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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

The Presbyterian Standards

Francis R. Beattie




In this chapter two related subjects are grouped together, and what the Standards have to say upon them will now be gathered up in an orderly way. The Shorter Catechism has nothing directly to say about these subjects, except what it states under the fourth commandment concerning the observance of the Sabbath and religious worship. The Larger Catechism in three questions has some important teaching in regard to the communion of saints. It connects its exposition of this doctrine with what it has to say about the invisible church, and the union of believers in and with Christ, and their fellowship thereby with one another. The Confession has a chapter upon the communion of saints, and one upon religious worship and the Sabbath-day. But, as the Sabbath is treated of in another place, not much need be said about it here. The Confession is chiefly followed in this exposition.

I. The Communion of Saints is First Explained.

The teaching of the Confession is plain and simple on this point, but the Larger Catechism is not so easily analyzed, because its teaching here is not so well connected. The former gives the general basis, and the latter supplies some special applications of the doctrine.

1. The basis of the communion which saints or believers enjoy is their mystical union with Christ in their effectual calling. They are thus united with Christ their head, by the Holy Spirit on the divine side, and by their own faith on their part. By reason of this union they have fellowship with Christ in his graces, in his sufferings, in his death, in his resurrection, and in his glory, so that they are one with him all through. He is identified with his people, and carries them with him, as it were, through every stage of his mediatorial career. They have obedience in him, they suffer with him, they are crucified together with him, they are raised from the dead in him, and in the end they are glorified together with him. This union, moreover, is of such a nature that the personal individuality of each believer is preserved, and they are not partakers of the Godhead of Christ, so as to become his equal. They are partakers of the divine nature, but not of the divine essence, so that they are not raised to the plane of deity. To say that they are is impious and blasphemous. In the light of certain theological views, founded upon a semi-pantheistic philosophy, this is a very valuable statement for the present day.

2. From the union of believers with Christ and their fellowship in him, it follows that they are united with one another in love, as the partakers of a common spiritual life in Christ. They have fellowship or communion in each other's gifts and graces, and are under obligation as brethren in Christ to the performance of such duties, private and public, as do conduce to their mutual good, both in the inward and the outward man. As members of the body of Christ, they are to cherish and nourish one another, mindful that if one member suffers all suffer, and if one is honored all are honored with it. This communion is to be extended, as God offereth opportunity, to all those who in every place call upon the name of the Lord Jesus. It is very evident that the Confession does not teach close communion. By reason of the communion of saints they are bound to maintain an outward fellowship and communion with each other in the worship of God, and in performing such other spiritual services as tend to promote their mutual edification. They are also to show their fellowship in a practical way by relieving each other in outward things, according as they have need and are able. Here, again, one of those wise qualifications in which the Standards abound appears. The Confession, to guard against a perverted communism, says that the communion of the saints with one another does not take away or infringe the title or property which each man has in his goods and possessions. This statement is all-important in relation to some modern socialistic theories which try to claim the New Testament in their support.

3. What the Larger Catechism says regarding the communion of saints may be set down under a separate head. It relates chiefly to the union and communion which they have in Christ, and it is said to be twofold in its nature. It is a communion in grace here, and a communion in glory hereafter. As the former, it consists in the fact that all the members of the invisible church, being united with Christ, partake in the virtue of his mediation, in their justification, adoption, and sanctification, together with all else that in this life manifests their union with him. As to the latter, the communion in glory which believers have in this life, immediately after death, at the resurrection, and at the day of judgment, have a very full statement. The members of the body of Christ, the invisible church, have given to them in this life the first-fruits of glory with Christ, and so they are in him interested in that glory which he fully possesses. As a foretaste of this they enjoy the sense of God's love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, and hope of glory. On the contrary, the sense of God's wrath, horror of conscience, and fearful-looking for of judgment, are to the wicked in this life the foretastes of the torments which they shall endure in the world to come. After death, the saints are immediately made perfect in holiness, as to their souls, and are received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies, which even in death being united to Christ and resting in their graves till the resurrection, shall be reunited to their souls at the last day. Thereafter, their communion with Christ and with one another shall be complete and perpetual in glory. The idea of the church, especially of the invisible church, which underlies the communion of the saints in Christ and with one another, is reserved for fuller discussion in its proper place under the question of the church of God, which comes up a little later on.

II. Religious Worship and the Sabbath-day are Next to be Explained.

For this topic the Confession alone is available, though it is interesting to note the fact that some of the commandments, especially the first, second, and fourth, are here in sight, and that this is the only place in the Confession where the commandments are in view. The importance of the fourth commandment is plainly evident from the fact that, in addition to all that is said in the Catechism about it, the Confession lays almost equal stress upon it in connection with what it has to say in regard to the time for public worship.

