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. 

COMMUNION OF SAINTS


COMMUNION OF SAINTS
(See Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 26)

Introduction

When Adam sunk his teeth into the forbidden fruit he broke mankind’s communion with God. It was this act of rebellion that estranged the whole human family from God. Upon creating man God entered into a covenant with us. The outward test of this creation covenant was centred on the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Would mankind obey God and not eat of it and be rewarded with everlasting life? Or would mankind break the Covenant of Works and be punished with everlasting death? That was the question the forbidden fruit was designed to answer.

Now, the penalty, as previously threatened by God to Adam – who is mankind’s covenant head or federal representative – has already been issued. This is the reason for all the death, decay, and human suffering in the world. Everything that is wrong in the world can be traced back to this one act of rebellion against God. The reason for all the sin and misery in the world is because mankind lost union and communion with God the Creator.

Now, the incarnation of God the Son, i.e., the 2nd Person in the Triune Godhead, is God’s solution for the fallen world in which cruelty, suffering and death are vividly apparent. In other words, the good news is, as John puts it in John 3:17, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”

To be sure, God had every right to condemn the world on account of mankind’s sinful rebellion. However, God by His mere grace has restored the fellowship mankind had broken, which is to say that God took the initiative and renewed the union and communion man enjoyed with Him before the mother of all rebellions took place in the Garden of Eden.

In the Person of Jesus Christ we see God and Man fully reconciled. For Jesus Christ is fully God and fully Man, having two distinct natures, the divine and the human, united in one Divine Person forever. Jesus Christ as our Covenant Head, as our Mediator, has perfect union and communion with God. He is of the same substance as God and He is of the same substance as man. Thus He is the Representative or Federal Head of a new covenant, i.e., the Covenant of Grace.

It is in terms of this new covenant that man can again have full union and communion with God.

The Meaning of Communion

The Communion of Saints means everlasting life. It means that the fiery gulf of Hell has been removed from between the saints and God. It means that nothing comes between the saints and God – not even a pope or a prince. It means that the saints have a new Head; the old head was Adam, and the new Head is Jesus Christ, the new Adam.

Adam plunged the whole world into darkness when he ate the forbidden fruit. Jesus Christ is the Light that has come into this dark world to rescue and redeem the world. Therefore the Communion of Saints means that those who live in darkness have seen a great light. The Communion of Saints means that the things of darkness, such as death and suffering, sin and misery, can be viewed in their proper light. These are things that belong to Satan’s kingdom of Darkness and not Christ’s Kingdom of Light. For Christ has plugged mankind back into God, whose alone is the kingdom, the power, and the glory. And the Communion of Saints is evidence that the light of His kingdom, power, and glory is shining on earth.

Now, the Apostle John by the Holy Spirit in 1 John 1:5-7 says, “This is the message which we heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.”

Three things to note at this point: 1. John here speaks of us having fellowship with God. 2. He speaks of us as having fellowship with one another. And 3. This fellowship with God and with one another is on the basis of Jesus’ shed blood.

Therefore, God has rescued us by dousing the flames of Hell for us with His Son’s poured out blood. God is a consuming fire and the shed blood of Christ is our protection against His everlasting wrath. Therefore, our fellowship with God and with one another is grounded in the eternal love of God. For it is because of God’s love for His Son that He has saved the world. For of Christ Scripture says, “All things were created through Him and FOR Him.” Colossians 1:16b. And, “For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.” Colossians 1:19&20.

So we see then that God has made peace between Himself and us, and has made peace among us ourselves. And that He has done this through the blood Christ shed upon the cross. Therefore, when it comes to Communion of Saints there is a vertical dimension and there is a horizontal dimension. Vertically we have love for God. And horizontally we have love for each other. In this we see the sum of God’s Law, even the sum of the pre-Fall Covenant of Works, restored. For when mankind in Adam broke the Covenant of Works, we broke God’s command to love God and our neighbour as ourselves. But now, because of Jesus Christ’s perfect life and atoning death we are back where we were before Adam sinned.

But more than that, we are where Adam would have been had he not sinned as our covenant head. In other words we now have unlosable everlasting life, which is everlasting fellowship with God and with our neighbour, i.e., the saints.

As Jesus says in John 10, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one.” John 10:27-30.

So, the communion of the saints means that we are safe in the hands of God forever. Thus the communion of the saints means everlasting life in Jesus Christ.

The Means of Communion

The means or way or instrument through which the communion of the saints is brought about and enjoyed by us is in our being united to Jesus Christ by His Spirit, and through faith. This is to say that the communion of the saints is brought about by Christ’s living in us by His Spirit who has regenerated us. And because His Spirit works in us effectively our faith is directed away from ourselves and onto Him. Therefore, another way of saying this is that the Spirit of Christ points us to God in Christ. And the Spirit does this by showing us the shed blood that brings us peace with God, and with each other. Therefore, by His Spirit through faith we have fellowship with Christ’s graces, His sufferings, His death, His resurrection, and His glory.

