November 2012

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

Similarities and Differences in the Two Sacraments

The month of November must have been the month when all Presbyterians went on Sabbatical!  We have never had so many dates when this writer has been forced to say that little or no significant dates of Presbyterian history have been found.  But December will be better for Presbyterian dates.  For now, on November 30, we go to two questions and answers from the Larger Catechism, and together these will end our extended study on the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Question and answer 176 reads: “Wherein do the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper agree?  A.  The sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper agree, in that the author of both is God; the spiritual part of both is Christ and his benefits; both are seals of the same covenant, are to be dispensed by ministers of the gospel, and by none other; and to be continued in the church of Christ until his second coming.”

Question and answer 177 reads: “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.”

Both of these questions would be great questions to ask potential officers of our churches, including those who would seek to be pastors in our presbyteries, for they require an overall understanding of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  Indeed, they are an excellent teaching tool for the Christian parent to prepare the children for church membership.

There are five areas of agreement between the two sacraments. For both, the author is God.  Christ and His benefits are represented as being instituted. Both are seals of the covenant of grace. Both are church sacraments.  And both are to be practiced until we see Christ in the flesh at His second coming.

The differences are simple and understandable.  The outward elements are water, in the one, contrasted with bread and wine in the other sacrament. Then too, the timing of Christ’s benefits to the believer differ, in that baptism speaks of the beginning of the Christian life, while Communion speaks of its continuance. Baptism is to be done once and not repeated. The Communion is to be done often. Baptism includes infants while the Lord’s Supper implies the ability to discern the elements.

Words to live by:  Our two catechisms considered today are definitely doctrinal in scope.  Yet at the same time, they presuppose a basic understanding of the two sacraments which will enable God’s people to participate in them with a greater  understanding.  Let us make sure that their spiritual experience describe us, not just their outward and external experience.  “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?. . . .” (ESV – 2 Corinthians 13:5c)

Through the Scriptures:  Acts 20:2 ; Romans 1 – 4

Through the Standards:  Rules for keeping some from partaking

WLC 173 — “May any who profess the faith, and desire to come to the Lord’s supper, be kept from it?
A.  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 has left in his church, until they receive instruction, and manifest their reformation.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

Missionaries Among the Nez Perce in the Northwest

This nineteenth century missionary couple has been mentioned before in these pages in connection with Marcus Whitman on February 29 and August 18.  They were Henry Harmon Spalding and his wife Eliza Hart Spalding.  There were a number of “firsts” connected with both of them.  Along with Mrs. Marcus Whitman, they were the first white women to travel on the Oregon Trail. Indeed, they were part of the first wagon train to travel on that famous trail. In the case of Henry and Eliza, theirs was the first white home in what is now Idaho. They brought the first printing press to the Northwest. But our interest in them was of far more importance than simply their being the “first” this or “first” that. They had a heart for the Nez Perce Indian people and their eternal souls.

So after a very long and difficult trip by steamer, horse back, and wagon train, Henry and Eliza arrived at their place of work, settling in a house which they built, on November 29, 1836.  Henry Spalding had unusual success in reaching this Indian tribe. He was able to give them a written script of their language, which enabled him to teach their tribal members. Spalding then translated parts of the Bible, including the entire gospel of Matthew. Leaders of the tribe were baptized, including the father of Chief Joseph, the brilliant military leader of the Nez Perce.

When the Whitmans and twelve of their followers were massacred in 1847, Henry was at that time on his way to meet them. He narrowly escaped in the five days journey back to his home, and eventually took his wife to Oregon City, Oregon to wait for the situation to simmer down. The Board of Missions which had sponsored them, however, decided to abandon the Mission Station.

Eliza would never see the region of the Nez Perce again, except after her death. Sixty years after her death, her body was interred on their land again beside that of her husband.  Henry had ministered in various areas in the “civilized” northwest as a pastor and a commissioner of schools in what later became Oregon, until finally in 1859, he returned with delight back to his beloved Nez Perce. He would stay only a few years before difficulties arrived, and he died in 1874.  He was buried on their land.

Words to live by:  To go into uncharted territory with the Gospel is a worthy goal and takes an unusual kind of Christian. Henry Spalding was just such an individual. He knew his calling and wanted to waste no time in fulfilling it. And fulfill it he did. Along with the Gospel, caring for the souls of the Nez Perce, this missionary couple taught the tribe irrigation laws and the cultivation of the . . . potato!  The next time you go to the store and buy some Idaho potatoes, think of Presbyterian missionary Henry Spalding!

