Wednesday, February 21, 2018

THE LORD'S SUPPER


THE LORD’S SUPPER

(See Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 29 paras 1-3)



Introduction

The psalmist says of the Lord that, “He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, and vegetation for the service of man, that he may bring forth food from the earth, and wine that makes glad the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread which strengthens man’s heart.” Psalm 104:14&15.

Notice the reason the Lord gives man bread and wine. Both have to do with man’s heart. The bread is to strengthen man’s heart. And the wine is to gladden the heart of man. The Hebrew word for ‘strengthen’ has to do with ‘refreshing’ or ‘holding up’ the heart. And the Hebrew word for ‘gladden’ has to do with ‘cheering up’ the heart. Thus it’s by God’s design that bread strengthens and wine gladdens. Thus, it is no accident that the elements in the Lord’s Supper are bread and wine.

Now, the Corinthians were making a farce of the Lord’s Supper because of the divisions among them when they gathered together as a church, (1 Corinthians 11:18). And because of these divisions in their church the Apostle Paul says of them, “Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. For in eating, each one of you takes his own supper ahead of the others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you.” 1 Corinthians 11:20-22.


The Corinthians had been treating the Lord’s Supper as a common meal. And one person might get nothing, while another might overindulge. So the Apostle then goes on to show the Corinthians how to correctly view and how to properly partake of the Lord’s Supper. He shows them that the Lord Supper is not a common, but a sacred, meal. He shows them that it has a very deep meaning. It’s not just eating bread and drinking wine. Rather it is of the deepest spiritual significance.

The bread and the wine of the Lord’s Supper are more about strengthening and gladdening the heart of the believer spiritually than physically; although we certainly don’t deny the physical benefits. For in the Bible the heart is the spiritual centre of man. It is ‘the citadel of man’ as Charles Bridges refers to it.

Now, Solomon, warns us not to enter the path of the wicked, “For they eat the bread of wickedness, and drink the wine of violence.” Proverbs 4:17.  Then he says, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.” Proverbs 4:23. Thus, for the believer, the Lord’s Supper is the opposite of eating the bread of wickedness and drinking the wine of violence. For the Lord’s Supper is eating bread and drinking wine that strengthen and gladden the heart out of which spring the issues of life.

As a spring bubbles forth whatever feeds it, so man’s heart bubbles forth whatever supplies it. As Jesus says, “‘Are you thus without understanding also? Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?’ And He said, ‘What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within the heart, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.’” Mark 7:18-23.

A dead heart produces dead or stagnant waters. A living heart pumps forth living waters. The Lord’s Supper is the main place on earth where people are given opportunity to examine their heart. The Apostle Paul would have us examine ourselves, examine our heart, before we eat the bread and drink of the cup, lest we eat and drink judgment on ourselves – not discerning the Lord’s body.



The Lord’s Supper Defined

The Lord’s Supper is a Sacrament of the body and blood of Jesus Christ. The bread represents His body and the wine represents His blood of the covenant.

Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper on the night He was betrayed by Judas Iscariot. While Jesus and the eleven other disciples were eating and drinking the bread and wine that strengthens and gladdens the heart, Judas was eating the bread of wickedness and drinking the wine of violence. It’s as the Apostle Paul says, “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons.” 1 Corinthians 10:21.

Judas Iscariot was eating and drinking judgment to himself – not discerning the Lord’s body. As John says, “…the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him.” John 13:2. As James says, “Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? … Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.” James 3:11&12b. Judas Iscariot was a fountain of death.

At the last Supper the Lord said, “He who dipped his hand with Me in the dish will betray Me. The Son of Man indeed goes just as it has been written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.” Matthew 26:23&24.

Now, the Lord instituted His Supper on the evening of the very last Passover. And in so doing He changed the Passover Meal into the Lord’s Supper. Therefore, as the Passover was the covenant meal of the Older Testament, so the Lord’s Supper is the covenant meal of the Newer Testament. Thus the Lord’s Supper signifies and seals the Covenant of Grace, as did the Passover Meal before it. The Passover Meal pointed to the same One John the baptiser pointed to when he said, “Behold! The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” John 1:29b. The Lord’s Supper is designed to be a continual reminder of Christ’s sacrificial death.

We find the words of its institution in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and in 1 Corinthians 11. The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11:23f., “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘Take, eat, this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.” 1 Corinthians 11:23-25.

So we see then that the bread and the cup are to commemorate and proclaim the Lord’s death. And we see that the bread and wine also has to do with the new covenant in Christ’s blood. Therefore the Lord’s Supper is the new covenant meal and it points to Christ’s death. After the fact, the bread speaks of His torn body on the cross. And the wine speaks of His poured out blood on the cross. Thus the bread and the wine speak of Christ and His cross.

