Weekly Eucharist by Irish Covenanter Thomas Houston

Covenanter Lord Supper

 

It is true, I am a firm believer in the weekly participation of the Eucharist. I understand that many modern day Covenanters (and Seceders) hold tenaciously to either quarter or even annual Eucharist sessions but their arguments have never sat well with me. This is not a way to jab at them, some of my best friends hold to annual practice. So I am not posting this with glee in my heart and saying “Got-ya”… I just do not believe that infrequent practice of the Lord Supper can be sustain from Scripture or from the historical testimony of the church and I firmly believe the pattern is to be weekly and not monthly. Nor do I believe that just because the Covenanters did infrequent practice based on their circumstances of the disenfranchisement and the killing times they lived in gives us a pattern to follow. It was a unique time where there was hardly any lawful ordained ministers as well as the hard time they had in gathering together due to Dragoons chasing them and hunting them out.

The Eucharist is something that should be every time we gather to worship our Lord and King. Based on the Dialogical Principle of Worship, it should not be an occasional element of worship but a permanent ordinary element whereby we renew our Covenant with the Lord every Sabbath Day. It is after all a Covenant Meal whereby we seal the Word that was preached into our hearts and we feed and nourish on His heavenly Body and Blood. The Word and the Sacrament should never be separated or divided when we attend the heavenly descend, sit in the heavenlies and worship the Triune Yahovah in His Royal Throne Room on His Most Holy Day, the Sabbath Day. It is a means by which we grow and be sanctified on a weekly bases and we should examine ourselves on a weekly bases. Only in the worst of times when it is hard for Christians to gather or when they lack a lawfully called minister should the sacrament of the Eucharist be prolonged until it is able to be given, such a time like the Killing times of the 1660s in Scotland.

Below, Thomas Houston lays out some solid reasoning why the Eucharist should be performed on a weekly bases from both a Scriptural and Historical Testimony of the Church. Thomas Houston was an Irish Covenanter minister and well respected.

“TIMES OF ADMINISTERING THE LORD’S SUPPER.

THE inquiry how frequently the sacrament of the Supper should be administered is one of much interest and of great practical importance. Considering the observance of this ordinance to be one of the most distinguishing Christian privileges one that leads believers to the nearest communion with the Redeemer and fellow-saints, and that eminently contributes to spiritual edification and comfort, it might seem as if access to it would be greatly desired by the friends of Christ, and that the practice of frequent communion would be common. Instead of this, there are few ordinances, respecting which a

greater diversity in attendance prevails among professing Christians than this. In some religious communities, the sacrament of the Supper is celebrated only once a year; in others twice. Others observe it quarterly, omitting various preparatory services. A few attend upon the ordinance monthly, while a small number of churches, in different countries, observe a weekly communion every Lord s day. The less frequent observance of this sacred feast has been pleaded for, on the ground that there is no express Scripture injunction in opposition to it, and because it is alleged that the rich effusion of the

Spirit, and the sufferings of the primitive church demanded an observance which is not required of us in the present times; and again, that a too frequent attendance upon this sacrament would render it too common, and thus lessen due solemnity and reverence, and so injure religion. To us there appears strong presumptive evidence that the Divine Author of this institution did not design to leave the time of observing the sacred feast undetermined; or to make it optional with his professed followers how frequently or how seldom they would manifest a public respect to His dying command. In the case of other institutions, such as the day of holy rest, and the preaching of the Word, stated times and frequency are indispensably required in order to reach the great ends of these ordinances. If the Lord’s Supper was appointed as the grand means of commemorating the atoning death of Christ, and of showing it forth to the world till His second coming, surely this implies that these great ends will be best attained by Christians often gathering together to keep the feast, instead of attending to it only occasionally, or at long intervals. A cursory view of the note of time in the original institution, and of the practice of the Christian church in ancient and modern times, and of the sentiments of distinguished servants of Christ reformers and theologians will show that we have the strongest ground to plead that attendance upon the Lord s Supper should be fixed and frequent.

The expression “as often as,” or “as oft” twice repeated in the words of institution, it may be admitted, does not declare precisely the times of observance; but it does undeniably point in the direction of a known frequent observance, rather than authorize a latitudinarian discretion in persons to fix the time at their own pleasure. The original words uadKog tdv “as many times soever” imply that the Supper is an ordinance often to be partaken of. Most naturally, they seem to refer to some wellknown and acknowledged rule of frequency whether of weekly communion on the Lord s day, or of stated meetings for this special purpose. We have already shown that the administration of the Supper in the apostolic church was by regularly-appointed ministers in connexion with the preaching of the Word, and in the stated public worship on the first day of the week.