1. The duty of the worship of God has both a natural and a revealed basis and sanction. The Confession says that the light of nature shows that there is a God who has lordship and sovereignty over all, and who is good, and does good to all. This being the case, the light of nature further indicates that this God should be feared, loved, praised, called upon and trusted in with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might. This is natural religion pure and simple, which, by reason of sin, has been sorely perverted and sadly corrupted. As a matter of fact, this ideal state of natural religion could exist only among unfallen sinless beings, such as man was prior to the apostasy of the fall. Yet in all these discussions, and the light of modern evolutionary theories of the origin of the religious nature of man, it is of the utmost importance to vindicate the reality of the native, or connatural religious factor in the human constitution.

2. The Confession indicates very clearly that the true mode of worship must be revealed to mankind as they are now, so it says that the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and must be according to his revealed will. As limited by what God has made known, it is clear that he ought not to be worshipped according to the ideas or devices of men, or in accordance with the suggestions of Satan. Moreover, no visible representation is to be used in worship, and throughout he is not to be worshipped in any other way than is directed in the Scriptures.

3. As to the object of worship a further remark may be made. God alone is the object to be worshipped, but it is God in the aspect of the Trinity. The Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are alike to be worshipped, and equally to be adored. Nor is the worship due unto the triune God to be given to any other. Hence, neither angels, saints, nor any other creatures are to be worshipped or reverenced in a religious way. This destroys the Romish doctrine and practice at one sweeping blow. The Confession adds at this point, with great propriety, that since the fall man cannot present his worship, adoration and praise without a mediator, and this mediator is Christ alone. The intervention of creature mediators is entirely excluded by this simple statement. This, again, refutes the Romish views at another point.

4. The parts or elements of worship are next set forth in the Confession. It is very interesting to observe that what the Confession includes in worship is in a large measure treated of in connection with the means of grace, as for example prayer and the reading of the Scriptures. There is no contradiction in this arrangement, for acts of true worship are means of grace, and the means of grace to be real must also be acts of worship. The parts of worship are now noted.

First, Prayer with thanksgiving is mentioned at the outset as a special part of religious worship. God requires this of all men. To be acceptable, prayer must be offered in the name of the Son, by the help of the Spirit, and in accordance with the will of God. This gives the medium, the helper, and the rule of prayer. In the name of Christ, by the aid of the Spirit, and according to the revealed will of God is prayer to be made. Prayer is further to be offered with understanding, and in a spirit of reverence and humility. Moreover, it should be marked by fervency, faith, love and perseverance, in order to be true religious worship, and so be acceptable to God. Prayer may be either silent communion or vocal utterance. When vocal the Confession says that it should be in a known tongue.

Prayer is to be made for things lawful, and for all sorts of men living, or that shall live hereafter; but prayer is not to be offered for the dead. This, again, is a warning against the evil practices of Rome. Nor is prayer to be offered for those of whom it may be known that they have sinned the sin unto death. This statement must, of course, be taken with care, and no hasty judgment acted on as to whether any given man has been guilty of this dreadful sin.

Secondly, The reading of the Scriptures is another important part of religious worship. This includes not only the public reading, but also the sound preaching, and the conscionable hearing of the word by the people. This reading of the Scriptures, and the proper preaching and hearing of the word, is to be marked by obedience to God, and with understanding, faith, and reverence. This is regarded as very important, and the Presbyterian Church can only be true to her Standards and her history when she gives a large place to the reading, exposition and preaching of the word in her religious services.

Thirdly, Some other parts of worship need only be mentioned. Praise, in the form of singing of psalms with grace in the heart, is to have a place in worship. It is curious to note the fact that hymns are not mentioned by name at this point; but doubtless the scriptural terms, "psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs," are properly included under the word psalms in the Standards. Still, it is well to give the psalms in some form a prominent place in the service of praise in public worship. The due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ are also parts of worship. Hence, they are to be regarded as important and solemn parts of the ordinary religious worship of God. No exposition of the sacraments is now made, as they will come up later on for full explanation. The fact that they are acts of worship is what is now emphasized. As special acts of worship several things are noted in the Standards. Religious oaths and vows, solemn fastings and special thanksgivings, are in their several times and seasons to be used in a holy and religious manner.