But where’s the strengthening and the gladdening of the heart in being reminded of Christ and His cross? Well, the heart that once was dead, but has been regenerated by the poured out Spirit of God sees in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper the benefits of Christ’s cross. For the Lord’s Supper has been designed by the Lord to seal and confirm to the believer the benefits or blessings Christ purchased by pouring out His blood on the cross.

As the prophet Isaiah puts what the LORD did to the Lord on the cross, “Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise [i.e., crush] Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand. He shall see the labour of His soul and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong, because He poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered among the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” Isaiah 53:10-12.

By dividing the bread and the wine and dispensing it among the communicants, the Lord is also picturing for us the sharing of the spoil of His victory over sin, misery, death, the world, and the devil. In other words, the Lord’s death has brought us the everlasting bread of strengthening and the everlasting wine of gladness to the hearts of those renewed in the Lord. As David puts in Psalm 23, “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want … You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over.” Psalm 23:1&5.

Jesus says, “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life and I will raise him up the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed.” John 6:54&55. The Lord’s Supper confirms eternal life to the heart of the believer. And just as food and drink sustain the body, so Christ’s flesh and blood nurtures the soul. It is spiritual food for spiritual people.

Christ is the source and supply of the believer’s heart out of which spring the issues of eternal life. As the psalmist puts it, “He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.” Psalm 2:3.

Also, the Lord’s Supper shows the believer’s increased commitment to the Lord. For those who partake of the Lord’s Supper must be able to examine themselves. And they must be able to discern the Lord’s body in the Supper. Therefore the Lord’s Supper speaks also of those who have grown spiritually in the Lord, i.e., the spiritually mature.

It shows that the believer has been bearing the fruit of the poured out Spirit who waters with His Word. As Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them in the fire.” John 14:5&6. Judas Iscariot was cast out as a branch, a withered branch, that bore no fruit! He did not fulfil his obligations to Christ. Rather he betrayed Him.

The Lord’s Supper is also our bond and pledge of our communion with Christ and with each other as members of His spiritual body. As the body is nourished through its head, so is Christ’s church nourished through Him. Therefore to be in Him is to be part of His spiritual body, which is the Church. And to be of His spiritual body, is to have Him dwell in you by His Spirit who strengthens and gladdens your heart.  Thus the Lord’s Supper is a demonstration that we actually do have communion with the Lord and with each other.

It’s a reaffirming of our agreement and promise to serve the Lord and each other. As the Apostle puts it, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of the one body.” 1 Corinthians 10:16&17.

So the Lord’s Supper is a Sacrament of the body and blood of Christ. It, with the other Sacrament of Baptism, is a sign and seal of God’s Covenant of Grace.



The Lord’s Supper Dispensed

It is bread and wine the communicant is given to eat and drink in the Lord’s Supper. At no point during the communion service do these elements change into something else. Neither is there anything killed or sacrificed during the service. Therefore the Lord’s Supper cannot be a sacrifice for anyone living or dead.

The Lord’s Table is not an altar – a place of sacrifice. Rather it is a place for eating and drinking – a place for fellowship. Communion is fellowship. And just as sitting down to a meal with good company with edifying conversation reinvigorates the heart, so the Lord’s Supper strengthens and gladdens the heart of man. For the Lord is present at His table by His Spirit who enables us to eat Christ’s flesh and drink Christ’s blood by faith.

Jesus Christ’s is in Heaven, but He is present to the faith of believers. For in the Lord’s Supper Christ is commemorating His death on the cross. As the Apostle says, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.” 1 Corinthians 11:26. Therefore any feeding on Christ is a spiritual feeding because we have to wait till some point future for Christ to come, which is to say that He is not corporally and carnally present as the bread and wine, or in, with, or under the bread and wine. Rather Christ is in Heaven bodily and does not descend bodily whenever we celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

The Lord’s Supper therefore commemorates Christ’s once for all sacrifice on the cross where He said, “It is finished.” John describes Christ’s last moments alive on the cross, “After this, Jesus knowing that all things were accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, ‘I thirst!’ Now a vessel full of sour wine was sitting there; and they filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop, and put it to His mouth. So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished!’ And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.” John 19:28-30.

So, the sacrifice was made on the cross. In no way does the Lord’s Supper re-sacrifice Christ, or continue the sacrifice He made on the cross. Rather the Lord’s Supper is done in remembrance of His wonderful sacrifice of Himself.

The Older Testament priest had to offer up continuous sacrifices to God. But now that our great High Priest has come and offered up Himself, there is no more need for sacrifice. As the writer to the Hebrews puts it, “For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; who does not need daily, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.” Hebrews 7:26&27.

This was the great High Priest, Jesus Christ, offering up the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. Jesus Christ is the Sacrifice as well as the One sacrificing. He is the One laying down His own life. For He says, “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.” John 10:17&18. On the cross as the great High Priest, He bowed His head, and “He gave up His spirit.” By Jesus giving up His human spirit He was laying down His life. Thus no one sacrificed Jesus. Rather He sacrificed Himself.

