On Frequent Communicating: Church Practice Historically and At The Time Of Writing
22 min read
22 min read
We have, in the preceding fashion, demonstrated, from the sacred oracles, that, in the days of the apostles, dispensing the sacrament was as stated an exercise in the meetings of the faithful, as prayer, hearing the word, or collecting for the supply of their needy brethren and that accordingly in the church at Jerusalem, they had daily communions, and in every church communion at least once a week. Let us next view how this pattern has been regarded or flighted in after ages, and with what success.
How the first ages of the church conducted themselves in this matter, is well known to all in the least conversant with church history of that I need only refer to a few of the many who have written on this subject and save myself the trouble of saying anything about it. But, for the fake of my unlearned readers, I shall give a short abridgement of what may be found more at large in these writers.
The practice of those who lived in the very infancy of the church must deserve peculiar regard. Their thorough acquaintance with the style in which the New Testament was written, the customs to which it alludes, and with many other peculiarities which are now almost buried in obscurity; but especially their conversing with the apostles, or their immediate disciples, must give them great advantages for understanding the religion of Jesus. And as many of them sealed their doctrine with their blood, we cannot reasonably entertain the least suspicion, that they would dare knowingly to alter the least circumstance in the last, the dying command of their dear master.
Pliny, in his epistle to the emperor Trajan, wrote about the year of Christ 110, which was only fixed years after the death of the evangelist St. John, acquaints the emperor, that he had found nothing to allege against the Christians, but their obstinacy in their superstition : and that it was their custom to meet together on a set day before it was light, and to sing a hymn to Christ as God, and to bind themselves by the sacrament, that they would commit no wickedness.
Justin Martyr, who wrote, AD. 155. is another witness. On the day, says he, that is called Sunday, all the Christians meet together, because that is the day of our Saviour’s resurrection, and then we have read to us the writings of the prophets and apostles. This done, the president makes a speech, exhorting the people to practice what they have heard. Then we all join in prayer: then bread, wine, and water are brought forth, and the president having again poured out prayers and praises to God, there is a distribution and communication made of the sacramental elements. Last, of all, those that are willing and able to contribute what they think fit for the relief of the indigent. How exactly does this account of the worship of the primitive church tally with that of St. Luke, Acts 2:42?
Tertullian, who lived about A. D. 200, takes notice of some, who declined to receive the sacrament on the stationary days (Wednesdays and Fridays) for fear of breaking their fast and blames them for this as a foolish scruple. — This passage not only proves that he thought it a duty incumbent on the faithful to communicate as often as possible, but that it was then a common practice, to communicate on other days as well as Sundays (Tertullian de Orat. cap. 14. p. 136).
Minutius Felix, who flourished A. D. 230. speaks of the Christians assembling to eat on a solemn day (Epulas die Solenni coeunt. Min.Fel. p. 30.).
Cyprian (A. D. 250.) tells us, that daily communion was the common practice of his time (f). And Fortunatus, his contemporary, made use of the fourth petition of the Lord’s prayer as an argument for communicating daily (Cyprian de Orat. Domin. p. 209, 210. ed. Bened. Euchaiiltiam quotidie ad cibum falutis accipimus, &c.).
Victorinus Petavionensis (A. D. 290.) tells us, that it was usual on the Lord’s day to receive the sacrament (Vict. Petav. de Fabric. Mundi ap. Cave, p. 103. Die dominico cum gratiarum actione ad panem exeamus).
Basil, about the year 372, recommends communicating every day and informs us, that it was the practice of the church of Caesarea, where he was, to celebrate the sacrament four times a week, viz. on Sunday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday (Basil, ep. 289.).
Ambrose, bishop of Milan, who was contemporary with Basil, or whoever is author of the tract, in his works, de Sacramentis, justly blames the infrequent use of the sacrament among the Greeks, where some communicated only once a year and seems to intimate that daily communions were in use at Milan (Ambros. de sacrum. lib. v. rap. 4. P. 449.).
St. Hierom tells us that they were likewise kept up in his time, (i. e. about the year 390.) in the churches of Spain, and at Rome (Hieronym. ep. 52. ad Lucin).
