Comfort from the Catechism, the Westminster Larger that is!

2012/09/25

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

While reading Malcolm Maclean’s fine books titled simply The Lord’s Supper, I was struck by a reference to the catechism Q&A above. Here we have tender thoughts from the Westminster Divines (and hopefully, many Presbyterian churches, that is if they still hold to the Larger Catechism). To me, this question shows that the highly popular view that the Puritans were just rigid, cold, precise, and judgmental is just plain wrong. Here I think they faithfully reflect the teaching of Scripture, that Christ will not harm the bruised reed and snuff out the smoldering wick. Basically, if people come to the Lord’s Supper with doubts, and they most certainly will, that is if they know their own hearts, they have the assurance that Christ is greater than their hearts.

I also recently read another book about the Lord’s Supper. It’s Keith Mathison’s Given For You. It is also a fine book. In fact, Maclean and Mathison’s books are great for comparison, seeing that both advocate John Calvin’s doctrine of the Eucharist, both carefully review the Biblical witness, and both spend the bulk of their time on surveys of historical theology. Mathison examines the Reformed tradition more broadly while Maclean highlights the fascinating story of Scottish Presbyterian thought and practice.

One quote in Mathison’s book seemed really quite wrong headed. Maybe that’s because it so well reflects the received wisdom. While covering the Westminster Standards on the Lord’s Supper, Mathison cites another author who says that the Westminster Larger Catechism, when it came to the Lord’s Supper, breathed a spirit of oppressive introspection, or something to that effect. I think Q. 172 proves that to be wrong. By the way, it is exceedingly common to associate the Puritans with legalism, introspection, and a lack of joy. Hopefully people will stop doing that so much, or if they feel they must, maybe they’ll do us the favor of arguing the point. The truth is, if this common view of the Puritans is a truism, some of these dour slogans people freely throw around may just have to do with how they view Christianity itself, deep down.

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