John speaks of our fellowship with Christ’s graces where he says, “And of His fullness we have all received, and grace from grace.” John 1:16. And Paul speaks of our fellowship with Christ’s sufferings, death, and resurrection where he says, “…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death…” Philippians 3:10. And he speaks of our fellowship with Christ’s glory where he says, “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ, (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:4-7.

We are seated together in heavenly glory in Christ Jesus our alone Head. And what we are saying then is that whatever Jesus Christ has gone through we have gone through in Him. Therefore Jesus is the means of our communion with God and with each other. For whatever Christ has we have in Him; for He is in us and we are in Him. He is in us by His Spirit. And we are in Him through faith.

Now, the Doctrine of Justification has to do with us in Christ. And the Doctrine of Sanctification has to do with Christ in us. Therefore you can’t have Sanctification without Justification. This is another way of saying that the covenant by which we are saved, even the Covenant of Grace, like the Covenant of Works before it, has a legal and a spiritual aspect to it. Justification is a legal transaction, whereas Sanctification is a spiritual transaction. For, to be justified is to be declared righteous, which is a legal transaction. And to be sanctified is to be made righteous, which is a spiritual transaction.

Roman Catholicism has confused these two distinct but never separate doctrines. And this is why she follows a legalistic salvation by works, or a works-righteousness false gospel. Rome has failed to see that Jesus Christ has already taken care of all the legalities for salvation. Rome’s problem begins with her faulty view of man and what happened when man sinned.

When man sinned by breaking the Covenant of Works we all became spiritually dead. And because we had broken the Covenant of Works God was legally bound to punish us. In the new covenant, even the Covenant of Grace, which was introduced immediately after the Fall, God promised to renew the spiritual aspect by taking care of all the legalities. This meant that Christ had to live a perfect life as Representative of all the saints, and He had to shed His blood on the cross to cleanse them of their sins which God was legally bound to punish, which is to say that He had to do these things before union and communion could be restored to fallen humanity.

The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all nations is the beginning of the world-wide restoration of communion with God and with each other. In other words, now that the legalities have been taken care of by Christ’s cross, God is now free to renew in full the spiritual aspect of His Covenant.

We see the Spirit at work everywhere the saints gather in the name of Jesus Christ. Thus we see that communion or fellowship has been restored between the saints and God, and among the saints themselves. This is another way of saying that the enmity between the seed of the serpent and the Seed of the woman (spoken of in Genesis 3:15) isn’t as widespread as one might think. For it turns out that even though all mankind sided with the devil when Adam sinned, a multitude innumerable has been and is being restored to full fellowship with God.

The means by which God is able to restore full fellowship is the shed blood of Christ. That’s what the shed blood of Christ all about. It is about Christ permanently crushing the serpent’s head, and Christ receiving a temporary bruising while doing so.

Think about it, in Adam mankind had adopted a new head, an illegal pseudo-head, viz., the serpent, Satan. But Christ by His cross has crushed fallen mankind’s false head, the serpent. Therefore Christ is the new head of mankind, at least of those who have faith in Him, i.e., those indwelt by His Spirit. Thus in Christ we have a new covenant Head.

No longer is Adam our covenant head. Therefore our acting head is no longer Satan working through his puppets on earth. Rather, Jesus Christ alone is our Head. And the means by which He became our covenant head was by shedding of His own blood. His shed blood therefore has brought us both a legal and a spiritual fellowship with God and with all His saints.

Don’t forget therefore that there is a legal aspect as well as a spiritual aspect to our relationship with God and with each other. We are legally bound to love God and our neighbour as ourselves. But don’t panic, this is what is fulfilled for us by and in Jesus Christ. And because this legal aspect of the Covenant has been taken care of by Jesus, we are now able to freely love God and our neighbour as ourselves. For no longer do we have the penalty of the Law waiting to drop on us and crush us like a ton of bricks as soon as we mess up in the slightest!

Therefore the means by which the saints have communion with God and with each other is not through trying to keep God’s Law, even His Ten Commandments. For this is the filthy-rag legalism that God detests! But rather the means by which we have communion with God and each other is by the Spirit of Christ working faith in us – faith that Christ’s shed blood has made peace for us with God.

Therefore, our love for God and for our neighbour is not based upon ourselves, i.e., having faith in our own good works. But rather it is based upon God’s grace, even the Covenant of Grace. Thus, because God has shown us grace we are able to show each other grace.