Christians came together to hear the word of the gospel, and “for the breaking of bread.” There is every reason to conclude that, for a length of time, after the plentiful effusion of the Spirit at Pentecost, the practice prevailed throughout the primitive churches of celebrating the Sacrament of the Supper weekly while, in some instances, it may have taken place even more frequently, on the occasion of the visits of apostles or eminent teachers, or in peculiar emergencies. The practice of the churches in Jerusalem in Corinth and at Troas, as recorded in the inspired history, clearly establishes this; and the testimony of early Christian fathers, and of other distinguished writers of antiquity, is uniform and explicit, that the weekly communion was the universal practice of the primitive churches till towards the close of the fourth century, when the tide of error and corruption began to flow strongly throughout the

church.

That the ordinance of the Lord s Supper was observed weekly in the assemblies met for worship in the earliest times of Christianity, is attested by many ancient writers, among whom are Pliny, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Cyprian,* Chrysostom, Ambrose, Jerome, and Augustine. These, with greater or less particularity, state that when Christians met together on the first day of the week, to preach and hear the word, and for public prayers and praise, their general, uninterrupted custom was to observe the memorial of Christ s death by the breaking of bread.

The practice of the principal reformed churches was in favour of the frequent celebration of the Lord s Supper, and the testimony of the chief reformers is very explicit on this subject. Thus Calvin, on his coming to Geneva, laboured to establish the observance of the communion monthly, and if possible weekly. In his “Institutes” he says, “It was not therefore that it should be received once a year, and that

superficially for manner s sake, as now commonly the custom is but that it should be in often use to all Christians, that, with often remembrance, they should repeat the passion of Christ; by which remembrance, they might sustain and strengthen their faith, and exhort themselves to sing, confession of praise to God, and to publish His goodness. Finally, by which they might nourish mutual charity, and testify it among themselves, whereof they saw the knot in the unity of the body of Christ.” “For as often as we communicate of the sign of the body of the Lord, we do, as by a token given and received, interchangeably bind ourselves one to another unto all duties of love, that none of us do any thing whereby he may offend his brothers, nor omit any thing whereby he may help him, when need requireth and ability alloweth.”

Again, after showing how the practice of infrequent communion had been introduced, and had spread in the church, Calvin says “Truly this custom which commandeth to communicate

**Cyprian de Oratione Dominica, Opera, p. 421, speaks of the daily celebration of the Eucharist. Calvin laboured at Geneva to have established the weekly celebration of the Lord s Supper. For a time he seems to have prevailed so far as to have the communion observed among the people about once in the month; but when resistance by the Libertines against the endeavours of the reformer and his colleagues became more marked, and various troubles broke out, the rule was adopted to sanction, by public authority, the observance of the sacrament of the supper four times in the year. Calvin mentions, however, that he took care to have it entered on the record, that this was “an evil custom,” that posterity might, with the greater liberty and ease correct it.**

yearly only, is a most certain invention of the devil, by whose ministry soever it was brought in …. By this it is come to pass, that almost all men when they have once communicated, as though they had sufficiently discharged them selves for all the rest of the year, sleep soundly on both oars. It ought to have been far otherwise done. Every week at least, the Lord s table should be set before the assembly of Christians; the promises should be declared, which might bind us spiritually at it; none should indeed be compelled of necessity, but all should be exhorted and pricked forward, the sluggishness also of the slothful should be rebuked. All should by heaps, as hungry men, come together to such dainties.

Not without rightful cause therefore at the beginning, I complained that by the craft of the devil, this custom was thrust in, which when it appointeth one certain day of the year, maketh men slothful for all the rest of the year.

The Lutheran Churches, from the earliest period, sought to observe the communion every Lord s day, and on the different holidays throughout the year a practice which, in several countries on the continent of Europe, they still observe.