Through the Scriptures:  2 Corinthians 10 – 13

Through the Standards:  Instruction for participation in the Lord’s Supper

WLC 172 — “May one who doubts of his being in Christ, or of his due preparation, come to the Lord’s Supper?
A.  One who doubts of his being in Christ, or of his due preparation to the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, may have true interest in Christ, through he be not yet assured thereof; and in God’s account has it, if he be duly affected with the apprehension of the want of it, and unfeignedly desires to be found in Christ, and to depart from iniquity: in which case (because promises are made, and this sacrament is appointed, for the relief even of weak and doubting Christians) he is to bewail his unbelief, and labor to have his doubts resolved, and, so doing, he may and ought to come to the Lord’s supper, that he may be further strengthened.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

A Forgotten Duty After Participating in the Lord’s Supper

With little of national Presbyterian history found yesterday or today, we return to the next Larger Catechism which deals with an important, but neglectful duty after we have  participated in holy Communion. It is Larger Catechism 175, which asks and answers, “What is the duty of Christians, after they have received the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper?  A.  The duty of Christians, after they have received the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, is seriously to consider how they have behaved themselves therein, and with what success; if they find quickening and comfort, to bless God for it, beg the continuance of it, watch against relapses, fulfill their vows, and encourage themselves to a frequent attendance on that ordinance: but if they find no present benefit, more exactly to review their preparation to, and carriage at the sacrament; in both which, if they can approve themselves to God and their own consciences, they are to wait for the fruit of it in due time; but, if they see that they have failed in either, they are to be humbled, and to attend upon it afterward with more care and diligence.”

There are to be spiritual benefits as a result of your participation in the Lord’s Supper.  That is what is meant by the phrase “quickening and comfort” in the answer. If you find them in spiritual lives, then bless God for them. He is the Author of them. Beg that the Holy Spirit continue them in your spiritual life. The Psalmist David prayed in Psalm 36:10 “O continue thy lovingkindness unto them that know thee. . . .” (KJV)  Watching against relapses is a major concern.  Paul stated “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12 ESV)  What promises did you make to  your God and to God’s people  in your last participation?  Pay them, or fulfil them is necessary.  We put off too many of God’s commands.  And last, be sure to be present and accounted for the next time the Lord’s Supper is planned in your congregation.

But what if you can, upon searching your own heart and life, find no present spiritual benefits, what then?  After reviewing both your preparation for and participating in the Sacrament (see L.C. 171 and 174), and you find that you can approve yourselves before God and your own conscience, then be patient and wait for it in due time.  He will bless it eventually. But if you find out that you were careless in either the preparation or the participating, then be humbled and attend to the next observance with more care and diligence.  In other words, if Jesus has not returned the second time to this earth, let’s do it right and proper in the eyes of the Lord Jesus, the One we love and serve.

Words to live by:  There is to be a place for self-examination in the life of the Christian.  We use to hear of a phrase which spoke of “a mountain-top experience.” It usually spoke of a special time of communing with God and those of like precious faith at a Bible conference or Men’s or Women’s week or weekend retreat. They have their place in the life of the Christian and Christian church. But in one sense, if Larger Catechisms 171, 174, and 175 were faithfully adhered to and followed by the individual Christian, or church, the “mountain-top experience” would be found in our respective homes and churches.  Forget about revival week! Each month or quarter observance of the Lord’s Supper would be a revival day or month or quarter in our congregations and denomination. The Holy Spirit could yet bring a revival upon our respective churches. Oh Lord, begin such a revival, and Lord, begin it in me.

Through the Scriptures:  2 Corinthians 7 – 9

Through the Standards:  Participation before partaking

WSC 97 — “What is required to the worthy receiving to 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.”  (See also L.C. 171)

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

Waiting Upon  God When You Take Communion

It was back on November 14 that the duties prior to the serving of Communion were laid down for our readers in Larger Catechism 171. Now we arrive at the duties of Communion while the Supper is being served, taken from Larger Catechism 174.

This catechism asks and answers “What is required of them that receive the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in the time of the administration of it?  Answer: “It is required of them that receive the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, that, during the time of the administration of it, with all holy reverence and attention they wait unto God in that ordinance, diligently observe the sacramental elements and actions, heedfully discern the Lord’s body, and affectionately meditate on his death and sufferings, and thereby stir themselves to a vigorous exercise of their graces; in judging themselves, and sorrowing for sin; in earnest hungering and thirsting after Christ, feeding on him by faith, receiving of his fulness, trusting in his merits, rejoicing in his love, giving thanks for his grace; in renewing of their covenant with God, and love to all the saints.”

We are, as our title puts it, “to wait unto God with all holy reverence and attention.”  In one sense, this is to be our attitude and action with respect to the worship service itself. This writer could speak and write volumes about some people who do anything and everything but worship the Lord during the church. Generally speaking, American Christians have lost the sacredness of worshiping the holy God. But this reverent and attentive waiting upon God should especially be true of us during this ordinance which particularly takes us back to our Savior’s atonement on our behalf. An undivided focus is absolutely necessary, especially if we follow the requirements enunciated in this catechetical answer.

First, we are to “diligently to observe the sacramental elements and actions.”  Outwardly, those elements are “bread and wine,” but spiritually, they are our Lord’s body and blood.  Do we “discern the Lord’s body?” in this sense, or do we just see them as bread and juice? Obviously, there is required some doctrinal knowledge of this sacrament, and a historical understanding of what took place at the first observance of the sacrament. An earnest listening to the reading of 1 Corinthians 11:23 – 34 is called for by the participant.

