benefits afterwards

Johannes G Vos wrote a commentary on the Westminster Larger Catechism, one of a very few works which deals with this document specifically. (The Shorter Catechism is much better known and studied, even though it was seemingly originally intended as a more elementary form of the same teachings.) In dealing with the question in the Larger Catechism on the duty of Christians after they have received the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, Vos draws these points out of the answer in the catechism itself.

1. … Since the Lord’s Supper is intended to bring real spiritual benefit to Christian people, it is their duty to consider seriously how they have conducted themselves prior to and at the sacrament, and what benefit they have received. To drop the matter from our thoughts as soon as the actual communion service is dismissed would be to lose a part of the spiritual profit that we should receive from the sacrament.

2. … While it is undoubtedly true that most serious Christians consciously experience benefit at the time [when the sacrament is received] and immediately afterwards, this is not always nor necessarily the case. Sometimes God in his wisdom withholds the blessing, or the consciousness of the blessing, for a time. As in the case of baptism, the benefits of the Lord’s Supper are not tied or limited to the time of administration.

3. When benefit is experienced, [this should produce the following attitudes in the communicant:] (a) An attitude of thankfulness to God; (b) a prayerful desire that the blessing may be continued; (c) a careful avoidance of pride or overconfidence which would occasion a relapse into sin; (d) a sincere purpose of paying his [or her] vows to God; (e) a desire to partake of the Lord’s Supper often. The danger of spiritual pride or overconfidence is especially to be guarded against. The Christian who has experienced spiritual blessings and benefits is always in danger of becoming overconfident and starting to trust in himself instead of in Christ. This will lead to a humiliating fall into sin unless carefully guarded against.

4. When no immediate benefit is experienced [the Christian] should realise that the failure to experience spiritual benefit may be his own fault, and therefore he should review his preparation for, and conduct at, the sacrament. If he finds himself to be at fault in either of these matters, he is ‘to be humbled, and to attend upon it afterward with more care and diligence.’ That is to say, lack of proper preparation for the Lord’s Supper and improper partaking of the sacrament are sins, and should be repented of the same as any other sins.

5. [If a Christian] is not conscious of benefit received from the Lord’s Supper, but does not find this to have been caused by his own faults … [he or she] should ‘wait for the fruit of it in due time;’ that is, his attitude toward God in connection with this matter should be an attitude of faith, confidently expecting a blessing, and an attitude of patience, being willing for the blessing to be deferred if that is God’s holy will. There are many examples in the Bible of saints whose blessings were deferred, either to develop their faith or because of some secret purpose of God. Impatience is always contrary to faith.

This is all based on the answer to question 175, but the section on the Lord’s supper starts at question 168 in the Larger Catechism (the section on the sacraments in general stretches from q161-177) and the material it contains is very useful, not just doctrinally but from a practical point of view too – the catechism as a whole is a very pastorally-oriented document, intended for ordinary Christians to make use of.


in the best highland tradition

Not that it’s actually part of the sacrament or anything, but it has been the custom in some sections of Scottish presbyterianism to hold several days’ worth of preparatory services ahead of dispensing the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in any particular congregation.

The services are intended to be helpful to people as they prepare for taking part in the sacrament, and generally they follow a series of fairly well defined themes for each day. On Thursday it is customary that people devote themselves to confession and prayer. On Friday the day is meant to be spent in self-examination. Saturday is for more direct preparation for the ordinance itself, concentrating on the meaning of the sacrament and the person and work of Christ it commemorates. On the Lord’s day the sacrament is administered in the morning service, and then there is a thanksgiving service on Monday.

The church services are of course only meant to help people in their personal preparation, and of course it is not necessary to attend them in order to take part in the sacrament, and of course because of the logistics they really work best in the context of relatively infrequent celebrations of the sacrament. Still the five-day setup (‘the communion season’) can be seen as a useful and beneficial arrangement, allowing the whole congregation to prepare together under the preaching of the Word and giving a structured way of carrying out a duty, ie of preparation, which might otherwise be easily neglected or only done hastily or patchily.

Anyway, that’s just a heads-up to let you know I’ll be otherwise occupied for the next few days and unlikely to be around here much.

without exception

Another excerpt from Ralph Erskine, the eighteenth century Scottish minister, following on from the previous.

“The person to whom Christ is offered in the gospel is no other than a lost sinner. Christ came to seek and to save them that were lost: I mean not only these who are sensible of [ie are conscious of, have a sense of] their lost state, but these in a lost state, whether they be sensible of it or not. If the gospel come to them, the offer of Christ comes to them. ‘To you, O men, do I call, and my voice is to the sons of men.’ We are warranted to preach the gospel to every rational creature. The offer of Christ comes to you.