The Roman Catholic or Papal Mass is detrimental to Christ’s once for all sacrifice. For Rome sees its Mass as a bloodless re-enactment of Christ’s sacrifice. That’s why there are altars in Roman Catholic churches. But we must not obscure Christ finished work of salvation on the cross. That’s why there are no altars in Reformed and Presbyterian churches.

Again, the Lord’s Supper is about eating and drinking, not sacrificing. It’s about rejoicing in the finished work of Christ. For Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is the sole propitiation for our sins. Therefore the Lord Jesus has in this ordinance of the Lord’s Supper appointed His ministers to declare His word of institution to His people, which is to say that the minister is to declare to the gathered saints the Lord’s words of institution of the Lord’s Supper. That’s why 1 Corinthians 11:23-29 is read out loud whenever we celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

Also, the minister is to pray and to bless elements in order to set them apart. In other words, the minister ensures that all present know that the bread and wine are being set apart from a common to a holy use. Therefore there is no change in the physical properties of the bread and wine. Only their use changes. Therefore the unchanged bread still strengthens and the unchanged wine still gladdens the heart of man.

However, in the Lord’s Supper the whole man is strengthened and gladdened because Christ’s sacrifice has made the believer whole, which is to say that Christ has redeemed the whole man, body and soul. Therefore the bread and wine also supplies spiritual nourishment to the believer. But only to the believer who is spiritually mature enough to be able to discern the Lord’s body in the Lord’s Supper. For the spiritually mature believer’s eye of faith penetrates the physical elements and sees the deeper, even the spiritual meaning of eating and drinking. Thus he understands what the Lord meant when He said, “It is written. ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” Matthew 4:4. Christ’s flesh is food indeed, and His blood is drink indeed, for He is the Word of God incarnate – in the flesh.

To eat and drink without seeing Christ in His Supper is to eat the bread of wickedness, and drink the wine of violence. For it is to detach the food and drink from the grace of the One who gave it. However, the believer sees the grace of God in the Lord’s Supper. He knows that the bread and wine come from the hand of God accompanied by the Word of God which comes from His mouth.

Jesus Christ is God’s hand and mouth. In His hand He holds everlasting food and everlasting drink. And He says, “‘Take, eat, this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me … This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” 1 Corinthians 11:24&25. God, by His grace, supplies “…wine that makes glad the heart of man … and bread which strengthens man’s heart.” Psalm 104:15.

As the Lord says through His prophet Isaiah, “For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:10&11. In order for it to accomplish what God pleases, the Lord’s Supper must not be detached from His Word.



Conclusion

It is the Word of God that gives the Lord’s Supper its meaning and power. Therefore the Lord will accomplish by His Spirit what He has purposed by His Supper. The minister is to make sure the bread and the cup is dispensed to the communicants. The minister himself is also to partake.

However, the bread and wine are not to be given to any who are not then present in the congregation. For that would be to detach the elements from the Word, even the words of institution. And separated from the Word of God the bread and wine will only offer some physical strengthening and gladdening of the heart. But there would be no spiritual strengthening and gladdening of the heart. For the Lord’s Supper is about eating and drinking with the Lord and with His people.

He is the head. We are His body. And since the body is nourished through its Head, the eye, the ear, the toe, etc. cannot be nourished apart from the rest of the body. “For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of the one body.” 1 Corinthians 10:17.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

THE SACRAMENTS


THE SACRAMENTS
(See Westminster Confession of Faith 27)

Introduction

The Apostle Paul speaks of the Older Testament Sacrament of Circumcision as a sign and a seal. For, when speaking of Abraham he says, “And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also…” Romans 4:11.

Notice that the circumcision Abraham received was both a sign AND a seal of righteousness. And just as important, notice that this righteousness is received through faith. The righteousness was imputed (accounted) to Abraham just as it will be imputed to all who believe. In other words, Abraham’s circumcision was a sign or a representation, and a seal or a confirmation of the righteousness that was imputed to him, which he personally received through the instrument of faith. Therefore Older Testament Circumcision along with the other Older Testament Sacrament of Passover are signs and seals of the Covenant of Grace. Sacraments therefore not only signify God’s grace, they also actually seal or confirm God’s grace to the believer. As you know, the righteousness that is received by grace through faith is revealed in the Gospel. “For in it [i.e., the Gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith…” Romans 1:17a.

Now, if we keep in mind that the first Gospel promise is revealed in Genesis 3:15 we won’t have too much trouble seeing the connection between the Older Testament Sacraments and the Newer Testament Sacraments. For in Genesis 3:15 we see a distinction being made between two parties. The serpent and his seed are being distinguished from the Seed of the woman. (According to Galatians 3:16 the Seed of the woman is ultimately Jesus Christ, and, of course, all who are in Him). But in Genesis 3:15 we see that the serpent is going to bruise the Seed of the woman’s heel, while the Seed of the woman is going to bruise the serpent’s head.