5. The place of worship is next expounded, and the teaching of the Confession is here broad and sensible. No part of religious worship now, under the gospel, is either tied unto, or made more acceptable by, any place in which it is performed, or towards which it is directed. God is everywhere and may be worshipped at all places in spirit and in truth. Hence, in private families domestic worship is to be observed. Secret prayer is to be made by each one by himself. In both of these cases it ought to be offered daily. Then, also, in public assemblies, even in a more solemn way, God is to be worshipped; and this public worship is not to be carelessly or wilfully neglected, or forsaken when God by his word and providence calleth thereto. Thus, the duty of private, domestic, and public worship, in all its parts and proportions, is to be diligently observed. 6. Some very important statements are finally made in the Confession in regard to the time or occasion of religious worship. Here the Sabbath law in its bearing upon religious worship is expounded. It is presented in a twofold way; first as a law of nature, and then as a law of God. Of course, both are from God as their author. Each is briefly explained.

First, The Confession merely assumes the natural basis for a time to be set apart for worship. It is taken to be a law of nature that a due proportion of our time be set apart for the worship of God. By the law of nature is here meant, that upon the constitution of the natural order of which man is an important part the Sabbath law is engraved. Even inanimate nature has it, and the brute creation more clearly exhibits it, in the demand for rest which their welfare requires. But on man's nature, in the sphere of natural religion, this law still more clearly appears. The Confession at this point, it is most striking to observe, says nothing much about rest, but lays stress upon the fact of worship. This is proper at this point. When the Sabbath law is fully expounded later on, both rest and worship will be seen to enter into its demands. But now, when the special time for worship is under consideration, it is proper that the religious aspects of the holy day should be made prominent. Even natural religion points to the Sabbath as a religious institute.

Secondly, The Sabbath as the proper season for worship is also a matter of revelation. In the Scriptures, by a positive, moral and perpetual commandment, binding on men in all ages, God has particularly appointed one day in seven for a Sabbath to be kept holy unto him. From the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ it was the last day of the week; and since his resurrection it was changed to the first day. In the Scripture this is often called the Lord's day, and it is to be continued to the end of the world as the Christian Sabbath. In this way the Confession states briefly the divine authority of the Sabbath law in its relation to the worship of God.

As to the way in which the Sabbath is to be kept in its relation to public worship, the Confession has also something to say. There must be due preparation. The Sabbath is kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparation of their hearts and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, enter upon the worship of God. Thus, both the outward and the inward life have to be prepared and ordered aright. Then the actual observance of the worship properly follows. This is twofold. There is to be rest and also worship; but the rest is in order to the worship. In the rest there is to be cessation all the day from the works, words, and thoughts about worldly employments and recreations such as lawful upon other days. This is what is sometimes not very correctly called the civil side of the Sabbath. But there is also to be worship, for the Confession with great force asserts that the whole time of the day is to be taken up with the public and private exercises of religious worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.

It is not necessary to enter upon the many lines of serious reflection which very naturally occur to the earnest mind at this point. In a closing remark it is emphasized that Presbyterians, by their Standards, are committed to a well-defined doctrine of the Sabbath, in its bearing upon religious worship. According to this doctrine, the Sabbath is not fully kept by simply resting from toil and play.

Religious worship is to have a place, and the whole day is to be spent in worship, public and private, and in doing works of necessity and mercy. The merely civil theory of the Sabbath may be all that the state should enforce, but this is not half of the doctrine of the Sabbath, according to the Standards. The rest enjoined is not merely for itself, but also in order to engage in worship, and to do deeds of mercy. At the present day, the proper scriptural observance of the Sabbath is one of the burning questions which rightly engages the earnest attention of the Christian world. If the Sabbath is lost, then religion will surely decline. Perhaps the best test of the degree in which a community is thoroughly Christian is to be found in the way in which the Sabbath-day is observed. And this rest, to have religious value, must not be merely an enforced civil rest, but a holy rest, and a devout worship of him who is the Lord of the Sabbath. In Old Testament times severe national and other calamities came upon the Israelites for their neglect or violation of the Sabbath; and, since the Sabbath law is still binding under the New Testament dispensation, the same disasters may fall upon those who heed not the Sabbath, which is to be kept holy unto the Lord.

It is easy to see that there are influences at work in modern civilization in Christian communities which compel serious reflection on the part of all who love the institutions of our holy religion. The massing of multitudes in large city centres, the development of inventions in various industrial activities, the formation of large soulless corporations, and the increase of the worldly temper even among Christians, are some of the things which are insensibly, but very really, affecting the practice of Sabbath observance. Surely it shall not be that the Presbyterian Church will ever fail to uphold the sanctity of the Sabbath. She must be true to her history and her Standards, and then she shall be true to God, the church, and the nation.

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