Why, may not sin exclude us from the offer? By no means, for Christ came to save sinners, 1 Tim 1 v 15. If sinners were excepted, all mankind would be excepted, for all have sinned.

Is it to gross sinners? Yes, to gross sinners. ‘Come let us reason together, saith the Lord, though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool,’ Isa 1 v 18. To murderers of the Lord of glory was the offer made, Acts 2 v 41.

But are mockers and scorners under the offer? Yes: as you may see, Prov 1 v 22-23.

But what if a person cares not for the offer, and thinks himself happy enough without Christ? is Christ offered to such a person as this? Certainly he is. ‘Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which satisfieth not? Hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness,’ Isa 55 v 1-2.

But if a man be convinced neither of sin, nor of misery, nor see any need of Christ, is Christ offered to him? Yes, undoubtedly he is. Rev 3 v 18. ‘I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich, and white raiment that thou mayest be clothed.’

Let them venture to shut the door of the gospel offer who will, we must open it in God’s name to all who hear this gospel, and tell them that Christ is offered to them, that he may be received by them; and if there were no offer, it would not be their duty to receive, and so unbelief would not be their sin. I say to lost souls, Christ is offered to those who are spoiled by the sentence of the law, arraigned, convicted and condemned, and accursed; the hand of the gospel promise holds out Christ to you, for, where Moses leaves you, there Joshua finds you; where the law ends, there the gospel begins; the law ends in the shipwreck of the sinner, in splitting him upon the rock of its terrors, and drowning him in the ocean of divine wrath, and sinking him to the depths of despair; and just there the gospel begins; it comes to the bottom of the pit of sin and misery, and offers a Christ, a Saviour! …

The soul that is shipwrecked by the law, and as it were all to pieces, to such an one the gospel offer is most welcome; for the hand of grace holds forth Christ, like a plank after shipwreck, a plank to swim ashore on. Such a soul is encouraged to see no other qualification required of him to come to Christ and receive him, but just that he is lost, which he finds himself to be; and there is no other condition or qualification required, but that you be a lost man, a sinful miserable person. Some will offer Christ on such and such terms, saying, You must be so and so humbled, so and so penitent, before Christ can be offered to you; so that a man that finds himself a lost, sinful, unhumbled, impenitent, wretched creature, can never come to their hand, or meddle with what they offer; just like a man holding out a cup of excellent wine to his friend and offering him a drink, but in the meantime he hath made the wine scalding hot upon the fire, so as the man to whom the offer is made dare not touch it with his lips; even so many offer Christ and hold forth the cup of salvation to the people, but they heat the gospel liquor as it were red hot upon the fire of the law, I mean with so many legal terms, conditions, and qualifications, that the poor soul that finds himself a lost sinner, every way sinful, destitute of all good qualifications, dare not come near, and thinks he may not, he ought not to come near with his lips to taste it. We need be at no pains to hinder sinners from coming to Christ to receive the offer, for they are unwilling enough of themselves. Besides that, they will never have a good qualification till they come to him, and receive him, and all good in him …”

Echoes here, of course, of Trail and Charnock, just seeing I’ve quoted them before.

delusions of what?

I listened to a bit of Any Questions this lunchtime as I willed a bit of frozen soup to thaw out and was intrigued to hear one of the panel members talking about (someone else) having “delusions of grandiloquence.” I think she meant grandeur, since grandiloquence just refers to a pompous style of speaking, and the accusation was much more general than that (- and if you really had delusions of pomposity that might well be more of a compliment than something to blame you for anyway). Did you know that if you show the printed words “caterpillar” and “cat” to preschoolers and ask them which one refers to a cat, they’ll pick the one that looks bigger on paper, since a caterpillar is just a little thing compared to a cat. That’s what it reminded me of, but I am aware that my attention is in developmental overdrive at the moment.

inextricably interwoven

The “ideal speaker-listener in a completely homogeneous speech community” which certain varieties of phonological theory have been so keen on invoking is, and as far as can be ascertained always has been, a figment of such theorists’ wishful thinking. No speech community is ever homogeneous, and it has never been clear what properties would suffice to characterise a speaker/hearer as ideal. The construct has simply been a convenient way of disregarding socially motivated (or at least socially relevant) variation, in the pursuit of a more psychologically oriented view of spoken language.

The observable and undeniable lack of homogeneity in the speech community is, however, not something to be regretted or wished away, because it is (on some views at least) the very object which linguists are best suited to analysing. “Indeed,” as Foulkes and Docherty point out in a recent article,

“the interweaving of sociophonetic and linguistic information in speech is so complete that no natural human utterance can offer linguistic information without simultaneously indexing one or more social factor.”