Augustin (about the year 410.) tells us that the Eucharist was received by many on Saturday, as well as the Lord’s day, every week; and by some even daily (Augustin. ep. 118. ad Januar).
These passages are more than sufficient to prove, that during the first four centuries the sacrament of the Lord’s supper was dispensed even more than once a week and that it was a constant branch of the sanctification of the Sabbath. Let us next show how it came to be otherwise, and what was the consequence.
The learned Dr. Waterland observes, that during the first three centuries we meet with no canons made to enforce frequent communion scarce so much as exhortations to it, or any complaints of neglect in that article, which is an argument, that Christians in those times were not tardy in that respect, but rather forward and pressing, under a high notion of the privilege and comfort of partaking of the holy communion (Waterland, On The Eucharist, chap. 14.). Tertullian, who lived in the close of the second century, observes, as I remarked in the former Paragraph, that there were some who scrupled to communicate Wednesdays and Fridays. But even that shows they had no scruple at communicating every Lord’s day.
But in the fourth century, defection from the primitive purity of the church began more and more to appear. The most probable cause, I can assign for this, is, that till then the religion of Christ being persecuted, few professed it who had not felt the power of it on their hearts. But soon after, Christianity became the established religion of the Roman empire, a greater number of hypocrites, from views of worldly interest, intermingled themselves with the true disciples of Christ and in a century or two more, this little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.
Such nominal Christians could have no just sense of the use and benefit of the Lord’s supper, and the obligations to frequent it. Having only a form of godliness, without the power of it, it is no wonder that the frequent return of religious exercises should be uneasy and disagreeable to them. Their example would soon be followed by lukewarm Christians, who had fallen from their first love.
About the year 324, it was decreed at a council held at Elibris in Spain, that no offerings should be received from such as did not receive the Lord’s supper (Council. Illiberit. can. 28.): which shows, that some who called themselves Christians, were beginning to neglect the dying command of their professed Lord.
About the year 341, a council at Antioch decreed, that all who came to church and heard the scriptures read, but afterwards joined not in prayer and receiving the sacrament, mould be cast out of the church, till such time as they gave public proof of their repentance (Council. Antioch. can. 2.).
Towards the close of the fourth century, men grew more and more cold and indifferent about the Lord’s supper so that the eloquent Chrysostom complains, “In vain stand we at the altar, none care to receive” (Chrysostom, Homily 3 on Ephesians.) And in another place, after he had represented the danger of unworthy receiving, he adds, “I speak not this, to deter you from coming, but from coming carelessly; for as there is danger in coming carelessly, so there is famine and death in the not partaking at all. This table is, as it were, the sinews of our soul, the girding up of the mind, the support of our confidence, our hope, our health, our light, our life (Chrysostom in 1 Cor. 10 Hom. 24.).
The first council of Toledo, in the year 400, enacted, that those who were observed never to come to the communion, should be admonished and if they did not reform, obliged to submit to penance and that such of the clergy as came not to the daily prayers and communion mould be deposed, if they did not reform after admonition (Council. Toledo. 1. can. 5.8).
From this decree, it is plain, that tho’ the sacrament was daily dispensed to such as were willing to receive, yet, that the neglect of that ordinance had begun to infect the clergy as well as the people. Yet hitherto this was a fault, with which only particular persons were chargeable, and warmly testified against, not only by the most eminent fathers but by the public canons of the church.