Cranmer, and others of the first English reformers, were in favour of the weekly communion; and in the early regulations of the English Protestant church, provision is made for the celebration of the Lord s Supper thus in all the Cathedral churches. In the period of the first reformation in Scotland, the method of frequent communion was proposed and settled in the order and policy of the church. There is reason to think that John Knox, from his intimate connexion with the Swiss reformers, and especially from his intercourse with Calvin at Geneva, held the same views concerning the times of observing the sacramental supper. But to avoid the superstitious observance of holidays, it was settled in the First Book of Discipline (c. xi. 5), that “the administration of the Lord’s table four times in the year be deemed sufficient.” It is added, in addressing the Great Council of Scotland “Your Honours are not ignorant how superstitiously the people were to that action at Pascha (Easter), even as if the time gave virtue to the sacrament, and how the rest of the whole year, they are careless and negligent, as if it appertained not unto them, but at that time only.”

The Nonconformist Churches, and leading Puritan divines, were generally in favour of the frequent celebration of the Lord s Slipper. The writings of Owen, T. Goodwin, Baxter, Charnock, and others, bear full and clear testimony on this subject, as do also those of eminent modern divines, such as Drs Doddridge, Watts, President Edwards, Mason, Erskine, etc. And distinguished ecclesiastical historians, critics, and theologians all concur in the sentiment that frequent communion was the universal practice of antiquity, and that it should still be the established order of the church. Of historians may be mentioned Mosheim, Neander, Bingham; and of critics and theologians, Beza, Witsius, Hammond, Whitby, Waterland, Maclean, Haldane, etc. We have thus a testimony, full and unbroken continued from the earliest times of Christianity, and given by communities and individuals in different countries and circumstances, showing most clearly that the frequent celebration of the Lord s Supper is to be regarded as accordant with the design of the Head of the church that it it has been attended to in the purest and best times of the church, and that its observance is calculated to subserve the most beneficial purposes for the unity, purity and prosperity of the church.

From these views of the sacred writers, and the concurrent testimonies of the evangelical churches, and of eminent servants of God in different periods, we cannot hesitate to declare that a more frequent celebration of the Lord s Supper than what is now practised deserves to be adopted throughout the churches.

Even should we admit that the Scripture expression, “as often as,” which occurs in the record of the first institution, does not point to a fixed and definite time of celebration, it certainly can not be properly understood as meaning otherwise than that the ordinance should be attended to at brief intervals.

The objection commonly presented that the weekly or monthly observance of the ordinance would tend to diminish a sense of its solemnity, and to encourage an irreverent approach to the holy table, and would be incompatible with due preparation for communicating, is, when duly considered, seen to be destitute of substantial weight. On the same ground that it is advanced, frequent attendance upon other divine institutions, such as prayer, the Sabbath, the hearing of the Word, would interfere with their solemnity, and cause them to be regarded with irreverence. But the observed facts are altogether the reverse of this. Those who have prayer as their element, and who have learned to pray without ceasing, experience how solemn and “good it is to draw near to God” and they know that “God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of His saints,” and to be “had in reverence of all them that are about Him.”

On the other hand, those who seldom pray, or who have no stated seasons of prayer, offer but a mere “bodily service”- honour God with their lips while their hearts are far from Him, and are in danger of sinning presumptuously. They who “call the Sabbath a delight”- “the holy of the Lord honourable,” rejoice in its weekly return, and hail it as “the pearl of days” the “best of all the seven.” And it is ever found that such as attend most frequently upon the word preached, and upon public ordinances, are, compared with others in the visible church, the most devout and reverential in their spirit and conduct, as they manifest more abundant spiritual fruit, “in all holy conversation and godliness.”

The objection to which we advert is suitably answered in the nervous and expressive language of the late Dr Mason of New York “Is it countenanced by the word of God, by the nature of the exercise, or

by the experience of believers? Did Jesus, when He said This do in remembrance of Me, caution us not to do it too frequently, lest we should lose our veneration? Did He bid us show our reverence to His institution, by trampling on His command? or, our gratitude for His love, by slighting His memorial? The same objection was made by some at the Reformation, and was treated with the utmost indignation!

“A wonderful reverence, truly, for the sacrament,” cries Bucer, “by which it is contemned, and the saving communion therein offered with the Son of God rejected!” But let us appeal to fact.

Do other duties grow contemptible by their frequency? Is the Sabbath vile, because of its weekly return? Are the divine Scriptures; is family worship; is secret and ejaculatory prayer insipid to those who are most conversant with them? “Pray without ceasing” saith the Holy Ghost. “Pray but seldom” replies the objection we are combating. You will be too bold and familiar with holy things, if you meddle with them.