The Measure of Communion

The measure of our communion is universal because the church on earth is universal. Jesus is the Light of the World. Therefore, contrary to the hymn, it ought not to be “You in your small corner, and I in mine.” For grace, even the Covenant of Grace obliges us to seek the good of all the saints wherever they are on the planet earth.

So, this means that we are not just to seek their spiritual wellbeing, but we are also obliged by grace to seek even their physical wellbeing. For Christ saves the whole man. Therefore the outward as well as the inward man needs to be looked after. This means that getting people saved is only the half of it! For even the most spiritual people cannot live without food and shelter. Therefore our duty as Christians runs to more than a simple passing out of Gospel tracts. It is more than sending missionaries overseas with boxes of Bibles. We need also to work towards the removal of things that cause misery and suffering on earth. As the Apostle says, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” Galatians 6:10.

In 1 Corinthians 16:1-3 we see Paul remind the Corinthians to take up a collection to help the poor, just as he had given orders to the particular churches in Galatia. Their collections were to be taken up to help the saints in far away Jerusalem. And the collections were to be taken up on the first day of the week, i.e., the Christian Sabbath. Acts 11:29&30 says, “Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea. This they also did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.” Therefore the measure of communion is as wide as the world is broad. And it is as deep as the love of God in the hearts of His saints wherever they gather for worship.

Indeed one of the by products of gathering to worship God on the Lord’s Day is that we are stirred up to do good works. For the writer to the Hebrews says, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24&25. Therefore we are under obligation to keep holy fellowship and communion in the worship of God, and in performing such other spiritual services that tend to their mutual edification. And also in relieving each other in those outward or material things according to our abilities and the other folk’s necessities. So, we strive to help the saints at home and abroad.

Now, this sharing doesn’t mean that the Lord does not allow us our own private property. Indeed the 8th Commandment, when it says, “You shall not steal,” teaches that it is lawful to own private property. To be sure, it is stated in the early chapters of the Book of Acts that they “had all things in common.” Acts 2:44 & 4:32. It speaks of the saints there selling possessions and goods for the physical wellbeing of those saints in need at that time.

However, before we get too carried away with the thought of a communist-type community we should note what was said to Ananias and Sappirah. Acts 5:1-4, “But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.’”

So, we see then Ananias owned his property before he sold it. And that he also owned the proceeds from it even after he sold it. Therefore the early chapters of Acts are not teaching that we all own each other’s property. Otherwise Peter would not have said what he said to Ananias, for notice he said to him, Acts 5:4: “While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control?” Ananias and his wife Sapphirah were hypocrites who tried to make an impression in the community of saints. They paid with their own lives for lying to the Holy Spirit by their actions.

Now, just as we don’t own each other’s private property, neither do we own the private property that belongs to God, which is to say that we are in no wise partakers of the substance of the Godhead, even though the Spirit of Christ dwells in us.

And neither are we equal to Christ because the same Holy Spirit indwells us. It is irreverent and blasphemous to suggest these things. Though the three Persons of the Godhead share the same substance, each Person has His own private property. The Father alone owns Fatherhood. The Son alone owns Sonship. And the Spirit alone owns Spiration.

And when it comes to Christ neither of His two natures ‘steals’ from the other. His humanity doesn’t steal from His divinity, or vice versa. Each retains its own respective properties. Thus, if Christ’s humanity does not partake of His divinity, how much less do we partake of the substance of the Godhead? No, we don’t partake of the substance of the Godhead. But we do, however, partake of the Spirit of the Godhead. For the union and communion we enjoy with God and with each other is a true reflection of the union and communion God enjoys within Himself. For the triune God is in perfect union and communion with Himself.

For the Father loves the Son and the Spirit. The Son loves the Father and the Spirit. And the Spirit loves the Father and the Son. And each Person in the Godhead loves the Godhead. The One loves the Many and the Many love the One. Thus true union and communion comes from the triune God.

Conclusion

We’ve noted that there are legal and spiritual aspects of the Covenant of Grace. Jesus Christ by His life and death has taken care of those legal aspects. But not only that, Jesus Christ by His poured out Spirit has taken care of, and is even now taking care of, the spiritual aspects of the Covenant of Grace. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all nations at Pentecost was Jesus Christ taking care of the spiritual aspects of the Covenant of Grace. For is it not the Holy Spirit who brings us communion with God and with each other? For even in the benediction at the end of Paul’s second epistle to the Corinthians we hear these words: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.” 2 Corinthians 13:14.

Now that the legalities are out of the way the Spirit is free to spread the communion of saints among the nations to the ends of the earth. Are you able to picture all nations in communion with God and with each other?

The LORD through His prophet Isaiah says, “Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and says, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks, nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. O house of Jacob, come and let us walk in the light of the LORD.” Isaiah 2:2-5.