But about the year 410, St. Augustine being consulted, whether it was best to communicate daily, or on such particular days when we were best prepared, gave this answer:
“Neither he of who communicates daily, nor he who does not, really dishonours the Lord’s body and blood, while both contend only in a different way, who shall do most honour to the blessed sacrament. For neither did Zaccheus and the centurion strive together, or one prefer himself before the other, when the former gladly received our Lord into his house, and the latter said, ‘I am not worthy that thou shouldst come under my roof’. Both did honour to our Saviour, tho’ in contrary ways, and both found mercy. So here, one out of reverence dares not partake every day ; another from the same reverence dares not omit it a single day. All is well, so long as in either case the ordinance is not condemned.”Augustine, Letter 54 to Januarius
It is probable this decision gave the first rise to the notion, that men might pay their reverence to the sacrament by turning their back upon it; and that our Lord’s command, Do this in remembrance of me was as much honoured by forbearing his table as by frequenting it. And indeed it is strange, that even the name of St. Augustin could make such a notion blindly followed. However we must observe, as some excuse for that worthy Father, that the question proposed to him was, Shall a man communicate every day? But had the question been, Is communicating once or thrice a year sufficient? He, no doubt, would have answered, ‘No!’ and recommended weekly communions, as Gennadius did, in the close of the same century, tho’ he would give no decision as to daily communion(s), I might add, it is plain, from Socrates’ and Sozomenes’ church histories (f), that weekly communions were greatly kept up til the last year
450. Socrates, however, tells us of two exceptions. “Whereas, says he, all ‘churches through the world, on the Sabbath day, in every revolution of the week, celebrate the mysteries, they of Alexandria, and they of Rome, on a certain, ancient tradition, have refused to do it.” Probably the church of Rome was principal, that of Alexandria only accessory, in this peculiarity : For Alexandria drawing considerable sums of Rome, for the corn with which she furnished the city, might the easier be led to imitate ihs Roman customs. However others too soon followed this pattern. We see then to what we owe the neglect of weekly communions, even to the pretended traditions of the church of Rome.
At length communicating weekly, or even monthly begins to appear burdensome. The greatest part received the sacrament only three times a year, and some not so often. This occasioned the council of Agde or Agatha in Languedoc, met in the year 506, to decree, that none should be esteemed good Christians who did not communicate at left at the three great festivals, Christmas, Easter, and Whitsunday (Council Agath. Cant. 8) and accordingly, from that time forward, those of the church of Rome esteemed themselves, in so far good enough Christians, if they communicated thrice a year, and that it was presumption to receive oftener (Bedae ep ad Egbert p311). But in the Greek church, which was more distant from the fountain of corruption, it was usual to communicate weekly, even so, low as the seventh century; and such as neglected three Weeks together were excommunicated (Theodor. Penitent, p. 40). And in the eighth Century, Bede gave it as his opinion, that daily communion would be highly salutary to Christians (Vide Let. 5). But that opinion not being very confident with the doctrine of transubstantiation, which now began to be broached in the church, met with but small regard; so that in a short time it became the general practice to communicate only once a year, at Easter; and this the council of Trent seem to account sufficient (Council of Trent Session 13 Canon 9).
It was then the church of Rome which introduced seldom communicating for which, as for all their Innovations they pretended an ancient Tradition and by which they alleged men’s reverence for that ordinance would be heightened; And indeed so it was, till Veneration gradually increasing, at length produced Adoration and the blasphemous absurdity of a Wafer God. A striking instance how dangerous it is for Christians to pretend to secure reverence to the institutions of their Lord, by methods different from those which he himself has appointed and that it is our only safety to adhere to the plan delivered us in the writings and practice of those who were under the infallible guidance of the Spirit, without turning aside to the right hand or to the left. If we do otherwise, how prudent soever our measures may seem, and however pious our intentions may really be, we have in so far rejected the word of the Lord; and what wisdom can there be in us?
The reader may possibly now expect an account what has been the practice of the purest reformed churches in this matter: But my small acquaintance with books, which can throw light on this inquiry, permits me to say but little on this head.
In Bohemia, the holy supper is usually celebrated four times a year. They dispense it oftener when the need of the faithful requires it but thus often they enjoin it to be dispensed for the fake of uniformity (Account of the church order and discipline in the unity of the brethren of Bohemia, chap. 3).
A national synod of the Protestants in France, met at Charinton 1644, give it as their judgment:
That though the Lord’s Supper is dispensed in their church only four times a year, greater frequency would be desirable, the reverence requisite at the Lord’s Table being preserved, that so Saints might increase in faith, through frequent partaking of the sacrament, as the primitive church didLa Discipline des Eglises Réformées de France, cap. 7
The Lutherans have a communion every Sunday and Holiday throughout the year (Joiinfon’s unbloody Sacrifice, part 2. p. 151.). And though the number of communicants is often but small (Calvoer de tit. ecl. t. i. p. 75,8), yet it is usual among them to communicate three or four times a year (Buddei Inft. Theol. Dogm. lib. v. cap. 1).