The word “bruise”, as it is used in Genesis 3:15 can also mean, “crush” or “break.” But we should note that whether it’s bruise, crush or break, all speak of blood. And since the word “bruise” tends to suggest an injury that discolours the skin without necessarily breaking it, we would prefer to use the word “crush” or “break.” That being understood, we believe that the first promise of the Gospel in the Bible speaks of blood being involved in the division or separation of two parties.

Thus, the LORD addressing the devil, who had utilized a serpent to instigate the Fall of man, says, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise [or crush] your head, and you shall bruise [or crush] His heel.” Genesis 3:15.

Thus right at the Fall of man God put a partition between Christ with His offspring, and the devil with his offspring. Hence the Sacraments in the Lord’s Church put a visible difference between those that belong to the Church and the rest of the world.

The Purpose of the Sacraments

The purpose of the Sacraments is to signify and seal or confirm the Covenant of Grace, i.e., the Gospel. For the Sacraments represent Christ and His benefits to us. They also confirm our participation in Him. And, as we’ve already noted, the Sacraments place a visible difference between those who belong to the Church and the rest of the world. And also, the Sacraments solemnly pledge those who belong to the Church to the service of God in Christ, according to His Word.

In the words of Roderick Lawson late of Maybole, The word sacrament is derived from a Latin word, which signified the sacred oath of fidelity to his commander, which the soldier took on entering the army for the service of his country. In a Christian sense, it means the vow of fidelity and obedience to Christ which is taken when we enter the Church. This vow was taken for us in Baptism, when we were infants. In the Lord’s Supper, we take it upon ourselves. (Comment on Westminster Shorter Catechism Quest. 92).

Now, we should note that the two Older Testament bloody Sacraments of Circumcision and Passover have been replaced by the Newer Testament unbloody Sacraments of Baptism and Lord’s Supper respectively. However, this is not to say that Baptism and the Lord’s Supper have nothing to do with Christ’s shed blood. For indeed just as Circumcision and Passover pointed to the Christ to come, so Baptism and Lord’s Supper point to the Christ who has come.

Thus the Apostle Paul equates Newer Testament Baptism with Older Testament Circumcision. For speaking of Newer Testament Christians he says, “In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses…” Colossians 2:11-13. To be sure, some make much, (we believe much too much!) of Paul’s words, “…buried with Him in baptism” as if this were teaching a mode of baptism by immersion! (We will answer this in its proper place.)

However, surely all would agree that the baptism being spoken of here is being equated with Older Testament Circumcision and vice versa. Comments John Calvin: Christ, says [Paul], accomplishes in us spiritual circumcision, not through means of that ancient sign, which was in force under Moses, but by baptism. Baptism, therefore, is a sign of the thing presented to us, which while absent was prefigured by circumcision.

As Abraham’s Circumcision was a physical and outward sign and seal of a spiritual and therefore inward grace, so is Baptism. Indeed, as Abraham received the sign and seal of the righteousness that comes through faith signified by Older Testament Circumcision, so also he circumcised his descendants Ishmael and subsequently Isaac; (including all males in his household. Genesis 17:26&27). What Abraham did physically the LORD promised to do spiritually.

For the LORD promised Older Testament Israel, “And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.” Deuteronomy 30:6. And who could forget those Older Testament commands where the LORD said to His people, “Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer.” Deuteronomy 10:16. And also, “Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your hearts, you men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, lest My fury come forth like fire, and burn so that no one can quench it, because of the evil of your doings.” Jeremiah 4:4.

So, it’s not hard to see that the outward operation of Older Testament Circumcision done by men, simply pointed to an inward operation that needed to be done on the heart by God. The Sacraments signify and confirm to the faithful God’s promise to do that spiritual operation. Therefore there are two parts to each of the Sacraments. In the words of Westminster Larger Catechism question and answer 163: The parts of a sacrament are two; the one an outward and sensible sign, used according to Christ’s own appointment; the other an inward spiritual grace thereby signified. And as already demonstrated, as far as the spiritual things symbolized and displayed in them are concerned, the Sacraments of the Older Testament were identical in their meaning with those of the New.

That there are only two Sacraments instituted by Christ in the Newer Testament, viz. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, is shown by Matthew 28:19, and 1 Corinthians 11:20-23 respectively. And we believe these sacraments should not be administered by all and sundry, but by a minister lawfully ordained. The word sacrament speaks of something sacred. Therefore, like the Word of God Itself, the Sacraments need to be handled and administered by those who have received that charge and therefore know what they are doing.

Now, while we see Christ institute Baptism in the “Great Commission” passage, it needs to be noted to whom Christ specifically gave the “Great Commission.” It was given to the eleven disciples, who were, of course, lawfully ordained servants or “ministers” of the Word; having been given this position by Christ. Notice carefully the words, “Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. And when they saw Him, they worshipped Him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me is heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all things I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’” Matthew 28:16-20.

