mentions how the psalms had their own influence on daily life where he lived in Palestine: "The Psalms were continually to be heard in the fields and vineyards of Palestine. The plowman, as he held the plow, chanted the Hallelujah, and the reaper, the vinedresser, and the shepherd sang something from the Psalms of David. Where the meadows were coloured with flowers, and the singing birds made their plants, the Psalms sounded even more sweetly. These psalms are our love songs, these instruments of our agriculture".

Two books have sought to gather up the fragments of the impact that the psalms have made within Church history and upon individuals. There is Roland Prothero's 'The Psalms in Human Life'. James Kerr in 'The Psalms in History and Biography' writes:

What a wonderful story they could tell if we could gather it all from lonely chambers, from suffering sick-beds, from the brink of the valley of the shadow of death, from scaffolds and fiery piles witnessing in sunlight, from moors and mountains beneath the stars, and in high places of the field turning to flight the
armies of the aliens!

The book of Psalms, beyond every book of man, and most parts of the book of God, can be brought into this connection with life. We can take passage after passage and write out for it some grief it has comforted, some doubt it has solved, some deliverance it has wrought or celebrated.

If we can read the hook, or a part of it, in the light of such experiences, we may be helped to make it more our own, to take it home to our heart and to keep it for a possession. There are promises in the Bible which seem beyond our reach; we have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. But some one, like ourselves, has been there before us, and has left a cup to be let down with his name and story engraven on the rim: 'For this shall every one that is godly pray unto thee in a time when thou mayest be found'.

George Horne's valuable commentary on the psalms shows that they have three applications; David/psalmist's life and experience; the individual believer and the Church; and Christ. The psalms arose from the experience of David and as the divinely worded transcript of that experience they speak to our own experience also - "deep unto deep doth call". As James Kerr puts it, the altogether fitly spoken words of the psalms are the apples of gold set in the pictures of silver of our own experience.

This is true of none more than Christ Himself, Whose inner thoughts, emotions and experiences are recorded in the psalms. He could say that they were His songs in the house of his pilgrimage, as He tabernacled amongst us in a house of clay in the days of His flesh. O to have Christ yet with us on our Emmaus pilgrim road to draw along side us and open up to us all the things concerning Himself in the psalms. The journey will not be long as the well-known psalm will then become a new song put in our hearts to magnify our God.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

"The Free Church in its current form is finished" part 2

I omitted to mention in the last post that it is an extremely sad step that is being contemplated in the Free Church and noone who considers these matters deeply can view the largest presbyterian denomination in Europe still committed to purity of worship change, without real grief. I still remember the sorrowful, prayerful spirit that I had when I first learned of the influence of these trends around 12 years ago. Yes, there was an alarm too as now but I trust that the same spirit is in evidence as well.

I view the words of the editor of the Monthly Record in the title of this post as deeply significant. For the Free Church to take the step that he advocates, will mean abandonment of biblical puritan principle, the regulative principle of worship, strict subscription to the Westminster Confession(which requires psalms to be sung)as well as the regulative principle.

There is also a constitutional issue. The Free Church in 1910 declared its existing position very strongly by making a constitutional Class I Act and inserting reference to it in the ordination vows. To remove this is similar to removing the Westminster Confession from the ordination vows or making a Declaratory Act. To reverse wholescale a part of the constitution (rather than reaffirm or clarify what the Church is already committed to) can only really be done if every office-bearer that has taken these vows agrees. To impose this upon a dissenting minority risks the dissenting minority having the moral case for being the continuing Church whereas the majority have departed from the constitution and have no further right to be regarded as the same continuing Church. Whether they do become a protesting minority or not it could still be said, "the Free Church in its current form is finished".

The Free Church are cutting off a part of the heritage of the reformation Church of Scotland. This was protected in the National Church by the State in the 1693 Act for settling the quiet and peace of the Church. It is also in the British Constitution itself in the 1707 Act of Security protecting 'the true Protestant religion, as presently professed within this kingdom, with the worship, discipline, and government of the Church, should be effectually and unalterably secured'.

What the Free Church Act of 1910 refers to in the 1707 church legislation is what the National Church ordination vows referred to in speaking of 'the purity of the worship as presently practised in this national church, and asserted in the Act 15, Assembly 1707, entitled, Act against Innovations in the Worship of God'. The Free Church Act of 1910 ought really to have explicitly referred to psalms only rather than use the ambiguous phrase 'inspired materials of praise' since paraphrases were not in view in the 1707 Act and had not gone under the Barrier Act for approval. They had other reasons, however, for making room for paraphrases.