The church of England enjoins, that:
In every parish church and chapel, where sacraments are to be administered within this realm, the holy communion shall be ministered by the parson, vicar, or minister, so often, and at such times, as every parishioner may communicate at least thrice in the yearCanon 21, of the Province of Canterbury
It is well known, that many of the clergies in that church have recommended, and that many of the well-disposed among their laity practice, a much, greater frequency. This has given occasion, to, some, to asperse the Synod of Glasgow’s overture, as paving the way to Episcopacy. But is it not abundantly confident with the most rigid Presbyterian principles, to take a lesson from our; sister church, where her practice approaches nearer the Scripture standard than ours? Is her observing an institution of Christ any reason for our neglecting it? The purest church on earth may learn something from churches less pure. And whatever some do, I shall never esteem it a mark, of purity, to say to others, Stand by, come not near me, for I am holier than thou. The more we have, of true religion, the more will we have of a humble, teachable disposition, and a willingness to be instructed, even by our weaker brethren. I wish 1 Corinthians 7:21 were more considered. Progress in reformation can never be expected, when the best things are rejected that other churches practice, under the pretence of guarding against their corruptions. I cannot but observe, that Cartwright (Reply to Whitgift, p. 117) and Calderwood (Altare Damascenum) charged the church of England with too seldom communicating. So different was the opinion of these great and good men, from that which now prevails. And I am well informed, that a great part of those who were ejected for non-conformity in Charles II’s time, dispensed the sacrament monthly. I have now in my custody, manuscript Memoirs of a private Christian, who lived in the time of the civil wars in England, who, I find, received the sacrament, with great profit, the first Lord’s Day of every month at the meeting where Mr. Ash, a member of the Westminster assembly, and Mr. Robrough, one of their scribes, were ministers: And that if any incident prevented the dispensing of the sacrament on the first Sabbath of the month, it was done, if possible, the Sabbath next following (The Growth of a Christian and was lent to me by Mr. William Hog, merchant in Edinburgh).
The churches in New England have no times universally stated for their celebration of the Eucharist. Some have it once in four weeks some in six, some in eight: Some the first Lord’s Day in every calendar month, and some the last. And the pastor’s reserve to themselves a liberty of altering the times as they judge fit upon emergencies. The pastor gives notice a week beforehand, that the Lord’s Supper is to be dispensed. In most places there are held private meetings of Christians on some day of the week preparatory’ to the communion: And it is a frequent thing for the pastor to be present at some or other of them or else, perhaps, to hold a public lecture (Cotton Mather’s Account of the Discipline in the Churches in New England, p. 95, 96.).
From the form of dispensing the Sacraments, composed by Calvin for the use of the church of Geneva (Apud Calvini Trad. Theolog. p. 39, 40), it appears, that the Lord’s Day preceding, intimation was made to the people, that they might prepare for that holy ordinance; and that strangers, who inclined to communicate, might converse with the minister. On the Sacrament Day, the minister, at the end of the Sermon, explained the design of that ordinance, and how it ought to be received : Or, if he judged it necessary, spent his whole sermon on that subject How often in the year the Sacrament was dispensed, is not there mentioned ; but from Calvin’s zeal to revive even weekly communicating, it is probable it was at least once a month: especially as Calvin approved the Book’ of Common Order of the English church at Geneva, where Knox was minister; which Book takes notice, that the Lord’s Supper was commonly used by them once a month, So oft as the congregation think expedient (Book of Common Order, Preamble to Chapter 10).
I had almost forgotten to take notice, that the Greek church celebrates the sacrament every Sunday, and solemn festival, in their great churches, and that the laity are obliged to receive it four times a year (Smith’s Account of the Greek Church).
I now go on to represent the practice of our own church in her best times.
Before the reformation, in the year 1558, the godly preachers that were in the kingdom, were forced by persecution (like the primitive christians, Acts 2:46.) to teach God’s word, and administer the sacrament in the fields, or in private houses : so that their situation did not admit of stated times for communicating.