And the Apostle Paul says that he personally received the instructions for dispensing the Lord’s Supper from Christ Himself. “For I received from the Lord that which I delivered to you; that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread…” etc. 1 Corinthians 11:23. And Paul says earlier in First Corinthians, “Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” I Corinthians 4:1. Servants of Christ are ministers of Christ, same thing. These ministers therefore are stewards of the mysteries of God.

Now, the mysteries of God might not be a direct reference to the two Newer Testament Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. However, as Calvin says, It is an honourable distinction that [Paul] confers upon the Gospel when he terms its contents the mysteries of God. But as the Sacraments are connected with these mysteries as appendages, it follows, that those who have the charge of administering the Word are the authorised stewards of them also. (Commenting on 1 Corinthians 4:1).

We believe therefore that Baptism and the Lord’s Supper ought not to be dispensed by any but by a minster of the Word, lawfully ordained. And, as the writer to the Hebrews says, “No man takes this honour to himself, but he who is called by God, just as Aaron was.” Hebrews 5:4.

We see then that the Lord has given the Sacraments to His Church for the purpose of signifying and sealing His Covenant of Grace. And these two Sacraments of Baptism and Lord’s Supper are to be administered by lawfully ordained ministers of the Word and Sacraments.

The Power of the Sacraments

There is grace exhibited or displayed in and by the Sacraments when they are used correctly. But how is that grace conferred to the worthy recipient? In other words, how do the Sacraments receive their power? For example, are the Sacraments dependant upon the piety or Godliness of those dispensing them for their power to confer the grace exhibited in and by them? God forbid! Otherwise the grace conferred through the Sacraments would be controlled by men not God! But it is God alone who confers grace through the Sacraments.  And He confers grace to those upon whom He has already conferred grace beforehand.

The Sacraments are simply grace upon grace. In other words, the Sacraments belong only to those who are in the Covenant of Grace. And we believe those who are in the Covenant of Grace are believers and their children. For the promise in Acts 2:39 is to believers and to their children.

It should be understood that those baptised in infancy should partake of the Lord’s Supper only after they are old enough to examine themselves, lest he “…eat and drink judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.” 1 Corinthians 11:29b. If by unworthily partaking of the Lord’s Supper people can eat and drink judgment to themselves, there must also be power in the Sacrament to confer grace. For if people are able to eat and drink judgment to themselves, then others are indeed most able to eat and drink a blessing to themselves. But, as we’ve already established, that blessing or curse is not conferred through the Sacraments by the one administering them.

Therefore the next question needing to be answered is: Do the elements in the Sacraments, viz. water, bread and wine, have any inherent power in them? To ask this question is to answer it. For water, bread and wine are common every-day elements used by all sorts of people for washing, eating and drinking. And as such, there is no blessing or curse attached to them.

But what happens when these elements of water, bread, and wine are consecrated or set apart for a holy use as in the Sacraments? Is there then some sort of physical transformation of the elements giving them power in themselves?

Roman Catholicism teaches that a physical transformation takes place in the Lord’s Supper. Rome teaches that the bread and the wine become the actual physical flesh and blood of Jesus. And Lutheranism teaches that Jesus’ flesh and blood become physically present in, through, and with the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. Thus with these two views one might be forgiven for believing in some inherent power at least in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper.

To be sure, both Roman Catholicism and High Anglicanism teach Baptismal regeneration. Therefore some may think that the water used in Baptism might have powerful properties in itself. However, it is far better (because it is Biblical) to hold that the Sacramental elements of water, bread, and wine are simply instruments used by the Holy Spirit. And that these instruments are used to confer grace to those who are already regenerate, i.e., to confer grace to those who are already in the covenant, i.e., are already Christians.

Therefore the Sacraments are not instruments of regeneration. What we are saying then is that as a pipe is used to convey water from A to B, or a piece of copper wire is used to convey electrical power, so the sacramental elements convey the grace that is displayed in and by them. In other words, it is the Holy Spirit who conveys the grace through the water, bread and wine of the two Sacraments.

Thus the power of the Sacraments to convey grace is dependant upon the Holy Spirit (working also with the Word). And He conveys that grace only to those who are already born of the Spirit, i.e., born again. That is what we mean by grace upon grace. Therefore it is erroneous to teach that the Sacraments regenerate people as taught by the Baptismal Regenerationists, a la Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism.

And, the Sacraments must not be detached from the Word of God and the command of Christ. For without the Word, i.e., the Gospel, the Sacraments are without their proper context. For the Sacraments do visually what the proclamation of the Gospel does aurally. The Word enters the ear-gate and the Sacraments enter the eye-gate. The one is the Covenant of Grace verbally proclaimed. The other is the verbally proclaimed Covenant of Grace, i.e., the Gospel signified and sealed.