The sacramental “actions” are also to be observed closely. There is so much ignorance of this in our congregations. First, the Savior took the elements from the table. This signifies Christ taking a human nature (body and soul) unto Himself when He was born in Bethlehem. Then, Jesus put His blessing on the elements, giving thanks for them, and setting them apart from their ordinary usage to a special religion usage. Our Savior Himself was set apart for His special  work as the Redeemer of God’s elect. Next, He broke the bread, an action signifying His body broken on the cross for us. Fourth, He gave the elements to the apostles, signifying the gift of Christ to sinners by God’s infinite grace. The next action was by the communicants, as they received the elements, as sinners receive Christ as Savior by grace alone through faith alone. And last, communicants eat the bread and juice, signifying our dependence on Christ for spiritual life and growth.  All these are the needed observation of the sacramental actions, which you and I must observe.

The rest of the answer speaks of our spiritual attitudes and actions at the communion table.  We are to judge ourselves, sorrowing for our sins.  There must be an intense desire for fellowship with our Savior.  What about an attitude of dependence upon Him, not just in our salvation, but also in our sanctification?  All this is found in “feeding on him by faith, receiving of his fulness, trusting in her merits, rejoicing in his love, giving thanks for his grace.”  And last, but not least, the true nature of the sacrament, which is a military term speaking of loyalty and obedience and faithfulness to our commander, is necessary. To the captain of our salvation, we renew our covenant to belong to Him, and mutual love to our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Words to live by: The next time you observe the Lord’s Supper in your congregation, take this catechism either with you, or remember its attitudes and actions. It is your duty during the administration the occasion of the Lord’s Supper. Let it be then a revival of your soul in your renewed love for the Lord Jesus Christ, who loved you and gave Himself for you.

Through the Scriptures:  2 Corinthians 4 – 6

Through the Standards: Manner of partaking the Lord’s Supper.

WLC 170 — “How do they that worthily communicate in the Lord’s Supper feed upon the body and blood of Christ therein?
A. As the body and blood of Christ are not corporally or carnally present in, with, and under the bread and wine in the Lord’s supper, and yet are spiritually present to the faith of the receiver, no less truly and really than the elements are to their outward senses; so they that worthily communicate in the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, do therein feed upon the body and blood of Christ, not after a corporal and carnal, but in a spiritual manner; yet truly and really, while by faith they receive and apply themselves Christ crucified, and all the benefits of his death.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

Have You Cashed In Your  Baptism?

At the PCA Historical Center listed on the web, there is a sermon preached by the Rev. Donald Dunkerley at Mcllwain Presbyterian Church in Pensacola, Florida, on November 26, 1972.   For those who know the history of the Presbyterian Church in America, this would have been a full year almost to the day when the latter church began her witness as a separate denomination outside of the Presbyterian Church in the United States.  The theme of this message by the veteran pastor was that of the sacrament of baptism, in the light of the Word of God.  This writer would like to quote its concluding paragraphs which have an excellent gospel challenge to them.  Pastor Dunkerley writes:

“One must not trust in baptism.  One must not trust in anything that he has done or in any works of man, but only in Jesus who died for us.  Baptism is a sign that God offers us a Savior and promised to cleanse us if we believe in Him, if we stop trusting in anything in ourselves — even in our baptism — and put all our trust in Jesus alone.  Then we will be cleansed from sin.  But until we come to that point of renouncing all self-trust and put our trust in Jesus alone, then our baptism is sign of our condemnation.

“A pastor I know was once calling on a man who was not a converted person.  He frequently attended the church where this man pastored, he had lived in that town all his life and indeed, years before as an infant, he had been baptized in that very church.  He was showing the pastor around his house, and the pastor noticed a frame certificate on the wall and he turned to the man and he said ‘What is this?’  ‘Oh,’ the man said, ‘that’s my baptismal certificate.  I was baptized in our church, you know!’  The pastor said, ‘Ah, your baptismal certificate. Very good!   Tell me, when are you going to cash it in?'”

To read the rest of Rev. Dunkerley’s sermon, click here. [PDF file]

Words to live by:  The pastor of this sermon asks a serious question to those who have been baptized in their infancy by godly parents.  When are you, the adult now, going to claim the promise signified by your outward baptism?  You are baptized for sure.  You may even have the baptismal certificate signed by the preacher and any witnesses who were there to see it. But unless you have put your personal faith and trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, that baptism is a sign of your condemnation, not a sign of the covenant.  Reader, how is it with you?  Have you received the gift of eternal life?

Through the Scriptures:  Acts 19:11 – 20:1 ; 2 Corinthians 1 – 3

Through the Standards:  The manner of partaking the Lord’s Supper

WCF 29:7
“Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements, in this sacrament, do then also, inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally but spiritually, receive, and feed upon, Christ crucified, and all benefits of His death: the body and blood of Christ being then, not corporally or carnally, in, with, or under the bread and wine; yet, as really, but spiritually, present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to their outward senses.”

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