The 29th of April 1560, the great council of Scotland, laid their orders upon six ministers, whereof Mr. John Knox was one, to commit to writing their judgment touching the reformation of religion. Upon this they drew up the first book of discipline, and presented it to the great council, May 20th, 1560. Mp. Knox warmly urged, that it should be publicly approved. And though he could not obtain this, yet, as private men, the whole body of the first Reformers signed it, the 17th January, 1561, acknowledging it to be good, and according to God’s word, and promising to set it forward to the uttermost of their power. The general assembles, July 30th 1562, December 25th, 1562, and December 25th 1563, seem to consider it as binding on the church. Their opinion touching the times of dispensing the Lord’s Supper, they give in these words:
Four times in the year we think sufficient to the administration of the Lord’s Table, which we desire to be distinguished, that the superstitions of times may be avoided so far as may be; for your honours are not ignorant how superstitiously the people run to that action at Pasche (Easter), even as if that time gave virtue to the sacrament; and how the rest of the whole year they are careless and negligent, as if it pertained not unto them, but at that time only. We think therefore most expedient, that the first Sunday of March is appointed for one time to that service: the first Sunday of June for another the first Sunday of September for the third; and the first Sunday of December for the fourth. We do not deny, but any several kirks, for reasonable causes, may change the time, and may minister oftener; but we study to repress superstition.First Book of Discipline, Chapter 11
An injunction follows to catechize, especially such whose knowledge was suspect, before the administration of the sacrament. But there is not the least hint of week-day’s sermons before or after the communion.
At the fourth general assembly which was holden at Edinburgh, December 25th, 1562, and of which Mr. John Knox was moderator, it was concluded:
That a uniform order should be kept in the administration of the sacraments, solemnisation of marriage, and burial of the dead, according to the book of Geneva. Item, That the communion be minified four times in the year within burrows, and twice in the year in the country parishes. The superintendents were appointed to confer with the Lords of Secret Council amend the charges to be bestowed for the elements at the Lord’s Supper.Calderwood’s Manuscript History, vol. I. p. 792
It is reported in the general assembly held at Montrose, in March 1600, that some abstained from the communion, under colour of deadly feuds, and other light causes, it was ordained:
That the presbyteries command every particular minister, within their bounds, to take up the names of all within their parish, that they may communicate every year once at least and thereafter summon them to compare before the presbyteries, to hear and see themselves ordained to communicate within three months after the charge.”Calderwood’s Manuscript History, vol. I. p. 816
From this it seems plain, that the sacrament was then dispensed once every three months and this is my only design in mentioning it; for in other respects it was highly blame-worthy.
The general assembly met at glasgow, 1638, appointed a committee to consider what constitutions should be revived or made of new. The 12th article of their report was
“Anent order to be taken that the Lord’s Supper be more frequently administered both in burgh and landward, than it hath been these years bygone it were expedient that the act at Edinburgh, December 25th, 1562, be renewed, and some course be taken for furnishing the elements, where the minister of the parish hath allowance only for once in the year.”Acts of the General Assembly from 1638 to 1649
This shows, that in the times betwixt 1600 and 1638, seldom communicating had again crept in. We all know these times were none of the bed. However, even then there were some, and these the best friends of the Presbyterian interest, who dispensed the communion oftener than once a year. I need only mention the celebrated Mr. David Dickson, then at Irvin, who dispensed the communion twice in the year ; and Mr. Robert Blair, who dispensed it four times in the year, at least after he went over to Bangor, in the county of Down in Ireland, where he was a chief Instrument of the great revival of religion in that corner. If I had the leisure to consult the printed or manuscript lives of other eminent men in these times, I doubt not but many such instances could be given. But to return; the good men concerned in the Reformation 1638, were sincerely desirous to promote greater frequency in remembering the dying love of Jesus. And accordingly, the Assembly referred the above-mentioned article to the Committee ‘s report to the consideration of presbyteries and declared that the charges should rather be paid out of that day’s collection, than that the congregation want the more frequent use of the sacrament.