Thus the Sacraments represent Christ and His benefits to us; confirm our participation in Him; and place a visible distinction between members of the Church and those of the world. And they also strengthen the believer’s commitment to serving God in Christ. And all of this is according to His Word.

Now then, we’ve also established that there is a spiritual connection, or a sacramental union, between the sign and what the sign signifies. This accounts for the fact why in the Bible the names and the effects of the things signified are sometimes attributed to the signs themselves. For example, (and this is where Roman Catholicism has made its greatest blunder!), when Christ held the piece of bread in the Supper He said, “Take, eat: this is My body.” Matthew 26:26b. So we see that Jesus is calling the sign, i.e., the bread, the name of that which it signifies, i.e., Christ’s body. And we find the same thing where it says, “Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.’” Matthew 26:27&28.

We must be very careful not to confuse the thing signified in the Sacrament, i.e., the body and the blood, with the sign, i.e., the bread and wine. For to do this would be to hold that the physical objects themselves are conveyors of grace, rather than the Holy Spirit conveying grace to believers through the use of the physical objects.

Therefore even though the Bible sometimes speaks of the Sacramental elements of water, bread and wine as if they were that which they represent, we must maintain the distinction. For, to confuse the symbol with that which it symbolizes is to confuse the two natures of Christ, which is to confuse Christ’s Godhead with His manhood.

To be sure, Christ as God is everywhere at once, but His humanity remains localized, which is to say that the Mediator, the Man, the God-man Jesus Christ, remains bodily in Heaven. Therefore any feeding on Christ’s flesh and blood is a spiritual feeding. And because it is a spiritual feeding it is done only through faith. Thus it is signified and sealed through the use of the physical elements.

Christ, the object of our faith, is represented in the Lord’s Supper by the bread and the wine. Therefore eating the bread and drinking the wine in the Lord’s Supper is one of the main ways the Lord strengthens the faith of believers; the other main way is the observance of the only other Sacrament of Baptism.

Conclusion

We have established that the water, bread and wine in the Sacraments are the Church on earth’s spiritual connection to or union with Jesus Christ in Heaven. This is why the proper dispensing of the Sacraments is one of the three main marks of the true Church on earth. (The other two marks are the unadulterated proclamation of the Gospel, and Church discipline.)

Thus to despise or neglect the Sacraments is to sever one important strand of the three-fold cord by which the Church on earth is attached to Christ and distinguished from the world. Therefore, let us not dishonour our Lord by neglecting His Sacraments.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

IMAGINATION


Imagination

John Lennon of The Beatle’s fame invites us, in his aptly named song ‘Imagine’, to use our imaginations. Great tune, but I once refused to sing this song when I auditioned for a band because I’m not impressed with the lyrics: ‘Imagine there’s no heaven/It’s easy if you try/No hell below us/Above us only sky.’ Then what about imagining ‘No religion too’? Let’s see, for the sake of world peace Lennon wants us to do away with heaven and hell. And he wants us to do away with Christianity, which would mean that the world would have no Saviour and no solution for evil and therefore would never have peace!

It’s not ‘religion’ that causes wars. Rather war is an extension of the evil desires of the individual human heart. James in chapter four of his epistle explains it. ‘Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask.’ James 4:1-2. War therefore has to do with breaking the 10th Commandment, ‘You shall not covet…’ Exodus 20:17. Coveting is a yearning to possess something, such as a world with no heaven and no hell below us and no religion too, whether imagined by the individual or ‘the brotherhood of man.’ Therefore, if we covet world peace, then we are to begin by imagining that there is no God, i.e., the God who has revealed heaven and hell to us.

What does God have to say about those who try to imagine there is no God? ‘The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt … Have the workers of iniquity no knowledge, who eat up My people as they eat up bread, and do not call upon God?’ Psalm 53:1a&4. Simply put, according to these verses those who covet a world without God are fools, they are corrupt, and they never call on God.

One of the main things that bothered me when I used to spend my time being a fool, corrupt and never calling on God, was the idea that the world, i.e., the cosmos or creation came from nothing. I don’t know about you, but my imagination does not allow nothing to become something. In fact, I find it impossible to imagine nothing, never mind imagining nothing somehow transforming itself into something! This is to go beyond imagination. It is to go ‘to infinity and beyond!’ to quote Buzz Lightyear. Space, time and matter are something, not nothing. These had to come from something. The Bible tells us that God is the eternal God who was, is and always will be. This God spoke, and things that were not became things that are. Or simply put: The Creator created creation.