Frequent prayer will end in profaning the presence of God, because it will diminish your sense of His majesty! How does this language sound in pious ears? The heart of a believer revolts; his blood runs cold; the testimony in his own breast refutes, as he goes along, these impious suggestions.

And can any man conceive why frequent prayer, meditation, etc., should promote the spiritual life, and frequent communion hinder it? Will increased faith produce unbelief? or, renewed love indifference? Will melting views of divine grace harden the heart? or, a commanding sense of the divine glory generate pride? Will fellowship with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ abate heavenly-mindedness? or, the sealing of the Spirit of promise carnal confidence? Oh! tell it not in Gath. Let not the rumour reach an uncircumcised ear, that believers in Jesus who profess to love Him supremely: proclaim His excellence to others: and declare that the more they know and enjoy Him, the more they desire to know and enjoy; that even believers in Jesus, when invited to frequent an ordinance which He hath left as a seal of covenant mercies a means of intercourse with Himself a pledge of His eternal kingdom, should not only refuse but justify their refusal by pleading that it would diminish their reverence.

Taking into account the different states and circumstances of the congregations of the church in these countries, the Lord s Supper might be celebrated without difficulty or in convenience, at least once in the quarter, and, with due consideration and earnest activity on the part of ministers, elders and people, even a monthly communion might be established. So frequent an observance, while approaching near to the primitive usage, would, we are fully persuaded, in no respect interfere with the solemnity of attendance at the sacramental table, or promote irreverence, or lead to unworthy partaking. It might, indeed, render it expedientor necessary to dispense with several of the week-day public

services, that are now connected with the celebration of the Lord s Supper. But while it is not denied that these are valuable as tending to withdraw the minds of communicants from worldly things, and as affording leisure from engrossing earthly concerns, for engaging in acts of special preparation, and presenting motives for their performance, they cannot be pleaded for as indispensably required for the observance of this sacred ordinance. In the early period of the Reformation in Scotland, the sacrament was celebrated without the accompaniment of public religious services on several week-days. These were afterwards introduced, at a time of religious awakening, which they were intended to sustain and help forward; and it was not proposed at first that they should be permanently resorted to when the occasion ceased. In the present state of society, and in the circumstances of many of the members of the church, who are engaged in public worldly business, or who have not full control over their time being in the employment of others, it may be difficult, if not impossible, to obtain a number of days in the course of the year for religious services. But, inasmuch as it cannot be shown that these are absolutely necessary to the right observance of the sacrament of the Supper, they may to some extent be dispensed with, without danger of corrupting or degrading the ordinance, or of preventing its beneficial spiritual effects. If the alternative proposed were whether the Lord’s Supper should be seldom dispensed, with the accompaniment of all the week-day services or frequently, without them, in part or wholly, we would certainly have no hesitation in preferring the latter; and we have every confidence that the most

experienced Christians, who value most highly its privileges, and who desire to promote its great ends for themselves and others, will concur in this opinion. The sacrament of Baptism is administered frequently, and that without the observance of days for preparation and thanksgiving; and yet, when it is properly dispensed and received, it is not regarded with want of reverence. Viewed in the light of Scripture, there does not appear any good reason why the one sacrament should be dispensed in a hasty manner, and the other with many supernumerary services fasts, preparations, and thanksgivings. Both demand, on the part of those who come to these services thought, self-examination, earnest prayer, and the forsaking of sin; but such exercises may and will be essayed by the children of God, even when they may be pressed by worldly engagements, and have not due opportunity to separate themselves for special religious services. Were public religious exercises in connection with the Supper on week-days dispensed with, their place might be supplied in part by fellowship meetings for united prayer, at which the ministers and elders would be present, and by individuals and families setting apart times in private for appropriate religious exercises. By the outpouring of the Spirit in the way of gracious revival, which is promised as the great blessing of the last times, which we should ever earnestly seek, the church will obtain all needful preparation for the feast of holy communion, and will realize an abundant blessing in its frequent observance. “And it shall come to pass that before they call, I will answer, and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.” “And the inhabitants of one city shall go to another saying, let us go speedily to pray before the Lord, and to seek the Lord of hosts; I will go also, Yea, many people, and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Lord.”

-Thomas Houston, The Lord Supper, It’s Nature, End and Obligations; and Mode of Administration

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