A pamphlet was printed at Edinburgh, 1641, entitled, The Order and Discipline of the Church of Scotland. The author only observes in the general, that the Lord’s Supper is more frequently ministered in some congregations than in others, but he does not mention how often in any. He informs us, p, 21. “The Sabbath next, before the communion shall be celebrated, public warning thereof is made by the pastor, and of the doctrine of preparation to be taught the last day of the week, or at least towards the end of the week, that the communicants may be the better prepared by the use of the means both in public and private.” Here is no mention of any other minister’s assisting the minister of the parish, nor of any Fast-Days or Thanksgiving-Days regularly observed before and after the sacrament. On the contrary, it is said, p. 24. The communion being thus celebrated in the forenoon, the people meet again in the afternoon, at which time the minister teacheth the doctrine of thanksgiving, and closeth the public and solemn worship of that day, from which the people use to depart refreshed with the grace and peace of God and strengthened with new and fresh resolution to serve the Lord”
In the 14th Session of the Assembly met at Edinburgh 1645, of which Mr. Robert Douglass was Moderator, the opinion of the committee for keeping the greater uniformity in this Kirk was said before them, and, after serious consideration, approved in all its articles, and ordained to be observed in all time hereafter. Among other things they enjoined, “That there be no reading in the time of communicating, but the minister make a short exhortation at every Table 3 that thereafter there be silence during the time of the communicants receiving, except only when the minister exprefTeth some few short sentences, suitable to the present condition of the communicants in their receiving, that they may be incited and quickened in their meditations in the action. That when the communion is to be celebrated in a parish, one minister may be employed for assisting the minister of the parish, or, at the most, two. That there be one Sermon of preparation, delivered in the ordinary place of public worship, upon the day immediately preceding. That before the serving of the tables, there be only one sermon delivered to those who are to communicate, and that in the fame Kirk there be one sermon of thanksgiving after the communion is ended. That the minister who cometh to assist, have a special care to provide his own parish, left otherwise while he is about to minister comfort to others, his own flock be left destitute of preaching.”Acts of the General Assembly from 1638 to 1649, p. 267, 268.
It is now time to inquire, how the present rareness of communions, and the multitude of week-days sermons before and- after them, was first introduced. And all I can do is to mention two or three probable conjectures, as I know no certain account of that matter.
It began, says one, in the persecuting times, when many ministers under hiding, and the whole Presbyterians of a country, by stealth, got together. And when they met for this end, it may be once in several years, they knew not how often to preach; and the people had a boundless appetite to hear, so long as they could be substituted and safe. But though the persecution they were under sufficiently excused their so seldom receiving the Lord’s Supper, is it possible for us to vindicate our conduct, who live in quiet and peaceable times? It was a necessity with them, and therefore not blame-worthy: It must be choice with us, and therefore criminal.
The author of Dan in Beersheba, gives the following account of the matter, from two books printed at London, 1657, (viz. Uldericus Veridicus sive de statu Ecclesiae Scoticanae. And, A true Representation of the Rise, Progress and State of the Division in the Church of Scotland.) both of them writ by public Resolutioners. The General Assembly say they, in the year 1645, did establish an order for preventing confusion in the celebration of the sacrament, with which the whole church were satisfied. Yet, since our divisions, our dissenting brethren have taken up a new and irregular way of dispensing the holy Supper, whereby they have turned it, either into theatrical pomp or into the Popish error of opus operatum. It is but seldom they dispense this ordinance. But when it comes to be administered in a church where any of them is minister, even they who are in the remotest parts of the kingdom, being warned, flock to them. To those of their own party, of whatever parish, the heavenly bread is distributed, while most of their own parishioners are excluded. ‘They have a great many ministers assisting them, six or seven, nay, sometimes double that number, whole congregations are generally left destitute of preaching that day. Every day of their meeting, viz. Saturday, the Lord’s Day, and Monday, (N. B. They had then no Fast-Days), many of these ministers do preach successively one after another ; so that three or four, or sometimes more, do preach at their Preparation, and as many on the Monday following. And on the Sabbath sometimes three or four preach before they go to the Action, besides those who preach to the multitude of the people, who cannot be contained in the church. Never before were there so many sermons in any church in so short a time. these practices, as they are a clear violation of the order unanimously established in the church, and do occasion great animosity and alienation of simple people against those mini-tiers who will not imitate those irregular courses; so uninterested observers perceive a clear design in all this, to set up themselves as the only zealous and pious people, worthy to be trusted and followed in our public differences. Which if it be not an injury to that sacred ordinance, and an improving that, which should be a bond of unity and communion, to be a wedge to drive and fix a rent, let the judicious and sober judge. — Possibly some of these reflections were too severe, and dictated by Party Spirit, yet there is ground to think they were not wholly without foundation.