Previous generations were evidently very careful in setting up bulwarks against unscriptural innovations in worship, our own generation has become comparatively careless. There is a great attack is on biblical uniformity and allowing everyone to do what is right in their own eyes is advocated. This is what James Begg referred to as "Anarchy in Worship". "The very meaning of our being Presbyterians, moreover, as distinguished from Congregationalists, is that the details of worship shall be uniform, and settled by a central authority, so that in going from church to church, as from room to room in one great house, we shall not be distracted in our devotions by diversity and individual crotchets, as when "there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes." cf. Jud. 17:6f. To this "uniformity," as well as purity of worship, all the office-bearers of the Presbyterian Church are solemnly pledged". He described five types of innovators 1.) the presumptuous and blasphemous innovator; 2.) the popularity-hunting innovator; 3.) the politic and scheming innovator; 4.) the aesthetic innovator. 5.) the well-meaning innovator.

We fervently hope that the innovators in the Free Church only fall into the latter category. As Begg says, however, "We are not sure that a numerous class are to be
ranked under this head, and especially we deny that ministers and others who have avowed the Presbyterian principles of worship, and undertaken solemn obligations
in connection therewith, are entitled when they break their vows to take shelter under the plea of good intentions. But what is greatly important, is that even
when we have reason to believe that men have a good motive, this will not excuse the slightest deviation from the will of God in the matter of worship". He gives the example of Uzzah, that ought to be well-weighed. Begg refers to Jeremiah 7:12 "Go ye now," says God, " unto my place which was in Shiloh, where I set my name at the first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel." The wickedness specially referred to was all connected with false worship, concerning the introduction of which, God says, "I commanded them not, neither came it into my heart." (Jer. 7:31)

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

the Free Church in its current form is finished

This year the Free Church is to meet to debate and decide upon its position on worship. This comes after a sustained attack by an influential number upon their ordination vows. The current editor of the Monthly Record told the Assembly in 2008 that he could no longer ‘assert, maintain and defend’ the current practice on worship. That is that he desires hymns, instrumental music and women deacons too. He has said 'the Free Church is going to change', 'the Free Church in its current form is finished'.

The interesting thing for those who have a knowledge of the history of the Free Church is that the proponents of change are appealing to the historical precedent of the late-victorian Free Church where hymns and organs were permitted in order to make way for union with the United Presbyterian Church. Union with Church of Scotland evangelicals unable to accept psalms without organs is the great rallying cry now behind the movement for change. History is evidently repeating itself, it has to because few are really listening. An astute article looks at the historical arguments used by contemporary proponents of change. It notes that the changes in Victorian times came hand in hand with theological declension. The attempts to form a superchurch in those times culminated in the United Free Church declining further until it merged into the Church of Scotland in 1929. Only a very basic theological standard is going to suit most evangelicals in the Church of Scotland.

But the question might be asked as to why the Free Church waited until 1910 to firm up its position on worship. Even the 1905 Act did not have a constitutional authority binding any to purity of worship. Was it because there had been an influx of ministers of all hues and shades from other denominations which by 1910 had departed almost as quickly as they came? Some answers are available in Maurice Grant's, "The Heirs of the Disruption in Crisis and Recovery", in Crown Him Lord of All. He notes that the use of organs were a live issue for at least one Free Church congregation before the Great War. Perhaps the 1910 Act would have been as quietly ignored in the Lowlands as the Postures in Public Worship Act of 1910 if the legislation had not been Class I and constitutional.

John Kennedy said that if the legislation permitting hymns had gone under the Barrier Act he would have separated from the Free Church due to the constitutional change. This position enters into the difference of views on duty as to the 1892 Declaratory Act. I don't think that there are any of John Kennedy's spirit in the present day Free Church.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Vanity of thoughts

Thoughts are inconstant, changeable and difficult to control. In the
multitude of words, sin is not wanting and so with the multitude of
thoughts which are a multitude of images as well as words. Thomas
Goodwin's The vanity of thoughts discovered with their danger and cure
(1638) defines thoughts as "all the internal acts of the mind of man,
of what faculty soever; all those reasonings, consultations, purposes,
resolutions, intents, ends, desires, and cares of the mind of man, as
opposed to our external words and actions...those talkings of our
minds with the things we know, as the Scripture calls it, Prov. 6:22.
those same parleys, interviews, chattings, the mind hath with the
things let into it, with the things we fear, with the things we love."

