communion

We had a good communion this past weekend. It was (naturally) the traditional 5-day marathon, with a minimum of two services a day from Thursday to Monday.

The services were well attended, the sermons were clear and appropriate, the sacrament was reverent and orderly, the table addresses helpful, and the atmosphere one of togetherness: a shared sadness in the circumstances, a shared hope, and a shared Saviour.

The standard caveat applies, any time a communion season is mentioned – the important bit in the whole procedure is the administration of the sacrament in connection with the preaching of the Word on the Lord’s Day. The rest is all just preparatory (or on Monday, retrospective) – and more specifically, preparatory on the congregational level. The whole congregation comes together to prepare together for the sacrament, in a way that’s meant to complement the preparation that should be ongoing on the individual level.

Sometimes it’s interesting to imagine what difference it might make if there was an extra communion in the year which involved only the congregation’s own minister and no assisting ministers, only the congregation itself and no visitors from other congregations, only the previous Lord’s Day and no other preparatory services. You’d cut out a lot of extra activity, but wouldn’t it make so many other things so much simpler?

the evidence of things not seen

“Things of imagination, which maintain a value of themselves by darkness, will not bear a diligent search… They lose of their reputation on every serious inquiry. … But where things are real and substantial, the more they are inquired into, the more they evidence their being and subsistence. … There is no way, therefore, to strengthen faith to any degree but by a daily contemplation of the things themselves [ie spiritual/eternal things: the ‘things above’]. Faith … will give them a subsistence, not in themselves (which they have antecendent thereunto), but in us, in our hearts, in the minds of them that do believe. Imagination creates its own object; faith finds it prepared beforehand.”

Things of Christ, of God, of salvation, of heaven perhaps particularly: “The more we discern of the glory and excellency of them in their own nature; of their suitableness unto ours, as our only proper rest and blessednesss, as the prefection and complement of what is already begun in us by grace; of the restless tendency of all gracious dispositions and inclinations of our hearts towards their enjoyment – the more will faith be established in its cleaving unto them.”

John Owen, vol 7, p319-321

 

the last few weeks

It’s hard to know what to say now, but there seems to be a need to say something. The last few weeks have been a very difficult time.

It has been impossible to avoid realising how quickly things change. In a matter of weeks, we lost somebody who had seemed to be in fine health and was giving no indication of how soon their life in this world was going to be ended. There is no stability and no constancy here. Change and decay in all around I see.

It calls loudly for attention too that life here is only preparatory and provisional, a training ground, a workbench. There are only two landmarks in life worth noticing. One is being called effectually, and one is being called home. Regeneration and going to glory. Between these two points, all the work of grace needs to be done. The development that takes place between these points is all the preparation that the Lord’s people are going to get, and all the preparation they need, for life after death. The trajectory established in this life continues after death. For the believer, grace becomes glory.

In the life of others, you can see the love of God in action. Love brings the sinner and the Saviour together in the first place. Love shapes and crafts them, fits and prepares them, through various complex providences, in a custom-designed process of sanctification. Love brings them out of this life into the life above. Because Christ loves his people, he takes them to be with himself.  It is an act of love. “The truth is,” an old writer represented Christ as saying to his people, “I cannot live without you: I cannot be at peace till I have you with me.” Dear in God’s sight is his saints’ death.

The certainty of salvation almost exactly counterbalances the sadness of the loss. It’s the loss that’s the most tangible thing. The godly person we knew is no longer here. We have gained a loss. We are accompanied by a blank. There is an empty space. But the souls of believers at their death do immediately pass into glory. This was what the Lord had in mind for them all along. He had always purposed to save them, not just in the sense of bringing them to know him in this context of sin and struggle, but in bringing them to be with him for ever. Our loss is not only their gain, but it is success for the Saviour, the achievement of what he had always intended, the fulfillment of his thoughts of peace towards them. Salvation in its completeness is certain for everyone who belongs to him. None perish that him trust.

Then, there is no excuse if anyone does perish. Our minister preached the gospel: Christ is the Saviour for sinners. He preached it clearly, and unflinchingly, and earnestly, and prayerfully, and out of devotion to the Christ Jesus the Lord. He cared for our souls, and he shepherded the flock by rightly dividing the word of truth. If anyone goes to a lost eternity after hearing the gospel, they have no one to blame but themselves. Why will ye die? There is a Saviour who is able and willing to save.

It is a sorry thing to be a congregation without a minister. New Testament congregations are meant to have one teaching elder and a plurality of ruling elders. A congregation which lacks a teaching elder is an anomaly, no matter how good the interim arrangements might be. But there is still the great Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, and he is able to provide. Our times are wholly in his hands.