It is not improbable, that the practice of the ministers of the counties of Down and Antrim, about 1626, many of whom afterwards came over to Scotland, might contribute to multiplying sermons, particularly in the fields, before and after communions. But when the spirit is carrying on a remarkable work of conviction and conversion, as he then was in these counties, things may be fit, which at other times would be highly unreasonable.
After the Revolution, the Lord’s Supper continued to be seldom administered; sermons on the Fast-Day, Saturday, and Monday, were kept up, and many ministers employed to assist. The general assembly 1701, to remedy these things, recommended it to presbyteries:
“To take care, that the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper be more frequently administered in their bounds; and that the number of ministers to serve “there to be restricted, so that neighbouring churches be not thereby cast desolate on the Lord’s Day.”
The sixth act of the assembly 1711, gives so strong a proof of the zeal of our church for frequent communicating, that I cannot but insert it entirely:
“The general assembly considering, that, in some places, the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is administered only in the Summer season, where-through people are deprived of the benefit of that holy ordinance during the rest of the year, do therefore recommend to presbyteries to do what they can to get it so ordered, that the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper may be administered in their bounds, thro’ the several months of the year”
The general assembly 1712:
Considering that the assembly of this national church have, by several acts, appointed the frequent celebration of the Lord’s Supper in all the congregation of this church, and judging that the due observation of these acts will greatly tend to the glory of God, and edification of fouls ; therefore did enjoin all presbyteries to inquire if the said acts be duly observed by all the brethren.
By the sixth act of the assembly 1724, act 6th, assembly 1711, is revived and renewed; presbyteries are appointed to do all they can to have the Lord’s Supper more frequently administered in their bounds, throughout the several months of the year; and injoined to take care, that on the Lord’s Day on which the sacrament is to be administered in any congregation, the neighbouring congregations be supplied with sermons. Presbyteries are appointed to call their respective brethren in their bounds to an account as to the observance of this: And synods to call their respective presbyteries to an account as to what is enjoined them.
The Presbytery of Edinburgh, by an act. made the 27th of April 1720, did recommend the sacrament to be celebrated in their respective churches, at least the months after mentioned, viz. January in Canongate, February in NorthLeith, March in all the churches of Edinburgh, April in Corstorphine, May in South-Leith and Kirk-Newton, June in Weft-Kirk and Curry, July in Collington and Ratho, and again in Canongate, August in Libberton and Cramond, September again in Weft-Kirk, O&ober in Duddington, and again in all the churches of Edinburgh, and in November again in South-Leith; and that any parish which cannot conveniently keep their diets above-mentioned, do it in the month of December that year. And that communicants might have more time for private preparation, and that as few ministers as possible might be taken from their own parish work, and so their congregations left without sermon, whereby people, that do not communicate, come and inconvenience communicants, and profane the Lord’s Day by arguing, idle discourse, and otherwise: They also agreed, that there be only two sermons on the Fast-day, one on Saturday, two on the Lord’s Day, and one on Monday ; that neighbouring ministers should provide their churches with sermon, and exhort such as were not to communicate to keep their own parish churches; and gave it as their opinion, that there mould be no Church-yard sermons on such occasions. These alterations, inconsiderable as they were, caused a terrible outcry: And many elders and private Christians left their own ministers. But, in a short time, this heat subsided, and the best and greatest part of them saw that separation on such grounds would be criminal. This was the more remarkable, as the number of sermons was greatly lessened, without increasing in any reasonable proportion the number of communions, which it is no wonder some should be uncharitable enough to ascribe to the laziness of ministers. Whereas the synod of Glasgow’s overture is not liable to such misrepresentation, the number of communions in every congregation being increased, and at the same time as many sermons on weekdays, in the course of a year, as there are in our present way.
I shall only ask my reader, are our times better than the reformation and covenanting periods, when our church approached much nearer to the primitive simplicity in defending the Supper of the Lord? Has our church gained anything, has practical religion been increased by the change of the old for our present way? Does it not deserve inquiry, if our neglect of frequently communicating, be not one cause, why the love of many has waxed cold?