(Roughly the same point was made by Labov when he commented, “I have resisted the term sociolinguistics for many years, since it implies that there can be a successful linguistic theory or practice which is not social.”)

It’s hard to know whether the pursuit of a psychological model necessarily has to involve neglecting a more socially grounded one, or if it just so happens that the kind of psychology which the most vocal theoretical phonologists of the past several decades were interested in is one that doesn’t (cannot?) engage with sociophonetics. Either way, the exclusion of sociological information from the study of spoken human communication is both unwarranted and counter-productive – there must be a better way of doing things.

Foulkes & Docherty (2006), ‘The social life of phonetics and phonology.’ Journal of Phonetics 34: 409-438

adamant/adament: definition and spelling

For all the people who have up to now been forced to suffer by ending up on my KJV-Onlyism-bashing post when all they want (according to my blog stats and referring links) is “a definition of adament,” here is the OED’s definition:

adamant, n. and a.
Name of an alleged rock or mineral, as to which vague, contradictory, and fabulous notions long prevailed. The properties ascribed to it show a confusion of ideas between the diamond (or other hard gems) and the loadstone or magnet, though by writers affecting better information, it was distinguished from one or other, or from both. The confusion with the loadstone ceased with the 17th c., and the word was then often used by scientific writers as a synonym of diamond. In modern use it is only a poetical or rhetorical name for the embodiment of surpassing hardness; that which is impregnable to any application of force.

A. n.

1. a. Without identification with any other substance.
b. fig.
2. a. Identified with the diamond. Obs.

b. as the natural opposite of the loadstone. Obs.

3. a. Identified with the loadstone or magnet. Obs.

b. as the natural opposite of the diamond. Obs.

c. fig. A magnet, centre of attraction. Obs.

4. Confusing 3 with 1 or 2. Obs.

5. attrib.

B. adj. Unshakeable, inflexible, esp. to be adamant, stubbornly to refuse compliance with requests. (The point at which the n. use passed into adj. is not determinable.)

Hence adamantly adv.

Also note that it is spelled adamant, not adament.

a comma, for effect

Today’s confession: commas intrigue me. And today I am particularly struck by the role of the comma inside the brackets in the following excerpt from this article by Chomsky (1964):

“This point of view takes a theory to be, essentially, nothing more than a summary of data. In contrast, it has been repeatedly pointed out (most forcefully, by Karl Popper) that the prevailing attitude in the sciences is to regard data as of interest primarily insofar as it has bearing on the choice among alternative theories, and to search for data, however exotic, that will be crucial in this sense.”

On first reading it seems that he does not mean that of all the instances of pointing out which have occurred, the pointing out done by Popper has been the most forceful – rather, I think he means that Popper has done the repeated pointing out, and he has done it in such a very forceful way that it can only be described by this superlative. But I could be wrong.

(By the by, the construction “has bearing” sounds slightly odd to me – I’d have preferred “has a bearing,” but again, maybe it’s just me.)

an absolute necessity

Private, personal, secret prayer is a work of absolute necessity, says Thomas Brooks:

Private prayer is a work of absolute necessity, both to the bringing of the heart into a good frame, and to the keeping of the heart in a good frame. It is of absolute necessity, both for the discovery of sin, and for the preventing of sin, and for the purging away of sin. It is of absolute necessity, both for the discovery of grace, and for a full exercise of grace, and for an eminent increase of grace. It is of absolute necessity to arm us, both against inward and outward temptations, afflictions, and sufferings. It is of absolute necessity to fit us for all other duties and services.

For a man to glorify God, to save his own soul, and to further his own everlasting happiness, is a work of the greatest necessity. Now private prayer is such a work …

Thomas Brooks, The Secret Key to Heaven. Banner of Truth edition 2006, p97-98. First published 1665.

on (the) bus

Any time I sit downstairs on the bus, I am vaguely disturbed by the sign behind the driver’s head. Should it be:

(1) We will press for prosecution of anyone who attacks our staff.


(2) We will press for the prosecution of anyone who attacks our staff.

Please help.

for the non-scientists among you

I’ve just got back from the harrowing experience of spending a whole day as an arts/humanities minority in a roomful of chemists and biologists. The amount of misunderstanding with which linguistics is viewed by Those Sorts of People is quite astonishing, and I’m not even part of the linguistics camp that thinks that generative grammar has any obvious right to be considered a science. Quote of the day: “That’s what science is all about after all, defending your position with arguments, I don’t know what it’s like for the non-scientists but as a scientist you really need to have evidence …” Funny, because even generative grammarians have been observed to make arguments in the past, and some phoneticians have on occasion actually gone so far as to measure things. And even draw graphs. Honestly, there are times when the desperation to be inclusive really outweighs any possible benefits and just becomes downright patronising.