Meanwhile back to ‘You shall not covet…’ As one Internet definition puts it: To covet is to ‘yearn to possess (something, especially something belonging to another). The Bible says, ‘The earth is the LORD’s, and all its fulness, the world and those who dwell therein’ Psalm 24:1. Therefore, you can use your imagination with all your heart, soul strength and mind, but you’re never going to get a world with no heaven, no hell below us, above us only sky, and no religion. Why? Because it’s not yours to have. It belongs to God your Maker. Therefore, if it’s world peace you’re after, wouldn’t you be better off by first seeking your own peace with God through Jesus Christ and then encouraging others to do likewise? Imagine that. It easy if you try.

Friday, February 9, 2018

WAR & PEACE


War & Peace

‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions.’ I think I may have added at least three flagstones to that road. It has been my good intention to read Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Homer’s Illiad, and Plato’s Republic. Someday! But if war is hell, is peace heaven? Well, there’s a verse of Scripture that says, ‘War broke out in heaven’ Revelation 12:7. But have no fear, for Michael and His angels prevail against Satan and his demons. ‘So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him’ Revelation 12:9. Satan and his demons were cast out of heaven to earth. When? The immediate context of this verse is sometime in human history. However, the remote connection is before the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Thus, the war in heaven began pre-Fall and the wars continue on earth until the resurrected Jesus through His Spirit overcomes His enemies. ‘But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool’ Hebrews 10:12-13. Would it surprise you to hear that God considers all non-Christians His enemies? Which is to say that only those who have the Jesus of the Bible as their Saviour have been reconciled to God. There is no Switzerland in this war. If you don’t belong to Jesus, then you belong to Satan’s army and therefore are an enemy of God. To enlist in Jesus’ army, you must do as He says, ‘Repent, and believe in the gospel’ Mark 1:15. Therefore, turn your back on self, sin and Satan and follow Jesus.

‘For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil’ 1 John 3:8b. And Jesus, the Son of God, said, ‘I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it’ Matthew 16:18b. This doesn’t mean that the gates of Christ’s church will hold against the attacks of Satan and his demons, but rather that the church, i.e., Christians will storm the gates of the non-Christians. Thus, the war that began in heaven pre-Fall will end with the nations transforming their weapons of war into agricultural implements. For who or what can hold back Michael our Prince with His angels and church? For ‘Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore’ Isaiah 2:4b. ‘Of the increase of His [i.e., our Prince, the Prince of Peace’s] government there will be no end’ Isaiah 9:7a.

Peace increases as war ceases. The Gospel is designed to bring peace, peace between humans and God and peace with each other, and peace among the nations. Yes, the Gospel can bring peace between the Campbells and the McDonalds, the Hatfields and the McCoys, and between North and South Korea. Who or what can stop this? Satan and his demons? The Gates of Hell? ‘For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God’ 1 Corinthians 10:4-5b.

‘He makes wars cease to the end of the earth’ Psalm 46:9a. ‘This shows the perfect security of the church, and is an assurance of lasting peace. Let us pray for the speedy approach of these glorious days, and in silent submission let us worship and trust in our almighty Sovereign.’ Matthew Henry. Exit the road to hell by turning to Jesus. Do it now!

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Tuesday, February 6, 2018

BOSSES & WORKERS


Bosses & Workers

Having worked in Scottish shipyards and Canadian railyards I am personally aware of the tensions that sometimes arise between bosses and workers. Try being on strike and on outdoor picket duty during a Winnipeg winter! Why the tension? Isn’t it usually because either or both contracting parties are (perceived) to be failing to uphold their end of the bargain? Unlike the Egyptians demanding the Israelites “make bricks without straw” debacle, which was slavery, bosses and workers in Western nations are obligated to fulfil the terms and conditions of their agreements. Sometimes bosses lock out workers and sometimes workers go on strike in times of failure. Right, what does the Bible have to say? First off, we should note that ‘work’ is not a curse. Even before the Fall God placed Adam in the Garden of Eden ‘to work it and take care of it’ (Genesis 2:15). Sure, after Adam rebelled against God we would ‘through painful toil’ and ‘by the sweat of our brow eat our food’ (Genesis 3:17&19). However, ‘The worker deserves his wages’ 1 Timothy 5:18.


For the Christian (and indeed for all mankind) God is the Boss and we are His workers. He has given us a contract with terms and conditions. One of the places the terms and conditions are spelled out is in the much neglected 4th Commandment: ‘Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy’ Exodus 20:9-11. Sure, people have disputed with the Boss over His Commandment, (e.g., over which day, and whether Christians should keep it at all!). However, surely we can see the principle that the Boss wants us to work six days and rest (i.e., sabbath) with Him by setting one day a week apart from the others – just as He did on Creation week. God is telling us to rest. He’s the Boss! We are the workers. As a Christian minister I have been accused of breaking the Christian Sabbath by working on it (e.g., preaching etc.). This is to completely miss the Boss’s terms and conditions. Works of mercy and necessity permitted, such as cooking meals and helping donkeys out of ditches etc. It’s as Jesus says, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath’ Mark 2:27. Why go on strike by becoming either legalistic or antinomian about the Sabbath? Why picket at the gates of the Garden of Eden? Why not accept the fact that God wants you to have one day off every seven? And by the way, this doesn’t mean that you have to work in the factory six days a week. Grocery shopping, doing the laundry on Saturday is still work. We’re to do everything, even work, to God's glory.