He writes:
"But I appeal to all your experiences, if your thoughts of him be not
most unsteady, and are, (that I may so compare it) as when we look
upon a star through an optic glass, held with a palsy shaking hand: It
is long ere we can bring our minds to have ken of him, to place our
eyes upon him, and when we have, how do our hands shake, and so lose
sight ever and anon?… In Adam and Christ no thought was misplaced, but
though they were as many as the Stars, yet they marched in their
courses, and kept their ranks. But ours as meteors, dance up and down
in us. And this disorder is a vanity and sin…"

"We shall find our minds, like the pegs of an Instrument, slip
betweene our fingers, as we are a winding them up, and to fall downe
suddenly again, ere we are aware of it…"

The sermon is on How long shall thy vain thoughts lodge within thee?
JER. 4:14. Goodwin says that in "these words he compares the heart
unto some house of common resort, made, as it were, with many and
large rooms to entertain and lodge multitudes of guests in; into
which, before conversion, all the vain, light, wanton, profane,
dissolute thoughts that post up and down the world, as your thoughts
do, and run riot all the day, have free, open access, the heart keeps
open house to them, gives them willing, cheerful welcome and
entertainment; accompanies them, travels over all the world for the
daintiest pleasures to feed them with; lodgeth, harbours them; and
there they, like unruly gallants and roysters, lodge, and revel it day
and night, and defile those rooms they lodge in with their loathsome
filth and vomits. 'How long,' says the Lord, 'shall they lodge
therein,' whilst I, with my Spirit, my Son, and train of graces,
'stand at the door and knock,' Rev. iii. 20, and cannot find

He further describes vain thoughts "as wanton boys, when they take
pens in their hands, scribble broken words that have no dependence.
Thus doe our thoughts: and if you would but look over the copies
thereof, which you write continually, you would find as much non-sense
in your thoughts, as you find in mad men's speeches. This madness and
distemper is in the mind since the fall (though it appears not in our
words, because we are wiser) that if notes were taken of our thoughts,
we should find thoughts so vagrant, that we know not how they come in,
nor whence they came, nor whither they would."

Goodwin speaks of how there is a theatre of the imagination in which
the heart acts out its desires, "representing or acting over sins, in
our thoughts and imaginations, personating those pleasures by
imagination, which at present we enjoy not really, feigning and
imagining ourselves to act those sinful practises we have not
opportunity outwardly to perform: speculative wickedness divines do
call it, which to be in the power of imagination to doe; is evident to
you by your dreams; when fancy plays its part most…

But corrupt and distempered affections doe cast men into such dreams
in the day, and when they are awake, there are then (to borrow the
Apostles expression) filthy dreams, Jude 8. that defile the flesh,
even when awake: when, their lusts wanting work, their fancy erects to
them a stage, and they set their imaginations and thoughts a work to
entertain their filthy and impure desires, with shows and plays of
their own making, and so reason and the intention of their minds, sit
as spectators all the while to view with pleasure, till their thoughts
inwardly act over their own unclean desires, ambitious projects, or
what ever else they have a mind unto."

This shows the danger in our own day of the moving image - that these
make powerful impressions upon the memory and imagination and may be
recalled involuntarily. They cannot be erased.

"And if their heinousness will nothing move you, consider their
number, for they are continually thus: which makes our sins to be in
number more than the sands: the thoughts of Solomon's heart were as
the sand, and so ours; not a minute, but as many thoughts pass from
us, as in a minute sands doe in an hour-glass. So that suppose, that
taken severally, they be the smallest and least of your sins, yet
their multitude makes them more and heavier than all your other.
Nothing smaller than a grain of sand, but if there be a heap of them,
there is nothing heavier, Job 6:3. My grief is heavier than the sand.
Suppose they be in themselves, but as farthing-tokens, in comparison
of gross defilements: yet because the Mint never lies still, sleeping
nor waking, therefore they make up the greatest part of that treasure
of wrath which we are a laying up: and know that God will reckon every
farthing, and in thy punishment bate thee not one vain thought."