So, bosses ought to emulate God and reward the labours of their workers. And workers ought to emulate God by being worthy of their wages. And both bosses and workers ought to emulate God and have a day of rest. Don’t be wicked, for you know the old saying. ‘There is no rest for the wicked’ (Isaiah 48:22; 57:21). But don’t think you can earn Heaven. For the Boss says, ‘The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord’ Romans 6:23. Gracious Boss!

Friday, February 2, 2018

A SENSE OF IDENTITY


A SENSE OF IDENTITY

We hear a lot about “Identity Politics” nowadays, whereby some people form exclusive alliances based on skin colour, social background and religion among other things, rather than traditional politics. In Scotland they have an inclusive saying, “We’re all Jock Tamson’s bairns,” meaning that we’re all God’s children, (see e.g., Acts 17:28-29). And God’s invisible hand is behind where and when we live: “From one man He made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands” Acts 17:26.

I’d have to say that my nomadic meandering around the globe has given me a sense of belonging. Whether Toronto, Winnipeg, Brisbane or Hobart I am ever accosted with the question: Where are you from? Upon which my brain-muscle immediately starts to do a Pilates’ regime as it tries to figure out the depth and width of the probe. Do they mean which suburb or which country? Is the question because of my accent or are they just trying to make conversation? I imagine myself stretched out on a psychiatrist’s leather couch as I try to formulate a sane reply. What do you mean? is how I usually reply. Then a strange look of puzzlement inevitably comes across their face. And then I think that they think I’m a bit far behind in my education, so I quickly hit them with “born in Canada, raised in Scotland, went back to Canada, now I’m here in Australia. I got fed-up shovelling snow in Canada and moved to sunny Queensland!”

Mind you, sometimes I do find myself short-circuiting their inquisition by simply saying, “Scotland, the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond” – even singing that last part! Therefore, the Vale of Leven is the place with which I have most affinity. Toronto has a very slight pull, but not Winnipeg where I lived for ten years, or Hobart where I lived for five.

Why the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond? Well, I’m sure it’s because the eighteen letters of the Gaelic alphabet are embedded in my DNA, one for each of the years I lived in Scotland. Where’s the Gaelic in the Vale of Leven you ask? It runs all the way from Dumbarton to Drymen (aye, I know!), from Bon’ill to Balloch, from Dalreoch to Dalvait etc. It’s on every island that floats on Loch Lomond. Oh, and it’s on my name tag “McKinlay” (MacFhionnlaigh).

The people who ask me where I’m from expect me to be an expert on all things Scottish. So, over the many years I’ve felt the need to do at least a wee bit study of the country’s history, geography and culture. To do so is to fall in love with the place and its people! It’s to discover who you are, i.e., who I am. It’s to find my identity. Sure, like Abraham I too look “for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God”, but unlike Robert the Bruce, who wanted his heart buried in the Promised Land, I would be happy for my dust to be buried in the dust from whence it was hewn. “Up the Hill” (a euphemism for the local cemetery) would suit me fine, especially if my grave has a clear view of Ben Lomond!

I identify with the Vale folk. We have a shared collective memory and a shared history, from Silk Factory fires to drownings in the Loch, from old red sandstone ornate buildings to wide empty ugly spaces with random rundown social boxes. Yes, the January Storm, the year(s) the Loch froze, the Stirling Railway Line, the old Bon’ill Brig, the Strand Picturehoose, the Christie Park putting green, and dare I mention it? – the Vale Hospital!

And then there are my personal memories of family, friends and fitba doon the Argyle, rowing on the Leven and the Loch, swimming in the same, sailing on the Maid, sliding off your seat as you go around the Fountain on the top deck of a 132 bus. The schools I went to. The fights I got into. The lassies I fancied. The goals I scored. The fish I caught. The hills I climbed. The walks in the woods with my dog and my pet jackdaw, and then my crow. The cafes I ate in. The pubs I drank in. The church pews I (albeit infrequently!) sat on.

Yes, I love my adopted country of Australia too. Of course I do! But it is true what they say, “You can take the boy out of the Vale, but you can’t take the Vale out of the boy.” Its extended hand of culture with its five fingers of genetics, genealogy, geography, history, and language is what holds my homesick heart. The Welsh call it “hiraeth”, but I call it home, dachaidh. As in the song, “Beautiful Vale, beautiful Vale, beautiful Vale of the Leven!”

I am made of the dust and soil of the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond and her refreshing waters flow through my veins. An image of Ben Lomond has been burnt into my retina and my heart beats in time to the waters lapping on the Loch’s eastern shores.